In the Facebook age
Sociology 022
Dhiraj Murthy
TTh 10-11:25 a.m.

Location: Adams 202

Contact Information
Department of Sociology/Anthropology
Adams Hall, Office 319
Phone: 207-721-5152
e-mail: dmurthy AT
Office Hours: Thursdays 2-4pm or by appointment


I will venture to respond to e-mail queries as soon as I can.  However, given the volume of e-mail I receive, please do not be offended by delayed or short responses.  If your questions/concern/query is complex, non-organizational, or urgent, please come see me during office hours in person as I will not engage in long e-mail conversations.  Please use e-mail to schedule appointments or for other organizational matters.

Course Description

This is a sociology class aimed at first year students of all backgrounds and interests. It does not require specific sociological knowledge. It is designed to be understood by any student with a general level of information about society, politics, the economy, and international affairs.

This course explores new media forms through discourses of culture, race, space, and power. From the development of the first electronic messaging systems in the 1960s to the advent of interactive social networking Web sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace the role of computer-mediated communication in shaping economies, polities, and societies is discussed. Uses a wide range of sources—recent social science research, Web sites, Facebook, YouTube videos—to examine the roles of new media both in the United States and abroad.  We will critically evaluate how our social lives are increasingly digitally mediated and what implications this has on agency, individuality, spatiality, work, and community.

Course Requirements

1) Attendance/Participation. Attendance is expected and roll is taken at the beginning of every class.  If you are not in class at the time your name is called, I will mark you absent.  If you miss class directly before or after the Spring break, that counts as a double absence.  If you are absent more than twice for unexcused absences, I will apply a grade penalty. Those who attend regularly but who do not participate in class discussion can expect to get no more than an average grade.  Without active participation your education will be severely impaired, so please take your fellow classmates and your own development seriously by participating actively.  Some of the issues sociology examines can be sensitive or controversial.  As such, it is expected that students are respectful of others’ views and beliefs.

If you have a documented need for accommodation, you must schedule to meet with me before the end of the third week of class (not the day before an assignment!) to discuss your needs.

2) Reading. All other assignments assume that you will be reading carefully the assigned texts below. For each week, you will be asked to read approximately 30-40 pages of material, which (with the exception of the first week) should be completed by the first day of the week they are to be discussed. No assignment is as important for your progress in this class as reading. Also, you should know that being called on in class to respond to a reading is part of a seminar course, so please keep up with the readings.

3)  Blackboard/Class web site. Checking the course’s Class web site regularly is required. The address is  Any changes to the syllabus or to the class in general will be posted there. Announcements may also be posted on Blackboard so make sure to pay attention to these when you log onto Blackboard.  This paper copy of the syllabus is subject to change. Failure to check Blackboard or the class web site is not a valid excuse for missed assignments or participation. The class web site will contain the blog and digital presentations (both mentioned below).

4) Two essays. This class is a ‘Writing Project’ class.  As such, you will have the benefit of working with trained student-writing assistants who will look over the initial submission of both long essays and give you written and oral feedback.  The first essay will be due February 18.  You will then meet with your assigned writing assistant.  The final version of your first essay is due March 11.  The second essay is due April 29. You will then meet with your assigned writing assistant.  The final version of your second essay is due May 11.  All submitted essays are due by 9:50 a.m. online (posted to your blog) and a paper copy brought to class by 10 a.m. sharp (see section below on written assignments regarding my NO LATENESS policy).  If you fail to submit either of these, your essay will not be accepted. These essays will be five page papers, double spaced and typed. With the aid of handouts, assigned readings, and class discussions, you will be asked to respond to an assigned essay question.

5) Digital presentation. Using your own personal technology or resources from Bowdoin I.T., you will be required to put together an ‘online presentation’ of at least 15 minutes which you will present with another student in class. Your presentation will be digitally recorded and uploaded to the class website. Your fellow students and I will be able to ask questions of you after your presentation.  The presentation must be accompanied by a three page (double spaced) paper which will be posted on our class website.  You are welcome to see me for help writing the paper.  Details of the presentation will be provided in class.

6) Weekly Summary Blog.  You will be maintaining a blog for this class (which can be found at A weekly blog entry is required and must be posted by 11:59 p.m. the night before each Tuesday’s class. If there are multiple readings for that week, a combined entry can be made (you are welcome to make separate entries of course).  However, there is an exception: If readings are split by days for that week (i.e. one for Tuesday and one for Thursday), an entry must be made for each reading and must be posted by 11:59 p.m. the night before class (e.g. Monday night and Wednesday night). Please see the guidelines below for the blog entries.

Guidelines for Weekly Blog entries

The main objectives of this requirement are:

1. to learn about the process of evaluation and writing by critically examining selections from the   readings on the major theme of the course;
2. to understand the continuing role of text in cyberspace
3. to be able to write in a ‘public’ forum.

There are two components to this assignment

1. Summary: (at least 75-100 words)
This should address the following questions:

• What is the major purpose or objective of this week’s reading(s)?
• What are the major conclusions of the author(s)?

2.  Critical Assessment: (at least 200 words)

This should address the following questions:

• What are the main concepts or ideas expressed in the work(s)?
• What evidence is provided and does the evidence support the conclusions?
• What are the consequences or implications of the author(s)’s arguments?

Your critical assessment can consist of embedded images, video, and music in addition to the text required above

Grade Distribution

Attendance/Participation 20%
Digital Presentation and Companion Paper 20%
Weekly Summary Blog 20%
First Paper 20%
Second Paper 20%
Grading Scale
A+ 97-100  B+ 87-9  C+ 77-9  D+ 67-9  F 0-59
A 94-6  B 84-6  C 74-6  D 64-6
A- 90-3  B- 80-3  C- 70-3  D- 60-3

Throughout the course, your assignments will be graded according to the scale above.

Important Note on Privacy

Please note that various assignments and elements of this course, including but not limited to the course blog and your papers, will be made publicly available via the Internet.  The purpose of this is twofold: (1) to develop critical writing skills which can communicate to a broad audience and (2) to conceptualize our engagement with the internet as a ‘public sphere’, enabling the public to interact with our classroom.  If you have any concerns regarding your privacy or data protection, please see me right away.

Policies on Written Assignments and Attendance

Late assignments will NOT BE ACCEPTED unless you have an excuse from the Dean’s Office.  Please note that the online system does not accept assignments after the deadline – even a minute late.  If you must miss class because of an illness or an emergency of some kind, you should notify the Dean of Students’ office.  Please do not contact me directly about it.  Athletic events should not come into conflict with the requirements for this course. I expect for you to prioritize all academic commitments for this class above athletic practices and events.

Any evidence of plagiarism or academic dishonesty in any form (as defined by ‘The Bowdoin College Academic Honor Code’) will be duly reported to the Dean of Students and may result in a failing grade and disciplinary action.

Required Books:

Truss, L. 2004. Eats, shoots & leaves : the zero tolerance approach to punctuation. Gotham Books.
Webster, F. 2004. The information society reader. Routledge.

Course Schedule:

Reading selections from the ‘Required Books’ are prefixed with an asterisk.

Week 1
Day 1 (January 26) – Introductions and basic Internet Skills

E.M. Forster, The Machine Stops, Collected Short stories of E.M. Forster, pp. 115-120

Day 2 (January 28) – The Information Society

* Webster Chapter 3
Hassan, R. 2008. The information society : cyber dreams and digital nightmares. Cambridge, UK ; Malden, MA: Polity, Ch. 1.
* Webster pp. 9-12 [OPTIONAL]

Week 2
Days 3 & 4 (February 2 & 4) – The new Economy (post-industrialism and technological change)

* Webster Chapters 7-8

Week 3
Days 5 & 6 (February 9 & 11) – The rise of the network society

Webster Chapters 10
Barabási, A.-L. 2002. Linked : the new science of networks. Perseus Publishing, pp. 1-5.
Watts, D. J. 2003. Six degrees : the science of a connected age, 1st ed. Norton, pp. 27-29, 37-42

Library training with Sue O’Dell ( on February 11th

Week 4
Days 7 & 8 (February 16 & 18) – Sociology the Internet

Witte, J.C. and Mannon, S.E. 2010. The internet and social inequalities. New York, NY: Routledge, Ch. 1
Video selection: Doug Engelbart – Visually interacting with a computer

First Paper Due February 18th at the start of class

Week 5
Days 9 & 10 (February 23 & 25) – Cyberculture and Early Virtual Communities (and their detractors)

Birkerts, S. 1996. “Homo Virtualis.” Pp. 209-223 in Dumbing down : essays on the strip mining of American culture, edited by Katharine Washburn, John F. Thornton, and John Ivan Simon. W.W. Norton
Carter, D. (2005). Living in virtual communities: an ethnography of human relationships in cyberspace Information, Communication and Society, 8(2), 148-167.

Video clips from The Matrix

Week 6
Days 11  & 12 (March 2 & 4) – Socially Networked Communities in the Facebook Age

boyd, d.m. and Ellison, N.B. 2007. ‘Social network sites: Definition, history, and scholarship’. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication 13: Article 11.


Video selection:
Facebook Song –
60 Minutes Facebook story –

Week 7
Days 13 & 14 (March 9 & 11) – Social Capital and Social Networking Sites

Steinfield, C., DiMicco, J.M., Ellison, N.B. and Lampe, C. 2009. ‘Bowling online: social networking and social capital within the organization’ Proceedings of the fourth international conference on Communities and technologies. University Park, PA, USA: ACM.
Ellison, N. B., Steinfield, C., and Lampe, C. 2007. “The Benefits of Facebook “Friends:” Social Capital and College Students’ Use of Online Social Network Sites.” Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication 12(4), pp. 1143-1148, 1161-1165
Portes, A. 1998. “Social Capital: Its origins and applications in modern sociology.” Annual Review of Sociology 24:1-24 [OPTIONAL]

Final Draft of Essay #1 Due on March 11

Weeks 8-9 (March 12-29) – SPRING BREAK

Week 10
Days 15 & 16 (March 30 & April 1) – Digital Divides

* Webster Ch. 18
Witte, J.C. and Mannon, S.E. 2010. The internet and social inequalities. New York, NY: Routledge, Ch. 2.

Week 11
Days 17 & 18 (April 6 & April 8th) – Virtual Ethnicity

Poster, M. 1998. “Virtual Ethnicity: Tribal Identity in an Age of Global Communications.” Pp. 184-211 in CyberSociety 2.0 : revisiting computer-mediated communication and community, edited by Steve Jones. Sage Publications
McLelland, M. 2008. “‘Race’ on the Japanese internet: discussing Korea and Koreans on ’2-channeru’.” New Media Society 10(6):811-829

Week 12
Days 18 & 19 (April 13 & 15) – Self expression, the Internet, and risk taking

Livingstone, S. 2008. “Taking risky opportunities in youthful content creation: teenagers’ use of social networking sites for intimacy, privacy and self-expression.” New Media Society 10(3):393-411
Smith, D. 2009. ‘Web hit touches a chord with anorexics’
Week 13
Days 20 & 21 (April 20 & 22) – Surveillance/Privacy in the Facebook age

* Webster pp. 297-301 & Chapter 20
Jones, H., and Soltren, J. H. 2005. “Facebook: Threats to Privacy.” in Project MAC: MIT Project on Mathematics and Computing (pp. 4-22)
Hinduja, S., and Patchin, J. W. 2008. “Personal information of adolescents on the Internet: A quantitative content analysis of MySpace.” Journal of Adolescence 31(1):125-132 & 138-141 [OPTIONAL]

Week 14
Day 22 & 23 (April 27 & 29) – The case of the 2008 Presidential election: Democracy in the Facebook age?

* Webster pp. 345-349 & Chapter 26
Dahlberg, L. (1998). Cyberspace and the Public Sphere: Exploring the Democratic Potential of the Net. Convergence, 4(1), 70-84

Glassman et al. (2010) Social Networking and Constituent Communications: Member Use of Twitter During a Two-Month Period in the 111th Congress [OPTIONAL]

Obama’s Facebook Site –
McCain’s Facebook Site –

Second Essay Due April 29th at the start of class

Week 15
Days 24 & 25 (May 4 & 6) –  YouTube: The rise of the ‘Internet Star’/ ‘Micro-celebrity’?

Burgess, J. and Green, J. 2009. YouTube : online video and participatory culture. Cambridge ; Malden, MA: Polity., pp. 109-125.
Keen, A. 2007. The cult of the amateur : how today’s internet is killing our culture, 1st ed. Doubleday/Currency, Ch. 1 (pp. 1-9)
Burgess, J. and Green, J. 2009. YouTube : online video and participatory culture. Cambridge ; Malden, MA: Polity, Ch. 1 [OPTIONAL - an introduction to YouTube]

Tay Zonday’s Chocolate Rain
Numa Numa
Chris Crocker’s leave Britney alone –
Storm Trooper
How to be gangster
Little Superstar –
Bo Burnham

And Weezer’s ‘Pork and Beans’ –

Viral Video Charts

Week 16
Day 26 (May 11) – Conclusions
Final version of Second Essay Due at the start of class