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Digital Infrastructures & Platforms

ENGL 2953.401
also offered as: CIMS 2953 / STSC 2692
Thursday 3:30-6:29pm

In studying the internet, several scholars note a shift from network society to platform society. Platforms ranging from ride-hailing and food delivery apps (Uber and Swiggy) to subscription based audiovisual content providers (Netflix and SonyLIV) mediate multisided transactions (markets) and operate based on algorithmic collection, circulation, and monetization of user data. In this course, we will engage with a variety of readings about multi-situated study of apps, paying attention to both app interfaces as well as their connection to backend systems and infrastructures like content delivery networks and software development kits. The course emphasizes the need to study digital platforms and infrastructures together as various companies undergo platformization. In what ways do processes of data storage and distribution make “seamless” streaming on Hulu/Prime Video and instantaneous digital payments on Venmo and PayTM possible? We will begin with how infrastructures have been studied in the past, and then in particular focus on media infrastructures such as satellite systems, optical fiber cables, cell antennas, and data centers. We will discuss debates about platform labor, including the role of influencers, cultural producers, and gig economy workers. The course readings will consider the varied definitions of platforms and examine the socio-political effects of the proliferation of platforms in different regions of the world. In studying superapps and platforms like WeChat (China), LINE (Japan), and Jio (India), we will try to comprehend in what ways have discourses of platformization been shaped by governmental regulation, cultural practices, and socio-politics of regions. We will explore questions like: How do content creators and SVoD audiences navigate algorithmic opacity? Why do BigTech companies float competing discourses about platforms? What are the connections between infrastructural investments and platform capitalism? What does it mean to have digital lives in a platform society? In what ways do digital infrastructures and platforms create the foundations for Smart Cities and Internet of Things? 

English Major Requirements
  • Sector 2 Difference and Diaspora (AEDD)
  • Sector 6 20th & 21st Centuries (AE20)
English Concentration Attributes
  • 20th-21st Century Concentration (AE21)
College Attributes