Course overview

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Internet and Society: Technologies and Politics of Control

It is hard to overstate the role the Internet plays in our lives. The Net has developed not only as the greatest means of producing and sharing information that the world has ever known, but also as a fundamental tool in global political, social, and economic processes. The Net has been heralded by many as nothing less than a means of fundamentally transforming our world into one that is more just, more democratic, and more affluent, while redrawing the boundaries of political and economic power.

But the Net is no longer a frontier, and the early days of the Internet exceptionalism have given way to increased regulatory responses. Just as the Internet allowed users to discover new and interesting ways to transform lives, those who seek to control the levers of power around the Internet have discovered means of controlling its content and dissemination, through technological, monetary, normative, and legal means.

Course Themes

  • Control and Code
  • The Role of Law
  • Online Free Expression
  • Digital Civil Society
  • The Cultural Commons
  • Technology and Development

And we are increasingly aware of how networked technology and its promises for cultural improvement have not been evenly distributed amongst all peoples. Indeed, for some people, the Internet has changed everything, yet others remain untouched – or even harmed. Beyond reflecting existing gaps and choices, the rise of the Net has also led to counter-revolutions aimed at reining in the perceived excesses of cyberspace. The prospect of eroding profits, political power, personal privacy, and social influence stemming from Internet-enabled competition and freedom has likewise spurred moves to protect existing economic, technological, social, political and legal structures.

This class investigates who and what controls the Internet, and how that control is achieved. It asks what now is the balance between these forces, and what, if anything, should be done.

The focus of this class is enabling participants to develop a national and international perspective on public policy issues regarding the Internet and related technologies. The approach is multidisciplinary, drawing primarily upon law, political science, economics, technology, and social theory. Discussion and debate will play an important role in the class; students are expected to actively participate in the dialogue, whether in person or remotely. During the semester, students will work individually or in groups on assignments contributing to a final research project that draws upon the concepts and theories of the class and applies them to current issues in cyberspace.