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Undergraduate Module Descriptor

SPA3003: Data Justice and Surveillance Capitalism

This module descriptor refers to the 2023/4 academic year.

Module Aims

The module has three main aims:

1)     To explore the various ways in which spatially bounded states are weakened in our digital age due to big data platforms’ ability to become market makers in their own right and de facto regulate themselves. Experts in digital political economy such as Pasquale (2016) have identified this phenomenon as the move from territorial to functional sovereignty. For instance, Facebook set up its own regulatory body to tackle fake news and created its own cryptocurrency (Libra) hailed as a ‘seismic moment for global finance’ (Parkin 2019); with ~ 2.3 billion users Libra could become the widest used currency in the world.

2)     To bring forth exploration of non-modern ways of knowing the world, and its entanglements with digital technologies. Uncovering lived worlds in which dreams, science and ritual coexist and cross-fertilise each other. These cultural landscapes have seldom been theorised or researched in the current literature; this is why in this module they are informed by first hand ethnographic research done in Colombia, Mexico, and Indonesia. 

3)     To imagine and theorise how citizens engaging with digital platforms could be so much more than prosumers participating in a market economy. Thus, we will interrogate and reflect on why and how, we need to build them as citizens’ platforms that put forward common challenges, even those that require questioning our values, assumptions, modes of production and habits.

At the end of the module you will be able to engage in a meaningful way with the contemporary challenges arising from the transformation of sovereignty, its mutation, transformation & (re)construction, in times of surveillance capitalism, but also, they will read and think about postcolonial approaches to justice and non-western takes on knowledge, data and power that will challenge their taken for granted ideas.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

This module's assessment will evaluate your achievement of the ILOs listed here – you will see reference to these ILO numbers in the details of the assessment for this module.

On successfully completing the programme you will be able to:
Module-Specific Skills1. Demonstrate knowledge and critical understanding of a range of perspectives on contemporary environmental intelligence, surveillance capitalism and postcolonial approaches to data justice.
2. Critically evaluate these perspectives and relate them to empirical studies and findings.
3. Analyse the effects of ‘powerful’ and ‘weak’ social actors and their decisions, and how, why and through what means resistance has been made possible. The module will focus specifically on movements on the social structure, culture, the economy and the environment.
Discipline-Specific Skills4. Reflect upon, apply, and criticise social theories and empirical social science findings that engage with Data justice and Surveillance capitalism.
5. Demonstrate in writing and orally, a capacity to question taken-for-granted assumptions.
Personal and Key Skills6. Engage in complex arguments in writing, orally and in small groups to speak about the ways in which algorithm and datafied forms of governance affect your everyday life.
7. Identify problems and anticipate possible avenues for solving them in context of surveillance capitalism and general power dynamics.