The Network Society
Research and media discourses tend to use catchy and broad labels that often have indeed quite strong explanatory power – but only if reflected in depth and discussed adequately. One example is the term “networked society” that even though it seems brand new, it had already been coined in the 1980s, with precursors that date back to the 1970s. The catchy term is indeed related to substantial theoretical work on the role of “new media” and ICTs for social and cultural change that merits close attention and focused reading. In the course we will start from Manuel Castells’ seminal theoretical work on the rise of the network society and we will reflect on its key notions, the related keywords and concepts, such as information age, communication power, mass-self communication, the relation of ICTs and social change, networked individualism as well as on the political economy of “new media”. In the course we will first acquire the necessary theoretical bases by focusing on “classical” readings in the field of the sociology and the political economy of the Web, starting from Castells’ theory. We will then include more recent work on current keywords and buzzwords (such as e.g. sharing, networked publics, algorithmic turn, the “disinformation age”) that have entered research as well as media discourses. We will interpret these concepts against the background of previously acquired theoretical lenses and frameworks. Finally, students will discuss selected exemplary studies in the field of online / digital communication and (critical) Internet studies in short group presentations. The main aim of the course is the development of critical-analytical skills that are necessary for an understanding of the role and “impact” of ICTs in current societies and for the interpretation of labels describing their assumed conditions.