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IM902 Approaches to the Digital


20/30 CATS - (10/15 ECTS)
Term 1

Computer networks, devices, and infrastructures structure and facilitate much of our social, political and cultural life.

This core module introduces students to an array of approaches to studying digital media and culture. The module follows a trajectory through the different layers of digital culture (from infrastructure to search engines, memes and more). Weekly discussed is focused through an ongoing engagement with the Web, as a key bundle of digital technologies. As we pass through each layer, we place careful attention on specific technical artifacts (e.g. protocols, cookies and image formats) and explore how culture is made and unmade through different forms of technical mediation. By the end of this module, you will have a good overview of key debates in digital media, past and present. Through lab sessions, you will explore and reflect upon some of the key digital artifacts that shape contemporary culture from and think about how these can be used to inform critical and creative practice.

Module Convenor

Dr Michael Dieter


For 20 CATS

  • 30% Group web project;
  • 70% Research essay, 3,000 words.

For 30 CATS

  • 20% Book review, 1000 words;
  • 30% Group web project;
  • 50% Research essay; 4,000-4,500 words.

Indicative Syllabus

Week Two: Introduction

Week Three - Power, Discipline and Control

Week Four - Networks and Protocol

Week Five - Platformization and Multisided Markets

Week Six - Media Convergence and Participation

Week Seven - Memes and Virality

Week Eight - Data Capture and Counterveillance

Week Nine - Playbor and Ubiquitious Work

Week Ten - Infrastructures and Ecologies

Illustrative Bibliography

Bunz, Mercedes. ‘As You Like It: Critique in the Era of Affirmative Discourse.’ Unlike Us: Social Media Monopolies and Their Alternatives. Amsterdam: Institute of Network Cultures, 2013. 137-145.

Chun, Wendy Hui Kyong. “On Software, or the Persistence of Visual Knowledge.” Grey Room 18 (2004): 26-51.

Coleman, Gabriella. Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy. London: Verso, 2014.

DiSalvo, Carl. “Design and the Construction of Publics”, Design Issues 25.1 (2009): 48-63.

Helmond, Anne and Carolin Gerlitz. “The Like Economy: Social Buttons and the Data Intensive Web.” New Media & Society (2013): 1-18.

Kelty, Christopher. Two Bits: The Cultural Significance of Free Software. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008.

Kittler, Friedrich. “Theoretical Presuppositions.” Optical Media: Berlin Lectures 1999. Trans. Anthony Enns. London: Polity, 2010. 29-46.

Latour, Bruno. “A Cautious Prometheus? A Few Steps Toward a Philosophy of Design (With Special Attention to Peter Sloterdijk).” Proceedings of the 2008 Annual International Conference of the Design History Society. Eds. Fiona Hackne, Jonathn Glynne and Viv Minto. Falmouth: Universal Publishers, 2009. 2-10.

Lovink, Geert. Networks without a Cause: A Critique of Social Media. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2012.

Manovich, Lev. Software Takes Command. New York: Bloomsbury, 2013.

Mitchell, W. J. T.; and Mark B. N Hansen. Eds. Critical Terms for Media Studies. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010.

Gillespie, Tarleton; Pablo J. Boczkowski, and Kirsten A. Foot. Eds. Media Technologies: Essays on Communication, Materiality, and Society. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2014.

Parikka, Jussi. What is Media Archaeology? Cambridge: Polity, 2013.

Pasquinelli, Matteo. “Google’s PageRank Algorithm: A Diagram of the Cognitive Capitalism and the Rentier of the Common Intellect.” Deep Search: The Politics of Search Beyond Google, Felix Stalder and Konrad Becker (eds) Innsbruck: Studienverlag, 2009, pp. 152-162.

Rogers, Richard. Digital Methods. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2013.

Scholz, Trebor. “Platform Cooperativism vs. the Sharing Economy.” Medium, 2014.

Siegert, Bernhard. “Cultural Techniques: Or the End of the Intellectual Postwar Era in German Media Theory.” Theory, Culture and Society 30.6 (2013): 48-65.

Terranova, Tiziana. “Free Labor: Producing Culture for the Digital Economy.” Social Text 63.18-2 (2000): 33-58.

Wardrip-Fruin, Noah and Nick Monfort Eds. The New Media Reader. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2003.

Learning Outcomes

The module aims to encourage students to:

  • Gain a theoretical and practical understanding of systematic challenges brought in relation to digital infrastructures across disciplines;
  • Acquire an advanced and interdisciplinary grounded conceptual vocabulary and a creative methodological approach towards the multiform phenomena of the digital era and their interpretations;
  • Innovatively and independently evaluate digital phenomena and apply conceptual and methodological frameworks that yield original and sound interpretative analyses;
  • Develop and demonstrate independent interpretative analysis through experimental practice, discussion, and forms of academic writing.

Important Information

CIM Students 

Please complete the optional module choice form distributed during the induction programme and get approval from your personal tutors during the Personal Tutor Meeting. Please then submit your approved form to Gheerdhardhini (CIM PG Coordinator) in room B0.04 by Week 0: Wednesday, 25th September by 17.00 GMT.

External Students

  • Life Sciences – Please contact the CIM PG Coordinator (Gheerdhardhini) via email (, to request your optional module choice by Week 1 : Thursday, 3rd October, 17.00 GMT.
  • All other external students - Please contact the CIM PG Coordinator (Gheerdhardhini) via email (, to request your optional module choice by Week 1 : Wednesday, 2nd October, 17.00 GMT.


  • Please be advised that you may be expected to have access to a laptop for some of these courses due to software requirements; the Centre is unable to provide a laptop for external students
  • Please be advised that some modules may have restricted numbers and places are allocated according to availability.
  • Please note that a request does NOT guarantee a place on the module and is subject to availability.
  • Gaining permission of a member of CIM teaching staff or a member of staff from your home department or filling in the eVision Module Registration (eMR) system with the desired module does NOT guarantee a place on that module.
  • Requests after the specified deadline will not be considered.
  • CIM PG Coordinator will get back confirming your place in the module by 27th September 2019 (For CIM students), or 4th October 2019 (For Life Sciences students).
  • Only after confirmation of a place from CIM PG Coordinator can students’ home departments confirm their registration on eVision/MRM. Registrations by students who have not received confirmation of a place from CIM will be rejected via the system.

NOTE – The above-mentioned registration deadline also applies to the CIM optional modules running in Term 2. We will consider registrations again in the first week of Term 2, but only in relation to modules where there is availability.

We are normally unable to allow students (registered or auditing) to join/leave the module after the second week of it commencing.