IHON257SA: Digital Identities, Digital Politics

I taught this course while leading Pacific Lutheran University’s International Honors Study Away program at the University of Oxford in Spring 2022.

As an interdisciplinary liberal arts course, I was tasked with presenting my research interests using various disciplinary lenses to a group of students who studied humanities, social science, and natural and computer sciences. As a study abroad course in England, the course was designed to also take advantage of our locale and present students with a method to understand how they were emplaced.

I developed the course in three weeks because I was hired after a faculty emergency. The course, “Digital Identities, Digital Politics,” introduced students to ideas about (digital) media, identity, politics, and identity politics, and used British museums, historic sites, and cultural artifacts as case studies.

Below is a truncated version of the syllabus, and you can view the entire syllabus and schedule on Google Docs.

Course Description

“Getting to pictures that are more helpful and closer to the truth won’t settle any political questions. But I think it can help make our discussions more productive, more reasonable, even, perhaps, a little less antagonistic. . . . sensible discussions about matters that profoundly engage our passions are essential if we are to live together in concord.” 

Kwame Anthony Appiah, The Lies That Bind, p. xiii

One of the most challenging human tasks is to figure out how to live together—the task of politics. IHON257SA explores digital technology and identity as both media (mediums) of human life, tools of/for the collective project of politics. Digital technology (like mobile phones, social media platforms, etc.) and social identities (like nationality, race, gender, sexuality, and class) alike serve to attenuate and amplify political issues and engagement. Importantly, both are used rhetorically to pressure humans into thinking with crushing presentism that can stall discussion, debate, and deliberation. We’ll resist this presentism and instead probe the intersections of rhetoric, politics, media, and identity, noting their unique historical constructions, especially as they are situated in our particular context of Oxford and the United Kingdom. We’ll arrive at questions much older than our present media and conceptions of self: What does it mean to participate in civic life? What does it mean to be human? Who am I?  

Learning Outcomes 

After successfully completing this course you will be able to:

  • Identify key contemporary debates about identity, identity politics, and digital media
  • Critically engage in conversations about communicative artifacts in academic, personal, civic, and professional settings
  • Use digital media as a mode of inquiry for interacting with politics and culture
  • Craft an Oxford-style tutorial essay using a multidisciplinary lens forged in rhetorical, historical, philosophical, literary, journalistic, sociological, and anthropological perspectives  

Course Structure

Week 1: Four Key Terms 

Week 2: The UK and “The West” 

Week 3: Race and racism   

Week 4: Race, Feminism, and Class   

Week 5: Break 

Week 6: UK Creatives

Week 7: Writing + Study Tour 

Week 8: Tutorial Essay Meetings

Required Resources 

  • Bring from the U.S. 
    • Stedman, Chris. IRL: Finding Realness, Meaning, and Belonging in Our Digital Lives. Minneapolis: Broadleaf Books, 2020. [Amazon U.S.]
  • Bring or order ahead  
    • Appiah, Anthony. The Lies That Bind: Rethinking Identity, Creed, Country, Color, Class, Culture. New York: Liveright, 2018. [Amazon U.S. | Blackwell’s | PDF]
    • Roberts-Miller, Patricia. Demagoguery and Democracy. New York: The Experiment, 2017. [Amazon U.S. | Blackwell’s | EPUB] 
  • Wait to purchase once you’ve arrived
    • Steele, Catherine Knight. Digital Black Feminism. New York: NYU Press, 2021.
      [Amazon U.K. | Blackwell’s | PDF]   
    • Benjamin, Ruha. Race after Technology: Abolitionist Tools for the New Jim Code. Medford, MA: Polity, 2019. [Amazon U.K. | Blackwell’s | EPUB] 
    • Evaristo, Bernardine. Girl, Woman, Other. London: Penguin, 2020.
      [Amazon U.K. | Blackwell’s | PDF | EPUB] 

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