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Digital Culture and Politics
Examines issues at the intersection of digital media, culture and politics, such as regulation and network architecture, piracy and hacking, and grassroots activism. Engage with a range of theories about cultural politics, democracy, liberalism and neo-liberalism in relation to digital information and communication technologies.
In this particular section, we focus on the everyday politics of digital life, in social media and platform labor, and the implications for broader political culture. The course will also guide students through the process of developing an academic research article on the topic, from research and outlining to peer review.
Nathan Schneider (“Nathan” or “Professor Schneider”)
Armory Building, 1B24
Office hours: Wednesday at 4-5 p.m., or by appointment (via email)
- Gain familiarity with academic and popular literature on the politics of digital space
- Develop and explore an original research question on digital cultures
- Practice the process of academic research, writing, reviewing, and publishing
The architecture of this course seeks to cultivate a scholarly community around a set of shared questions. The course consists of three concurrent processes: our meetings, your notebooks, and an edited collection of our collective research.
The basis of our academic community is our time together twice each week. In general, we will spend the first session focused on the week's readings, and the second session developing and sharing our own research.
Participation is essential to cultivating a successful community, and participation is not compatible with absence. One or two absences over the course of the semester are acceptable, but please discuss with the instructor if any more are necessary.
Active participation. Engage in thoughtful participation in class through:
- Constructive, critical, and original contributions to the discussion (10 points)
- Respectful listening to other members of the class and feedback on fellow students' ideas (10 points)
Participation will be evaluated twice—once at the midterm, and once at the end of the semester.
Research flourishes through cultivating habits. Each week, students will produce a weekly notebook entry on the readings, in dialog with their own research projects. The notebook might consist of a prose reflection, bullet points, annotated pictures, network charts, or whatever else best suits your ways of thinking. Be sure to reflect on both the content of the readings and their methodologies.
Notebooks may be in any persistent medium, so you can refer back to them for years to come. Here are some suggestions:
- Paper notebook*
- A folder of word-processor documents or simple plain-text files (e.g., .md, .txt)*
- Citation managers, such as Mendeley, Zotero*
- Git repositories, such as Gitea*, GitHub, GitLab*, Gogs*
- Mind-mappers, such as Diagrams.net*, Miro, Mural
- Note-taking tools, such as Evernote, Hypothesis*, Joplin*, Simplenote*
- Wiki platforms, such as BookStack*, DokuWiki*, Notion, Roam Research, Zim*
Asterisks denote open-source software, which is recommended as it gives you more control over your data and likely uses more resilient file formats.
Turn in a digital representation of your notebook entries on Canvas, at the end of each of the three sections. Entries should be completed before class on Tuesday each week.
Weekly notebook entries. Demonstrate engagement with assigned sources, including the following:
- Summarize major ideas, particularly those of special interest to you (10 points)
- Observe shortcomings or potential critiques (10 points)
- Raise questions for future research that could build on the readings (10 points)
Notebook entries will be evaluated at the end of each of the three sections of the course.
The shared goal we work toward is to produce an edited collection of our class's research on the politics of everyday digital life. Reaching this goal will take us through the full research cycle for producing an original contribution to our shared discourse. In this way, in addition to our explorations of the topics at hand, we will be reflecting on the media of scholarly communication.
You may work individually or in pairs. Pairs will be expected to produce somewhat longer articles. Individuals' articles should be 2,000-2,500 words, not including references. Pairs' articles should be 3,000-3,500. Articles should follow APA style. They should include some approximation of the these sections (which can be adjusted with different names or purposes depending on the context):
- Literature review
Each paper should be one of two types:
- Empirical, collecting data about real-world activity and analyzing it
- Conceptual, presenting or challenging frameworks for analysis
In a conceptual paper, the “methodology” and “findings” sections might be replaced with a section or sections that develop the conceptual argument.
The paper should also be prefaced with a brief abstract of 150 words, not included in the main word count.
Research should demonstrate a solid grasp of the existing literature around the topic. The number of references will vary based on the type of paper (a conceptual paper may have more than an empirical one), but fewer than 10 references to scholarly sources (not including primary and journalistic sources) is likely inadequate.
While ambition is a wonderful thing, keep in mind that these articles are short, and your top priority should be clarity and precision. A small contribution to existing knowledge may be more successful than a sweeping thesis, which is more likely to contain oversights or excessive generalization.
We will proceed through the process together, with presentations to share early suppositions for feedback, formal peer review, with the goal of publication in our class's edited collection, which we will publish for private circulation.
Present research questions - 5 points. In one minute, and with one slide, share the questions you plan to investigate and your planned methods.
Extended abstract - 5 points. In under 300 words, summarize your research, including the questions, methods, findings, and contribution to the relevant literature, including references (not included in the word count).
Complete draft - 5 points. Submit a complete draft for peer review, with the required word length, style, and references.
Peer review participation - 5 points. Provide detailed reviews of two fellow students' drafts, 300-500 words each. Restate the findings, identify strengths and weaknesses, and suggest directions for improvement. Determine whether there is need for “minor revisions” or “major revisions” before publication.
Conference - 5 points. In the final week, participate in a class conference, sharing insights from the research and writing process.
Formatted preprint - 25 points. Submit a revised final draft using our shared formatting template, in a brief note of 300-500 words, summarize the revisions in light of peer review in a cover letter.
Based on the stated percentage structure, grades will be awarded as follows: A (94-100), A- (90-93), B+ (87-89), B (83-86), B- (80-82), C+ (77-79), C (73-76), C- (70-72), D+ (67-69), D (63-66), D- (60-62), F (0-59). The minimum passing grade is 60 for undergraduates and 70 for graduate students.
Terms and conditions
Together, we agree to:
- Work together to foster a respectful, mature, convivial community based on mutual learning, diverse perspectives, and accommodation
- Adhere to all university policies regarding academic integrity, accessibility, behavior, discrimination, misconduct, inclusivity, and religious observances; we take responsibility for understanding them and the relevant procedures
- Respect student privacy, keeping any materials or statements shared in class confidential unless permission is granted to do otherwise
- Be present in our interactions together, refraining from the use of screen devices unless for collective work or accessibility, upon agreement with the instructor
If you find yourself in a position where lack of access to food, housing, health care, or other basic necessities interferes with your studies, consider seeking support from the Dean of Students and, if you feel comfortable doing so, your instructor. We will work to assist you however we can.
The course proceeds in three topical sections, consisting of one topic per week. Readings will provide examples of diverse types of research articles that you can draw from as examples for your own. All readings are available online and are largely open-access. Some may require access through our university libraries, either on the campus network, through the libraries' website, or on a VPN connection.
Do our networks have politics? How does it matter?
- Langdon Winner, “Do Artifacts Have Politics?,” Daedalus 109, no. 1 (Winter 1980)
- Alexis de Tocqueville, “Book Two, Section 1, Chapter VII: Connection Of Civil And Political Associations,” in Democracy in America (1840; repr., Library of America, 2004)
- Lisa Nakamura, “Race in/for Cyberspace: Identity Tourism and Racial Passing on the Internet,” Works and Days 13, no. 1–2 (1995)
- John Perry Barlow, “A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace,” Electronic Frontier Foundation (1996)
- Fred Turner, “Where the Counterculture Met the New Economy: The WELL and the Origins of Virtual Community,” Technology and Culture 46, no. 3 (2005)
- Jo Freeman, “The Tyranny of Structurelessness,” Berkeley Journal of Sociology 17 (1972)
1d/ Iron laws
- Aaron Shaw and Benjamin M. Hill, “Laboratories of Oligarchy? How the Iron Law Extends to Peer Production,” Journal of Communication 64, no. 2 (April 1, 2014)
- Nathan Schneider, “Admins, Mods, and Benevolent Dictators for Life: The Implicit Feudalism of Online Communities,” New Media & Society (2021)
What is all this doing to us?
- Tiziana Terranova, “Free Labor: Producing Culture for the Digital Economy” Social Text 18, no. 2 (June 1, 2000)
- “Ghost Work,” Data & Society podcast (May 14, 2019)
- Safiya Umoja Noble. “Google Search: Hyper-Visibility as a Means of Rendering Black Women and Girls Invisible,” InVisible Culture 19 (2013)
- Shalini Kantayya (dir.), Coded Bias (2020)
- Shoshana Zuboff, “Big Other: Surveillance Capitalism and the Prospects of an Information Civilization,” Journal of Information Technology 30, no. 1 (March 1, 2015)
- Simone Browne, “Dark Sousveillance Race, Surveillance and Resistance,” Digital Praxis Seminar and the CUNY Digital Humanities Initiative (December 9, 2013)
- Adrienne Massanari, “#Gamergate and The Fappening: How Reddit’s Algorithm, Governance, and Culture Support Toxic Technocultures,” New Media & Society 19, no. 3 (March 1, 2017)
- Julian Dibbell, “A Rape in Cyberspace,” The Village Voice (December 23, 1993) [contains descriptions of virtual sexual assault]
What is emerging and who is designing?
- M. Six Silberman, “Reading Elinor Ostrom in Silicon Valley: exploring institutional diversity on the Internet,” in Proceedings of the 19th International Conference on Supporting Group Work (2016)
- Seth Frey, P. M. Krafft, and Brian C. Keegan, “'This Place Does What It Was Built For': Designing Digital Institutions for Participatory Change,” Proceedings of the ACM on Human-Computer Interaction 3 CSCW (2019)
- Youssef El Faqir, Javier Arroyo, and Samer Hassan, “An Overview of Decentralized Autonomous Organizations on the Blockchain,” in Proceedings of the 16th International Symposium on Open Collaboration (2020)
- Kei Kreutler, “A Prehistory of DAOs,” Gnosis Guild (July 21, 2021)
- Joseph Seering, “Reconsidering Self-Moderation: the Role of Research in Supporting Community-Based Models for Online Content Moderation,” Proceedings of the ACM on Human-Computer Interaction 4, no. CSCW2 (2020)
- Derek Caelin, “Decentralized Social Networks vs. The Trolls,” ActivityPub Conference (2020)
- P. Maxigas and Guillaume Latzko-Toth. “Trusted Commons: Why 'Old' Social Media Matter,” Internet Policy Review 9, no. 4 (2020)
- Amelia Winger-Bearskin, “Indigenous Wisdom as a Model for Software Design and Development,” Mozilla Foundation (October 2, 2020)
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