MC430      Half Unit
Data in Communication and Society

This information is for the 2019/20 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Alison Powell PEL.7.01J


This course is compulsory on the MSc in Media and Communications (Data and Society). This course is available on the MPhil/PhD in Data, Networks and Society. This course is not available as an outside option.

Course content

This course investigates the significance of data in communications, social and cultural life. It introduces core theoretical perspectives on data and information from a social scientific perspective, and outlines research approaches that take account of the contemporary influence of data within communication and society. The course begins with the social history of data, providing a strong baseline from which to analyse the contemporary position of data. The course will provide students with conceptual tools that will help unpack the logic of data, and train them to critically analyse phenomena such as big data, algorithmic regulation and augmented civic space. Its focus on contemporary issues allows an investigation of the politics and culture of data production, and the use of data as evidence in a range of fields including politics, advocacy and audience research.

Some of the questions addressed through the course include: Who owns data? Who makes data? Who makes sense of data? Is data public or private? How do different actors get access to data? How is data protected and regulated? What significance do new analysis methods have for the influence of data? These and other questions reflect the course’s focus on developing a critical account of how data is implicated in the structures that shape social life. How does culture both rely upon and push back against data-based communication?


10 hours of lectures and 10 hours of classes in the MT.

Formative coursework

Students will be expected to produce 1 presentation (group project, student-led session) in the MT, along with written formative work. 

There are two options for written formative coursework on this course.

Students can choose:

EITHER a 1500 word essay

OR a 1000 word proposal for case analysis and recommendation

Indicative reading

Beer, D., & Burrows, R. (2013). Popular culture, digital archives and the new social life of data. Theory, Culture & Society 30(4), 47-71.

Boyd, D., & Crawford, K. (2012). Critical questions for Big Data: Provocations for a cultural, technological, and scholarly phenomenon. Information, Communication & Society 15(5), 662-679.

Cheney-Lippold, J. (2011). A new algorithmic identity: Soft biopolitics and the modulation of control. Theory, Culture & Society 28(6), 164-181.

Gitelman, L., ed. (2013). ‘Raw Data’ is an Oxymoron. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Kitchin, R. (2014). The Data Revolution: Big Data, Open Data, Data Infrastructures and their Consequences. London: Sage.

Lyon, D. (2014). Surveillance, Snowden, and Big Data: Capacities, consequences, critique. Big Data & Society 1(2), 1-13.

Mahrt, M., & Scharkow, M. (2013). The value of big data in digital media research. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media 57(1), 20-33.

Russell Neuman, W., Guggenheim, L., Mo Jang, S., & Bae, S. Y. (2014). The dynamics of public attention: Agenda-setting theory meets Big Data. Journal of Communication 64(2), 193-214.

Tufekci, Z. (2014). Engineering the public: Big Data, surveillance and computational politics. First Monday 19(7).

Vaidhyanathan, S. (2006). Afterword: Critical Information Studies: A Bibliographic Manifesto. Cultural Studies 20(2-3): 292-315.


Assessment path 1
Essay (100%, 3000 words) in the LT.

Assessment path 2
Project (100%, 3000 words) in the LT.

There are two options for summative assessment on this course. 

The project comprises of a case analysis and recommendation:

  1. Description of case
  2. Analysis
  3. Recommendations
  4. Theoretical and normative contextualization

Case study analysis and recommendation: Students choose a current data-related product, service or use case, providing an analysis of how data are theoretically constructed, valued, managed and conceived within the project, using relevant theoretical material. The case study must identify an area of ethics, governance or social justice that this product, service or use case could improve, and provide a concrete set of recommendations, grounded in the existing theoretical, historical and empirical literature. This analysis and recommendation will be accompanied by a critical reflection that highlights the theoretical and normative aspects of the case, your analysis and your recommendation. This section should be grounded in the relevant theoretical material.

Student performance results

(2015/16 - 2017/18 combined)

Classification % of students
Distinction 21.7
Merit 42
Pass 31.9
Fail 4.3

Key facts

Department: Media & Communications

Total students 2018/19: 30

Average class size 2018/19: 15

Controlled access 2018/19: 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