Offered: Fall, Winter, Spring 2019-2020

In a short three decades we’ve seen the hope for digital networks shift from liberating and democratizing to an anxious age of surveillance capitalism. How did this happen, what’s being done about it, and what does it mean for democratic governance and collective action in the future?

This seminar course for advanced undergraduates and graduate students examines the ways in which digital technology shapes how we communicate, organize, advocate, and engage with each other in markets, politics, and civil society. We will focus on the ways digital networks and technologies have changed how people come together to make change in the world, a sphere of action commonly called the social sector.

This is a year-long 3-unit course, designed and offered as three independent quarters.

Across all three quarters, we will analyze the opportunities and the challenges to associational life, free expression, individual privacy, and collective action. We will examine the technological, organizational, legal, economic, and social shifts that have accompanied our growing global dependence on digital networks. The class draws from law, media studies, political science, and history, bringing in research perspectives from Europe, the U.S, and African scholarship.

Fall Quarter

Fall quarter focuses on the 1990s — the popular adoption of the internet in the northern hemisphere, the development of international digital networks, the creation of anchor digital civil society organizations (such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Internet Archive), the emergence of the digital economy and the dot com bubble, global shifts in journalism coverage, key technology legislation and legal battles over free expression.

Winter Quarter

Winter quarter shifts to the 2000s — the emergence of social media platforms, the rise of mobile connectivity, institutional shifts in journalism, and major developments in intellectual property, state surveillance, and digital activism.

Spring Quarter

In Spring Quarter we focus on the 2010s and the future, from the Arab Spring and global political propaganda to electronic governments and biotechnologies.

Student Work

Each quarter includes a “demo day” of student presentations, open to the campus public, in which we will be highlighting projects that examine the key themes of the course from different disciplines. Students will write one final paper or produce one project per quarter, based in their own disciplinary methods or integrated with others in a group project. Students are also responsible for leading at least one class session per quarter.

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