AN495      Half Unit
Digital Anthropology

This information is for the 2024/25 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Nicholas Long (OLD.3.37)


This course is available on the MSc in Anthropology and Development, MSc in China in Comparative Perspective, MSc in Social Anthropology and MSc in Social Anthropology (Religion in the Contemporary World). This course is available as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit.

Course content

This course examines how people around the world are engaging with, and having their lives mediated by, digital technologies. Ethnographies of digital activities have revealed how the constraints and affordances of various platforms are potentiating distinct modes of relationality, communication and experience. At the same time, anthropological research complicates simplistic metanarratives of ‘the digital’ by revealing the use and experience of digital devices to be powerfully shaped by cultural, historical, infrastructural and political-economic context, amongst other factors. By attending to these various insights, the course will enable students to develop conceptual frameworks that they can use not only to understand diverse ethnographic case materials, but also to inform their responses to pressing political and ethical questions surrounding ‘the digital’, and to shape future engagements with digital technologies in their personal and professional lives.

Course content will address three main areas. Firstly, drawing on diverse ethnographic case studies, it will examine how humans interact with, within, and alongside digital devices and environments. Topics in this part of the course may include: human-robot relations; the culture and character of ‘virtual worlds’; online gaming; augmented reality; and the character of relationships that straddle ‘the offline’ and ‘the online’. Secondly, the course will explore the implications of various digital technologies and platforms for processes of cultural transmission and transformation. Topics in this part of the course may include: virality, ‘trending’, and internet celebrity; influencer cultures; emojis and GIFs; digital art and music production; digital marketing; disinformation and conspiracy; and digital activism. Finally, the course will consider the specific contributions anthropological research can make to contemporary ethical and policy questions surrounding ‘the digital’. These may include: the regulation of digital platforms and big tech companies; the promise and limits of e-governance; privacy and cybersecurity; the digitisation of healthcare, internet, smartphone and gaming ‘addiction’; and possibilities for living alongside AI.


10 hours of lectures and 15 hours of seminars in the WT.

Lectures will introduce key themes, debates and theories. Seminars will involve structured discussion of readings and case studies related to each week's lecture material.

This course has a reading week in Week 6.

Formative coursework

As part of their work for this course, students will produce a portfolio of position pieces, in which they articulate their views on a number of issues in digital anthropology. The lowest scoring position piece in students' portfolios will not count towards their final grade but will instead be considered a piece of formative work, with the feedback on it wholly developmental.

Indicative reading

  • Abidin, Crystal. 2018. Internet Celebrity: Understanding Fame Online. Bingley: Emerald.
  • Boellstorff, Tom. 2008. Coming of Age in Second Life: An Anthropologist Explores the Virtually Human. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
  • del Nido, Juan M. 2022. Taxis vs. Uber: Courts, Markets, and Technology in Buenos Aires. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
  • Herrera, Linda, ed. 2014. Wired Citizenship: Youth Learning and Activism in the Middle East. New York: Routledge.
  • Lange, Patricia G. 2019. Thanks for Watching: An Anthropological Study of Video Sharing on YouTube. Louisville: University Press of Colorado.
  • McGlotten, Shaka. 2013. Virtual Intimacies: Media, Affect, and Queer Sociality. Albany: SUNY Press.
  • Miller, Daniel, Elisabetta Costa, Nell Haynes, Tom McDonald, Razvan Nicolescu, Jolynna Sinanan, Juliano Spyer, Shriram Venkatraman, and Xinyuan Wang. 2016. How the World Changed Social Media. London: UCL Press.
  • Uimonen, Paula. 2012. Digital Drama: Teaching and Learning Art and Media in Tanzania. New York: Routledge.
  • Wright, James. 2023. Robots Won't Save Japan: An Ethnography of Eldercare Automation. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
  • Zhou Yongming. 2006. Historicizing Online Politics: Telegraphy, the Internet, and Political Participation in China. Stanford: Stanford University Press.


Coursework (100%, 4500 words) in the ST.

Students will be expected to produce a portfolio of three position pieces of up to 1500 words over the course of the WT and Easter vacation. These pieces may take various forms, including: argumentative interventions into the debates covered in the course, self-reflexive commentaries on students’ own digital activities, understood in the light of the course materials; case study assignments analysing and commenting upon particular digital phenomena; and synoptic evaluations of digital anthropology as a field. The average mark of the two highest scoring position pieces will be used to determine students’ final grade.

Key facts

Department: Anthropology

Total students 2023/24: Unavailable

Average class size 2023/24: Unavailable

Controlled access 2023/24: 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

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