Social Dynamics of Communication Technology (USC)

The Social Dynamics of Communication Technology

Communication (COMM) 530 Course Syllabus

The Annenberg School for Communication

University of Southern California

Summer Term 2002 (15 May – 25 June 2002)

Instructor: Bill Dutton, Professor
Telephone: (213) 740-2759 or tel/fax (310) 379-9250
Seminar: Tues and Thur, 6:00-10:00 pm in THH 110
Office: Tues and Thus, 5.00-6.00 pm in ASC 301B

Information and communication technologies (ICTs) have developed rapidly over thelast several decades. However, the explosion of the Internet and Web along withwireless media has brought this revolution to the attention of the public-at-large. Thisunprecedented diffusion of new ICTs within the communication industry itself, but alsoacross every other institutional sector, has generated great enthusiasm, but also moredebate over their long-term social and economic implications. Proponents contend thattechnological change will result in dramatic benefits for society as a whole, while criticsargue that people fail to employ ICTs in ways that improve their effectiveness, whetherit be achieving productivity or enhancing democratic control. The strongest critics claimthat technological change has increased threats to such basic values as community,anonymity, privacy, and equality.


This course provides students with an understanding of how social factors shapetechnical change in ICTs, as well as their societal implications. Students will beintroduced to theoretical perspectives on technology and society that they can use tothink critically about the adoption and design — not only the impact — of ICTs in social,governmental, educational and business settings. In addition, the course aims to:

  • emphasize global and international implications;
  • help instill a balanced view of ICT opportunities, problems and prospects;
  • build an appreciation for theory and research on the social aspects of ICTs;
  • and demonstrate the relevance of social issues to policy and practice not only inmedia and communication industries, but also across nearly every sector ofbusiness and the economy.


Grades will be based on a book review, term paper, its oral presentation and regularcontributions to seminar discussions, weighted in the following manner:

Book Review: 20 points

Term paper proposal: 10

Term paper: 50

Presentation: 10

Discussion: 10

TOTAL: 100 points

Students must be awarded 90 points for an A, 80 for a B, and 70 for a grade of C.

1. Book Review. I would like you to review and critically assess The Lexus and teh Olive Tree (Friedman, 1999, 2000) or Runaway World: How Globalization is Reshaping our Lives (Giddens, 2000). You may compare and contrast these two books, or compare one with other popular books that deal with the role of new ICTs in the globalization of society — one theme of this course. Whatever book(s) you choose, focus on how the author(s) think about the revolution in ICTs and its social implications. Yourreview should be written for a specific academic journal or trade publication, and shouldadhere to any guidelines on style or length that are provided by the editors. The reviewwill be judged by its overall quality, and the degree to which it is informed by otherreadings and the discussion of this seminar. Your paper should be no more than 1,000words, double-spaced, with 1 inch margins, and use 12-point font.

2. Term Paper . Your term paper should be from 4,000-5,000 words, including notes andreferences. It should be typed, double-spaced with one inch margins, 12-point font, andadhere to an accepted style, such as Harvard, American Psychological Association(APA), MLA, or K. L. Turabian’s A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, andDissertations . The papers will be presented in class, probably during the final session,and discussed from time to time throughout the term. Papers should focus on a specificICT, such as the pager, the Internet, or wireless multimedia devices, a specific socialsetting, such as the office or household, or an issue, such as privacy, intellectualproperty or the digital divide.

The paper should draw from the readings and discussions of this course. It should alsodemonstrate that you can locate and critically assess historical and contemporarymaterial about ICTs and their social implications. Interviews and personal observationare encouraged but not required. For example, you might look at the application of aparticular technology in a real setting within the Los Angeles area. Generally, studentsare encouraged to move beyond pure desk research, based only on literature, or onlyusing the Internet and Web. Get out from behind your computer screen and come faceto face with experts, producers, users, or consumers to directly observe applications inyour chosen area of study.

PhD Students: You should use a critical analysis of literature, meta-research, or originalfield research (even if only one user, or case) to further refine, elaborate, or extendtheory and research on the social shaping and impacts of ICTs. You might try torespond to one of the two following program solicitations: a) the UK Economic andSocial Research Council’s (ESRC) e-Society programme proposal; or b) NSF’s IT Research program on “People and Social Groups Interacting with Computers and Infrastructure” . The papercould take the form of a proposal for research, or a submission to a journal in your field.

To insure that you start down a good path, you should turn in a one page proposal foryour term paper by the 4 June class session .

3. Presentations . During our last class session, each student will present a brief oralpresentation of their term paper, and respond to questions.

4. Discussion . Students should attend the seminar regularly and be prepared to discussthe assigned readings for each class period, participate in panels or other classpresentations, and make constructive contributions to class discussions. From time totime, specific students will be assigned to kick-off discussion of particular readings, butall students are responsible for reading and discussing all assigned readings.

Academic Integrity

The Annenberg School for Communication is committed to upholding the University’sAcademic Integrity code as detailed in the SCampus Guide. It is the policy of theSchool of Communication to report all violations of the code. Any serious violation orpattern of violations of the Academic Integrity Code will result in the student’s expulsionfrom the Communication major or minor. See section 11 of Scampus .

Students with Disabilities and Academic Accommodations

Students requesting academic accommodations based on a disability are required toregister with Disability Services and Programs (DSP) each semester. A letter ofverification for approved accommodations can be obtained from DSP when adequatedocumentation in filed. Please be sure the letter is delivered to Professor Dutton asearly in the semester as possible. DSP is open Monday-Friday, 8:30-5:00. The office isin Student Union 301 and their phone number is (213) 740-0776. For additionalinformation, see the Web page of the Disabilities Services Program in SCAMPUS .


Required Readings Available at USC Bookstores :

The following three books, which incorporate most of the required reading for thiscourse, are available for purchase at the Pertusati University Bookstore:

Castells, Manuel (2001), The Internet Galaxy: Reflections on the Internet, Business, and Society (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press).

Dutton, William H. (1999), Society on the Line: Information Politics in the Digital Age (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press).

Further Recommended Readings :

Dutton (1999) includes an extensive bibliography, which can guide your further reading.

Also, a list of books related to social aspects of ICTs assembled for a doctoral courseon this topic is available at: Selected Books on Communication Technology and Society

In addition, I draw a number of recommended readings from the following books, mostof which should be available at the university libraries:

Castells, M. (2000, 1996), The Rise of the Network Society: The Information Age:Economy, Society, and Culture: Volume I , Second Edition (Oxford: BlackwellPublishers).

Dutton, William H. (1996) (ed.), Information and Communication Technologies–Visionsand Realities (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press).

Friedman, Thomas L. (2000), The Lexus and the Olive Tree: Understanding Globalization (New York: Anchor Books).

Giddens, Anthony (2000), Runaway World: How Globalization is Reshaping our Lives (London: Routledge).

Lievrouw, Leah and Livingstone, Sonia (2002) (eds), The Handbook of New Media (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage).

Selected Web Sites of Use to Students in this Course

Albert Teich, Director of Science and Policy Programs for the American Association forthe Advancement of Science, has created a Web site that complements the 8 th editionof Technology and the Future Web site at:

The UK’s Virtual Society? Programme has compiled another Web site related well tothis course. Also, a number of journals are online or have useful online resources. Theyinclude:

Information, Communication and Society (iCS) , with online resources
Journal of Computer Mediated Communication

New Media and Society

Prometheus: The Journal of Issues in Technological Change, Innovation, InformationEconomics, Communications and Science Policy

The Social Science Computer Review


The seminar sessions will follow this schedule of topics, although the schedule may change to accommodate the availability of speakers and materials:

1. Introduction (16 May)

In order to influence policy and practice in a timely way, policy-makers, managers, andthe general public require an understanding of the social implications of developmentslong before the technologies are in place. How can social scientists forecast or betterhelp people think about the future of ICTs and their social implications?

  • social, social impacts, and ’social dynamics’
  • Objectives, requirements, and topics of the course
  • Illustrations of social issues and processes tied to technological change, such as the Galaxy IV pager blackout, or the social role of wireless on September 11th
  • The Programme on Information and Communication Technologies (PICT)
  • The Economic and Social Research Council’s e-Society Programme
  • The Oxford Internet Institute
  • production, utilization, consumption, and governance of ICTs
  • Discussion of assignments, paper topics and approaches to research

Required Reading :

Survey Course Syllabus and Required Books

Read The Economic and Social Research Council’s e-Society Programme

Supplementary Readings :

Dutton (1996): xx-xxv, 1-16.

2. Information, Technology, and Society: Competing Views (21 May)

We bring competing definitions of technology and its relationships to society intodebates over the social and economic implications of the revolution in ICTs. Doestechnology drive social change? Does technology play a positive, negative, mixed, oressentially neutral role in social change?

We will kick off this topic with a guest speaker, Dr Rose Wagner, from Germany.

Rose will talk about talk on “Technology, State Control and Hacking Culture: Personal Computers in the Former German Democratic Republic”. The former German Democratic Republic certainly understood the significanceof computer technology but it had reservations about allowing personalcomputers to become part of everyday life. Computer enthusiasts in the GDRfaced many restrictions; until the late 1980s individuals could hardlyobtain personal computers, they were reserved for state agencies andindustry and kept in settings where the socialist party could maintaincontrol over their use; floppy disks were rationed, printers not available,and the telephone infrastructure was severely underdeveloped, as it was thecase in all socialist countries.

Socialist leaders feared that ideas like Computer Liberation,Power to the People, Free Flow of Information,which were part of the American computer counterculture of the 1970s andalso at the heart of the development of the personal computer, could beimported with the technology and would result in political and cultural´contamination`. Personal computers were not as easy to control as mainframecomputers and they could; given access to a printer; easily beturned into a printing machine for publishing forbidden and unwantedinformation. Socialist leaders were also afraid of the hacking culture whichhad evolved in the USA and which showed no respect for authorities andsecrets but instead expressed a strong desire for the free flow ofinformation and transparency.

The socialist leaders faced the dilemma of trying to keep up with the Westtechnologically, while at the same time preserving their established modesof control of everyday-life and ruling out the formation of independentsubcultural computer groups.

  • utopian and dystopian perspectives
  • the information society and economy
  • information versus tele-access
  • technological determinism
  • the ‘certainty trough’

Required Readings :

Dutton (1999): 1-46.

Supplementary Reading :

Castells (2000): 1-76.

Miles, I., ‘The Information Society’ in Dutton (1996): 19-52.

3. Social Impacts: Reliance, Dependency, and Access (23 May)

Studies of the social impacts of ICTs have a long tradition, but are roundly criticized fornot focusing attention on the social factors shaping the design and impact oftechnology. Notwithstanding this criticism, the case can be made that technologies, likeICTs, make a difference, such as by shaping patterns of reliance and dependency, globalization (Castells 1996), and tele-access (Dutton 1999). Are therebiases to oral, written and electronic media of communication? Are electronic mediainherently more democratic than older mass media of communication? We will lookparticularly at the biases attributed to ICTs.

These topics will be grounded in two topics to be discussed by our guest speaker, Koji Sato, from Japan. He will talk about tele-work and employment, as they are tied to the use of ICTs in the Japanese context.

  • the bias of technologies
  • communicative power
  • the architecture of networks: vertical, horizontal, ..
  • gatekeepers
  • convergence

Required Readings :

Dutton (1999): 47-78.

Castells (2001): pp. 1-9.

Recommended Readings :

Castells (2000): 77-162.

de Sola Pool, I. (1983), Technologies of Freedom (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press): 1-22.

McLuhan, M. (1964, 1994), Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (Cambridge,Massachusetts: The MIT Press): 3-21.

Winner, L., ‘Do Artifacts Have Politics?’, pp. 19-39 in Winner, L. (1986), The Whale andthe Reactor (Chicago: University of Chicago Press).

4. The Social Shaping of Technology (SST) and the Study of ICTs (28 May)

To what degree are socialand political outcomes designed into technology? Is policy embedded in technology? What factors shape their invention, design, development and diffusion? How can westudy the shaping of technological change?

This discussion will be grounded in a case study of Internet connectivity, presented by Bill Dutton and Ildiko Kaposi from Hungary, possibly with help from Al Cooperband.

  • ICT paradigms
  • conceptions of the user
  • configuring the user

Required Readings :

Dutton (1999): 79-109.

Castells (2001): Chapter 1 and 2.

Supplementary Readings :

MacKenzie, D., and Wajcman, J. (1988) (eds), The Social Shaping of Technology . (Milton Keynes: Open Un. Press): 2-25.

Williams, and Edge, ‘The Social Shaping of Technology’ in Dutton (1996): 53-67.

Woolgar, S., ‘Technologies as Cultural Artefacts’ in Dutton (1996): 87-102.

6. Management: Productivity and Virtual Organizations (May 30)

Are ICTs improving the productivity of organizations? Creating new kinds oforganizations? Changing what organizations produce as well as how they do it?

  • virtual organizations
  • productivity paradox
  • electronic commerce, and computer trading
  • business process reengineering

Required Reading :

Dutton (1999): 113-40.

Castells (2001): Chapter 3.

Recommended Reading :

Castells, M. (2000): 163-215.

Freeman, C., ‘Factory of the Future’ in Dutton (1996): 123-41.

7. The Changing Nature of the Workplace: Who Does What and Where? (4 June)

As more interpersonal communication is mediated in networked organizations, how willthe work, geography, and culture of the organization be reconfigured? Are particularcultures, genders, ages advantaged in the ICT intensive workplace?

  • teleconferencing to computer-supported collaborative work
  • telecommuting: the telecommunications-transportation tradeoff
  • telework
  • the geography of the firm
  • gender, technology, and the workplace
  • the ‘glass cockpit’ and the ‘bubble’

Required Readings :

Dutton (1999): 141-69.

Castells (2001): Chapter 8.

Supplementary Readings :

Castells, M. (2000): 216-354.

Freeman, C., ‘The Two-Edged Nature of Technological Change: Employment andUnemployment’ in Dutton (1996): 19-36.

Goddard and Richardson, ‘Why Geography Will Still Matter: What Jobs Go Where?’ inDutton (1996): 196-214.

Rochlin, G. ‘Expert Operators and Critical Tasks’ in Rochlin (1997), Trapped in the Net (Princeton Un. Press): 108-30.

8. E-Democracy: Digital Government and Cyberpolitics (6 June)

Visions of teledemocracy have been promoted since the 1960s, with each new mediarefreshing debate over the opportunities and threats posed by ICTs in the democraticprocess. What are the major developments of relevance to e-democracy in such areasas digital government, politics and elections, and the infrastructures of public access toinformation, public officials, services and technology?

  • electronic democracy, teledemocracy, push-button democracy
  • digital government
  • cyberadvocacy
  • information highways
  • privacy and surveillance

Required Reading :

Dutton (1999): 173-202.

Castells (2001): Chapters 5 and 6.

Supplementary Reading :

Laudon, K. C. (1977), Communications Technology and Democratic Participation (NewYork and London: Praeger).

Becker, T. and Slaton, C. D. (2000), The Future of Teledemocracy (New York: PraegerPublishers).

Taylor et al., ‘Innovation in Public Service Delivery’ in Dutton (1999): 265-282.

9. Knowledge Access: Distance Education and Distributed Learning (11 June)

Education is perceived to be a key strategy for the development of an informationsociety, as well as a major untapped market for the multimedia industry. Majorinitiatives to create digital libraries, wire schools for Internet access, and developdistance education and distributed learning opportunities in higher education coulddramatically change who is educated where. What are the visions and realities in thesearenas?

  • distributed learning
  • the virtual university
  • online education and distance learning

Required Reading :

Dutton (1999): 203-224.

Supplementary Reading :

Dutton, W. H., and Loader, B. D. (2000) (eds), ‘New Media in Higher Education andLearning’, a special issue of Information Communication and Society , Vol. 3, No. 4.

Gell and Cochrane, ‘Learning and Education in an Information Society’ in Dutton(1996): 249-263


10. Everyday Life: Wiring Households, Communities, and Nations (18 June)

The diffusion and implications of ICTs in the household have become increasinglycentral with the explosion of interest in such new technologies as cable and satellite,cellular telephony, and the Internet. Retrospective looks at the telephone, videotex, andother innovations might be instructive for looking ahead at emerging ICTs. In light ofmany early failures, how can we explain the success of the Internet? Is the Internetisolating individuals or building communities?

  • domestication of ICTs
  • diffusion of innovations
  • information haves and have-nots – the digital divide
  • the virtual society, virtual communities
  • cyberculture

Required Reading :

Dutton (1999): 225-256.

Castells (2001): Chapters 4 and 9.

Recommended for Further Reading :

Castells, M. (1996): 355-406.

de Sola Pool, I. (1977) (ed.), The Social Impact of the Telephone (Cambridge, MA: MITPress): 1-9 and passim.

Hiltz, S. R., and Turoff, M. (1978), The Network Nation: Human Communication ViaComputers (Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley).

Silverstone, R., ‘Future Imperfect: Information and Communication Technologies inEveryday Life’ in Dutton (1996): 217-232.

11. The New Media: Competition, Concentration, Globalization? (20 June)

Institutional change within the communication industry is being widely forecast, usuallywith respect to its convergence around digital media that are inherently global in theirreach. Will technical change bring made change to the communication industry? Whathas already occurred and what is on the horizon?

I am inviting a former student, Jodi Gusek, a new media consultant, to speak with our class on this evening.

  • competition, liberalization, privatization
  • content regulation
  • copyright and intellectual property rights
  • globalization
  • digital television, radio, and more

Required Readings :

Dutton (1999): 257-82.

Castells (2001): Chapter 7.

Recommended Readings :

Baer, W., ‘Telecommunication Infrastructure Competition’ in Dutton (1996): 353-370.

Castells, M. (2000): 407-509.

Dutton, W. H., Blumler, J. G., and Kraemer, K. L. (1987) (eds), Wired Cities: Shapingthe Future of Communications (Boston: G.K. Hall): 1-40.

Garnham, N., ‘Constraints on Multimedia Convergence’ in Dutton (1996): 103-119.

Noll, A. M. (1997), Highway of Dreams: A Critical View Along the InformationSuperhighway (Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates).

12. Governing ICTs: An Ecology of Policy Games (25 June)

ICT led industrial policy is being balanced with other policy goals in communicationpolicy, and cultural policy. How to balance the push for economic development withother legitimate goals in an increasingly global context has become a central questionfor the policy community.

  • national responses to ICTs
  • IT-led industrial policy
  • shaping tele-access
  • the ecology of games

Required Reading :

Dutton (1999): 283-337.

Castells (2001): 275-282.

Recommended Readings :

Dutton, et al., ‘The Politics of Information and Communication Policy’ in Dutton (1996):387-405.

Gillespie and Cornford, ‘Telecommunication Infrastructures and Regional Development’in Dutton (1996): 335-351.

Gore, A., Jr. (1991), ‘Infrastructure for the Global Village’, Scientific American , 265(Sept.): 108-11.

Kraemer and Dedrick, ‘IT and Economic Development’ in Dutton (1996):319-333.

12. Presentation of Papers (25 June)


Comments are most welcome