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COURSE NAME: "Selfies and Beyond: Exploring Networked Identities"
SEMESTER & YEAR: Spring 2021

INSTRUCTOR: Donatella Della Ratta
EMAIL: [email protected]
HOURS: TTH 3:00-4:15 PM
PREREQUISITES: Prerequisite: COM 311

This course explores the state of the online self—the multiple ways in which identities and subjectivities are constructed in the networked environment—with an emphasis on social networking platforms (Instagram, Tinder, Facebook, etc.). The course ties networked identity’s impact on a number of current topics, including celebrity, consumer culture, dating, gender, violence, emotion, affect, big data, surveillance, collective action, and privacy. The central question explored throughout the course is how identities and subjectivities are shaped in a networked environment, and how they, in their turn, shape culture, social dynamics and politics in everyday life.

Extending and developing the basic research into digital media cultures that students have been introduced to in COM 311, this coursedraws on a variety of research traditions and perspectives—from psychoanalysis to aesthetics to digital ethnography—to go beyond the sociological and political-economic readings of Internet platform capitalism. By providing diverse critical tools and theoretical approaches to contemporary forms of the online self, the course reflects on the ways in which networked communications technologies challenge binary categories such as individualities and collectivities, agency and control, visibilities and invisibilities.To make sense of the complexity of modes and moods of the online self, we explore artistic and literary practices, as well as critical creative approaches that transcend the dominant paradigm of algorithmic predictability. 

The class combines lectures with discussion groups, screenings of relevant material, and practical exercises to test the theoretical frameworks and critical tools analyzed in class on actual online practices, such as social networking, data sharing, etc..


The course provides students with:

1.  a variety of critical approaches to interpret contemporary networked identities and subjectivities, and to understand how the use of networked communications technologies impacts the ‘self’ and the formation of new collectivities;

2.  an insight into how diverse forms of popular culture (e.g. films, novels, performances, etc.)  reflect upon and translate the modes and moods of the online self; 

3.  a broad understanding of the contemporary debate on the online self, and of the major areas of research and artistic experimentation within this domain;

4.critical tools to conduct qualitative research and write quality reflection papers, developing a personal theoretical perspective on the subject matter.


Attendance and participation Participation includes doing the assigned readings and actively contributing to class discussions. Each student (alone or in team with another, depending on total number of students) has to lead one group discussion during the semester based on the assigned readings.10%
'Bring your own example' - reflections on the assigned readingsStudents are required to provide a reflection connecting the weekly readings to a relevant example, when required. Guidelines will be provided. 10%
Auto-ethnographyStudents are required to exercise in auto-ethnography applying theoretical frameworks & perspectives studied in class to their daily experience of social networking platforms and other online environments. Detailed guidelines will be provided. 25%
Midterm essay Classroom exam15%
Final research paper and oral presentationFinal research paper (20%). Video essay connected to the final paper (15%). Detailed guidelines to be provided. 35%
Participation to 'Digital Delights & Disturbances' lecture series Students are required to attend 3 sessions of the lecture series. A detailed calendar with dates & event description will be provided at the beginning of the semester. 5%

AWork of this quality directly addresses the question or problem raised and provides a coherent argument displaying an extensive knowledge of relevant information or content. This type of work demonstrates the ability to critically evaluate concepts and theory and has an element of novelty and originality. There is clear evidence of a significant amount of reading beyond that required for the course.
BThis is highly competent level of performance and directly addresses the question or problem raised.There is a demonstration of some ability to critically evaluatetheory and concepts and relate them to practice. Discussions reflect the student’s own arguments and are not simply a repetition of standard lecture andreference material. The work does not suffer from any major errors or omissions and provides evidence of reading beyond the required assignments.
CThis is an acceptable level of performance and provides answers that are clear but limited, reflecting the information offered in the lectures and reference readings.
DThis level of performances demonstrates that the student lacks a coherent grasp of the material.Important information is omitted and irrelevant points included.In effect, the student has barely done enough to persuade the instructor that s/he should not fail.
FThis work fails to show any knowledge or understanding of the issues raised in the question. Most of the material in the answer is irrelevant.


Please note that more than 4 absences will automatically result in lowering your participation grade by one letter grade for each absence.
Anything above 8 absences will result in failing the course.

If you have a serious health problem which causes you to miss more classes than allowed here, please contact the Dean's Office.

Lateness: If unexcused, students more than 10 minutes late are marked as absent. Late arrival (less than 10 minutes) is marked as such, and 3 late arrivals are counted as one absence. 

Class procedure:  Use of cell phones and laptops affects your participation grade and is strictly forbidden during class.

Please make sure that your cell phone is turned off (and not just muted) when class starts. Kindly note that any infringement of such policy shall automatically result in a F grade in participation.
As stated in the university catalog, any student who commits an act of academic dishonesty will receive a failing grade on the work in which the dishonesty occurred. In addition, acts of academic dishonesty, irrespective of the weight of the assignment, may result in the student receiving a failing grade in the course. Instances of academic dishonesty will be reported to the Dean of Academic Affairs. A student who is reported twice for academic dishonesty is subject to summary dismissal from the University. In such a case, the Academic Council will then make a recommendation to the President, who will make the final decision.
John Cabot University does not discriminate on the basis of disability or handicap. Students with approved accommodations must inform their professors at the beginning of the term. Please see the website for the complete policy.


* This class employs the method of auto-ethnography to study networked identities. It does so using multiple languages and formats.

As an example, see the blogs and video blogs published during the outbreak of the pandemic in Spring 2020.


Class Schedule * an updated version of the syllabus will be posted on Moodle in SP21 

Week 1: Applying auto-ethnography to the study of the online self 

Introduction to the class and to auto-ethnography as a research method 


Week 2: The self and the social: a theoretical orientation

How does technology impact on the understanding of society, and on man’s own sense of the body?

Excerpts from:

Baudrillard, J. (1983) In the shadow of the silent majorities… or the end of the social and other essays. New York: Semiotext(e).

McLuhan, M. (1996) The Medium is the Massage. Berkeley: Ginko Press. 


Week 3: Identity and Ideology in the time of the 'Social'

How has the self become a media object? How is our sense of identity created and displayed publicly? What are the consequences?

Excerpts from:

Tiidenberg, K. (2018) SELFIES: Why We Love (and Hate) Them. Bingley: Emerald Publishing. 

Lovink, G. (2016) On Social Media Ideology. E-flux #75, September.

Week 4: Affect theories 

How do we understand and study the online self?

Excerpts from:

Hillis, K., Paasonen, S., and Petit, M., eds., NetworkedAffect. Cambridge, MA, and London: MIT Press. 

Tiidenberg, K. (2018) SELFIES: Why We Love (and Hate) Them. Bingley: Emerald Publishing. 

Week 5: The Circulation of Affect on Social Media: Gift or Commodity?  

 Excerpts from:

Hillis, K., Paasonen, S., and Petit, M., eds., NetworkedAffect. Cambridge, MA, and London: MIT Press. 


Week 6: Putting 'Affect' at Work: Labor within Emotional Capitalism

Excerpts from:

Hillis, K., Paasonen, S., and Petit, M., eds., NetworkedAffect. Cambridge, MA, and London: MIT Press. 


Week 7

Recap and midterm exam



Week 8. A Deep Dive Into Networked Emotions: Sadness 

What does it happen when the online self takes violent forms, when mundane practices such as Instagramming and taking selfies become instruments of violence? 

Excerpts from: 

Lovink, Geert (2019). Sad By Design. London: Pluto Press 

Broder, M. (2016) So Sad Today. New York and Boston: Grand Central Publishing. 


Week 9. A Deep Dive Into Networked emotions: Boredom 

Excerpts from:

McDonough, T. ed. (2017). Boredom. Cambridge, Massachussetts: The MIT Press.


Week 10. A Deep Dive Into Networked emotions: Anxiety 

Week 11. A Deep Dive Into Networked emotions: Sexting 


Week 12. 

The Pandemic & the Online Self - Part I 

Online Is The New Black: Zoom Fatigue and Other Networked Discontents 


Week 13. 

The Pandemic & the Online Self - Part I I

The Platformization of Life 


Week 14. Wrap up