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Elective: Political Agency in the Digital Age


Admission requirements

This course is only available for students in the BA International Studies programme.
The number of participants is limited to 25.


Digital technologies are reshaping the world in many ways, from shopping to chatting, from paying bills to ID registration, from organizing events to finding a partner. In this seminar we explore some of the ways in which digital technologies affect political agency. Examples include new ways for citizens to engage in political activities (e.g., hacking, leaking, trolling, or using social media to take grassroot action), new ways for democratic institutions to be organized (e.g., voting systems, blockchaining), new ways for traditional bodies and organizations to engage with citizens (e.g., digital surveillance, data-driven policymaking, nudging), new ways for politicians to reach out to the public (e.g., using social media for political campaigning), and new political causes to engage with (e.g., privacy and digital copyrights). The course will offer a philosophical perspective on these developments by analyzing shifts in the underlying conceptual framework of human agency, with particular attention to key notions such as identity, privacy, democracy, legitimacy, freedom, ownership, responsibility, commitment, and authenticity.

Course objectives

The Electives for International Studies are designed to teach students how to deal with state-of-the-art literature and research questions. They are chosen to enhance the students’ learning experience by building on the multidisciplinary perspectives they have developed so far, and to introduce them to the art of academic research. They are characterised by an international or comparative approach.

Academic skills that are trained include:

Oral and written presentation skills:

1. To explain clear and substantiated research results.
2. To provide an answer to questions concerning (a subject) in the field covered by the course:

  • in the form of a clear and well-structured oral presentation;

  • in agreement with the appropriate disciplinary criteria;

  • using up-to-date presentation techniques;

  • using relevant illustration or multimedia techniques;

  • aimed at a specific audience.
    3. To actively participate in a discussion following the presentation.

Collaboration skills:

1. To be socio-communicative in collaborative situations.
2. To provide and receive constructive criticism, and incorporate justified criticism by revising one’s own position.
3. To adhere to agreed schedules and priorities.

Basic research skills, including heuristic skills:

1. To collect and select academic literature using traditional and digital methods and techniques.
2. To analyze and assess this literature with regard to quality and reliability.
3. To formulate on this basis a sound research question.
4. To design under supervision a research plan of limited scope, and implement it using the methods and techniques that are appropriate within the discipline involved.
5. To formulate a substantiated conclusion.


The timetable is available on the BA International Studies website.

Mode of instruction


Seminars are held every week, with the exception of the Midterm Exam week. This includes supervised research.

Course Load

Total course load for this course is 10 EC (1 EC = 28 hours), which equals 280 hours, broken down by:

  • Attending seminars (2 hours per week x 12): 24 hours

  • Basic readings (600 pages): 120 hours

  • Preparing oral presentation: 16 hours

  • Midterm case study: 20 hours

  • Additional readings for Final Research Essay (300 pages): 60 hours

  • Writing Final Research Essay: 40 hours

Assessment method

Assessment and Weighing

Partial grade Weighing
In-class participation 10%
Oral presentation 20%
Midterm case study 20%
Final Research Essay (5,000 words) 50%

End Grade

To successfully complete the course, please take note that the End Grade of the course is established by determining the weighted average of all assessment components.


Students who have been active participants in class and submitted the Final Essay on time, but scored an overall insufficient mark, are entitled to a resit. For the resit, students are given a chance to hand in a new version of the Final Essay.
In case of resubmission of the Final Essay (insufficient grade only) the final grade for the Essay will be lowered as a consequence of the longer process of completion. The deadline for resubmission is 10 working days after receiving the grade for the Final Essay.

Retaking a passing grade

Please consult the Course and Examination Regulations 2018 – 2019.

Exam review

How and when an exam review takes place will be determined by the examiner. This review will be within 30 days after official publication of exam results.


Blackboard will be used for the seminars. Students are requested to enroll on Blackboard, but only after correct enrolment in uSis.

Reading list

Required reading:

  • Tapscott, D., and A. Williams (2006), Wikinomics (London: Atlantic Books).

  • Dreyfus, H. (2008), On the Internet (2nd ed., London: Routledge).

  • Other required readings will be made available through Blackboard.

Recommended reading:

  • Habermas, J. (1989), The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere (Cambridge: Polity; orig. publ. in German, 1962).

  • Tapscott, D., and A. Tapscott (2016), Blockchain Revolution. (New York: Portfolio).


Registration occurs via survey only. Registration opens 3 December:

1) On 3 December you will receive a message with a link to the survey.
2) Indicate there which are your 5 preferred Electives, in order of preference.
3) Based on preferences indicated by 16 December the Electives Coordinator will assign you to one specific Elective by 15 January.
4) Students will then be enrolled for the specific groups by the Administration Office.
5) All students are required to enroll for their group in Blackboard to access all course information.

Students cannot register in uSis for the Elective, or be allowed into an Elective in any other way.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


Dr. J.J.M. Sleutels

When contacting lecturers or tutors, please include your full name, student number, and tutorial group number.


The deadline for submission of the Final Essay is 14 June 2019.