The Goliath of totalitarian control will rapidly be brought down by the David of the microchip

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The Internet and Political Theory
“the Goliath of totalitarian control will rapidly be brought down by the David of the microchip.”

- Ronald Reagan, 1989

Ashley Gorham

Course Description:

It is the goal of this course to provide students with the tools necessary to critically interrogate the political implications of the internet. The class will begin with the first chapter of Sheldon Wolin’s classic text Politics and Vision, which explores the nature of political philosophy as a discipline. From there, the class will proceed thematically from the Cold War origins of the internet to explore the digital public sphere, “the wisdom of the many,” the so-called “Twitter Revolution,” electronic civil disobedience, cyberwar, information freedom, spectacle, surveillance, troll culture, and our digital future. Each week’s reading will be grounded in a classic work in political theory, which will serve as the lens through which we will approach the topic. Theoretical texts will be paired with recent academic and journalistic publications.


- Classes and Readings: Students are expected to complete the assigned readings before each class and attend all class meetings.

- Essay: Students are required to write one 20-page essay, due at the end of the semester.

- Presentation: Each student will be responsible for leading one class discussion. Presenters are expected to offer a summary of the reading, as well as their own thoughts on the material. Presenters are also expected to offer questions and help facilitate discussion for the class period.

- Participation: Active and substantive participation is a core component of this course. Each student is expected to participate in each class meeting. That said, quantity is not a substitute for quality.

- Essay: 40%

- Presentation: 25%

- Participation: 35%


Arendt, Hannah. 2013. The Human Condition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Assange, Julian, Jacob Appelbaum, Andy Müller-Maguhn, and Jérémie Zimmermann. 2012.

Cypherpunks: Freedom and the Future of the Internet. New York: OR Books.

Berlin, Isaiah. 2002. Liberty: Incorporating Four Essays on Liberty. New York: Oxford

University Press.

Critical Art Ensemble. 2001. Digital Resistance: Explorations in Tactical Media. New York:


Debord, Guy. 1995. The Society of Spectacle. New York: Zone Books.

Gerbaudo, Paulo. 2012. Tweets and the Streets: Social Media and Contemporary Activism. New

York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Green, Jeffrey Edward. 2010. Eyes of the People: Democracy in an Age of Spectatorship. New

York: Oxford University Press.

Habermas, Jürgen. 1991. The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a

Category of Bourgeois Society. Translated by Thomas Burger with Frederick Lawrence. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Machiavelli, Niccolò. 1965. The Art of War. Translated by Ellis Farneworth. Introduction by

Neal Wood. Indianapolis, IN: Bobbs-Merrill.

McGinnis, John O. 2013. Accelerating Democracy: Transforming Governance Through

Technology. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Mill, John Stuart. 1978. On Liberty. Edited by Elizabeth Rappaport. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett.

Nietzsche, Friedrich. 1997. On the Genealogy of Morality. Edited by Keith Ansell-Pearson.

Translated by Carol Diethe. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Wolin, Sheldon. 2004. Politics and Vision: Continuity and Innovation in Western Political

Thought. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Class Schedule:

  1. Introduction

    1. Wolin, Politics and Vision, 3-26.

  1. Sputnik I

    1. Arendt, The Human Condition, prologue- ch. III.

    2. Rosenzweig, Roy. 1998. “Wizards, Bureaucrats, Warriors, and Hackers: Writing the History of the Internet.” The American Historical Review 103(5): 1530-1552.

  1. Sputnik II

    1. Arendt, The Human Condition, chs. iv-vi

    2. Galison, Peter. 2004. “War Against the Center.” Grey Room 4: 6-33. doi: 10.1162/grey.2001.1.04.5.

  1. The Digital Public Sphere

    1. Habermas, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere, parts iv-vi.

    2. Kelty, Christopher. 2005. “Geeks, Social Imaginaries, and Recursive Publics.” Cultural Anthropology 20(2): 185-214. doi: 10.1525/can.2005.20.2.185.

    3. Gardiner, Michael E. 2004. “Wild Publics and Grotesque Symposiums: Habermas and Bakhtin on Dialogue, Everyday Life and the Public Sphere.” The Sociological Review 52(s1): 28-48. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-954X.2004.00472.x.

    4. Dean, Jodi. 2003. “Why the Net is Not a Public Sphere.” Constellations 10(1): 95-112. doi: 10.1111/1467-8675.00315.

  1. The Wisdom of the Many

    1. Aristotle. 2013. Politics. Translated by Carnes Lord (Chicago: University of Chicago Press), III.xi, III.xv. (Available Online)

    2. McGinnis, Accelerating Democracy.

    3. Raghav, Krish. 2015. “Narendra Modi App is ‘Like Tinder for Good Governance.’” BBC, July 7.

  1. Twitter Revolution?

    1. Arendt, On Revolution, intro, ch. 1, and ch. 6.

    2. Gerbaudo, Tweets and the Streets.

    3. Christensen, Christian. 2011. “Twitter Revolutions? Addressing Social Media and Dissent.” The Communication Review 14(3): 155-157.

    4. Tufekci, Zeynep, and Christopher Wilson. 2012. “Social Media and the Decision to Participate in Political Protest: Observations From Tahrir Square.” Journal of Communication 62(2): 363-379. doi: 10.1111/j.1460-2466.2012.01629.x

    5. Gladwell, Malcolm. 2010. “Small Change: Why the Revolution Will Not Be Tweeted.” The New Yorker, October 4.

    6. Morozov, Evgeny. 2009. “Iran: Downside to the ‘Twitter Revolution.’” Dissent, Fall S10.

  1. Electronic Civil Disobedience

    1. Arendt, Hannah. 1972. “Civil Disobedience.” In Crises of the Republic, 49-102. New York: Harcourt Brave Jovanovich. (Available Online)

    2. Wray, Stefan. 1999. “On Electronic Civil Disobedience.” Peace Review: A Journal of Social Justice 11(1):107– 111.

    3. Critical Art Ensemble. 2001. Digital Resistance: Explorations in Tactical Media. New York: Autonomedia.

    4. Coleman, Gabriella. 2012. “Our Weirdness is Free: The Logic of Anonymous—Online Army, Agent of Chaos, and Seeker of Justice.” Triple Canopy 15

  1. Cyberwar

    1. Machiavelli, The Art of War.

    2. Farwell, James P., and Rafal Rohozinski. 2011. “Stuxnet and the Future of Cyber War.” Survival 53(1): 23-40. doi: 10.1080/00396338.2011.555586.

    3. Rid, Thomas. 2012. “Cyber War Will Not Take Place.” Journal of Strategic Studies 35, no. 1: 5-32. doi: 10.1080/01402390.2011.608939.

  1. Information Wants to Be Free

    1. Berlin, Liberty.

    2. Brand, Stewart, and Matt Heron. 1985. “‘Keep Designing’: How the Information Economy Is Being Created and Shaped by the Hacker Ethic.” In Whole Earth Review 46: 44-55. (Available Online)

    3. Wagner, R. Polk. 2003. “Information Wants to Be Free: Intellectual Property and the Mythologies of Control.” Columbia Law Review 103(4): 995-1034. doi: 10.2307/1123783.

  1. Information Wants to be Free II

    1. Mill, On Liberty.

    2. Coleman, Gabriella. 2004. “The Political Agnosticism of Free and Open Source Software and the Inadvertent Politics of Contrast.” Anthropological Quarterly, 77(3): 507-519. doi: 10.1353/anq.2004.0035.

    3. Coleman, Biella, and Mako Hill. 2004. “How Free Became Open and Everything Else Under the Sun.” M/C Journal 7(3).

  1. Information Wants to Be Free III

    1. Plato. Republic, books vi-vii (Available Online)

    2. Assange et al., Cypherpunks.

  1. The Society of Spectacle

    1. Debord, The Society of Spectacle.

    2. Green, Eyes of the People, chs. 1, 2, 6, 7.

    3. Browne, Simone. 2015. Blackness and Surveillance (Durham, NC: Duke University Press), intro-ch 1. (Available Online)

  1. The Panopticon

    1. Bentham, Jeremy. 1843. “Appendix: Selections from Bentham’s Narrative Regarding the Panopticon Penitentiary Project, and from the Correspondence on the Subject.” In The Works of Jeremy Bentham. Edited by John Bowring. Edinburgh: William Tait, 1838-1843. Vol. 11.

    2. Foucault, Michel. 1995. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. Translated by Alan Sheridan. New York: Vintage. Parts 3-4. (Available Online)

    3. Bamford, James. 2012. “The NSA Is Building the Country’s Biggest Spy Center (Watch What You Say).” Wired, May 15.

  1. Revenge of the Trolls

    1. Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morality.

    2. Coleman, Gabriella. 2012. “Phreaks, Hackers, Trolls: The Politics of Transgression and Spectacle.” In The Social Media Reader. Edited by Michael Mandiberg, 99-119. New York: New York University Press.

    3. Phillips, Whitney. 2013. “The House That Fox Built: Anonymous, Spectacle, and Cycles of Amplification.” Television and New Media 14(6): 494 – 509.

doi: 10.1177/1527476412452799.

    1. Phillips, Whitney, Jessica Beyer, and Gabriella Coleman. 2017. “Trolling Scholars Debunk the Idea That the Alt-Right’s Shitposters Have Magic Powers.” Motherboard, March 22.

  1. Welcome to Google Earth

    1. Dean, Jodi. 2005. “Communicative Capitalism: Circulation and the Foreclosure of Politics.” Cultural Politics 1(1): 51-74. doi: 10.2752/174321905778054845.

    2. Schmidt, Eric, and Jared Cohen. 2013. The New Digital Age: Reshaping the Future of People, Nations, and Business. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. Intro, chs. 3-4, conclusion, afterword. (Available Online)

    3. Assange, Julian. 2013. “The Banality of ‘Don’t Be Evil.’” New York Times, June 1.

    4. Honan, Mat. 2013. “Welcome to Google Island.” Wired, May 17.

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