MC434      Half Unit
Digital Platforms and Media Infrastructures

This information is for the 2018/19 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Jean-Christophe Plantin, PEL.701.i


This course is available on the MPhil/PhD in Data, Networks and Society, MSc in Media and Communications, MSc in Media and Communications (Data and Society), MSc in Media and Communications (Media and Communications Governance), MSc in Media and Communications (Research) and MSc in Strategic Communications. This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit.

In order to accommodate academic staff research leave and sabbaticals, and in order to maintain smaller seminar group sizes, this course is capped, meaning that there is a limit to the number of students who can be accepted.


No pre-requisites

Course content

This course analyses digital platforms through their complex interactions with existing media infrastructures that organise the circulation of media, knowledge and information in society, through a process we present as "platformisation." It relies on key readings in media & communications studies and on contemporary examples of digital media platforms to provide an historical account on the rise of platforms, to analyse their material properties, and to reflect on the social and political consequences of their increasing use alongside existing media infrastructures. It provides students with both theoretical and empirical resources to critically assess the complexity of media transformations induced by platforms.

Students will explore the multiple facets of this process, by critically analysing how platforms replace, conflict with, or influence existing media infrastructures, and what are the social, political and epistemological consequences of these tensions. This focus on the relations between existing and emerging media configurations will invite students to investigate how platforms constitute ubiquitous media in everyday life, and how they increasingly shape communication, knowledge production, circulation of data, online participation and mobility.

The first part of the course will introduce the theoretical framework, based on media and communications scholarship analysing the rise of platforms through their relations to existing media infrastructures. The second part illustrate these interactions through case studies, for example social media platforms and news production, platforms data used for scientific research, or geolocated platforms for urban mobility. The third part addresses current social debates around platformisation: such as the transformation of online participation, new forms of platform-based activism and citizenship, and the alternatives to corporate platforms in access to knowledge.

At the end of the course, students will be able to critically assess what platformisation is and to identify the challenges platforms bring in terms of access to communication, knowledge and democratic life. 


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

Formative coursework

-EITHER a 1,500-word formative essay on current theoretical debates around media platforms and society. 

-OR a 1,500-word proposal for a case study analysis of a media platform.

Indicative reading

  • Bucher, Taina. 2013. “Objects of Intense Feeling: The Case of the Twitter API: Computational Culture.” Computational Culture. 3.
  • Gillespie, Tarleton. 2010. “The Politics of ‘platforms.’” New Media & Society 12 (3): 347–64.
  • Gillespie, Tarleton. 2018. Custodians of the Internet: Platforms, Content Moderation, and the Hidden Decisions That Shape Social Media. Yale University Press.
  • Helmond, Anne. 2015. “The Platformization of the Web: Making Web Data Platform Ready.” Social Media + Society 1 (2)
  • Langlois, Ganaele, and Greg Elmer. 2013. “The Research Politics of Social Media Platforms.” Culture Machine 14 (0).
  • Plantin Jean-Christophe, Lagoze, Carl, Edwards, Paul, and Christian Sandvig. 2018. “Infrastructure Studies meet Platform Studies in the Age of Google and Facebook.” New Media & Society 20 (1): 293–310.
  • van Dijck, José, and Thomas Poell. 2013. “Understanding Social Media Logic.” Media and Communication 1 (1): 2–14.


Essay (100%) in the ST.

Final summative essay (100%)

-EITHER (1) a 3,000-word essay on current theoretical debates around media platforms and society. Five questions, addressing key issues around the topic, will be distributed in advance, and this essay will constitute a response to one of them.

-OR (2) a 3,000-word case study analysis of a current media platform. It will consist of a detailed investigation of a digital platform, using relevant literature and original research design to contribute to the general analysis of the platformisation of social life.

Key facts

Department: Media & Communications

Total students 2017/18: 28

Average class size 2017/18: 14

Controlled access 2017/18: Yes

Lecture capture used 2017/18: Yes (LT)

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