MC435      Half Unit
Disruptive Digital Worlds: Competing Economic and Political Economy Explanations

This information is for the 2017/18 session.

Teacher responsible

Prof Robin Mansell TW3.7.01B


This course is available on the MSc in Global Media and Communications (LSE and Fudan), MSc in Global Media and Communications (LSE and UCT), MSc in Global Media and Communications (LSE and USC), MSc in Media and Communications, MSc in Media and Communications (Data and Society) and MSc in Media and Communications (Media and Communications Governance). This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit.

Course content

Two important trends are expected to influence the world economy over the next decade - rising income and wealth disparity and increasing dependency on digital systems. This course will help students to understand responses to these developments. There is little agreement about the consequences of high levels of digital industry concentration, job losses due to artificial intelligence, whether citizens and consumers can control their digital environment, or how to respond. For some, digital transformation is a welcome sign of progress; for others, it brings the risk of threats. Growing dependency on digital platforms, automation, the Internet of Things, online monitoring, and big data analytics, is often depicted as inevitable and as a sign that market reform is needed, or it is claimed that radical change is needed to protect citizens and consumers. Examples of failures to protect citizens/consumers abound in everyday life, e.g. compromised bank accounts, large breaches in the security of social media user data, and the release of mobile operator customer records.

Students will learn about the differences between free market (neoclassical), market reform (institutional) and political economy theories of disruptive digital transformation. They will learn how to critically read and interpret the claims of companies, policy makers and citizen advocacy groups and the claims in the academic literature and the popular and trade press. Using case examples, students will compare and contrast the questions asked and the assumptions made in several approaches to disruptive innovation and transformation in the digital world and the consequences of the different approaches.

Examples will come from the history of, and expectations about, the future of digital platforms, social media and mobile services. What does it mean to claim that everyone has to adapt to rapid change? How do different theories explain the link between rising inequality and the role of digital technologies? What do stakeholders – large companies, governments, citizen advocacy groups – lobby for and why? Why does it matter whether mergers happen, which standards or rules and norms are set, how the radio spectrum is used, which commercial strategies are in place, and whether it is feasible to enforce legislative provisions intended to enable user consent over the use of data? Who, if anyone, has the power to change contemporary trends in the digital world if the goals are to achieve greater equity and more inclusive socio-economic outcomes as well as the preservation of human dignity?


10 hours of lectures and 10 hours of seminars in the LT.

The provisional outline of lecture topics for 2017-2018 is the following:

Week 1: Introduction: Why Digital Disruption Matters

Week 2: Digital Transformation History and Future Expectations - Three Perspectives

Week 3: Digital Platforms Everywhere - What They Do and Why it Matters

Week 4: Old Media Industries and New Big Players - Business Strategies, Structural Changes and Mergers

Week 5: Standards and Why They Matter

Week 6: (reading week - students will receive support for the preparation of their team projects and presentations)

Week 7: Case 1: Artificial Intelligence, Automation and Employment

Week 8: Case 2: Broadband Strategies - Challenges of Catching Up

Week 9: Case 3: Audio-visual Digital Transformation

Week 10: Case 4: Mobile Service Digital Transformation

Week 11: Conclusion: Comparing and Contrasting Market-led, Market-Reform and Political Economy Perspectives on Digital Transformation


Formative coursework

Students will be expected to produce 1 essay, 1 project and 1 presentation in the LT.

Essay: All students will submit a 1,500 word essay on a topic selected from a list of topics. addressed to issues raised in the academic literature. Formative essay due end of Week 7, written feedback end of week 9.

Team Project: Teams will be created in Week 3. Each Team will submit a collaborative 500 word Project Plan, receiving written and oral feedback by the end of Week 5. Topics will be selected from a list and modified by students in agreement with the course convenor.

Presentation: Students will receive oral feedback on their presentation skills and on the strengths and weaknesses of the Team Project presentation as well as individual advice on choosing a related topic for the critical case reflection summative course work. This feedback will be provided no later than the Monday following the seminar presentation.

Indicative reading

Atkinson, A. B. (2015) Inequality: What can be done? Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Bauer, J. M. (2016) Inequality in the information society. Quello Center Working Paper, Michigan State University.

David, P. A. and Steinmueller, W. E. (1996) 'Standards, trade and competition in the emerging global information infrastructure environment'. Telecommunications Policy, 20(10): 817-830.

De Prato, G., Sanz, E., and Simon, J. P. (2014) Digital media worlds - the new economy of media. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Freeman, C. and Soete, L. (1997) The economics of industrial innovation, Third edition. London: Pinter.

Freeman, C. (2007) 'The ICT paradigm'. In  R. Mansell, C. Avgerou, D. Quah and R. Silverstone  (Eds). The Oxford handbook of information and communication technologies,  (pp. 34-54). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Jin, D. Y. (2013) De-convergence of global media industries. New York: Routledge.

Jorgenson, D. W. and Vu, K. M. (2016) 'The ICT revolution, world economic growth, and policy issues'. Telecommunications Policy, 40: 383-397.

Juma, C. (2016) Innovation and its enemies: Why people resist new technologies. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Just, N. and Puppis, M. (Eds) (2012) Trends in communications policy research: New theories, methods and subjects. Bristol: Intellect.

Kenney, M., Rouvinen, P., and Zysman, J. (2015) 'The digital disruption and its societal impacts'. Journal of Industrial Competition and Trade, 15: 1-4.

Mansell, R. and Steinmueller, W. E. (2000) 'Competing interests and strategies in the information society'. Mobilizing the European information society: Strategies for growth and opportunity,  (pp. 8-36). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

McChesney, R. W. and Nichols, J. (2016) People get ready: The fight against a jobless economy and a citizenless democracy. New York: Nation Books.

McGuigan, L. and Manzerolle, V. (2014) '"All the world's a shopping cart": Theorizing the political economy of ubiquitous media and markets'. New Media & Society, 17(11): 1830-1848.

Sindik, A. (2014) 'Standing out in the crowd: How unique are the lobbying patterns of the broadcast and wireless industries?'. Telecommunications Policy, 38: 1024-1034.


Essay (60%, 2000 words) and coursework (40%, 1500 words) in the ST.

Students will submit two pieces of written work for the summative assessment

2000 word essay: the aim of the essay will be to compare and contrast two different theoretical explanations of disruptive digital transformation, selecting a specific empirical example and drawing upon the academic literature. This assessment is linked to the formative essay.

1500 word critical case reflection: Based on the work undertaken within the Team Project, each student will write a critical reflection on the lessons learned about the history or expectations for the development of a digital technology or service and its implications for one or two aspects of society, e.g industry consolidation, employment, monitoring, equality or human dignity. The bibliography supporting this written output will contain at least two academic sources but will also draw upon industry, policy or popular literature. This assessment is linked to the formative project plan and feedback on the project presentation.

Key facts

Department: Media & Communications

Total students 2016/17: Unavailable

Average class size 2016/17: Unavailable

Controlled access 2016/17: No

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

  • Self-management
  • Team working
  • Problem solving
  • Application of information skills
  • Communication
  • Application of numeracy skills
  • Commercial awareness
  • Specialist skills