nl en

Digital Technologies and Power: Surveillance Capitalism


Admission requirements

Intended for all BA3 students who successfully completed their first year-programme (propedeuse)


The development of the internet and data collecting and processing technologies have transformed many areas of society. But these transformations cannot be seen in isolation: commercial data-driven surveillance practices such as behavioral targeting, ubiquitous tracking, algorithmic governance, etc have pervaded into our way of thinking about interactions and power relations. In her book “The Age of Surveillance Capitalism” (2019) social psychologist Shoshana Zuboff studies these developments over the course of the past decades. She describes surveillance capitalism as an economic and social logic that threatens individual autonomy and democracy. The book argues that neither privacy nor anti-trust laws provide adequate protection from the novel “surveillance-based economic order”.

In this course, we will critically read the book “The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power” and review it in the form of group debate sessions. This serves as an exercise in critically investigating long-term broad societal impacts of technological advances.

Course objectives

At the end of this course the participants will:

  • Understand the concept of surveillance capitalism and the practices that creates such surveillance-based economic order;

  • Evaluate the risks and harms of surveillance-based commercial practices from a responsible use and innovation perspective;

  • Be able to recognize long term social and ethical impacts of technologies.


The timetable can be found in the right menu, under files

  • One plenary kickoff session on September 11 (2 class hours)

  • Three subgroup meetings in October with debates and presentations (2 class hours each, need 3 classrooms for 20 students for every session)

  • Wednesday October 2

  • Wednesday October 16 (needs to be in the morning) or

  • Wednesday October 30

  • Plenary conclusion meeting with presentations on Wednesday November 6 (4 class hours)

  • Deadline for the written assignment: Sunday November 10.

All sessions are obligatory. For each absence, students have to do an assignment. The students who are absent more than twice will not pass the module.

Mode of instruction

  • Lectures;

  • Seminars;

Course Load

Total course load 3 EC x 28 hours = 84 hours

  • Lecture: 2 hours

  • Tutoring and presentation session: 3 x 2 + 1 x 4 hours = 10 hours

  • Study of compulsory literature: 48 hours

  • preparation of tutoring sessions: 6 hours

  • Assignment(s): writing assignment + group presentation 18 hours

Assessment method

Assessment & Weighing

  • Written assignment: blog/short essay (1000 words) on reflections on surveillance capitalism (50%)

  • Group presentations (40%)

  • Participation: contribution to subgroup meetings (10%)


The students are allowed one resit per examination. It is not allowed to resit an examination or assignment for which they have received a pass (6,0 or higher). It is allowed to resit an examination or an assignment which they haven't done during the first occasion. The resit format needs to be discussed with the teacher of the course in line with examination regulations.
In case the student is granted an extra resit by the Board of Examiners, this resit has to take place within study year 2019-2020. This means the students have to complete the minor within one study year.

Inspection and feedback

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.


In this course Blackboard is used to present course information, notify of changes to the course and to make course materials available. Students can access Blackboard with their Leiden University (guest) accounts.

Reading list

Shoshana Zuboff, “The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power” (2019).
Available a.o. via or


Students need to register for the minor at their home university and in uSis Leiden, and for each individual course in uSis Leiden.

Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.
General information about uSis is available on the website

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable


Dr. F. Dechesne