MC437      Half Unit
Media, Data and Social Order

This information is for the 2021/22 session.

Teacher responsible

Professor Nick Couldry


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), MSc in Media and Communications (Media and Communications Governance), MSc in Media and Communications (Research), MSc in Politics and Communication 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 leave, and in order to maintain smaller group sizes, this course is capped, meaning there is a limit to the number of students who can be accepted.


No formal pre-requisites, but students will need to apply by submitting a statement via LSE for You during the Course Choice period.

Course content

Visions of contemporary society and its reliance on data processes are highly polarised: do they represent the end of freedom under a regime of continuous surveillance or the freeing up of an extended group mind through awesome computing power? Today's starkly opposed visions of media’s contribution to social order have however a much longer history which we must grasp if today’s transformations are to be understood. Since the 19th century, technologies for mediated communication have developed in increasingly institutionalised forms. Those forms – from the traditional mass media (the press, radio, television) to contemporary media and information infrastructures – have played important roles in the organization of everyday life, and have been imagined to play a central role in the ‘order’ of society, even of the world. But do today’s digital platforms for social interaction (especially ‘social media’), and the data processes that underlie those platforms (the process sometimes called datafication), create a completely different type of social order from in the past? How is that order being constructed, and what are its implications for social life?

This course offers a primarily sociological, but also interdisciplinary, exploration of how a social order is being constructed in the era of social platforms and large-scale data-collection, and the social –indeed ethical - challenges to which the new ‘datafied’ social order is giving rise. The course is structured into two main parts. After the introductory lecture, Lectures two to five will explore alternative entry-points for analysing this social order, via transformations of social space, the creation of social relations, the creations of new forms of meaning via algorithms, and macro-theories of the emerging order. Lectures six to nine will apply these theoretical insights to the expanding uses of data in four areas of daily life: social justice, personalized marketing, surveillance (at work and at home), and the formation of individual subjects (in education and through self-tracking). The concluding lecture will draw together the course’s themes with a particular focus on the normative implications of the datafied social order, with particular reference to the questions of autonomy, surveillance and data extraction.

The course will be aimed at all MSc students interested in acquiring a broad social-theoretical understanding of the role that media institutions play in ordering contemporary societies and developing their own critical perspective on whether media and datafication, as processes do, or do not, overall enhance human life, especially its social and ethical dimensions.


This course is delivered through a combination of lectures and seminars totalling a minimum of 25 hours across Lent Term. This year, some or all of this teaching will be delivered through a combination of online lectures and in-person classes/classes delivered online. This course includes a reading week in Week 6 of term.

Formative coursework

Students will be given the option of choosing one of two alternative pieces of formative coursework in preparation for the summative essay. Students can submit either (1) a short essay on a theoretical approach to understanding data’s role in social order (1200-1500 words); or (2) a short reflection: students should choose a short (200 word maximum) text of theory or business discourse, and then reflect on that text’s implications for a data practice of their choice (1200-1500 words).

Indicative reading

  • Beniger, James (1986) The Control Revolution. Harvard University Press. Chapter 6. 
  • Cohen, Julie (2012) Configuring the Networked Self. New Haven: Yale University Press.
  • Couldry, Nick and Hepp, Andreas (2017) The Mediated Construction of Reality. Cambridge: Polity.
  • Elias, N. (1991) The Society of Individuals. London: Continuum.
  • Gillespie, Tarleton (2010) 'The Politics of "Platforms"', New Media & Society 12(3): 347-364.
  • Bucher, Taina (2017) ‘The algorithmic imaginary: exploring the ordinary affects of Facebook algorithms’, Information Communication and Society, 20(1): 20-34.
  • Curran, James (1982) ‘Communications, Power and Social Order’ in M. Gurevitch et al (eds) Culture, Society and the Media. London: Routledge.
  • Schneier, Bruce (2013) Data and Goliath. New York: Norton.
  • Turow, Joseph (2017) The Aisles Have Eyes. Yale University Press.
  • Van Dijck, Jose (2013) The Culture of Connectivity. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


Essay (100%, 4000 words) in the ST.

Students will submit one piece of written work for the summative assessment: a 4000 word essay on questions set by the course convenor in which students will bring together theoretical discussion with the consideration of specific data practices.

Course selection videos

Some departments have produced short videos to introduce their courses. Please refer to the course selection videos index page for further information.

Important information in response to COVID-19

Please note that during 2021/22 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 differing needs of students in attendance on campus and those who might be studying online. For example, this may involve changes to the mode of teaching 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 2020/21: 60

Average class size 2020/21: 15

Controlled access 2020/21: Yes

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

  • Self-management
  • Team working
  • Problem solving
  • Application of information skills
  • Communication
  • Specialist skills