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COURSE NAME: "Digital Disruption: Technological Change and Digital Platforms"
SEMESTER & YEAR: Fall 2023

INSTRUCTOR: Anthony Stagliano
EMAIL: [email protected]
HOURS: TTH 11:30 AM 12:45 PM
PREREQUISITES: Prerequisite: Junior Standing; recommended COM 311

The course will offer a short historical overview of the relationships between media change and technological disruption, culminating with the intensification of digital media, networking technologies and digital platforms. The course will explore the impact and changes led by digital disruption on social relationships, business models, entrepreneurial practices and the labor condition, communication and culture, as well as on political processes and engagement. The core question investigated throughout the course is how the disruptive logic of digitalization generates anxieties and hopes that condition networked media platforms.

This course will provide an in-depth discussion of the challenging and innovatory potential of digitalization, the fears and promises, uncertainties and excitements it generates, particularly centering the attention on digital platformism: a technical and organizational paradigm that rules and mediates the whole spectrum of contemporary societal life. The course connects the impact of digital change to a number of key current concerns, including media transformation, labor, digital money, algorithmic ruling, open knowledge and education, populism and conspiracy culture, networked cooperativism, and deliberative politics. Throughout the course, students will work with and critically address through a series of media experiments relevant examples, such as Amazon, Uber, AirB&B and Netflix.

The course is organized around short lectures, group discussions, engagement with various media materials, and practice-led individual and group research.


By the end of the course students will be able to:

1. Understand the disruptive capacities of digital technologies and the paradigmatic changes led by digitization.

2. Comprehend the impact of digitization, and the possibilities opened by it, on the social, economic, cultural and political spheres.

3. Recognize and assess the processes of innovation led by digital media technologies in order to advance individual and collective projects, producing critically reflexive and impacting media outputs.

4. Develop autonomous and team working skills to address the main ideas of the course into daily practices and individual interests.

5. Critically evaluate the impact of digital platforms.


Attendance and ParticipationClass participation consists of your contribution to class discussions, learning activities.15%
Digital PortfolioStudents are required to produce a digital media portfolio that consists of 3 media outputs. These media outputs will be part of the results of the 3 media experiments that will be carried out throughout the course. The first two media experiments are due on week 7 and will be presented and graded as midterm. The last one is due and will be presented on week 14.35%
(Midterm)(Media Experiment 1)(10%)
(Midterm)(Media Experiment 2)(10%)
(Midterm)Presentation of results and summary of experiments 1 and 2(5%)
 (Media experiment 3)(10%)
Research PapersStudents are required to write short individual research papers (500-700 words each) that reflect the critical engagement of the 3 Media Experiments to the themes of the course, and an individual paper around 2000 words, following their own engagement in the course. Concepts, concerns and contexts introduced in the course must be used to connect, develop and summarize the ideas that underpin the various media experiments. Papers will be graded according to their clarity, originality, style, adherence to the course topics, coherence of the argument, attention to diversity of sources, correct formatting of citations, ability to develop from feedback and alignment with the digital media output.50%
(Midterm)Research paper related to Experiment 1(5%)
(Midterm)Research paper related to Experiment 2(5%)
 Research paper related to Experiment 3(5%)
 Final Research Paper(30%)
(Final)Presentation of final results and research paper(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 frequent absences automatically lower your participation grade.


Also please consider that you will lose one half-letter grade for any absence over 4 (e.g. 5 absences, half letter grade lost). 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 this class allows, you can ask the Dean's Office to consider whether you may warrant a exemption from this policy.


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.

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.


The course is structured around readings, short lectures, related in-class activities, group-work, discussions, and the occasional screening of video excerpts.

The following schedule provides a general overview of the topics and themes that we will cover throughout the course. Specific details and additional readings will be revealed/assigned on a weekly basis. 

Please note that a Moodle page will be used as support to share updates and news, to collect assignments, to archive readings and other course materials.

Please note that your papers may be submitted to Turnitin (plagiarism detection software).


Week 1: Introduction and course overview

Parkinson, H. J. (2017) ‘Sometimes you don’t feel human’ – how the gig economy chews up and spits out millennials’ [on line] The Guardian.

The Economist (2018) ‘Worries about the rise of the gig economy are mostly overblown’ [on line], Economist.com.


Week 2: A short (pre) history of media change I. From the telegraph to VHS and cassette tapes: transmission, recording and broadcast disruption

Brevini, B. and Swiatek, L. (2021) Amazon. Understanding a Global Communication Giant. NewYork and London: Routledge (selected excerpts).


Week 3: A short history of media change II. Disruptive intensification: niche consumption, platform mobility and p2p

Lobato, R. (2019) Netflix Nation. The Geography of Digital Distribution. New Yoirk: New York University Press (selected excerpts).

Case focus: Netflix


Week 4: The dynamics of digital disruption: new chances, new fears

Christensen, C. M. (1997) The Innovator's Dilemma. When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail. Boston: Harvard Business School Publishing (selected excerpts).

Case focus: Uber


Week 5: The (digital) platform: technological complexity, over-organisation and hyper-mediation

Bratton, B. (2015) The Stack. On Software and Sovereignty. Cambridge: MA – London: MIT Press (selected excerpts).


Case focus: AirB&B


Week 6: Algorithmically-driving music taste: platforms and recommendation systems

Seaver, Nick, Computing Taste, 2022 (excerpts).

Case focus: Spotify


Week 7: Midterm exam and review of individual projects

Experiments 1 and 2 and related papers are due



Week 8: Algorithms and automation: logistics, platform labour and crowdsourcing

Munn, L. (2022) Automation is a myth. Stanford: Stanford University Press (selected excerpts).


Case focus: Stable Diffusion/Midjourney


Week 9: Digital money: crypto-currencies, decentralisation, and the disruption of monetary exchange

Day, M. S. (2018) Bits to Bitcoin. How our digital stuff works. Cambridge, London: MIT Press (selected excerpts).

Case focus: Bitcoin


Week 10: Disrupting (media) education: open knowledge and education factories

Hall, G. (2016) The Uberfication of the University. Minnesota, USA: University of Minnesota Press (selected excerpts).

Case focus: Shadow libraries


Week 11: Alter-platformism: commonisation, platform cooperativism and the creation of alternative digital infrastructures

Scholz, T. and Schneider, N. (ed.) (2016) Ours to hack and to own. The rise of platform cooperativism, a new vision for the future of work and a fairer internet. New York, London: OR Books (selected excerpts).

Muldoon, J. (2022) Platform Socialism How to Reclaim our Digital Future from Big Tech. London: Pluto Press (selected excerpts).

Case focus: Commonspoly


Week 12: The (re) surfacing of (digital) populism: leaks, fake news and conspiracy theories

McIntyre, L. (2018) Post-Truth. Cambridge: MA, London: MIT Press.

Case focus: QAnon


Week 13: New forms of deliberative politics: digitalization and civic engagement

Ramos, J. M (2015) Liquid Democracy and the Futures of Governance, in Winter, J., and Ono, R. (eds.) The Future Internet: Alternative Visions, Springer; pp. 173-191.

Case focus: Loomio


Week 14




Presentation of Experiment 3