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Social Networks and Digital Lives (15 ECTS)

SO4293 Social Networks and Digital Lives (15 ECTS)

Lecturer(s): Dr Angela Nagle and Dr Anne Holohan

Module Content/Outline:

Over one in three people on the planet is already connected to the Internet and millions more become connected every month. We all live digital lives, whether we are connected or not, as the structures and norms in society are increasingly organized around the rapid creation and sharing of digital information.  The technology is continuously changing as are some aspects of social behaviour, but much of how people behave, and patterns of power in society, are unchanged. Partly because increased connectivity is merely an amplification of the expression of long-existing needs and behaviour, but also because technology is but a tool and people, and institutions, use it to further their own priorities and agendas. This course places digital technologies in their socio-political-historical context, explores the ideas around networks and examines how core institutions (work, the economy, the media, government, family, politics) and norms (privacy, sharing, feeling rules) – are being impacted by new technologies.

In Part I, we will explore the structure and features of social networks and their implications for collective behavior.  We ask how are digital technologies changing who we connect with and the norms underpinning these connections. Why does the presentation of self merit renewed exploration in the digital era? What roles do law and social norms play in keeping anti-social behavior in check? What norms are evolving about what is acceptable behavior with digital devices and in mediated interaction, and what is not? What is social netiquette? How is it evolving? What does privacy mean in the digital era? How are our relationships now conducted and shaped, from friendship and family, romantic to community? We will look at how people are navigating the social dilemmas that emerge with the integration of technology and connectedness into their waking and sleeping lives.

In Part 2, we explore how power and inequalities are being played out in the digital era. At the individual, societal and international level, we ask where does power lie in the digital era? Are old powerful institutions (states, firms) being challenged successfully by newer ones such as Wikileaks and peer production? Are networked individuals like Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden heroes or traitors? Are achieving the goals of social movements and revolutions easier with technologies? Or harder? How are changing norms around privacy and sharing contributing to the shifts in production and power brought about by Big Data and surveillance? Do digital technologies serve authoritarianism as well as democracy? Misogyny as well as fourth wave feminism?

We look at the implications of social networks and digital technology on work and employment and explore the role of gaming in this and other spheres. We also consider the implications of those changes in terms of wealth and equality for those on both sides of both kinds of digital divide: access and differing levels of skills.


Learning Objectives:

Students successfully completing the module will be able to:

  • Apply different theoretical and methodological approaches to social networks;
  • Analyse the impact of information and communication technologies on political, economic and social institutions;
  • Engage with theories of the networked society and the digital era;
  • Critically appraise the impact of new technologies on social norms and practices in diverse areas, including sexuality, death and crime.

Lectures & Tutorials/ Contact hours:

One lecture and one tutorial per week.

Workload: Lectures: 22 hrs; Tutorials: 22 hrs; Exams/assignments: 22 hrs; Self-study: 284 hrs. Total: 350 hours.

Recommended texts/ Key Reading:

  • Wellman, B. and Rainie, L. (2013) Networks: The New Social Operating System.
  • Christakis, N. and Fowler, J. (2011) Connected: The Amazing Power of Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives. Harper Press.
  • Mozarov, E. (2011) The Net Delusion: How Not to Liberate the World. Penguin.
  • Standage, T. (2007) The Victorian Internet. Walker & Company.


Coursework (50%)
Annual exam (50%)

Date for submission: TBA

Penalties for late submission: Without an authorised extension, the mark given will be lowered by one grade

Examination: 1 x 3-hour examination