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NL

Honoursmodule: Towards Digital Freedom

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In this interdisciplinary course you will relate your personal concerns about digital dependencies to larger social patterns and theories about digital politics. Through literature study, group discussions, field trips, hands-on experimentation and a self-selected case study, you explore what digital freedom means to you and what it can mean for society at large.

Lecturer(s):

T. Renzenbrink

Entry requirements 

For 2nd or 3rd year honours students only.

Learning objectives:

After this module, students are able to:

  • Engage in empirically, historically and theoretically informed discussions about the politics of the digital;
  • Apply conceptual tools, basic technological expertise and critical awareness to come to terms with a fast-changing and unequal digital world;
  • Use key theories and approaches in the field of digital politics and apply these across different digital contexts and settings;
  • Identify how, when and why their digital engagements restrain or enable their physical and mental well-being;
  • Reflect on the question of ‘freedom’: what does it mean in today’s world to regard oneself as ‘free’, and how do digital infrastructures facilitate or inhibit this sense of freedom
  • Creatively use art, literature, hands-on practice and other experimental approaches to further their capacity to envision and realize alternative digital futures.

Content:

For almost every small or large thing that matters to us, we rely on digital tools to help us. They give us access to a world of jobs, romance, friendship and material goods. Yet, one could say, there is a flip-side to our collective attachment to the digital. Many feel that our physical and mental well-being suffers from permanent exposure to large amounts of information and from the constant pressure of having to perform and inform ourselves digitally. In addition, several social and political challenges can be observed. Massive data collection, profiling, filter bubbles, fake news and behavioral nudging impinge on what many regard as basic democratic values, such as the right to privacy and the right to form one’s  own ideas.

Despite its origins as a decentralized network of networks, the internet has been subjected to a process of increasing centralization over the past two decades. This has resulted in a concentration of power in the hands of tech giants like Google and Facebook and intelligence agencies like the American NSA and the British GCHQ. As digital technologies are more and more woven into the physical world through smart city initiatives and the Internet of Things, many warn against the risk of cementing digital inequalities into the physical domain.

Yet, even if we acknowledge the exploitative, anti-democratic and health-depriving aspects of today’s digital infrastructures, we tend to feel unable to make significant changes, both on an individual and a societal level. And even if we know theoretically what digital freedom means to us, we feel little power to make this tangible within our own lives. Our relationship to the digital, in other words, feels unfree.

This course seeks to move towards ‘digital freedom’ by exploring how to make our individual and collective engagement with the digital more conscious, relaxed and playful. The course offers basic technological understanding of digital infrastructures and insight into the key ethical, political, social and psychological issues that are at stake in their functioning. The understanding that digital technologies are products of their societal, political and economic contexts, enables students to envision alternative digital futures. The course will offer ways of approaching these issues in a creative, hands-on and open-minded way. This will add to students’ personal sense of well-being, but also offers opportunities for those who like to build a career on these insights.

Teaching format:

  • Lecture
  • Hands-on exercises
  • Group discussions
  • Student presentations
  • Self-study
  • Working independently on a project or thesis

Assessment:

  1. Mid-term written assignment: 40% of final grade  
  2. Active participation and completion of ‘Hacking Digital Society’ project with a written report: 60% of final grade
  3. Presentation on the ‘Hacking Digital Society’ project: pass/fail
  4. Active participation in practical exercises and critical evaluation of the literature: pass/fail

Study material:

Academic articles, book chapters, opinion pieces, newspaper articles, documentaries and podcasts which will be made available through Canvas at the beginning of the module.

Number of participants:

Max. 25

Recommended prior knowledge:

The course will be relevant to techno-optimists as well as techno-pessimists and is accessible to students with as well as without prior technical knowledge.

The most important requirement is that students bring their curiosity and a willingness to relate their everyday digital experiences to overarching political, sociological and technological questions.

Schedule:

Check Datanose for the exact information.

Registration:

Registration is possible for students participating in an Honours programme via an online registration form which will be made available on December 1, 10 am till December 5, 11 pm on this website. 

Placement will be at random and within two weeks students will hear whether they are placed for a course. 

There is NO guarantee for placement if you register after December 5, so make sure you register on time! 

For questions about registration please email to: Honours-iis@uva.nl 

 

Facts & Figures
Mode Honours programme
Credits 6 ECTS,
Language of instruction English
Starts in February