Social Analysis of Information Systems

Every day, media reports tell us that information technology is changing how we live. (As I write this, the New York Times has a report about how video games will change grade school education.) Clearly, IT and digital media are involved in myriad aspects of daily life, including family relations, education, civic participation, and entertainment. This class will give you intellectual tools for understanding the relationship between technology and society.

Class Meetings

Tu Th, 3:30pm-5:00pm, Steinhaus Hall (SH) 134

Attendance at lectures is mandatory. You must attend the first discussion section (9/29) and three subsequent discussions on a schedule we will provide to you.


Instructor: Paul Dourish
Teaching Assistant: Jed Brubaker
Reader: Colin Wheelock

Note that all office hours are by appointment. (This usually works better, since regular office hours often clash with students' schedules.) Whenever the door to my office (DBH 5086) is open -- which is most of the time -- you're welcome to drop in, but emailing me in advance to schedule time is best.

Readings and Summaries

There is no text assigned for the class. Articles and papers will be made available online as we go along. They are listed below in the schedule.

One or more readings are assigned for each class. At the beginning of each class, you will be asked to answer a set of questions about each reading:

  1. What is the author attempting to describe/argue?
  2. What do you think the author is most concerned about regarding this issue? OR, what are you most concerned about regarding this issue?
  3. What do you think the author is most optimistic about regarding this issue? OR, what are you most optimistic about regarding this issue?

Each reading response will count for up to three points. You will get one point for your name on the page, and one point for each paper summarized. (If only one paper is assigned, then your two points will depend on the quality of your response; if more than two readings are assigned, you may choose which two to respond to.)

On any given class day, you may choose to turn in a written summary by email prior to the beginning of class and not be required to write one during class. These assignments should be turned in by email to the Reader, Colin, at Subject line should have the format: "Surname, Firstname, mm/dd". You still need to turn in a paper during class with your name on it to receive the attendance point; please make a note on the paper to let the grader know that you turned in the summary by email.

Each individual reading response is small, but they can add up to a significant component of your grade.

Term Paper

We will assign you to groups of three, to write a term paper together on a topic concerning the social analysis of digital media and technology. In addition to the first discussion, each group will attend three discussion sections -- one early in the quarter, one mid-quarter, and one later -- to focus on different phases of the writing process and discuss progress with the TA.

Papers should be around 3000 words (please include a word count at the bottom of the paper.) Papers should be formatted in Times style font size 12 or Helvetica/Tahoma style font size 10, single spaced, 1” margins. All writing assignments will be submitted digitally.

Jed has been compiling some resources and FAQs for working on your paper.

The paper will be due at 5pm on Wednesday December 8th. Details on how to submit your paper electronically will be available closer to the time.


Your overall grade for the class will be made up of 60% term paper, 30% reading summaries and 10% participation.

Class Policies

Respect: This class involves significant discussion of topics on which you and your classmates may have different opinions. Please be respectful of each other at all times.

Technology: Before the class begins, please turn off all pagers, cell phones, or other devices that may cause disruption. (Over time, I've learned that the most effective strategy when a cell phone rings in class is not to insist that it be immediately silenced, but rather to insist that you take the call while we all sit quietly waiting for you to be finished!) Please don't use laptop computers for anything other than taking notes, reading class materials, or otherwise working on class topics (ie, no IM, Facebook, or random surfing, please.)

Academic Honesty: Please familiarize yourself with the latest UCI academic honesty policy: The consequences of academic dishonesty are not worth the risks. To safeguard and reward academic honesty, we will collect class papers through , an online service that helps to detect plagiarism.

Students with Disabilities: Any student who feels he or she may need an accommodation based on the impact of a disability should contact me privately to discuss his or her specific needs. Also contact the Disability Services Center at (949) 824-7494 as soon as possible to better ensure that such accommodations are implemented in a timely fashion.


Since I'm experimenting a little with the right way to teach this class with a large enrollment, the latest parts of the schedule will be filled in as we go along and we see how things develop. The further away something is on the schedule, the more tentative it is...

The readings are stored on UCI's webfiles service. To gain access, you will first need an activated UCINet ID, and then to register for a Webfiles account.

9/28 Overview and starting points Accompaniment: Esperanza Spalding.
9/30 Talking about technology Reading: Kling. Accompaniment: The Cat Empire.
10/5 The Duality of Technology Reading: Orlikowski. Accompaniment: Eric Friedlander.
10/7 An example: IM/SMS Readings: Grinter and Palen; Grinter and Eldridge. Accompaniment: Nick Drake.
10/12 Classification and its Consequences Reading: Bowker. Accompaniment: Seu Jorge.
10/14 Infrastructure Reading: Star and Ruhleder. Accompaniment: Brad Mehldau.
10/19 Remembering and Forgetting (Jed) Readings: Blanchette and Johnson; Gemmell et al. Accompaniment: Paris Wells.
10/21 Social Life Online Reading: Slater
10/26 Privacy and surveillance postponed Reading: Dourish and Anderson
10/28 Cyberinfrastructure (Matt Bietz) Birnholtz and Bietz; Lee et al. Accompaniment: Lhasa.
11/2 Citizen science/environment Readings: Paulos et al; Wynne. Accompaniment: Leonard Cohen.
11/4 Peer Production (Gwen Schaffer) Readings: Benkler (focus on first 10 pages and the conclusion); Bauwens
11/9 Work and Connectivity in the Wired Age (Melissa Mazmanian) Readings: Perlow and Porter; Turel and Serenko; Stone.
11/11 Veteran's Day
11/16 Privacy and surveillance (rescheduled) Reading: see 10/26. Accompaniment: Stereolab.
11/18 Social Gaming (Amy Voida) Readings: Salen and Zimmerman; Herz. Accompaniment: Explosions in the Sky.
11/23 Discussion groups
11/25 Thanksgiving
11/30 Digital Learning (Heather Horst) Reading: Horst et al. Accompaniment: Arcade Fire.
12/3 Recap/summary Accompaniment: Salsa Celtica.