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Digital @nthropology: a Critical Take on Information Society


Admission requirements

A very limited number of places are available for this course so only the following categories of students may register for it:

  • Students enrolled for the Bachelor’s programme “CA-DS” at Leiden University who have passed the Propedeutic phase. Only ONE third year course on level 300 is obligatory according to your programme.

  • Students enrolled for the Minor CA-OS who have not followed another CA-OS course at level 300.
    If the number of applicants requires a selection to be made, students who have already followed other "exploration" courses on level 300 will not be considered for admission.
    The following two categories of students will be registered by Leiden University after completing the admission procedure:

  • Exchange and Study Abroad students who have been admitted to this course,

  • Pre-Master’s students who have completed the admission procedure for the Master’s CA-DS and have been formally admitted to this course as part of the Pre-Master’s programme.

Please see the Usis-registration procedure below.


Digital anthropology is the study of new information technology and the activities it enables such as ‘chatting’, micro-blogging or file sharing. It sees those not as mere technology but rather as the manifestations of social behaviour they actually are. The sociality of such new technologies, the new affordances they provide and older traditions they seemingly continue, can and should be studied ethnographically. Domestication, subversion and often outright refusal to adapt to new technology in different sections of our society and in various places in and away from the digital centres of our world are our starting point for asking what social scientists have to contribute to debate about them.

In this course we investigate the encroaching notion that today ‘we’ live in an ‘information society.’ Among questions we shall address are: What are the social, material and ideological foundations that support the notion that ‘we’ live in ‘the information society’? What is this obsession with ‘information’ and who owns it? How does the ideal of an informational society that is cheap, efficient and clean, ignore costs hidden elsewhere? What does it mean to be politically active in an information society? And what does it mean to conduct anthropological research in and of the information society?

We shall look at a wide variety of information-society related phenomena, varying from ‘open source’ and advocates of ‘greener’ and fairer technology to ICT4D projects; from privacy-activist groups to technophobes and the fear of a surveillance culture; from high-tech spirituality to ‘cam-girls’, hackers and the information society’s underworld where used, cannibalised phones are given a new lease on life to enable the ‘digital have-nots’ to partake in what can be seen as the most enduring myth of our times – the digital revolution. But we shall interrogate most closely our own personal use of the digital revolution and the challenges it poses to the study of humankind.

Course objectives

  • students will be able to join critical discussions about the political, cultural and economic factors that govern the global dispersion of information technologies;

  • students will familiarize themselves with ‘online ethnography’, and will become aware of political choices we implicitly make by using particular types of information technology in our own lives;

  • students will familiarize themselves with recent critical debates on the ‘information society’ and learn to identify the various ideological and political purposes for which ICT is used by differently-positioned groups around the world.

Time table

Dates and room numbers can be found on our website, under "3e jaar, Semester 1, Hoorcolleges".

Mode of instruction

Total 10 ECTS = 280 study hours (sbu):

  • Lectures 10×3 h = 30 sbu

  • Student presentations (werkgroepen) 12 hrs = 24 sbu

  • Study of literature (+/- 1000 pp) and weekly assignments about it (AQCI’s) = 170 sbu

  • Final paper 6 pp (3600 words) = 48 sbu

Assessment method

  • Nine AQCI assignments (1 per week) – 75 % of the final grade

  • Final examination paper (6 pages = 3600 words) – 25 % of the final grade

  • Participation in discussions

  • One in-class presentation per student

  • Attendance (at least 8 out of 10 sessions must be attended)

Re-takes are possible but only if final grades are below 6, and if students have participated actively in the course and submitted satisfactory responses to at least most of the assignments / papers / presentations.


  • Registration in Usis is obligatory for the lectures (H) for all participants. Please consult the course registration website for information on registration periods and further instructions.

  • Registration for the exam is NOT necessary because this course does not have one final (classical) exam.

  • Registration on Blackboard is obligatory for all participants.

  • Exchange students: If you had officially been admitted for this course during the Admission Procedure, you will be registered for the lectures by our faculty's student administration.


Blackboard module will be active two weeks before the start of the first class and will be used for posting assignments and other course related information.

Students granted admission must register for this course on Blackboard.

Reading list

  • A compilation of electronically available readings mostly available through Blackboard.

Contact information

Dr. Bart Barendregt