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SP50340: Knowledge, data, and our digital social world

[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 2
Further information on unit assessment Assessment Summary: CW 85%, OT 15%
Further information on unit assessment Assessment Detail:
  • Other Task - In Class Discussion (OT 15%)
  • Coursework - Commentary (CW 30%)
  • Coursework - Essay (CW 55%)
Further information on supplementary assessment Supplementary Assessment:
Like-for-like reassessment (where allowed by programme regulations)
Further information on requisites Requisites:
Description: Aims:
This unit will:
* explore and evaluate key debates around: the relationship of science, society and technology in the production of knowledge.
* explain how social production of knowledge is linked to technological, social and political change over time
* to explore the ontological, social and political challenges raised by differences between knowledge, evidence and data, especially in relation to the generation and use of social statistics
* to evaluate the implications of digital data generation, use, storage and linkage as an aspect of social and political life.

Learning Outcomes:
By the end of this unit students will have:
* in-depth understanding of the key theoretical problematics of science, technology and society that underpin social production of knowledge
* advanced critical understanding of how these problemtatics are reflected in the production and use of social statistics
* advanced critical understanding of how digital data is generated, used, collated and stored.

By the end of this unit, students will be able to:
* explain and evaluate ontological and epistemological claims about knowledge and data in society (T/A)
* explain and evaluate the role of technological and social change in the social production of knowledge (T/A)
* critically evaluate the generation, purpose and use of social statistics (T/F/A)
* critically evaluate the social and political implications for knowledge production, of digital data generation, use and collation.
* develop a coherent line of argument on key theoretical questions in social science, both orally and in writing (T/F/A)
* apply critical theoretical understanding to specific cases of knowledge production (F/A)
* use appropriate evidence, standards of logic and argumentation to support such arguments (F/A)
* use appropriate standards of referencing, citations and presentation (F/A)

The unit is organized around fortnightly class seminars. Following an introduction in week one, students are divided into five groups, each assigned responsibility for preparing work for one class (weeks 3, 5, 7, 9, 11). 'Preparing for class' involves writing an individual 1k word commentary, shared on moodle before class, on question set. Students leading each class have time for a 5 minute presentation in-class and the remainder of the class is to discuss these commentaries. (Also see assessment.)
1: Introduction: reflecting on ontologies of science, knowledge, data, technology
3: Science and society
5: Science, technology and society
7: Science, society and the social production of knowledge
9: Quantification, social statistics and the power of numbers
11: 'Brave New World?': new forms of data & data generation
12: Conclusion: overview and preparation for final assessment.
Further information on programme availabilityProgramme availability:

SP50340 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.