Social Change in the Digital Age
Corporate Communication and Public Relations, B.A.
Academic year 2020-2021, first semester
IULM University, Milan, Italy
“It’s hard to make predictions, especially about the future.”
Social Change in the Digital Age is a critical examination of the ongoing and future challenges that humanity faces in the Twenty First Century, from increasing automation and a growing scarcity of resources due to climate change. The course discusses the relationship between technology, society, media, and politics through the contributions of many international scholars and thinkers by illustrating how technology is reshaping every aspect of society in profound ways. The course also invites students to imagine the world in ten, twenty, fifty years from now. Will automation lead us to the end of work or completely undermine an economy built on full employment? Will technological innovation reduce the value of commodities – e.g. food, healthcare, and housing – towards zero? Will improvements in renewable energy make fossil fuels a thing of the past or will we be tied to Big Oil for the next century? Will technology become a tool of pervasive surveillance and oppression, or a liberating force that could transform our daily life? What kinds of political frameworks will prevail? Is capitalism doomed or is it just transforming itself? Will existing trends intensify our best tendencies toward freedom and equality, or our worst, toward hierarchy, exploitation, and mutual indifference? Different scenarios, predictions, and forecasts about things to come - including provocative and outlandish ones borrowed from apparently distant disciplines such as social theory, media studies, technology studies, and science fiction - will be played out and critically analyzed in class.
This course introduces students to a diverse set of readings about technology’s impact on the social, cultural, and political scenes, and provides a set of exercises designed to let them apply the conceptual frameworks and empirical findings discussed in the course to real world events, situations, and contexts. Specifically, in line with the key objectives of this program and with the specific objectives of this thematic area the course aims to lead students to:
- Be familiar with the most up-to-date literature in several disciplines relating to technological, social, and cultural change.
- Understand how to critically examine an academic text, comparing contrasting views, ideas, and concepts, and formulating new hypotheses based on the available information.
- Develop an understanding of the role of technology and media in the shaping and development of culture, society, and politics by critically examining different theoretical approaches and several case studies.
- Craft an ability to critically appreciate and discuss the cultural and social role of technologies in relation to class, sex, and gender.
- Consider challenges and opportunities, possible outcomes and likely endgames from different angles, connecting them to a larger socio-cultural framework and by applying an ecological, comprehensive, holistic approach.
- Ultimately, student will hopefully develop an approach not limited to fully understanding a problem, but also open to the possibility of realistic solutions or plausible predictions about what might replace the current state of affairs.
In line with the learning objectives of the course, the course will consist of lectures, seminars, and in-class discussions on specific topics concerning the relationship between technology, society, culture, and politics. Course materials, required texts, and the test will be identical for all enrolled students. Nonetheless, attendance is strongly recommended. Useful resources, such as in-class presentations, summaries, videos, documentaries, and additional content will be shared via the University's moodle platform, also known as IULM Community (Students must register to access this space). The course – including the required texts, presentations, and resources – is entirely in English.
In order to successfully complete the course, students will be required to take a mandatory final exam, consisting of a computer test featuring 30 closed-ended questions (correct answer: 1 point; wrong answer/no answer: 0 points). The passing grade is 18. Students will be evaluated on their understanding of the key concepts and ideas discussed throughout the semester. Thus, a close reading and study of the required texts is indispensable. The exam also focuses on content presented in the instructor’s presentations, case studies, and shared resources such as summaries, diagrams, flowcharts, concept maps etc. Sample questions will be provided in advance via the IULM Community page to help students prepare for the test.
Students can also submit an optional multimedia project consisting of a short video essay on a theme chosen by the instructor worth 0 to 3 points that will be added to the written test score. For more information about the optional multimedia project, including requirements, format, duration, and submission deadline please check our moodle platform (IULM Community).
Online only (Teams or Skype); appointment only. Wednesdays, 2 - 4 pm.
Please contact the instructor via email to make an appointment.
Peter Frase, Four Futures: Life After Capitalism, Verso, London, 2016.
James Bridle, New Dark Age. Technology and the End of the Future, Verso, London 2017.
Jacques Attali, A Brief History of the Future: A Brave and Controversial Look at the Twenty-First Century, Arcade, New York 2011.
Richard Barbrook, Imaginary Futures: From Thinking Machines to the Global Village, Pluto Press, London 2015.
Franco “bifo” Berardi, Futurability: The Age of Impotence and the Horizon of Possibility, Verso, London 2017.
Jens Beckert, Imagined Futures: Fictional Expectations and Capitalist Dynamics, Harvard University Press, Cambridge 2016.
Aaron Bastani, Fully Automated Luxury Communism, Verso, London 2018.
Benjamin Bratton, The Stack: On Software and Sovereignty, MIT Press, Cambridge Massachusetts 2016.
Mike David, Los Angeles and the Imagination of Disaster, Vintage, New York 1999.
Anthony Dunne, Fiona Raby, Speculative Everything. Design, Fiction, and Social Dreaming, MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts 2013.
Ed Finn, What Do Algorithms Want? Imagination in the Age of Computing, MIT Press, Cambridge Massachusetts 2017.
Mark Fisher, Capitalism Realism. Is there no alternative?, Zero Books, London 2009.
Byung-Chul Han, Psychopolitics: Neoliberalism and New Technologies of Power, Verso, London 2017.
Eva Horn, The Future As Catastrophe: Imagining Disaster in the Modern Age, Columbia University Press, New York 2018.
Naomi Klein, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate, Simon & Schuster, New York 2015.
Adam Greenfield, Radical Technologies: The Design of Everyday Life, Verso, London 2018.
Richard Grusin, Premediation. Affect and Mediality After 9/11, Palgrave Macmillan, New York 2010.
Jaron Lanier, Who Owns the Future?, Simon & Schuster, New York 2014.
Michael Lewis, The Fifth Risk: Undoing Democracy, Norton 2018
Thijs Lijster (Ed.), The Future of the New: Artistic Innovation in Times of Social Acceleration, Valiz, Amsterdam 2018.
Silvio Lorusso, ENTREPRECARIAT: Everyone Is an Entrepreneur. Nobody Is Safe, Onomatopee, Eindhoven, The Netherlands 2020.
Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media. The Extensions of Man, McGraw-Hill, New York 1964.
Robin McCay, Armen Avanessian, The Accelerationist Reader, Urbanomic Media, London 2014, pp. 347-361.
Safiya Umoja Noble, Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism, New York University Press, New York 2018.
Cathy O’Neil, Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy, Broadway Books, New York 2017.
Thomas Piketty, Capital and Ideology, Harvard University Press, Cambridge 2020.
Lizzie O’Shea, Future Histories: What Ada Lovelace, Tom Paine, and the Paris Commune Can Teach Us About Digital Technology, Verso, London 2018.
Pablo Servigne, Raphaël Stevens, How Everything Can Collapse: A Manual for Our Times, Polity, Cambridge 2020.
Susan Sontag, “The Imagination of Disaster”, in Idem, Against Interpretation, Picador, New York 1990 , pp. 209-225.
Nick Srnicek, Platform Capitalism, Polity, New York 2016.
Fred Turner, The Democratic Surround: Multimedia and American Liberalism from World War II to the Psychedelic Sixties, University of Chicago Press, Chicago 2013.
Fred Turner, From Counterculture to Cyberculture, Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network, and the Rise of Digital Utopianism, University of Chicago Press, Chicago 2008.
McKenzie Wark, Capitalism is Dead. Is This Something Worse?, Verso, London 2019.
Alex Williams, Nick Srnicek, #Accelerate: Manifesto for an Accelerationist Politics, in Critical Legal Thinking, 14 maggio 2013. URL: https://criticallegalthinking.com/2013/05/14/accelerate-manifesto-for-an-accelerationist-politics/
Alex Williams, Nick Srnicek, Inventing the Future. Postcapitalism in a World Without Work, Verso, London 2015.
Shoshana Zuboff, The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power, Public Affairs, New York 2019.
Optional multimedia project: THE FUTURE IS NOT WHAT IT USED TO BE
Students are encouraged to produce a digital video illustrating the themes and topics discussed during the semester.
The question that the video must answer is:
What kind of future do you imagine, if any?
Which scenario discussed throughout the semester do you find plausible, and why?
Will "your" future be utopian, dystopian, or a mixture of the two?
Share your vision.
The video's maximum length is 300 seconds (5 minutes); students can use different formats, e.g. video essay, video art, book trailer, book commentary and so on); students can use any kind of image and sound in their video as long as they are properly credited.
The optional multimedia project is individual. This is not a group exercise.
Only one project can be submitted. Students cannot submit more versions of the same project.
Each video must be accompanied by a description which must include the following:
- Student's full name, ID number, date
- Course title, Instructor's full name
- Project description (max 500 words)
The video and the related document must be submitted no later than December 14 2020 by 23:59 (projects submitted after that date will not be accepted).
Accepted formats: .mp4 only; HD (1920 x 1080) or 4k (3840 × 2160)
Max size: 4 GB
Project must be sent to the instructor ([email protected]) using file sharing platforms such as Dropbox, WeTransfer, Google Drive, etc.
Videos will be judged by the teacher on the basis of their aesthetic and conceptual qualities.
Specifically, the following criteria will be considered: concept, structure, presentation, originality, creativity, impact.
The optional multimedia project will receive a score ranging from 0-3 points, which will be added to the written test result (only if 18 or above).
The best videos will be shared online and screened in class at the end of the semester.
Final scores will be announced on December 27 2020 via email.
Copyright free archival footage
L'effondrement, Guillaume Desjardins, Jérémy Bernard, 2019.