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

This information is for the 2020/21 session.

Teacher responsible

Professor Robin Mansell


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

The world economy is characterised by rising income, wealth disparities and increasing dependence on digital technologies - especially in the wake of COVID-19. This course will help students to understand how applications of economic theory shape developments in digital platforms and services and the consequences for citizens and consumers. A background in economics is not needed to take this course. The consequences of high levels of digital market concentration, job losses due to artificial intelligence and online monitoring applications are treated differently in various traditions in economics. For some digital ‘disruption’ is a sign of progress. For others it brings risks and harms. For some increasing dependence on digital technologies is seen as inevitable. For others radical change is needed to protect the rights of citizens and consumers. Students will learn about the differences between free market (neoclassical), market reform (institutional) and critical political economy theories of digital disruption, how they are applied and how they influence business and policy. Does everyone have to adapt to the latest digital services and applications? Is there a link between rising inequality and the spread of digital technologies? Does the goal of tech driven economic growth always conflict with goals of equity, inclusion and fundamental human rights?

Week 1: Introduction: What is Digital Disruption?

Week 2: Digital Transformation - Theoretical Perspectives

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

Week 4: Digital Business Strategies and Policy Responses

Week 5: Technical Standards and Why They Matter

Week 6: (reading week)

Week 7: Artificial Intelligence, Employment and Labour Conditions

Week 8: Transforming Audio-visual Markets

Week 9: Transforming Mobile Service and App Markets

Week 10: Digital Inequalities: Catching Up or Falling Behind

Week 11: Conclusion: Comparing Economic Perspectives


This course is delivered through a combination of lectures and seminars totalling a minimum of 20 hours across Lent Term. This year, some or all of this teaching will be delivered through a combination of virtual classes and flipped-lectures delivered as online videos. This course includes a reading week in Week 6 of term.

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

  • Bauer, J. M. (2018) The Internet and Income Inequality: Socio-Economic Challenges in a Hyperconnected Society, Telecommunications Policy, 42(4): 333-343.
  • 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, 22(6): 854-871.
  • Mansell, R. and Steinmueller, W. E. (2020) Advanced Introduction to Platform Economics. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar Publishing (available in September 2020).
  • McGuigan, L. (2019) 'Automating the audience commodity: The unacknowledged ancestry of programmatic advertising'. New Media & Society, 21(11): 2366-2385.
  • 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.
  • Van Dijck, J., Poell, T., and De Waal, M. (2018) The Platform Society: Public values in a connective world. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Wu, T. (2018) The curse of bigness: Antitrust in the new gilded age. Penguin Random House. New York.
  • 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%) in the LT.

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

Students will make a presentation during the seminars.

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.

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: 44

Average class size 2019/20: 15

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