ENGL 391 (Section 005, Schedule #35717)
Virginia Commonwealth University
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.
- Texts to purchase (you may purchase any edition of these books you can find; I recommend paper books as opposed to electronic ones when reading for class)
- All other texts will be provided on the web or in Blackboard.
Evaluation will be based on written exercises and course participation as
- Papers/Projects (3, 25% each). Students will write three papers of at least 1500 words each on topics related to the course. The papers can be analytical or reports on material related to but not covered in the course. Opportunities will also be provided for students to fulfill these requirements through alternate projects (video, audio, games, etc.) that are determined in advance by consulting the instructor.
Link to Assignment 1
Link to Assignment 2
Link to Assignment 3
- Course Participation (25%): the instructor will assign a letter grade to each student reflecting their engaged participation in class, both online and offline, during the term. Attendance will be taken in class and will directly influence the participation grade. Vigorous discussion in Blackboard forum threads can serve as full participation, but cannot make up for class attendance.
- Attendance. This course is taught primarily via discussion. Your
attendance and participation are vital to its success. A significant
portion of your grade (25%) depends on your class participation. "Class participation" does not necessarily mean that you have said what everyone thinks is the smartest thing in the world, but has much more to do with whether other students know your name by mid-semester because you contribute to discussion regularly. More than 4 unexcused absences will
count against your final course grade. 6 unexcused absences results in
automatic failure of the course. An "excused" absence is one where you have a verifiable illness, or important commitment of which you notify the instructor beforehand, and does not count against the unexcused absence policy. An "unexcused" absence is when you do not show up for class, without verifiable explanation or approval beforehand.
- No Late Work. No late work is accepted in this class. Work handed in
late is automatically marked down one-third grade (e.g., a B becomes a B-)
for each day it is late, and after one week becomes a failing grade for
- Class Preparation. You are expected to have done the primary reading and
any other primary course assignments before the beginning of course each
- Honor System. All work in this course is subject to the University's
Honor System. You may work in teams for some assignments, but all
written work must be solely your own, and any reliance on published
work must be properly cited.
- Evaluations. Final grades for the course will not be released until
the entire class has submitted online course evaluations.
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 One. Introduction
- Thurs Aug 24. Intro. No reading.
Week Two. Adam Curtis, The Trap and All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace
- Tues Aug 29. The Trap: What Happened to Our Dream of Freedom, Part I: "F**k You Buddy" (blackboard)
- Thurs Aug 31. All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace, Part I: "Love and Power" (blackboard)
Week Three. Adam Curtis, All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace
- Tues Sep 5. All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace, Part II: "The Use and Abuse of Vegetational Concepts" (blackboard)
- Thurs Sep 7. All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace, Part III: "The Monkey in the Machine and the Machine in the Monkey" (blackboard)
Week Four. Secrets of Silicon Valley
- Tues Sep 12. Secrets of Silicon Valley I: "The Disruptors"
- Thurs Sep 14. Secrets of Silicon Valley II: "The Persuasion Machine"
Week Five. No classes
- Tues Sep 19. No class; instructor away
- Thurs Sep 21. No class; instructor away
Week Six. Cyberlibertarianism
- Tues Sep 26. required: John Perry Barlow, "A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace" (1996, web); Tim May, "The Crypto-Anarchist Manifesto" (1988/92, web); Erik Hughes, "A Cypherpunk's Manifesto" (1993, web); Langdon Winner, "Cyberlibertarian Myths and the Prospects for Community" (1997, web);
optional: Esther Dyson, George Gilder, George Keyworth, and Alvin Toffler, "Cyberspace and the American Dream: A Magna Carta for the Knowledge Age" (1994, web; Winner's essay is a direct response to this piece); Brian Doherty, "John Perry Barlow 2.0" (2004, web)
- Thurs Sep 28. Fred Turner, "How Digital Technology Found Utopian Ideology: Lessons from the First Hackers' Conference" (2006, Blackboard); Paulina Borsook, "Cyberselfish: Ravers, Guilders, Cyberpunks, And
Other Silicon Valley LifeForms" (2001, Blackboard)
Week Seven. Race
- Tues Oct 3. Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, from Racism Without Racists: Color-Blind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in the United States, Section Edition: Chapter 2, "The Central Frames of Color-Blind Racism," Chapter 9, "The (Color-Blind) Emperor Has No Clothes," Chapter 10, "Queries: Answers to Questions from Concerned Readers" (2006, Blackboard)
- Thurs Oct 5. Jesse Daniels, from Cyber-Racism: White Supremacy Online and the New Attack on Civil Rights: Chapter 5, "Gender, White Supremacy, and the Internet" (2009, Blackboard); Chris Gilliard and Hugh Culik, "Digital Redlining, Access, and Privacy" (2016, web). First paper/project assignment due.
Week Eight. Race
- Tues Oct 10. Simone Browne, Dark Matters. Beginning of book through Chapter 3.
- Thurs Oct 12. Simone Browne, Dark Matters. Chapter 3 to end of book.
Week Nine. Rhetoric: "Open"
Week Ten. Gender, Sexuality, LGBTQ
- Tues Oct 24. Sue Rosser, "Through the Lenses of Feminist Theory: Focus on Women and Information Technology" (2005, Blackboard); Jessie Daniels, "Rethinking Cyberfeminism(s): Race, Gender, and Embodiment" (2009, Blackboard)
- Thurs Oct 26. Robert Payne, "Frictionless Sharing and Digital Promiscuity" (2014, Blackboard); Olu Jenzen and Irmi Karl, "Make, Share, Care: Social Media and LGBTQ Youth Engagement" (2014, web)
Week Eleven. Reputation & Data Brokerage
- Tues Oct 31. Black Mirror, "Nosedive" (2016, Blackboard or Netflix); Lois Beckett, "Everything We Know About What Data Brokers Know About You" (2014, web); Julia Angwin, "It's Complicated: Facebook's History of Tracking You" (2014, web); Frank Pasquale, "The Dark Market for Personal Data" (web); Christian Sandvig, "Corrupt Personalization" (2014, web); Wolfie Christl, "How Companies Use Personal Data Against People" (2017, web)
- Thurs Nov 2. Community, "App Development and Condiments" (2014, Blackboard); Danielle Citron and Frank Pasquale, "The Scored Society: Due Process for Automated Predictions" (2014, web)
Week Twelve. Information War and "Fake News"
- Tues Nov 7. Danny Westneat, "UW Professor: The Information War Is Real, and We’re Losing It" (2017, web); Kate Starbird, "Examining the Alternative Media Ecosystem through the Production of Alternative Narratives of Mass Shooting Events on Twitter" (2017, web); Alice Marwick and Rebecca Lewis, "Media Manipulation and Disinformation Online" (2017, web)
- Thurs Nov 9. Adrian Chen, "The Fake News Fallacy" (2017, web); Robbie Gramer, "Google’s Eric Schmidt Says More Information is Good, Even If It’s Wrong" (2016, web); Second paper/project assignment due.
Week Thirteen. Bitcoin and Blockchain
- Tues Nov 14. David Gerard, Attack of the 50ft Blockchain
- Thurs Nov 16. David Gerard, Attack of the 50ft Blockchain
Week Fourteen. Thanksgiving break; no classes
- Tues Nov 21. Thanksgiving break, no class
- Thurs Nov 23. Thanksgiving break, no class
Week Fifteen. Artificial Intelligence (AI) and "The Singularity"
- Tues Nov 28. Kate Crawford and Ryan Calo, "There Is a Blind Spot in AI Research" (2016, web), Kate Crawford and Meredith Whittaker, "Artificial Intelligence Is Hard to See" (2016, web), Luciano Floridi, "Singulatarians, AItheists, and Why the Problem with Artificial Intelligence is H.A.L. (Humanity at Large), not HAL" (2015, web); Maciej Cegłowski, "Superintelligence: The Idea that Eats Smart People" (2016, web)
- Thurs Nov 30. Nick Bostrom, Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies, Chapter 2, "Paths to Superintelligence" (Blackboard), Kate Crawford, "Artificial Intelligence's White Guy Problem" (2016, web)
Week Sixteen. Kobek, I Hate the Internet
- Tues Dec 5. Kobek, I Hate the Internet
- Thurs Dec 7. 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.