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Department of Anthropology and Sociology

New Media and Society

Course Code:
151802070
Unit value:
0.5
Year of study:
Year 2, Year 3 or Year 4
Taught in:
Term 2

This theoretically-engaged course will give students a critical analytical introduction to the main debates surrounding the relationships between new media (principally telecommunications and the Internet), technology and society. The course starts by questioning where and how we should position new media in contemporary academic and disciplinary landscapes and asking what exactly may be new about new media and which debates may actually turn out to be familiar from previous ‘technological revolutions’. The second week explores issues of technological determinism and just how we should conceptualise the relationship between new media and society. This is followed by an investigation of interrelationships between language, communication and culture in both new media practices themselves and the ways in which they have come to be understood and discussed in general parlance as well as in academic circles. A related issue to be dealt with here is how we conceptualise the relationship between ‘real’ and ‘virtual’ worlds and the notion of virtuality itself. The first half of the term finishes by pursuing a number of fundamental questions related to new media and power. For example what role do new media play in emerging survellance societies and how do new media problematise or redefine understandings of property, ownership and rights?

In the second half of the term the course will ask how new media practices problematise understandings and experiences of time and space and the importance of mobility in new media use (with cell phones and other mobile devices a particular focus of attention). New media have often been associated with the formation of new ‘identities’ and ‘communities’ on the one hand and new forms and possibilities of democratic participation and political activisim on the other. Consequently the course will devote a week each to these issues. Finally the course asks crucial questions about so-called ‘digital divides’, raising the issues of access and equality/inequality in the use of new media.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the course

At the end of the course, a student should be able to demonstrate theoretically-informed critical analytical skills and understandings pertaining to the main debates surrounding the relationships between new media (principally telecommunications and the Internet), technology and society. They will be able critically to discuss theories of technological determinism that underpin much work on new technologies and to understand theoretical perspectives from, among other disciplines, anthropology, media studies, cultural studies and sociology. They will have knowledge of in case studies and examples from a range of different contexts around the world, particularly Asia and Africa, that will help them to engage with the theoretical issues. Students should develop a critical understanding of new media in relation to questions of language, culture and communication, so-called ‘virtual’ identity and community, space, time, globalization and transnationalism, questions of democracy, the state, power and political activism as well as intellectual property and inequality of access to and experience of new technologies.

1 hour lecture and 2 hours seminars per week for 11 weeks.

Scope and syllabus

Week 1: Introduction: disciplining new media?
Week 2: Technology, society, new media
Week 3: Communication, language and new media
Week 4: New media, culture and virtuality
Week 5: Information, property and power
Week 6:  Reading week
Week 7: Media on the move: mobile communications and social transformations
Week 8: New media and the transformation of time and space
Week 9:  Identity and community
Week 10: Governance and citizenship: democracy, the state and (cyber)activism
Week 11: Exploring digital divides

Method of assessment

Exam 70% and 1 piece of Coursework 30%