GV332      Half Unit
Big Data in Politics: A Few Provocative Debates

This information is for the 2022/23 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Omar Mcdoom CBG 3.36


This course is available on the BA in Social Anthropology, BSc in History and Politics, BSc in Philosophy, Politics and Economics, BSc in Politics, BSc in Politics and Data Science, BSc in Politics and Economics, BSc in Politics and International Relations, BSc in Politics and Philosophy and BSc in Social Anthropology. This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit and to General Course students.

Course content

The course is organized around a set of discrete debates and illustrative case studies whose unifying theme is the examination of the political implications of Big Data. The course scope is purposely broad to enable the particular selection of debates and cases to evolve over time and to reflect our rapidly-expanding understanding of how Big Data are shaping the political realm. The debates may be normative, evaluative, or empirical in nature and thus aim to take advantage of the broad exposure to the study of politics that third year Government students at the LSE will have acquired.

Some of the debates that may be covered touch on the following areas:

Political communication: How should democracies respond to the information oligopolies created by Big Tech?

Civil liberties: What does the increasing use of Big Data by the intelligence industry imply for the debate between liberty and security in liberal democracies?

Governance: How are Big Data altering trust in and the accountability of governments?

Contentious Politics: What are the risks and benefits of using Big Data to predict and prevent protests, riots, and violence?

Inequality: In what ways could Big Data both amplify and reduce disparities in political participation and economic status between individuals and groups?

Public Good Provision: What does the increasing amount of personal data collected by local and central governments mean for the quality of public services?

Democracy: In what ways are Big Data changing the relationship between governments and corporations in democracies?


20 hours of seminars in the LT.

Formative coursework

Students will be expected to produce 1 piece of coursework in the LT.

Students will choose one of the questions posed in each weekly debate to answer in their summative essay and once chosen they will then write an annotated bibliography (1500 words) that evaluates between 3 and 6 sources relating to that debate they will use in the summative essay. 

Indicative reading

Jemielniak, Dariusz. Thick big data: Doing digital social sciences. Oxford University Press, 2020.

Wright, Nicholas. "How artificial intelligence will reshape the global order." Foreign Affairs 10 (2018).

Lane, Julia, Victoria Stodden, Stefan Bender, and Helen Nissenbaum. Privacy, big data, and the public good: Frameworks for engagement. Cambridge University Press, 2014.

Zegart, Amy, and Michael Morell. "Spies, Lies, and Algorithms: Why US Intelligence Agencies Must Adapt or Fail." Foreign Aff. 98 (2019): 85.

Castillo, Carlos. Big crisis data: social media in disasters and time-critical situations. Cambridge University Press, 2016.

Zuboff, Shoshana. The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power: Barack Obama's Books of 2019. Profile Books, 2019.

Kendall-Taylor, Andrea, Erica Frantz, and Joseph Wright. "The Digital Dictators: How Technology Strengthens Autocracy." Foreign Aff. 99 (2020): 103.

Lanier, Jaron. Ten arguments for deleting your social media accounts right now. Random House, 2018.

O'Neil, Cathy. Weapons of math destruction: How big data increases inequality and threatens democracy. Broadway Books, 2016


Essay (80%, 3000 words) in the ST.
Class participation (20%) in the LT.

The summative assessment will comprise two components. First, a student's overall contribution to the course (20%) will be assessed by way of oral participation in the classroom and written contribution to an online discussion forum where each of the debates examined in the course will be the subject of potential discussion. Second, students will choose one of the questions posed each week - or else adapt this question with the approval of the instructor - and write a long essay totalling 3000 words.

Key facts

Department: Government

Total students 2021/22: Unavailable

Average class size 2021/22: Unavailable

Capped 2021/22: No

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

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.

Personal development skills

  • Communication