Digital Politics

Period of duration of course
Course info
Number of course hours
Number of hours of lecturers of reference
Number of hours of supplementary teaching

Type of exam

Written and oral exam


Optional for the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th year students of the PhD Programme in "Political Science and Sociology"

Optional for the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th year students of the PhD Programme in "Transnational Governance"

Optional for the 4th and 5th year students of the MA Programme in "Political and Social Sciences"


Digital politics is a highly diversified domain, encompassing both the digitalization of preexisting political activities and the emergence of new forms of political participation, which do not have a clear counterpart in the offline world. Whereas the seminar does not neglect the digital remediation of political practices and traditions, it adopts a sociotechnical perspective, focusing primarily on the digital mediatiziation of politics and how this affects multiple power dynamics within both institutional and non-institutional contexts. More specifically, the seminar examines the evolution of the scholarship from early utopian and optimistic expectations about the democratizing potential of the Internet to an increasingly pessimistic turn in media and communication research. This will be done through the critical review of academic debates about the ambivalent role of digital platforms. These will include, but will not be limited to, the debate on social media as enablers of mass mobilizations on the one hand and as technologies of mass surveillance and data extractivism on the other hand; the debate around the scale of platform capitalism, its environmental and colonial impact, and the actual possibilities of a local democratic control of platforms; the debate on the impact of digital platforms on the internal organization of social movements and political parties; and the debate on the impact of digital platforms on the quality of online discourse, pluralism and polarization. By the end of the course, students will master an array of critical, conceptual and methodological tools that they should be able to fruitfully apply to their own research. 

Course Format
The course will meet once or twice a week for sections of 180 minutes each. Each class will be divided into three sections: 1) an introductory lecture by the instructor (or invited speakers; 2) a student’s presentation on the assigned readings; and 3) a collective discussion and close reading of the assigned texts.

Students are expected to be active participants in the seminar. Reading requirements are to be fulfilled before the beginning of each class. Additionally, during the first class of the seminar, each student signs up to present the assigned readings for a class of her/his choice. The presentation should last approximately 15-20 minutes for Master students and 25-30 minutes for PhD students, with the optional support of slides (and/or a short reflection paper). Students are encouraged to connect, where applicable, the presentation to their own research. Each presentation should end with a couple of questions which may facilitate class discussion. All students
are expected to prepare comments and participate in the discussion.

Phd students
Presentation (all readings) 50%
In-class attendance and participation 50%
Doctoral students are not required to write a paper as the instructor will only determine whether they have passed (or failed) the course. Students who miss more than one class may be asked to repeat the course.
Doctoral students who opt to write a term paper for this course must consult the instructor in advance and agree on a topic. Please consider that while papers can be connected to the student’s own research they should also be firmly grounded in the course reading materials. Term papers should be approximately 20-pages long, references excluded, and are due by April 30, 2023.

Master students
Presentation (1 reading) 25%
In-class attendance and participation 25%
Paper 50%
Master students are required to write a 3,000-word paper (references included) to allow the instructor to express a grade on a 30-point scale. The paper can be written in English or Italian and should be firmly grounded in the course reading materials. It must be delivered by April 30, 2023.


1. Information Theory & Cybernetics

January 17 (Tuesday, 14:00-17:00)

Shanken, E. (ed.). 2015. Systems. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press (pp. 29-41 and 50-61).

Turner, F. 2006. From Counterculture to Cyberculture. Chicago: University of Chicago Press (pp. 1-9).

Watch Das Netz, DE, 2003.

Recommended readings: Hayles, K. 1999. How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics. Chicago: Chicago University Press (pp. 50-70).

2. Protocols and Norms in an Informational Culture

January 24 (Tuesday, 14:00-17:00)

Terranova, T. 2004. Network Culture: Politics for the Information Age. London: Pluto (pp. 6-38).

Hands, J. 2011. @ is for Activism: Dissent, Resistance and Rebellion in a Digital Culture. London: Pluto (pp. 77-98).

3. Political Values in Design: The Politics of Platforms

January 26 (Thursday, 14:00-17:00)

Feenberg, A. 2017. Technosystem: The Social Life of Reason. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press. (pp. 1-26 and pp. 41-45).

Bratton, B. H. 2014. The Stack: On Software and Sovereignty. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press (pp. 41-55).


Crawford, K. 2021. Atlas of AI. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press (pp. 89-121).

Bratton, B. H. 2014. The Stack: On Software and Sovereignty. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press (pp. 55-72).

Winner, L. 1980.Do Artifacts Have Politics?, Dedalus 109(1): 121-136.

4. Politics through Platforms

January 31 (Tuesday, 14:00-17:00)

Gerbaudo, P. 2019.The Digital Party: Political Organisation and Online Democracy. London: Pluto (pp. 66-80).

Deseriis, M. 2020. Two Variants of the Digital Party: The Platform Party and the Networked Party. Partecipazione e Conflitto 13(1). Doi: 10.1285/i20356609v13i1p896.


Van Dijck, J. & Poell, T. & De Waal, M. 2018. The Platform Society: Public Values in a Connective World. Oxford: Oxford University Press (pp. 31-48)

danah boyd. 2010. Social Network Sites and Networked Publics. In Networked Self: Identity, Community, and Culture on Social Network Sites (ed. Zizi Papacharissi), London: Routledge (pp. 39-58)

Knops, L., & Severs, E. 2019. Self-Appointed representatives on Facebook: The Belgian Case of the Citizens’ Platform for Refugee Support. International Journal of Communication 13: 5610- 5628.

5. Techno-positive Arguments for Digital Politics

February 2 (Thursday, 14:00-17:00)

Benkler, Y. 2006. The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom. New Haven: Yale University Press. (pp. 59-80).

Bennett, W. L. & and Segerberg A. 2013. The Logic of Connective Action. Oxford: Oxford University Press (pp. 19-54).


Clay Shirky, Institutions vs. Collaboration. Ted Talk.

Papacharissi, Z. 2015. Affective Publics and structures of storytelling: sentiment, events and mediality. Information, Communication & Society. Doi: 10.1080/1369118X.2015.1109697.

Castells, M. 2012. Networks of Outrage and Hope. Cambridge: Polity (pp. 1-19).

6. Techno-skeptic Arguments against Digital Politics

February 9 (Thursday, 14:00-17:00)

Dean, J. 2011. Blog Theory: Feedback and Capture in the Circuits of Drive. Cambridge: Polity (pp. 33-53).

Zuboff, S. (2019). Surveillance Capitalism and the Challenge of Collective Action. New Labor Forum, 28(1): 10–29.

Recommended: Fenton, N. 2016. Digital Political Radical. London: Polity (pp. 24-51).

Sunstein, C. #Repubblic: Divided Democracy in the Age of Social Media. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press (pp. 59-97).

7. Digital Populism or Digital Democracy?

February 16 (Thursday, 14:00-16:00)

Deseriis, M. 2017. Technopopulism: The Emergence of a Discursive Formation. TripleC: Communication, Capitalism & Critique 15(2): 441-458.

Bickerton, C. J., & Invernizzi Accetti, C. 2018. ‘Techno-populism’ as a new party family: the case of the Five Star Movement and Podemos. Contemporary Italian Politics 10(2): 132-150.


Deseriis, M. 2020. Rethinking the digital democratic affordance and its impact on political representation: Toward a new framework. Doi: 10.1177/1461444820929678

Educational aims

The primary goal of the course is to provide students with an understanding of digital politics as a layered domain, wherein digital technology is understood as a site of political struggle and not merely a tool for amplifying preexisting political practices. Secondarily, the course aims at providing students with high-level concepts and at stimulating a reflection on how such concepts can be fruitfully applied to their own research.