Communication Technology and Social Change (Doctoral Course USC)

Communication Technology and Social Change:

Restructuring Institutions and Practices

Annenberg School for Communication , University of Southern California

Communication (COMM) 630, Spring Semester 2002

Seminar: 6:45-9.45 pm Tuesdays in ASC 225
Instructor: William Dutton , Professor
Office Hours: 11:00-12:00 Tuesday and Thursday, or by appointment, ASC 301B
Telephone: (213) 740-2759
Fax: (310) 379-9250
Schedule – Topics and Readings:

Overview of this Course

The explosive growth of the Internet and World Wide Web (Web) has broughtincreased attention to the social implications of all kinds of information andcommunication technologies (ICTs), from the pager to digital music and TV. Thisseminar is designed to provide students with the background to develop original approaches to the social scientific study of ICTs, emphasizing the social shaping and implications of ICTs in ways that address key issues of policy and practice.

The over-arching question of this course concerns the degree to which ICTs are tied to the restructuring of institutions and practices. Popular and academic accounts of ICTs suggest that ICTs like the Internet are changing the boundaries and other structures of such traditional institutions as the family, community, firm and university. Also, traditional practices, ranging from entertainment and shopping to news gathering and learning are also said to be undergoing fundamental change.This course will explore a variety of theoretical perspectives on the role of ICTs in the restructuring of institutions and practices, and help students develop empirical approaches to the study of these questions.

While this course will introduce a number of competing perspectives on the social shaping and impacts of ICTs, it will emphasize the instructor’s work on the shaping of ‘tele-access’, arguing that social and technical choices reshape access — physical and electronic — to information, people, services, and technologies (Dutton 1999). In reshaping access, ICTsinfluence the communicative power of different actors, create new boundaries, and enable a variety of actors to re-shape institutions and practices.

Students are encouraged to take a critical perspective on this as well as all other perspectives on ICTs, and develop a perspective that they can apply to questions revolving around the social implications and shaping of ICTs: Will the Internet, forexample, be a force for more democratic control over information and communication?Alternatively, will these new media be used to reinforce the existing structure ofinfluence in households, communities, institutions, nation-states, and the world? Are wecreating technological systems that undermine anyone’s ability to control our fate, assuggested in many discussions of advances in high technology?

Course Objectives

Students should develop a: sense of how research on information and communication technologies has evolved; sense of the inter-disciplinary character of most research issues on ICTs; balanced view of ICT opportunities, problems and prospects; understanding of key social science concepts and theory related to ICTs; understanding of new and traditional approaches to ICT research; and perspective on new directions in theory and research.

Approach of this Course

The course will be based on:

1. brief introductions to topics by the instructor, with an emphasis on seminar discussion of required and recommended readings;

2. the preparation and discussion of research and writing assignments;

3. independent student research on themes of this course; and

4. selected student presentations of reading assignments and papers.


Students are required to complete:

1. An Issue Brief :

Students should survey several years of a key journal in their field, a major conference, or other source ofinformation about communication technology, research or industries. Identify the priority placedon various social issues tied to ICTs. For example, MA students might select a trademagazine or journal within their particular professional career area. PhD students might choose a major journal in their specialized area of research and study. It need not be a journal focused on ICTs. PhD students attending a conference, like the International Communication Association Conference,might choose to survey work presented at the conference, such as withintheir particular division or interest group. Your paper should be no more than 1,000-1,500words, double-spaced, with 1 inch margins, using 12 point font. You should describe how socialissues of ICTs are treated and prioritized within your chosen publication or other outlet,and then briefly critique this treatment, or draw implications for theory or research based on your review. Whatare the key social issues tied to ICTs, from the perspective of your target group?What strengths and weaknesses, if any, are apparent in the treatment of social aspects of ICTs?

2. A Term Paper .

The major requirement for this seminar is a term paper. It should be from 4,000-6,000 words, including notes and references. It should be typed, double-spaced with one inch margins, 12-point font, and consistently adhere to an accepted style, such as Harvard or American Psychological Association(APA). The papers will be presented in class, prior to the final session, anddiscussed from time to time throughout the term. Papers should address a specific ICT,such as the pager or the Internet, or specific social setting, such as the office orhousehold, and address the central theme of this course — restructuring institutions and processes. It should be responsive to one of the two following program solicitations: a) the UK Economic and Social Research Council’s (ESRC) e-Society programme proposal; or b) the US National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Information Technology Research program on ” People and Social Groups Interacting with Computers and Infrastructure “. The paper could take the form of a proposal for research, or a submission to a journal in your field.

The term paper should be based on desk research,conducted in the library and over the Internet, including the readings central to this course. However, students should move beyond this base, where feasible in the context of a one semester course. For example, they might include a limited number of interviews, a pretest or pilot of a survey or questionnaire, secondary analysis of an existing database, content analysis, direct observations, participant observation, ethnography or other approaches that involve youdirectly in researching your topic.

3. A Mid-term Critique of Directions in the Field :

Students should read the Final Report of the National Science Foundation and European Workshop on Collaborative Research , entitled ‘ Digital Society and Technologies ‘. Each student should review this report, focusing on areas of most interest to their own work. Write a brief overview of the report, emphasizing new directions for research in your area of greatest interest. You may point out gaps or suggest directions for research that are counter or not well tied to the workshop’s agenda, but defend your argument.

4. A Final Book Review .

Choose a book from a list of recent books on communication technology and society , or nominate an alternate, which you will read and review. I suggest that you choose a book that is directly related to your term paper. Your review should identify the academic journal or publication the review will target, and you should adhere to any guidelines on style or length that are provided by the journal’s editors. The review will be judged on its overall quality, and the degree to which your analysis is well informed by the readings and discussion of this course.

5. Seminar Participation .

Students are expected to attend and contribute regularly to seminar discussions and assignments,which may include leading discussion of selected readings.


Grades will be based on the following:

Assignment Percent ofGrade Date Due
Social Issue Brief 10 22 January
Term Paper Proposal 10 19 February
Mid-term: New Directions Paper 10 5 March
Term Paper 40 23 April
Presentation of Paper 10 23 April
Final Exam: Book Review Due 10 30 April
Seminar Discussion 10 Regularly

Academic Integrity

The University is committed to maintaining the highest standards of ethical conduct inall academic pursuits. Any student found responsible for plagiarism, fabrication,cheating on examinations, or purchasing papers, or other assignments, will receive afailing grade in the course and may be dismissed as a major in communication. See section 11 of Scampus .

Students with Disabilities and Academic Accommodations

Students requesting academic accommodations based on a disability are required to register with Disability Services and Programs (DSP) each semester. A letter of verification for approved accommodations can be obtained from DSP when adequate documentation in filed. Please be sure the letter is delivered to Professor Dutton (or Ancuta Marza) as early in the semester as possible. DSP is open Monday-Friday, 8:30-5:00. The office is in Student Union 301 and their phone number is (213) 740-0776. For additional information, see the Web page of the Disabilities Services Program at .

Readings for this Course

Required Texts available at the USC Bookstore

Castell, M. (2001), The Internet Galaxy: Reflections on the Internet, Business, and Society (Oxford: Oxford University Press).

Castells, M. (2000, 1996), The Rise of the Network Society: Second Edition (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers Ltd).

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

Petroski, H. (1999), The Book on the Bookshelf (New York: Vintage Books).

Further Related Reading available at the USC Bookstore or USC Libraries

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

Lievrouw, L. A. and Livingstone, S. (2002)(eds), Handbook of New Media: Social Shaping and Consequences of ICTs (London: 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:

Steve Woolgar, when Director of the UK’s Virtual Society? Programme compiled a valuable Web site related to this course.

A number of journals are online or have useful online resources. They include:

– Annenberg’s Journal of Computer Mediated Communication
– Information, Communication and Society (iCS) , with online resources
– Prometheus: The Journal of Issues in Technological Change, Innovation, Information Economics, Communications and Science Policy
– The Social Science Computer Review

Comments are most welcome