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Digital Anthropology


Admission Requirements

Only the following categories of students can register for this course:

Students of the second year of the bachelor’s programme CADS

Language of Instruction

Lectures are given in English.
Exams (assignments) can be written in Dutch or English.

Course Description

Over the past few years, digitization and a few cognate terms have arisen as subjects of scholarly interest. As part of an epochal diagnosis, the term now rivals the importance once ascribed to modernity and postmodernity, or to globalization. Similar to those earlier concepts, digitization is associated with sweeping changes in production, consumption, social relations and institutions, political possibilities and our sense of place as well as how we create and produce knowledge about our cultural situation and so understand ourselves. Such changes are now being interrogated in relation to the digital technologies that rose to prominence during the late twentieth century and are now reaching near ubiquity in the twenty-first – although their manifestation depends greatly on where one happens to be born and raised.
Digitization is seen not just as having the potential to erode old authorities and boundaries, but also as being able to bring into being a cluster of new entities for scholars to make sense of. These include devices, interfaces, code, data structures, algorithms, platforms, digital networks, “insta-fame”, virality, glitches, exploits, and much more.

Digital anthropology is among the new intellectual fields that have sprung up around this cluster. In addition to fundamental methodological questions – for example, how do we even study something as ethereal as digitization, online communities, or algorithmic culture? – debates in these fields on digital society frequently revolve around questions of power: Who wins and who loses as a result of increasing automation? Are social hierarchies disrupted or reinforced by the growth of digital networks and how might that appear different in one society or another? What happens to expertise and other forms of cultural authority in an age of user-generated content? How does the ideal of an informational society that is cheap, efficient and clean, obscure and deny its very materiality, ignoring its hidden costs elsewhere? How are hierarchies along race, class, gender, and national lines reconfigured by digital technologies? Who benefits from the increasing pressure to self-branding in digital spaces? And what does it mean to conduct anthropological research within and about contexts shaped and facilitated by the digital? What is required of us to become “digital academics” in this burgeoning new field?

In this class, we will address some of these big questions in various ways. First, we will consider the anthropological as well as ever increasing interdisciplinary literature to learn about the issues, concepts, and mental models central to understanding our unfolding digital society. Second, we will apply concepts and mental models to make sense of current events and our own everyday lives. Third, through hands-on exercises, we will develop an understanding of some of the artefacts and constructs that are shaping digital society both at home and elsewhere.

Course Objectives

On completing this course, students should be able to:

  • take part in critical discussion of the political, cultural and economic factors that govern the global dispersion of digital and information technologies in dialogue with recent critical debates on digital society that span several disciplines;

  • learn how to identify the various ideological and political purposes for which ICTs are deployed by differently positioned actors and diverse groups and communities around the world;

  • Use ethnographic and analytical skills to deal with both online and offline social phenomena;

  • form an awareness of the implicitly political choices we make by using particular types of information technologies in our own personal lives.


Dates can be found on our website.

Mode of Instruction

Total 10 ECTS = 280 study hours (sbu):

  •    Lectures/online clips 12×3 hrs = 36 * 1,5 = 54 sbu
  •    In-class assignments for the e-portfolio, 12 hrs * 2 = 24 sbu
  •    Ten written assignments totaling circa 4,000 words = 5 sbu
  •    Recording 10-minute Podcast using selected course readings = 50 sbu
  •    Additional literature study (ca. 700 pages) = 100 sbu

Assessment Method

  • Ten weekly AQCIs (400 word-format is explained in class), 40% of final grade

  • E-portfolio with weekly report on in-class assignments, 30%

  • Final presentation by means of podcast, 30%

Presence in classes is mandatory at least 9 out of 11 sessions, and at the final seminar. If for some reason you are forced to miss any of the classes or the seminar, or will be late for any session, please do inform the teacher.


Registration in uSis is mandatory for the lectures (6492DAIH) for second-year CADS students. Please consult the course registration website for information about registration periods and for further instructions.
Registration for the exam is NOT necessary because this course has no final classroom-based exam.


Brightspace is the digital learning environment of Leiden University. Brightspace gives access to course announcements and electronic study material. Assignments will also be submitted in Brightspace. Announcements about and changes to courses are given via Brightspace. Students are advised to check Brightspace daily to keep informed about rooms, schedules, deadlines, and all details regarding assignments. Lecturers assume that all students read information posted on Brightspace.

  • How to login

The homepage for Brightspace is: Brightspace

Please log in with your ULCN-account and personal password. On the left you will see an overview of My Courses.

For access to courses in Brightspace you need to be registered for those courses in uSis.

Course Literature

Monographs and articles from electronic journals and encyclopaedias are available through the digital university library (to be announced).

Contact information

Prof.dr. Bart Barendregt