Understanding Media: The Philosophical and Cultural Impacts of Technology

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Module code


  • Level 3
  • Semester 1
  • 24 places
  • Philosophy - School of Humanities
  • Coursework 100%
  • European Studies module choice.


Marx held that a society's level of culture (as expressed in its ideas, its customs, and its values and morals, for example) is ultimately determined by the technologies involved in it, and by the way these are distributed among the society's members. This course will seek to examine the truth of this claim with special reference to the forms of information technology that mediate our contemporary experience.

We will draw on three main types of source to do this:

  1. Extracts from canonical figures in the philosophy of technology (Plato, Aristotle, Rousseau, Marx, Heidegger, and McLuhan, for example);
  2. Extracts from contemporary writers concerned with how technology modifies experience (Sherry Turkle, Andy Clark, and the Ars Industrialis group, for example);
  3. Extracts from literary works that take technology as a theme (for example, David Foster Wallace and Philip K. Dick).

Our aim in assessing the philosophical texts will be to question how technology determines culture.

Our aim in assessing the literary texts will be to see how culture bears witness to this.

Along the way, we will explore questions like the following:

  • How do ebooks affect the role of literature and philosophy today?
  • Do mobile phones extend our senses, or just diminish our manners?
  • Does 'the Internet' exist?


Dr Dominic Smith


Contact hours: 3 hours per week over 11 weeks, comprising a two-hour lecture and a one-hour tutorial.


The assessed components on this module are:

  • One worksheet (10%)
  • One 1,500 word textual commentary (20%)
  • One 4,000 word extended essay (70%)


Indicative Reading

  • Robert Scharff and Val Dusek (eds.) Philosophy of Technology: The Technological Condition, Oxford: Blackwell, 2003.

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