ENGL 391 (Section 005, Schedule #35717)
Virginia Commonwealth University
Fall 2017
T Th 11am-12:15pm :: 835 West Grace Street 1004A
Prof. David Golumbia
Office: 324D Hibbs Hall
Fall 2017 Office Hours: Thurs 12:30-3:30pm

Politics of the Digital

The many promoters of digital media routinely celebrate it as a welcome and necessary extension of the democratic potential ascribed to prior forms of communications media, especially the printing press. Social media, computerization, “flattened hierarchies” and person-to-person networks, they say, will finally deliver political sovereignty to “the people.” Despite these promises, in the two decades since digital media became widespread, major parts of the world have turned away from democracy more powerfully than they did in the hundred years before that. Not only that: while the uses of social media for extremist causes is clear, its benefits for deepened democracy (as evidenced in the “Arab Spring”) appear to be transient if they exist at all. Rather than looking for ways in which digital media leads to greater democracy and freedom, should we instead be thinking about ways in which it leads to less democracy, more extremism, and hate?

In addition to reading and watching critical scholarship and journalism about these issues, and in some cases examining primary evidence, we’ll also read a few fiction books and watch some documentaries, fiction films & TV shows that address these topics. The class will be taught via a mix of lecture and discussion. Students will write three papers or do an equivalent amount of work on digital media projects.


Assignments and Evaluation

Evaluation will be based on written exercises and course participation as follows:

Course-Specific Policies

Official VCU Policy Statements

Please consult the Provost's official page on topics such as classroom conduct, email, the Honor System, and other important policy issues.

Week-by-Week Syllabus

Week One. Introduction

Week Two. Adam Curtis, The Trap and All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace

Week Three. Adam Curtis, All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace

Week Four. Secrets of Silicon Valley

Week Five. No classes

Week Six. Cyberlibertarianism

Week Seven. Race

Week Eight. Race

Week Nine. Rhetoric: "Open"

Week Ten. Gender, Sexuality, LGBTQ

Week Eleven. Reputation & Data Brokerage

Week Twelve. Information War and "Fake News"

Week Thirteen. Bitcoin and Blockchain

Week Fourteen. Thanksgiving break; no classes

Week Fifteen. Artificial Intelligence (AI) and "The Singularity"

Week Sixteen. Kobek, I Hate the Internet

Final paper/project is due by the end of the final exam period, 12:15pm, Thursday, Dec 14, 2017, per the registrar's exam schedule. The paper or project should be submitted on Blackboard. No late work will be accepted for the final assignment. There is no other final exam for the course.

Last updated November 30, 2017.