SOCIO303-20A (SPE)

Technologies, Algorithms and Social Life

15 Points

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Division of Arts Law Psychology & Social Sciences
School of Social Sciences
Sociology and Social Policy


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Paper Description

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The purpose of this paper is to advance a sociological analysis of emergent technologies around the 'internet of things' and the social relations it engenders. In a series of speculative books Marshall McLuhan (1962, 1964, 1967, 1968) anticipated an electronic age, a Marconi age to replace the Gutenberg Galaxy. While McLuhan's use of diffuse terminology undermined precision at the same time as it facilitated conjecture, it can be argued that much of what he anticipated has come to pass. Indeed, the Internet as Web 2.0 appears as a mature / stable assemblage with users spending around a quarter of their lives ‘online’. This fraction is increasing. Furthermore, this new realm of social relations is not limited to the virtual world, some would describe this new materiality as the immanent aspect of Web 3.0; rather the boundary between it and the non-virtual is increasingly interpolated. Consequently, the Internet of things, the increasing role algorithms and other non-human actors in decision-making, telepresence, ‘the military industrial surveillance complex’ (Fuchs, 2017) are important drivers that a contemporary sociology must address.
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Paper Structure

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This is a SPE paper. All the course materials are available online. My expectation is that you will read / view not only the course materials but also follow up the issues raised and look at a good cross section of cited material.

The SPE paper is structured around weekly resources and and is assessed via 4 Essays (each worth 25%). While the paper is self-paced there are due dates assigned to each essay.

The 4 Essays will be submitted via Moodle. You can read the essay topic now on this outline and on the Moodle page.

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Learning Outcomes

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Students who successfully complete the paper should be able to:

  • 1

    Understand key sociological perspectives relating to new forms of social relations facilitated by the rise of the Web 2.0 internet, the ‘Internet of things’ and the increasing role of algorithms.

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  • 2

    Appreciate and analyse how these new technologies, including forms of non-human agency, impact on decision-making in their lifeworld.

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  • 3

    Develop a critical understanding of power relations, class, gender and race inequalities, collective/group experiences and social institutions in terms of the Internet of things.

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    • 4

      Discuss the retrospect and prospect of sociological analysis around the socio-technical assemblages typically labelled the Internet.

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    Students will be assessed principally through their ability (1) answer and compose questions on a weekly forum, (2) compose critical scholarly essays, and (3) complete a test.

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    Assessment Components

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    The internal assessment/exam ratio (as stated in the University Calendar) is 100:0. There is no final exam. The final exam makes up 0% of the overall mark.

    The internal assessment/exam ratio (as stated in the University Calendar) is 100:0 or 0:0, whichever is more favourable for the student. The final exam makes up either 0% or 0% of the overall mark.

    Component DescriptionDue Date TimePercentage of overall markSubmission MethodCompulsory
    1. Essay 1
    20 Apr 2020
    5:00 PM
    • Online: Submit through Moodle
    2. Essay 2
    11 May 2020
    5:00 PM
    • Online: Submit through Moodle
    3. Essay 3
    1 Jun 2020
    5:00 PM
    • Online: Submit through Moodle
    4. Essay 4
    12 Jun 2020
    5:00 PM
    • Online: Submit through Moodle
    Assessment Total:     100    
    Failing to complete a compulsory assessment component of a paper will result in an IC grade
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    Required and Recommended Readings

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    Required Readings

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    The following readings are required. Students are also required to view and engage with the urls and video clips made available in this paper. ALL of the readings and urls and video clips are available through the Moodle page for this paper. All the video clips are also uploaded to Panopto. I will also add material, often news items, to the Moodle page. This material is also required readings\. All the material below is available in PDF format from the Moodle page.

    1. The Internet of Things

    Greengard, S. 2018. The Internet Changes Everything. The Internet of Things. The MIT Press, pp. 1-25.

    Swan, M. 2012. Sensor Mania! The Internet of Things, Wearable Computing, Objective Metrics, and the Quantified Self 2.0. Journal of Sensor and Actuator Networks, (1), pp. 217-253.

    The Editorial Team, 2018. How Wearable Technology Will Change the Internet, available at, accessed 12 February, 2020.

    Baudrillard, J., 1983. The precession of simulacra. New York.

    2. Platform capitalism

    Srnieck, N. 2017. Platform Capitalism. Platform Capitalism. Polity Press, pp. 36-92.

    Condit, J. 2018. Google will always do evil. Available at, accessed 12 February, 2020.

    Zuboff, S. 2019. Home or Exile in the Digital Future. The Age of Surveillance Capitalism. Public Affairs, pp 3-24.

    3. Problems for jurisdictions: Facebook and Uber

    Curtis, B. and Galic, M. (2017). Rich and Poor: Class Division in Aotearoa New Zealand, in Bell, A., Elizabeth, V., McIntosh, T. and Wynyard, M. (eds.) The Land Of Milk And Honey: Making Sense of Aotearoa New Zealand. Auckland: Auckland University Press: 134-145.

    Mastrorillo, E. 2016. Getting Taken for a Ride by Uber Technologies Incorporated Sociological Imagination, Western’s Undergraduate Sociology Student Journal, 5(1), Article 4, pp. 1-8.

    Fuchs, C. 2017. Facebook: Surveillance in the Age of Edward Snowden. Social media: A critical introduction. Sage, pp. 183-215.

    Roy, E. 2019. Facebook are 'morally bankrupt liars' says New Zealand's privacy commissioner, The Guardian. Available at:, accessed 12 February, 2020.

    4. Technological rationality and / or is the Internet making us stupid?

    Marcuse, H. 1941. Some Social Implications of Modern Technology. Studies in Philosophy and Social Sciences. IX, pp. 138-163.

    Marcuse, H. 2002 [1964]. The New Forms of Control. In One Dimensional Man: Studies in the ideologies of advanced industrial society. Routledge, pp. 3-20.

    Carr, N. 2008. Is Google making us stupid? Yearbook of the National Society for the Study of Education, 107(2), pp. 89-94.

    Fisher, M. 2009. Marxist Supernanny. In Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative? Zero Books, pp. 71-81.

    5. Here come the drones: The military industrial surveillance complex

    Curtis, N. 2016. The explication of the social: Algorithms, drones and (counter-) terror. Journal of Sociology, 52(3), pp.522-536.

    Chan, M. 2019, The rise of the killer robots – and the two women fighting back, The Guardian. Available at:, accessed 12 February, 2020.

    6. The message is the medium: Extensions of Human

    McLuhan, M. 1964. The Medium is the Message. In Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. Routledge, pp 7-23.

    Harvey, O. 2006. Marshall McLuhan on Technology, Subjectivity and ‘the Sex Organs of the Machine World’. Continuum, 30(3), pp. 331-344.

    9. Big Data, algorithms and non-human actants

    Callon, M. 1986. Some Elements of a Sociology of Translation: Domestication of the Scallops and the Fishermen of Saint Brieuc Bay. In Law, J. (Ed), Power, Action and Belief: a new Sociology of Knowledge? Routledge and Kegan Paul, pp. 196-233.

    Just, N., Latzer, M. 2017. Governance by algorithms: reality construction by algorithmic selection on the Internet. Media, Culture & Society, 39(2), pp. 238-259.

    Lupton, D. 2015. A critical sociology of Big Data. In Digital Sociology. Routledge, pp. 93-116.

    Levin, S. 2019. 'Bias deep inside the code': the problem with AI 'ethics' in Silicon Valley. The Guardian. Available at:, accessed 12 February, 2020.

    10. Artificial intelligence

    Pilling, F., Coulton, P. 2019. Forget the Singularity, its mundane artificial intelligence that should be our immediate concern. The Design Journal, 22(1), pp. 1135-1146.

    Vinge. V. 1993. The Coming Technological Singularity: How to Survive in the Post-Human Era, Available at:, accessed 12 February, 2020.

    11. The rise of China

    Fuchs, C. 2016. Baidu, Weibo and Renren: the global political economy of social media in China, Asian Journal of Communication, 26(1), pp. 14-41.

    Inkster, N. 2019. The Huawei Affair and China's Technology Ambitions. Survival, 61(1); pp. 105-111.

    12. Bitcoin

    Nakamoto, S. 2008. Bitcoin: A peer-to-peer electronic cash system. Available at:, accessed 12 February, 2020.

    Böhme, R., Christin, N., Edelman, B. and Moore, T. 2015. Bitcoin: Economics, technology, and governance. Journal of Economic Perspectives, 29(2), pp.213-38.

    Corradi, F. and Höfner, P. 2018. The disenchantment of Bitcoin: unveiling the myth of a digital currency. International Review of Sociology, 28(1), pp.193-207.

    Dodd, N, 2018. The social life of Bitcoin. Theory, culture & society, 35(3), pp.35-56.

    Levy, T. and Barber, G. 2019, The Ambitious Plan Behind Facebook’s Cryptocurrency, Libra, Wired. Available at:, accessed 12 February, 2020.

    13. The crisis of sociology

    Edwards, A., Housley, W., Williams, M., Sloan, L. and Williams, M. 2013. Digital social research, social media and the sociological imagination: surrogacy, augmentation and re-orientation, International Journal of Social Research Methodology, 16(3), pp. 245-260.

    Savage, M. and Burrows, R., 2007. The coming crisis of empirical sociology. Sociology, 41(5), pp. 885-899.

    Savage, M., 2017. Sociology and the digital: A response to Alphia Possamai-Inesedy and Alan Nixon. Journal of Sociology, 53(4), pp.885-886.

    14. What a disappointment: Where’s my jetpack?

    Graeber, D. 2012. Of flying cars and the declining rate of profit. The baffler, pp. 19, 66-84.

    Wilson, D. 2007. Jetpack. In Where’s My Jetpack?: A Guide to the Amazing Science Fiction Future That Never Arrived. Bloomsbury, pp. 15-21.

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    Online Support

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    Moodle will be used throughout the course.

    If a notice is sent out via Moodle, it is assumed you will have received it. If material is placed on Moodle, it is assumed you have access to it. If, for any reason, you are unable to access Moodle, please advise Bruce Curtis.

    Students are expected to utilise the material available on Moodle, but must also undertake the independent research to locate further appropriate material for assessments and other aspects of the paper. Reading a range of academic material relevant to the topic is crucial to adequately complete any assignment.

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    This paper is worth 15 points. That implies that students will devote a minimum of 150 ‘learning hours’ to the paper. A full semester workload is 60 points. Therefore, students taking this course must expect to undertake a workload equivalent of around 25% of a full time load for one semester; that is about 10 hours a week for the whole semester (i.e. through to the end of study week). Assessment will be based on the assumption that students have devoted a minimum of 150 hours to the paper.
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    Linkages to Other Papers

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    Prerequisite papers: 15 points in either Sociology or Social Policy or Screen and Media Studies.




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