The Information Society
Much as Adam Smith saw his own age as marked by its engagement with “commerce” and thereby distinguished from all ages that had come before, it has become conventional to see our own era as a break from all that has preceded it, and thus distinguished principally by its engagement with information and computing technologies. Scholars have labeled the contemporary era as the “post-industrial,” “postmodern,” or “network society,” but probably the most widely used and enduring characterization distinguishes the present day as the “information age” or “information society.” This course will explore the notion of an “information society,” trying to understand what scholars have held to be the essential and distinguishing features of such a society, how these views compare with classic theories of society or with alternative accounts of the present age, and to what extent different conceptions of the “information age” are compatible. In pursuing this investigation, we shall bear in mind the admonition of the legal scholar James Boyle that while the idea of an “information age” may be “useful ... we need a critical social theory to understand it.” In the process of developing a critical, social, and political-economic analysis of this idea, we hope to assemble a corpus of information society readings.
Requirements: We will proceed by reading theorists in contrasting pairs in each class seeking to understand and compare the ways in which society is characterized in each account. All students will be asked to post their thoughts on the readings before each class. Each student will be expected to take responsibility for guiding the discussion in one class. Every few weeks, we will pause to consider how to apply these theoretical perspectives in our own research and writing, at which time students will be required to submit a one- page essay reflecting on how the works read up to that point construct and use theory and how the student might rely on or challenge these theories in the student’s own work. Each student will be required to submit a final paper exploring a subject to be agreed on with the instructors that relates the works and discussions of the course to the student’s own work and interests. Papers should be twenty pages long and submitted by the last day of exam week (December 16).