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Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Global Digital Politics: Fall 2021

I am scheduled to teach a new course this fall on "Global Digital Politics" (POLS 507), which is open to both advanced undergraduates and graduate students. When I was chair, the department created a master's field in Digital Politics:
The Digital Politics field focuses on the intersection of information technology and politics and includes an applied component, providing students with training and experiences useful to their career pursuits. Areas of study include e-government initiatives, social media advocacy and narrative strategies for non-profit organizations, and online political campaigns.
Over the years, the department has offered courses in this track that emphasize American and comparative politics, but I think this will be the initial offering of a truly Global Politics class.

The syllabus will include most of the topics mentioned above -- e-government initiatives, social media advocacy, and narrative strategies for both governmental and non-governmental organizations. My recent research agenda has included a great deal of work on narratives and I am currently involved in a project with colleagues Jason Gainous and Melissa Merry (who both teach regularly in this track) that has implications for social media advocacy. In other words, this is genuinely an area of interest to me.

Because of the lack of central authority in international politics (anarchy), the global context arguably offers a perfect opportunity to promote deliberative democratic forms of e-government. Indeed, my 2004 coauthored book with Nayef Samhat discussed the apparent emergence of deliberative norms (transparency and participation, primarily) in global governance, with case studies of the World Bank and World Trade Organization. To promote democratic accountability, NGOs and international organizations employ various digital tools that we discuss in the book. Nayef and I have also written about deliberation surrounding the buildup to the Iraq war and other topics of shared international concern. Some of my solo writing has also addressed the potential of deliberation on global security and environmental issues. Though some of the conjecture seems dated now, I also previously explored the prospects for deliberation in the digital world.

The course will not cover political campaigns per se, but it will certainly discuss state and non-state interference in various national elections, including the 2016 (and 2020) U.S. presidential election, the Brexit referendum, and various European elections over the past few years.

Indeed, this last point suggests a major theme: the class will focus extensively on the dark side of global digital politics -- surveillance, hacking, ransomware, disinformation campaigns, etc. Some of this will align with the class consideration of social media and narrative strategies. I am trying to decide how much to include about the large tech companies that monitor individuals primarily as consumers. At minimum, we will discuss the overlap with politics -- when governments turn to these corporations to provide data about their customers. 

I am tinkering with various ideas to bring the necessary practical elements into the class, potentially including service-learning elements tied to real-world global social movements and NGOs active in the digital realm. Students would have a great deal of latitude selecting a real world movement or organization, but I will especially encourage selection of human rights, environmental, and peace activism given my own background studying and teaching in these areas. 

The class will not teach students how to employ the tools of the dark side, but it also won't teach much about the specific tools to counter them. We will instead address broad strategies and best practices, addressing the need to identify and employ trustworthy technical expertise in the political realm. 

Right now, the class only has 4 students and I think it would work best with around 15. The cap is set at 20. More students are needed and I'm engaged in active recruitment. 

The class will be organized as an in-person seminar, which means I expect students to interact with one another and with me. I will figure out a way to evaluate the practical component and assign at least one long and one short paper. Any exam would be in essay format and would likely be take-home. I am still working out the details. I am obliged by UofL policies to make the workload a bit tougher for graduate students . 

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Saturday, June 12, 2021


My oldest daughter arrived Memorial Day weekend and we ventured out a bit as vaccinated adults. My spouse and I hadn't seen her since December 2019 -- well, not counting our Zoom (Duo) existence. She fought COVID in New York over a year ago and her loss of smell lingered for a long time. 

None of us were ready to eat indoors, but we got a lot of takeout from local favorite restaurants. With the holiday weekend, she got to see many old friends who happened to be in town. 

On Thursday June 3, we ventured inside a venue while masked and took in the Breonna Taylor exhibit at the Speed Art Museum near the UofL campus. It was quite moving, especially the wall of biography near the end of the exhibit. I hadn't realized until that moment that my oldest daughter and Taylor were born just a couple of months apart and graduated from high school in the same year. 

It truly is difficult to imagine that family's pain.

I snapped this photo from the entrance area, but should have taken a shot of Amy Sherald's excellent posthumous portrait, which you can see here

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