Digital Networks, Democracy, and Dictatorship

Credits: 2.0
Course description: 

Over the last decade, digital media has become an important part of the narrative of political change around the world. Some authoritarian regimes have collapsed because democracy advocates used information technologies to catch ruling elites off guard. Some emerging democracies seem to have deepened their democratic practices because social media has made elections ever more competitive and civil society actors more effective.  Yet in some countries, authoritarian governments have used mobile phones and the internet as a means of surveillance and censorship, turning the same tools used by civil society leaders into tools for social control. So how can we make sense of the multiple and complex outcomes of social media use? Are there ways of "adding it all up", or is the role of social media in public policy formation and political change different in every country?

By the end of the class, students will be able to design a small research project, collect data, assess its quality and manage it using a spreadsheet program, and manage real working relationships under tight deadlines. Case studies from around the world will be used wherever possible. Students will have significant freedom to develop their own research interests through a paper on a topic of their own choosing. Because the conversations in this class will be directly shaped by current events, the specific readings lists and country case studies discussed will adapt to the important events in international affairs occurring during the course.