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 emergency. Topics discussed include the complex relationship between technology, society, media, and politics through the contributions of many international scholars and thinkers.
The course 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 lead to a complete devaluation of our commodities – e.g. food, healthcare, and housing? Will improvements in renewable energy make fossil fuels a thing of the past or will we depended on Big Oil for many decades to come? Will technology become a tool of pervasive surveillance and oppression or a liberating force that could transform our daily life? What kind of political frameworks will prevail? Is capitalism on its way out or is it just updating to remain the same? Will existing trends intensify our best tendencies toward freedom and equality, or our worst, increasing 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 throughout the semester.
This course introduces students to a diverse set of readings about technology’s impact on the social, cultural, natural, and political spheres, and encourages students to apply the conceptual frameworks and empirical findings discussed in the course to make sense of current events, phenomena, and contexts.
Specifically, in line with the key objectives of the Program and with the specific objectives of this thematic area the course aims to lead students to:
- Familiarize themselves 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 that technologies play in relation to class, sex, and gender.
- Consider challenges and opportunities, possible outcomes and plausible endgames from different angles, connecting them to a larger socio-cultural framework and by applying an ecological, holistic approach.
- Ultimately, to develop an approach not limited to fully understanding a problem, but also open to the possibility of realistic solutions or predictions about what might replace the contingent situation.
Consistently with the learning objectives of the program, Social Change in the Digital Age will consist of lectures, seminars, and in-class discussions on specific topics concerning the relationship between technology, society, culture, and politics in a time of extreme transformation. Course materials, required texts, and the test will be identical for all enrolled students. Nonetheless, attendance is strongly recommended. Useful resources, including in-class presentations, video summaries, video content and more will be shared via the University's moodle platform, also known as IULM Community. The course – including 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 necessary. 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 the "Optional Project" section.
November 17 2020: James Bridle
November 24 2020: Silvio Lorusso
December 1 2020: Peter Frase
December 15 2020: Nick Srnicek
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.
Arjun Appadurai, Neta Alexander, Failure, Wiley, New York 2019.
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.
Aaron Benanav, Automation and the Future of Work, Verso, London, 2020.
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.
Clarke, Lee, Worst cases, Terror and Catastrophe in the Popular Imagination, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago 2005.
Mike Davis, 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, New York 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.
Robin McCay, Armen Avanessian, The Accelerationist Reader, Urbanomic Media, London 2014, pp. 347-361.
Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media. The Extensions of Man, McGraw-Hill, New York 1964.
Timothy Morton, Hyperobjects. Philosophy and Ecology after the End of the World, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, Minnesota 2013.
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.
Pablo Servigne, Raphaël Stevens, Gauthier Chapelle, Another End of the World is Possible, Polity, Cambridge 2021.
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.
Martin van Creveld, Seeing into the Future: A Short History of Prediction, Reaktion Books, London 2020.
Alex Williams, Nick Srnicek, #Accelerate: Manifesto for an Accelerationist Politics, in Critical Legal Thinking, May 14 2013. URL
Alex Williams, Nick Srnicek, Inventing the Future. Postcapitalism in a World Without Work, Verso, London 2015.
Wolf-Meyer, Matthew, Theory for the World to Come, Speculative Fiction and Apocalyptic Anthropology, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 2019.
Shoshana Zuboff, The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power, Public Affairs, New York 2019.
Joanna Zylinska, The End of Man. A Feminist Counterapocalypse, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 2018.
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.
The submitted videos will be judged by the instructor on the basis of their aesthetic and conceptual qualities.
Specifically, the following criteria will be considered: concept, structure, presentation, originality, creativity, impact.
concept - is the idea sound? Is the student able to recontextualize one or more concepts discussed throughout the semester? Does the video show an understanding of key issues pertaining to the future of culture, technology, society and/or the environment? Is the student engaging with the course content in an effective way?
structure - Is the video well organized? Does it "flow" or is it a mere assemblage of random images and sounds? Does it effectively communicate an idea, a theme, a message? Do the different parts concur to build something bigger or are they disconnected and unrelated from each other?
presentation - Is the video well edited? Is the author's visual or narrative presentation effective, cohesive, and cogent?
originality - Is the approach innovative? Does the video merely recycle existing content or does it introduce something specifically created for the project? Is the outcome surprising or predictable?
creativity - Does the video cleverly examine future scenarios? Does it demonstrate a level of ingenuity in depicting what's to come?
impact - Does the video leave a strong impression on the viewer? Does it linger in her/his subconscious? Is it memorable? Will it haunt the viewers forever and ever? Is it shocking or reassuring?
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 made by the students will be shared online and screened in class.
Final scores will be announced on December 27 2020 via email.
Paul Ford, It's Time to Pick Classes for the 2073-74 School Year!, WIRED
Jonathan Watts, The Environment in 2050, The Guardian
Aarian Marshall, 3 Dire Visions for the Bay Area in 2070 - and 1 That's Pretty Great, WIRED.
United Micro Kingdoms by Dunne & Raby
Copyright free archival footage
Pond 5: The Public Domain Project
In 2017, Bruce Sterling gave a talk at South by Southwest (SXSW) titled "The Future: History that Hasn’t Happened Yet" in which he described eleven possible scenarios created by the combination of full automation and universal basic income (UBI). Although he never explicitly mentioned Peter Frase, Sterling's talk sounded like a direct response to Four Futures: Life After Capitalism (Jacobin Books/Verso, 2016). In this short presentation/bonus episode, part of my course Social Change in the Digital Age at IULM University, Sterling's scenarios are summarized for comparative purposes.
Here's Bruce Sterling' 2017 talk at SXSW (hosted on Soundcloud)
Social Change in the Digital Age_21_Bruce Sterling_(Bonus Episode) (PDF)
L'effondrement, Guillaume Desjardins, Jérémy Bernard, 2019.