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

This information is for the 2019/20 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 data analytics, is often depicted as inevitable and as a sign that market reform is needed. Alternatively,  it is claimed that radical change is needed to protect  the rights and autonomy of citizens and consumers. Students will learn about the differences between free market (neoclassical), market reform (institutional) and critical political economy theories of disruptive digital transformation and how they are applied to reach very different conclusions about the future of digital platforms and their uses. Students will compare and contrast the questions asked and  assumptions made in different approaches to digital innovation.. Does everyone have to adapt to rapid technological change? What is the link between rising inequality and digital technologies? Who has the power to change contemporary trends in the digital world? Are the goals of economic growth in the digital industry in always in  conflict with the goals of equity and inclusion 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 / Compatibility Standards and Competition

Week 6: (reading week - students receive support for the team presentations)

Week 7:  Artificial Intelligence, Automation and Employment

Week 8: Investment in Digital Networks and Services: Catching Up and Falling Behind

Week 9: Transformation in the Audio-visual Digital Market

Week 10: 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,  9(4): 374-395.

Bauer, J. M. (2018) The Internet and Income Inequality: Socio-Economic Challenges in a Hyperconnected Society,  Telecommunications Policy, 42(4): 333-343.

DCMS and Home Dept. (2019) Online harms white paper. Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport and the Secretary of State for the Home Department. London. At

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.

Gorwa, R. (2019) 'What is platform governance?'. Information, Communication & society, Published online 11 Feb: 1-10.

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.

Nieborg, D. B. and Helmond, A. (2019) 'The political economy of facebook’s platformization in the mobile ecosystem: Facebook messenger as a platform instance'. Media, Culture & Society, 41(2): 196-218.

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.

Zuboff, S. (2019) The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The fight for a human future at the new frontier of power. New York: Public Affairs.


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 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 2018/19: 29

Average class size 2018/19: 14

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