Not available in 2020/21
MC434      Half Unit
Digital Platforms and Media Infrastructures

This information is for the 2020/21 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

While GAFAM companies (Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft) are still studied as digital platforms, they now constitute major operators of the internet infrastructure, as witnessed by their involvement since 2010 in four sectors: data centers, undersea cables, telecommunications networks, and satellites. This course will study this radical extension of platform power on the internet architecture, uses, and governance. It will demonstrate how GAFAM companies become dominant actors in these four infrastructure sectors by using the platform strategy that granted them their initial success, and by adapting it from the web economy to infrastructure management.

The course presents key readings in media & communications and sciences & technology studies to analyse contemporary instances of digital media platforms. Students will explore the multiple facets of the increasing power of digital platforms, by critically analysing how platforms replace, conflict with, or influence existing infrastructures, and whatare 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, blending together platform studies (coming from media & communication studies, political economy, management) with infrastructure studies (coming from history, information science, sciences & technology studies). The second part illustrate these interactions through four case studies that sees tech giants taking over the existing infrastructure for global connectivity: data centers, undersea cables, telecommunications networks, and satellites. The third part addresses current social debates around the platformization of the internet infrastructure, e.g. in terms of global access to internet, tension between states and sovereignty, and governance and regulation.

At the end of the course, students will be able to critically assess the increasing the power that tech giants have over the global infrastructure for connectivity, and to discuss the challenges this process brings 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 platforms, infrastructure, and society.

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

Indicative reading

• 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)

• Dijck, José van, Thomas Poell, and Martijn de Waal. 2018. The Platform Society. New York: OUP USA.

• Steinberg, Marc. 2019. The Platform Economy: How Japan Transformed the Consumer Internet. Minneapolis: Univ Of Minnesota Press.

• Parks, Lisa, and Nicole Starosielski. 2015. Signal Traffic: Critical Studies of Media Infrastructures. University of Illinois Press.

• 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.

• Star, Susan Leigh, and Karen Ruhleder. “Steps Toward an Ecology of Infrastructure: Design and Access for Large Information Spaces.” Information Systems Research 7 (1996): 111–134.


Essay (100%) in the ST.

Student performance results

(2016/17 - 2018/19 combined)

Classification % of students
Distinction 22.2
Merit 58.3
Pass 18.1
Fail 1.4

Important information in response to COVID-19

Please note that during 2020/21 academic year some variation to teaching and learning activities may be required to respond to changes in public health advice and/or to account for the situation of students in attendance on campus and those studying online during the early part of the academic year. For assessment, this may involve changes to mode of delivery and/or the format or weighting of assessments. Changes will only be made if required and students will be notified about any changes to teaching or assessment plans at the earliest opportunity.

Key facts

Department: Media & Communications

Total students 2019/20: 23

Average class size 2019/20: 12

Controlled access 2019/20: Yes

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