Fall 2023 - CMNS 815 G100

Social Construction of Communication Technologies (5)

Class Number: 1136

Delivery Method: In Person


  • Course Times + Location:

    Sep 6 – Oct 6, 2023: Tue, 4:30–8:20 p.m.

    Oct 11 – Dec 5, 2023: Tue, 4:30–8:20 p.m.



A study of the social theory of information technologies, examining issues affecting computer-mediated communication.


The apparently simple statement that ‘technology affects society’ is one of the most difficult foundational questions for studying media and communication. It is profoundly unclear whether, or how, technology (social media) can shape social phenomena (atomisation, polarisation), under what circumstances. The very idea of ‘technology’, often imagined as a coherent and autonomous force, is argued to be highly misleading and even dangerous in our debates around AI, climate change, or free speech. How notions like ‘objectivity’ or ‘agency’ come to be defined has profound implications for academic, policy, and public understandings of specific technological situations. It turns out that when we say ‘technology affects society’, deep philosophical and practical questions rear their heads behind each and every one of those words.

Accordingly, this course examines some key debates and approaches in recent decades when it comes to thinking technology and the social. We go to the source and dive into landmark works, some of which have come to define entire fields (Bruno Latour & actor-network theory, for instance), and others which encapsulate a particular object or approach (Katherine Hayles & cybernetics; Lorraine Daston & objectivity). The goal is to equip you with a diverse toolkit that you can choose to draw upon for future research and teaching, whether this involves social media and algorithmic cultures, facial recognition and marginalised populations, artificial intelligence and machine learning, EdTech, surveillance, microwork…

This course is designed to encourage you to work hands-on with these ideas and try them on for size. Our 3-hour seminars will proceed in blocks of two. First, we spend a week reviewing the readings in a more or less normal class. In the second week, we each bring a new reading of our own – one that we think helps extend, challenge, or apply this approach to technology and society in an interesting way. This will also provide a space for discussing and developing your research/dissertation interests.

At the end of the semester, you will be tasked with a ‘take-home’ assignment involving short, critical essays that identify the main arguments, limitations, and stakes of some of the approaches we had covered in class. For CMNS students, this is very similar to, and provides a dry run, for your comprehensive exam.

I am happy to chat about any aspect of the course, and to consider any assignment adjustments that would be more useful for your research – let me know: sun_ha@sfu.ca


  • Bi-weekly “reading” sharing (see description above) 50%
  • End of semester “comps-like” take-home essay 50%



No textbooks required. All readings will be listed on syllabus & available online via instructor.


Your personalized Course Material list, including digital and physical textbooks, are available through the SFU Bookstore website by simply entering your Computing ID at: shop.sfu.ca/course-materials/my-personalized-course-materials.

Graduate Studies Notes:

Important dates and deadlines for graduate students are found here: http://www.sfu.ca/dean-gradstudies/current/important_dates/guidelines.html. The deadline to drop a course with a 100% refund is the end of week 2. The deadline to drop with no notation on your transcript is the end of week 3.

Registrar Notes:


SFU’s Academic Integrity website http://www.sfu.ca/students/academicintegrity.html is filled with information on what is meant by academic dishonesty, where you can find resources to help with your studies and the consequences of cheating. Check out the site for more information and videos that help explain the issues in plain English.

Each student is responsible for his or her conduct as it affects the university community. Academic dishonesty, in whatever form, is ultimately destructive of the values of the university. Furthermore, it is unfair and discouraging to the majority of students who pursue their studies honestly. Scholarly integrity is required of all members of the university. http://www.sfu.ca/policies/gazette/student/s10-01.html


Students with a faith background who may need accommodations during the semester are encouraged to assess their needs as soon as possible and review the Multifaith religious accommodations website. The page outlines ways they begin working toward an accommodation and ensure solutions can be reached in a timely fashion.