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

This information is for the 2018/19 session.

Teacher responsible

Prof Robin Mansell FAW.6.01E


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. Students will compare and contrast the questions asked and  assumptions made in different approaches to disruptive innovation and the consequences of the different approaches for the kinds of changes that may be advocated by different stakeholders.

The course will consider the history of and expectations about the future of digital platforms, social media and mobile services. Does everyone have to adapt to rapid technological change? What is the link between rising inequality and digital technologies? Who, if anyone, has the power to change contemporary trends in the digital world? Are the goals of economic growth in the digital industry in conflict with the goals of equity, inclusive socio-economic outcomes and preserving human dignity?

Lecture topics:

Week 1: Introduction: Why Digital Disruption Matters

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

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

Week 4: Old Media Industries and New Big Players - Business Strategies and Market Concentration

Week 5: Digital Service Quality Standards and and Consumer/Citizen Protections

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

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

Week 8: Case 2: Investment in Digital Capacity (Networks and Services): Catching Up and Falling Behind

Week 9: Case 3: Transformation in the Audio-visual Digital Market

Week 10: Case 4: Transformation in Mobile Service Markets

Week 11: Conclusion: Comparing Economic Perspectives on Digital Transformation


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

Formative coursework

Students will be expected to produce 1 essay in the LT.

A 1,500 word essay on a topic selected from a list of questions.

Indicative reading

Andersson-Schwarz, J. (2017) Platform logic: The need for an interdisciplinary approach to the platform-based economy, Policy & Internet, First published 3 August.

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

Bauer, J. M. (2017 In press) The Internet and Income Inequality: Socio-Economic Challenges in a Hyperconnected Society,  Telecommunications Policy, DOI/10.1016/j.telpol.2017.05.009.

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.

Fuchs, C. (2009) 'Information and communication technologies and society: A contribution to the critique of the political economy of the internet'. European Journal of Communication, 24(1): 69-87.

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

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. (2017) ‘Bits of Power: Struggling for Control of Information and Communication Networks’, Journal of the Political Economy of Communication, 5(1): 2-29.

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

Steinmueller, W. E. (2007), ‘Economics of Information and Communication Technologies: Building Blocks and Implications” in R. Mansell, C. A. Avgerou, D. Quah and R. Silverstone (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Information and Communication Technologies, Oxford University Press, pp. 196-219.

Stiglitz, J. (2012). The Price of Inequality: How Today's Divided Society Endangers Our Future. New York: W W Norton.


Essay (80%, 3000 words) in the ST.
Presentation (20%, 1 words) in the LT.

Students will select an essay topic from a list of questions. 

Team Project Presentation. Students will work in teams and present their  project during the seminars in the LT.

Teachers' comment

There are multiple ways of examining the digital world. This course helps you understand a range of perspectives with the emphasis on reform of policy  and political economy perspectives.

Key facts

Department: Media & Communications

Total students 2017/18: 45

Average class size 2017/18: 15

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