Case study

Introducing digital society — Manchester Metropolitan University

Every part of our lives are delivered by digital technologies and studying a course such as MSc Digital Society at Manchester Metropolitan University gives you the chance explore these themes and question their effect on us

We spoke to:

  • Dr Daniel Joseph, senior lecturer of digital sociology, Department of Sociology
  • Dr Adi Kuntsman, reader in digital politics, Department of History, Politics and Philosophy
  • Dr Tom Brock, senior lecturer, Department of Sociology

What is digital society?

Daniel: Digital society is what we live in now - a society that is politically and economically intertwined and structured in large part by digital technologies. We work with digital tech in warehouses, at home, or mediated by gig work apps. We play digital games with friends thousands of miles away. We organise and build political coalitions across social media platforms. We fill our homes with smart tech and track our health with smart watches.

Adi: Understanding what digital society is and how it works is crucial for every sphere we turn to - economy, politics, culture, the environment and everyday life. Digital technologies impact us everywhere we go - they help us connect to people and monitor our everyday actions. They are used for buying tickets and making doctor's appointments. You can't get a visa, make a job application or request social support from the government without a phone and access to the internet. We also receive news and communicate daily via social media. So instead of just using these technologies, we need to understand how they change our lives. What new opportunities do they offer? What kind of control, discrimination, or injustice might they create?

Tom: Digital society is at the cutting-edge of social, cultural and economic change. It refers to the impact that digital technologies, including the internet, apps, platforms, social media, games and so on, are having on how people think and act in contemporary social life. It also raises critical questions about the impact that people, through digital technologies, are having on the natural environment and the possibility of creating new forms of life, whether through artificial intelligence or through the technological enhancement of humans.

Why was the MSc Digital Society course introduced?

Daniel: It builds on Manchester Met's offering in terms of innovative social science teaching. In the UK there are very few universities offering a similar programme that combines rigorous training in theory and methodology, specifically tailored to research digital technologies.

Adi: The course was introduced to address a gap in the current university landscape. There are only a handful of postgraduate courses in related subjects in the UK, such as digital sociology or digital media and communication. Even more importantly, we offer students the opportunity to further tailor their studies with specialisation in digital politics or digital sociology, alongside a general MSc in digital society.

What type of students would suit this course?

All: Anyone with a background in the humanities, social sciences, or STEM fields interested in political and sociological analysis of digital technology.

Could you tell us more about the specialisms that the course covers?

Daniel: The digital sociology specialism introduces students to core theoretical and methodological issues that emerge as sociologists investigate the dominance of digital technologies and data infrastructures in everyday life. Students will study the very social conditions (cultural, economic, political) that create the conditions for surveillance, social power and control.

Tom: The digital sociology specialism also includes expert training in the foundations of quantitative methods, big data analytics and visualisation, and social network analysis.

Adi: The digital politics specialism introduces students to ways in which digital technologies shape political life - elections, voting, activism, digital wars, political campaigning, environmental politics and communication. Students will study a range of theoretical approaches to understand these and will engage in a range of research activities such as exploring digital politics around the world.

Where should students look to gain experience in digital society?

Daniel: Everyday experience is the place to start. Pay attention to what is around you. How do you interact with your friends and family? How do you work? How do you play games or socialise? Every social and political act is awash in digital technology. Turn a critical eye towards it and try to make it strange and study it as if you are an outsider.

Adi: Everywhere. Which technologies do you use, and how often? Which spheres of your life would be impossible without a phone or internet access? Which technologies are imposed on you? Beyond personal experiences consider organisations and social institutions such as a shop, GP surgery, university or train station. Ask the same questions about them - which technologies do they use? Who do these technologies serve (or harm)? Are these technologies beneficial?

How do you see careers in the area developing over the next ten years?

Daniel: I think you can do this MSc and go on to have a rewarding career in a variety of jobs. Our methodological training will be useful in any number of jobs requiring clear planning and project management. Critical analysis is also in strong demand in many careers. Critical knowledge of digital tech puts you in a position to have a higher understanding of all kinds of work. And, of course, you could also stay in academia and do a social science PhD focused on digital tech.

Adi: Digital technologies are absolutely key to everything we do, so a degree in digital society can make you stand out and give you a more advanced understanding of how these technologies can and should be implemented. Careers in government, management, voluntary sector, local council, environmental agencies, education and business are just some of the areas where a career in digital society can flourish.

What advice do you have for anyone considering a career in digital society?

Adi: Consider which area you see yourself growing and contributing to (business, NGO sector, community work, communication, public services etc.), and then build your unique skills and knowledge in the course, by honing your knowledge of how digital technologies shape this area.

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