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Data and Society

Spring 2021

MW 6:00-7:15 pm
Online only

Professor Lindsay Thomas,
Virtual office hours: MW 1:30 pm – 3:00 pm, and by appointment

  • Please email me to schedule a time to meet. The best time to meet with me is during the above time slot, and slots will be reserved on a first-come, first-served basis. But if you can’t make my virtual office hours, just let me know and we’ll set up an appointment that works for both of us.

Course Description

Data is often considered the domain of scientists and statisticians. But the proliferation of data and databases across nearly all aspects of daily life – powering everything from the targeted advertisements you see when you go online to the fake news circulating on Facebook to the next financial recession – has made the study and understanding of the concept of data a vital everyday concern. This course provides an introduction to the meaning, uses, and politics of data today. Readings are drawn from literary and cultural studies, media studies, science and technology studies, sociology, information science, and the digital humanities. We will focus in unit 1 on the concept of data, examining its definition, history and relationship to quantification itself. In unit 2, we will explore how researchers in the humanities use data to study culture, and we will analyze existing datasets and create our own. Finally, unit 3 will center on algorithmic processes and what data does in the world. You will complete an algorithm audit for your final project, which will ask you to select and investigate a specific algorithmic process (i.e., Google search autocompletes, or autocorrects in iOS, etc.) in order to understand how it functions conceptually, the data it uses (or might use, if that information is unavailable), and what you see as its most important social consequences.

Download PDF of syllabus