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EN??? Fictions of Data: Cultural Studies of Computational Society

Module Credits: 15 CATS

Tutor(s): Stephen Shapiro

Lecture and/or Seminar times and location:

This module MAY run in 2019-20. If it does, then it will do so in term 1 and possibly term 2 as well, depending on interest.

Date and time: may possibly be Thursday mid-day

Module Outline:

What does it mean to be human within the twenty-first century’s ocean of data? Throughout the nineteenth-century, an intertwined series of cultural objects and institutions emerged in response to the rise of capitalism and the middle-class’s dominance: the novel, a sense of authentic, interior personality (and unconscious), a national collective, and the behavioural codes of civil society. Against the creation of new, complex forms of subjectivity, there were the excluded: slaves, colonized peoples, sexual and gender deviants, and all those who dreamt of revolutionary transformation. During the crisis of capitalism in the twentieth century—the prolonged economic depression and rise of far right populisms—a new kind of society, based on consumption by a “mass” subject and one in which the bureaucratic, managerial State, arose. By the new century, these formations were in the process of being surpassed by the rise of a new form of capitalism, called neoliberalism, and the new techniques of datafied control that digitalization and computational advancements have made possible.

This module seeks to create a set of frameworks for understanding this swiftly emerging world of data, algorithms, and the internet of things, one which challenges basic understandings of how we comprehend our selves, our relations with others, and asks if the cloud of data storage has replaced earlier notions of the divine—to paraphrase Nietzsche, God may be dead, but is data forever? We will build on historical discussions of the way in which power and cultural products, like books, have operate and may look like in the mists of the near future.

Pathway information: This is a Pathway Approved Option for the North American Pathway and the Theory Pathway as well as one of the Distributional Requirements for the English Pathway. It can also be selected as an option under the other pathways.


Reading List: [link to the Talis Aspire reading list for the module]


Objectives and outcomes:

The course aims:

  • To introduce students to a number of theories about literary forms (primarily the novel) in relation to social and historical transformation.
  • To study critical theories about the historical development of subjectivity in relation to modern liberalism, neoliberalism, and more contemporary economic directives.
  • To explore the cultural and subjective implications of the rise of an economy organized around the profitability of data and government through computational automation (algorithms).
  • To consider the relationship between literary form, intellectual debate and cultural conditions, as reflected in the cultural products in time in question.
  • To introduce students to a discussions around the rise of digital humanities as method and mode of social control.
  • To develop students’ ability to analyse contemporary cultural and social dynamics both as literature and as critical texts.
  • To develop a critical apparatuses in the relative consideration or authenticity of sources, both academic and journalistic.

By the end of the module the student should be able to:

  • Demonstrate a broad understanding of theories involving the relation of cultural form to dominant social and economic formations.
  • Effectively articulate the positions and debates around the historical culture of liberalism, neoliberalism, and the datalogic.
  • Display a critical understanding of some of the main theoretical debates, including Foucault, Rouvroy, and Deleuze.
  • Develop skills in reading social criticism and contemporary cultural studies.
  • Effectively construct an argument in academic essays and discussion.
  • Develop skills in written and oral communication.