The main objective of this course is to provide students the fundamental skills for critically reflecting on the 'datafied' society, a new social order based on the systematic extraction, aggregation and manipulation of data about people. Datafication - which is understood as a process that is gradually affecting both market-oriented services (i.e. Airbnb, Uber etc.) and public services (such as education and health) - rests on two interrelated key factors: platforms and algorithms. Digital platforms are programmable architectures designed to shape the way we live and how social, political, cultural and economic life is organized. Platforms operate through algorithms which automatically classify extracted data ordering the social world, and are able to learn from data making predictions. The process of datafication is however negotiated and resisted by users in their everyday life. In particular, the course will discuss the ambivalent nature of contemporary digital activism, proving that media imaginaries and technological myths can be used either to repress and hide authoritarianism or to reinvent democracy.
Expected learning outcomes
By the end of the course students should have acquired the following skills: ability to critically discuss the concept of (commercial) platform and algorithm; knowledge of a multi-layered perspective on platformization including the micro-level of single platforms, the meso-level of the platform ecosystem and the macro-level of platform geopolitics; familiarity with a situated epistemology of algorithms moving beyond the popular conception of the latter as a black box; awareness of the algorithmic shaping of subsystems such as journalism, urban transport, health care and education; comprehension of hybrid media activism including ability to discuss the fallacies of 'communicative reductionism' (i.e. spatial dualism, one-medium bias, presentism, technological visibility, alternativeness); acquaintance with appropriation processes of digital media by movements and parties in the Italian, Mexican and Spanish contexts. The final exam aims to verify the expected learning outcomes in relation to: knowledge and understanding of the main concepts developed in the debate on the Datafied society, critical presentation of case studies and empirical results related to the topics discussed during the course.
In order to introduce the main working mechanisms of the Datafied Society, the course will cover three main topics: 1) The platformization of society; 2) The ambiguous nature of algorithms; 3) The negotiated/contentious nature of the process of datafication.
To begin with, the role of online commercial platforms as an integral part of contemporary societies will be discussed stressing how the "big five" tech companies (Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft) are trying to push a new value system clashing with the public interest. On the one side, to delve into datafication (personal data extraction from platforms), we will focus on the role of algorithms, their ambiguity, their situated nature and their working mechanisms as well as the algorithmic shaping of social subsystems such as journalism, urban transport, health care and education On the other side, the varying impact of datafication will be investigated by observing hybrid media activism and discussing appropriation processes of digital media by movements and parties in Italy, Mexico and Spain. In particular, the course will focus on contemporary digital activism discussing media imaginaries and technological myths as devices either repressing and hiding authoritarianism or contributing to the reinvention of democracy.
Students attending the course will be asked to deliver oral presentations on the above-mentioned topics.
Prerequisites for admission
The knowledge acquired by the student who attended the first terms of the degree program in Global Politics and Society facilitates the understanding of concepts and theories covered in the course of Datafied Society.
Frontal lessons (first weeks only) and oral presentation by students with active involvement of the class.
J. Van Dijck, T. Poell, M. De Waal (2018). The platform society: Public values in a connective world. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
E. Trere' (2019). Hybrid Media Activism. Ecologies, Imaginaries, Algorithms. London and New York: Routledge.
Additional materials can be retrieved on the course website on the Ariel platform.
Assessment methods and Criteria
For students attending classes, the evaluation will be based on: a) active participation (20%); b) an oral presentation on concepts and case studies related to the topics of the course (40%); c) a position paper of 4,000 words on a specific debate on the Datafied Society (40%).
For students not attending classes, the evaluation will be based on a written exam assessing knowledge and critical understanding of the main concepts developed in the debate on the Datafied society. The examination will consist on a series of open questions that are required to be answered in a few lines. Answers will be evaluated taking into consideration: synthesis, clarity and argumentative quality, exhaustiveness and competence in the use of specialistic terminology.