- Academic Registry
Programme & Unit Catalogues

SP50339: AI as social and political practice: technology, society & politics

[Page last updated: 15 October 2020]

Follow this link for further information on academic years Academic Year: 2020/1
Further information on owning departmentsOwning Department/School: Department of Social & Policy Sciences
Further information on credits Credits: 6      [equivalent to 12 CATS credits]
Further information on notional study hours Notional Study Hours: 120
Further information on unit levels Level: Masters UG & PG (FHEQ level 7)
Further information on teaching periods Period:
Semester 1
Further information on unit assessment Assessment Summary: CW 100%
Further information on unit assessment Assessment Detail:
  • Presentation (CW 30%)
  • Essay (CW 70%)
Further information on supplementary assessment Supplementary Assessment:
SP50339 - Reassessment (where allowed by programme regulations)
Further information on requisites Requisites:
Description: Aims:
This unit will:
* explore and evaluate key theoretical and political debates around the development, emergence and adoption of (digital) technologies in social and political practice
* explain the position of AI, machine-learning and robotics in relation to these debates, and assess their distinctiveness as specific technological developments
* explore the ways in which contemporary developments in the use of automation, AI and robotics (may) challenge political, social and economic relationships, including those of power and inequality
* apply these social scientific understandings to specific case examples of the application of such technologies in politics, the economy, and public policy/governance

Learning Outcomes:
By the end of this unit students will have:
* in-depth understanding of the parameters of debates around the development, emergence and adoption of (digital) technologies
* advanced critical understanding of the distinctiveness of AI as specific technological development and its implications for political economy, politics and social practices.
* advanced critical understanding of how these implications are reflected in, or challenged by, the adoption of AI, machine-learning and robotics in specific empirical cases.

By the end of this unit, students will be able to:
* explain and evaluate the main historical and contemporary debates explaining the development, adoption and application of AI/machine-learning/robot technologies (T/A)
* explain and evaluate the social, political and economic distinctiveness of AI & related technologies as specific set of technological developments, and their wider implications (T/A)
* critically evaluate how AI (automation, machine-learning & robotics) are applied in specific empirical cases, and assess the social, political and economic implications of these applications (T/F/A)
* develop a coherent line of argument that evaluates alternative positions, both orally and in writing (T/F/A)
* use appropriate evidence, standards of logic and argumentation to support such arguments (F/A)
* apply critical theoretical understanding to specific empirical cases (F/A)
* use appropriate standards of referencing, citations and presentation (F/A)

1: Introduction to the unit: technology as social and political practices
2: Machines, monsters and the social world
3: Learning machines and digital personhood
4. Political economy & power in digital environment
5: Political economy and automation
6: Politics in the online information environment
7: Digital statehood and algorithmic rule
8: Citizenship, new technologies, and the idea of `the public(s)'
Weeks 9-11: Students prepare presentations on key applications/case examples of AI/ML/robotics. Cases will vary year-on-year, but are likely to include some of the following: courts & criminal justice; migration & humanitarian governance; social media and digital life; drones/security technology; digital propaganda, fake news.
12: Conclusion: overview and preparation for final assessment.
Further information on programme availabilityProgramme availability:

SP50339 is Optional on the following programmes:

Department of Computer Science
  • RSCM-AFM51 : Integrated PhD Accountable, Responsible and Transparent Artificial Intelligence
  • TSCM-AFM51 : MRes Accountable, Responsible and Transparent Artificial Intelligence
  • TSCM-AFM52 : MSc Accountable, Responsible and Transparent Artificial Intelligence


  • This unit catalogue is applicable for the 2020/21 academic year only. Students continuing their studies into 2021/22 and beyond should not assume that this unit will be available in future years in the format displayed here for 2020/21.
  • Programmes and units are subject to change in accordance with normal University procedures.
  • Availability of units will be subject to constraints such as staff availability, minimum and maximum group sizes, and timetabling factors as well as a student's ability to meet any pre-requisite rules.
  • Find out more about these and other important University terms and conditions here.