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The Politics of Digital East Asia


Admission requirements

The course Digital East Asia is intended for students from a limited number of programmes. Because of the limited capacity available for each programme, all students who will enroll are placed on a waiting list. Students in the MA program in Asian Studies: Politics, Society and Economy (60 EC) and Chinese Studies (120 EC) will have priority. The definite admission (before September 5) will be made according to the position on the waiting list and the number of places that will be available after the priority students have been placed. In total there is room for 20 students in the seminar.


East Asia is at the forefront of global digital developments. The People’s Republic of China now has more internet users than the European Union has citizens. South Korea is one of the most well-connected societies on the planet, and Japan has long been a vanguard of digital innovation. Equiped with laptops and mobile phones, citizens across the region are increasingly ‘plugged in’, creating new spheres for cultural exchange, commerce, and political engagement. Meanwhile, the authorities in China, South Korea, and Japan are each carefully monitor this digital diversity, positioning themselves within new discourses such as ‘online addiction’ or ‘digital rumours’, and legitimating their politics in novel ways. At times, this includes censoring unwanted content, blocking foreign digital services, or using digital tools for regulatory purposes (or ‘e-government’).
This course asks what happens when the politics go digital. Students will engage with state-of-the-field debates about China, Japan, and Korea in the information age and will explore the theoretical implications of politics in networked societies. Throughout the course, we will explore various digital media types, platforms, and features, such as search engines, online encyclopaedias, websites, hyperlink networks, blogs, microblogs, and chat services, and we will ask: how do technical design features, human psychology, economic dynamics, and political decisions shape digital East Asia?
Such politics are increasingly entangled with digital components such as gamic incentive structures and social rankings, and this is why this course will pay particular attention to the politics of digital ‘gamification’. This focus also carries over into the course design, which draws from massively multiplayer online gaming to assess student progress. In other words, this seminar will also be a game: students will fulfil quests, PvP encounters, and PvE exploration to gain experience points (XP) and ‘level up’ – the levels will later translate into grades. We will use these mechanisms to assess the workings of gamic incentives in digital societies, helping us better understand what happens to human behaviour as various actors gamify parts of their politics.

Course objectives

This module aims to provide a critical examination of key issues and processes related to governing nation-states that are increasingly interlinked with digital networks. The focus of this module is on developments of the last decade, but students are encouraged to critically question the existing knowledge about and presumed novelty of digital technologies, and to place East Asian developments into larger historical contexts. By the end of the module, students should be able to:

  • Demonstrate an advanced understanding of the complex issues and processes related to digital politics, governance in network societies, and the workings of information processes in our present age.

  • Apply complex conceptual tools to analyze key events and processes related to digital politics in East Asia.

  • Demonstrate appropriate cognitive, communicative, and transferable skills, develop the capacity for independent learning, critique major texts and approaches on digital media issues, and lead class discussions.


The timetable is available on the Asianstudies website

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar

Course Load

The work-load for this course is roughly 280 hours:

  • Plenary sessions: 24 hours.

  • Readings: 116 hours.

  • Course Assignments: 40 hours.

  • Presentations: 40 hours.

  • Final paper: 60 hours.

Assessment method

In order to pass this module, students will nominally complete assignments in three different categories:

  • Analytical Element (course work) - 30% of final grade.

  • Participatory element (presentation) - 30% of final grade.

  • Research Element (research paper 4,000 words) - 40% of final grade.

In practice, these components are translated into a gamic system that will allow students to compensate various components by gaining XP in the three broad areas of assessment. Instructions on how this XP system works, how it translates into grades, and what requirements it contains will be discussed in class, with detailed guidelines posted on blackboard.

The course does not include a written exam, and it consequently does not requrie exam reviews or resits. A failed research paper may be re-written only if the original submission constituted a serious attempt. Participants will receive the opportunity to submit a draft version and receive feedback on how to revise their research paper. Failed course work assignments can be compensated through other course work assignments, and the grades for coursework and presentation components can be compensated with the research paper, and vice-versa. Individual course work assignments cannot be retaken to achieve better grades. Detailed guidelines on grade compensation will be available on blackboard and will be discussed in detail during class.

Exam Review

Students may request an oral elucidation of the assessment within 30 days after publication of the grade.


The course will make use of Blackboard for all course-related communication and grading, including announcement of the required readings and assignments.

Reading list

The required readings will be announced on blackboard. Students interested in learning more about politics in the information age may find the following books useful:

  • Benkler, Yochai (2006), The Wealth of Networks – How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom. New Haven and London: Yale University Press.

  • Castells, Manuel (2009), Communication Power. Oxford et al.: Oxford University Press.

  • Pariser, Eli (2012), The Filter Bubble: How the New Personalized Web Is Changing What We Read and How We Think (Kindle ed.). New York et al.: Penguin Books.

  • Shirky, Clay (2008), Here Comes Everybody – The Power to Organize without Organizations, New York et al.: Penguin Books.
    Students who wish to expand their knowledge of digital (East) Asia may want to consult past publications in the journal ‘Asiascape: Digital Asia’ (available through the digital library).
    Note that these sources are merely recommendations for further study, not required readings.


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.
General information about uSis is available in English and Dutch

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


Dr. Florian Schneider