The End of Politics as We Know It? Theories of Control & Resistance in the Digital Age

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This course is under review for 2021. Course registration will open to accepted students once courses are confirmed.

Course Description

We are living through revolutionary times: the rapid spread of information technologies and “smart” devices into every corner of our lives and communities has wide reaching consequences, not least on the realm of the political. This course wants to explore what’s really “new” about new media and how these developments make us conceive differently of what it means to do politics amidst questions of filter bubbles, attention economies, or hashtag activism. Together we will learn about the ways algorithms are already governing our communities, ask what role platforms like facebook might play in safeguarding our democratic processes, and discuss if instagram should be paying you for the labor that goes into curating your posts. To take responsibility for our common world, as citizens, activists, and politically conscious individuals, it is crucial to understand the potentials and limitations of our changing information landscapes. In this course, students will gain critical new media literacy through being challenged to examine the ubiquitous ways we are immersed in media environments and the political subjectivities such a constant engagement gives rise to.

Through a close reading and discussion of key texts from political and new media theory, this course will introduce students to concepts such as the public sphere, theories of democracy, technological determinism, and imagined communities and their relevancy to digital media infrastructures and trends. We will ask how control and freedom are enabled or suppressed in these information landscapes and what role narrative and the imagination might play in our relationships to technology. While drawing from a multiplicity of perspectives and examples, this course will show how our changing media landscapes can offer both new channels for resistance and dissent, while also allowing for more effective surveillance and censorship.

Some of the examples discussed in this course will include how movements like #BlackLivesMatter and #MeToo bridge the gap between digital engagement and real world protest; how the Snowden Leaks shaped public perception of ubiquitous tracking and surveillance by governments and corporate actors alike; how Science Fiction stories like Black Mirror can influence real world political debates and technological development; as well as how “smart” devices like FitBit can be linked to the ways we conceive of being a good community member. We will also focus on the 2016 presidential election in the United States and learn about the histories and facts behind the various debates around fake news, hate forums, and foreign bots that this political moment gave rise to.

Along with the readings, we will watch speeches and various film clips dealing with questions of technology and politics, critically read chat logs, twitter feeds, and even memes as examples of how publics might form online, along with engaging in class discussion. By the end of the course, students will have written four short response papers and have given an in-class group presentation that will take the form of a public debate. This course will prepare future college freshman for college-level work in the humanities and political science. It will also introduce students to strategies for successful interdisciplinary research and writing, as well as give them the opportunity to improve their public speaking and debate skills. As a former elected official in local politics, in addition to also being former social media public relations officer, the instructor will also share practical experiences from her work in both the realms of politics and digital media.

By the end of this course, students will be able to:
- Critically assess contemporary new media trends, like algorithmic governance, calculated publics, surveillance and activism, through the lens of political theory concepts.
- Have an introductory understanding of the main themes and questions in both media and political theory, including the work of Marshall McLuhan, Hannah Arendt, and Wendy Chun among others.
- Grasp the interlinkages between media representations and formats and the ways we imagine our communities and their political guiding ideals.

Prerequisites: This course is designed for rising juniors or seniors ready for introductory courses in media studies, political theory, science and technology studies, or comparative literature.

Course Information

  • Course Code: CEPS0979
  • Length: 2 weeks

Program Information

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Brown’s Pre-College Program in the liberal arts and sciences, offering over 200 non-credit courses, one- to four-weeks long, taught on Brown’s campus. For students completing grades 9-12 by June 2021.

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