Why this programme

Digitalisation, Surveillance & Societies
Student DSS op campus

Are you interested in timely social and political issues, such as the expansion of surveillance technologies in various sectors? What is the impact of the expansion of surveillance technologies on our privacy? What does it mean to be a ‘digital citizen’? Would you like to explore these questions? This innovative master specialisation offers you the opportunity to do so, in a truly international classroom within one of Europe’s most diverse and multicultural cities.

While digitalisation brings many opportunities, big data, artificial intelligence (AI), and social media platforms involve an unprecedented collection of personal information, raising global challenges about privacy and security. Social media monitoring can sway elections, spark civil strife and serve to predict expected social patterns and behaviour. Algorithms determine who gets to see which online information and advertisements, but also who is considered a public threat.

Also in everyday life, useful apps and devices may induce surveillance. Easy access to messaging and surveillance cameras compel neighbours to report on anything deemed suspicious in their neighbourhood. Location tracking of family and friends has become common practice in ways perceived as both caring and controlling. Health and lifestyle apps provide insights about one’s well-being, while provoking their own privacy and ethical concerns. These are all subjects you will cover during your time as a student Digitalisation, Surveillance & Societies.

Five reasons to study Digitalisation, Surveillance & Societies at the EUR

  • You will receive instruction on this timely topic from an enthusiastic team of specialised experts who actively support you and who provide intensive and individual coaching;
  • using state-of-the-art theory, you will learn to trace and analyse the fast paced technological and organisational developments in digitalisation and surveillance. You will dive into the manifold communication challenges faced by companies, managers and workers in the media sector and other industries;
  • this programme features an interdisciplinary focus through real world cases, guest lectures and seminars with professionals;
  • you will be part of an international, interactive and small scale classroom, enabling you to develop a globally comprehensive outlook on digitalisation;
  • this programme enables students to develop scientifically informed responses to these challenges by focusing on social, intercultural, political, technical, and international dimensions of digitalisation.

Digitalisation, Surveillance & Societies at Erasmus University Rotterdam

Six well known cases related to Digitalisation, Surveillance & Societies 

  • the use of artificial intelligence in urban security;
  • repurposing of period tracking and fertility app data;
  • contact tracing apps during COVID-19;
  • the implementation of the GDPR in and beyond Europe;
  • the so-called ‘social credit system’ in China;
  • the spread of smart doorbells (ex: Ring) and other domestic surveillance tools.

A word from our students

Portrait photo Hind Serkouh

Hind Serkouh

Hind Serkouh - Student Digitalisation, Surveillance & Societies

I was drawn towards this specialisation thanks to the concrete examples that emerge in our seminars concerning how digital artifacts are impacting our identities, how they are shaping our relationships, and our seemingly mundane routines.
Portrait photo Hind Serkouh
I was drawn towards this specialisation thanks to the concrete examples that emerge in our seminars concerning how digital artifacts are impacting our identities, how they are shaping our relationships, and our seemingly mundane routines.

Digitalisation, Surveillance, and Societies is a dynamic and progressive master specialisation, incredibly contemporary to our society’s technological developments. I was drawn towards the specialisation thanks to the concrete examples that emerge in our seminars concerning how digital artifacts are impacting our identities, how they are shaping our relationships, and our seemingly mundane routines.

A cozy and familiar atmosphere

I thoroughly enjoy being part of a small cohort as it creates a cozy and familiar atmosphere that allows students and professors alike to engage in more lively discussions. Moreover, the international and interdisciplinary background of the students allows for multidimensional analyses brought forth by other students, which offers an insight on how digitalisation is engaged with both on a local level and on a global one.

Real world cases

The structure of the specialisation is cohesive and intentional; each module and assignment is purposeful and I do not feel as if I am being chased by deadlines. Additionally, we discuss real world cases, such as the role online forums played during the COVID-19 pandemic, the contentification of our lives for social media personas, and the ethical implications of having a camera on your doorbell. Professors, too, are significantly involved in class discussions and workshops, always eager to learn new perspectives and case studies for their personal projects!

Eye opening

Digitalisation, Surveillance & Societies has opened my eyes on how surveillance and technology echo in our lives in manners that we are too accustomed to notice. Moreover, this relatively young field is one that easily intersects with other spheres, such as sociology, business, Black studies, and postcolonial studies – granting us incredible opportunities for research as well as personal reflection.

Portrait picture Max van der Breggen

Max van der Breggen

Max van der Breggen - Student Master Digitalisation, Surveillance and Societies

The academic community around this topic is very small. There’s a sort of intimacy to the reading we do and the authors we discuss which I really enjoy.
Portrait picture Max van der Breggen
The academic community around this topic is very small. There’s a sort of intimacy to the reading we do and the authors we discuss which I really enjoy.

For my bachelors I did the interdisciplinary program Politics, Psychology, Law, and Economics at the University of Amsterdam, where I majored in economics. Afterwards, I decided to take an entirely different route than economics and go for the MSc. Cybersecurity Governance at Leiden University.

In completing the Master programme at Leiden, I realized that while it thoroughly discussed the security angle to cybersecurity and digitalisation, it lacked focus on the sociological aspects of technological development, the implications for identity, politics, and society. Also, I wanted to do more research and find a focus in this relatively new and wide academic field. I found the master specialisation Digitalisation, Surveillance & Societies and realized it might bring me those things.  So, I decided to apply!

Passion for digital sociology

What makes this master specialisation interesting is the fact that everyone there shares a very specific passion for the topic of study. No one passively decides to move into the direction of digital sociology, everyone sitting with us in the classroom came specifically for the content we cover. This makes for very interesting and productive discussions. Also, given the fact that the academic community around this topic is very small the readings we do and authors we discuss - there’s a sort of intimacy to it, which I really enjoy. 

Unboxing the Algorithms

My favorite course, though I haven’t even started it, is absolutely going to be Unboxing the Algorithms. That is the type of course you don’t find unless you end up doing something like a computer science degree. Still, if you’re interested in societal aspects of digitalisation, such insight is extremely important and relevant. I’m very happy to be part of a master specialisation that provides it. 

Struggles

I personally did not expect there to be such a strong focus on qualitative research methods, especially in the methods courses. I did not have any qualitative research experience before starting Digitalisation, Surveillance & Societies, which initially was something I struggled with quite a lot. Luckily, peers and teachers were very helpful in working through that and coming out the other end. Now I am way more confident doing qualitative research.

Plans for the future

The more I read about digitalisation and the way it interacts with our societies, sometimes in ways that can be considered destructive or non-progressive, the more I am motivated to write or think about digital policies that are future proof. Then again, I also feel intensely motivated to continue researching this topic, pulling me towards pursuing a PhD. I guess at this point, time will have to tell which direction I head in. 

Portrait picture of Jasper Vermeulen

Jasper Vermeulen

Jasper Vermeulen - Student Master Digitalisation, Surveillance and Societies

What I find most interesting are the ways in which we explore the possible societal and human implications of interacting with new and unprecedented technologies.
Portrait picture of Jasper Vermeulen
What I find most interesting are the ways in which we explore the possible societal and human implications of interacting with new and unprecedented technologies.

Technology and the self

What I find most interesting about the master specialisation Digitalisation, Surveillance & Societies are the ways in which we explore the possible societal and human implications of interacting with new and unprecedented technologies, such as artificial intelligence. These new technologies pave the way for manipulation of data which can enable new forms of surveillance that threaten our privacy.

In class, we always have very fruitful discussions which can be rooted back in the fact that the students come from different disciplines and therefore adopt a vastly different perspective. Simply by doing the readings before class, every student, regardless of their affinity with digitalisation, surveillance or privacy, can make meaningful contributions to the class discussions.

Our class society

I always like to be situated in an international classroom and Digitalisation, Surveillance & Societies adheres to this. The classroom also feels very inclusive which can be explained by the teaching staff being largely international. Our class consists of around 22 students, which could be considered quite small. Nevertheless, it has allowed us to get to know each other through personal class discussions. But we also try to organize meetings outside of class from time to time. While doing this master you will not feel like a student moving anonymously through the crowd. In addition, everyone is very passionate about the topic and this works in contagious ways.

Although topics such as surveillance and privacy appear to be quite a niche, during the master you will discover that everyone adopts his or her angle and has a particular interest. For instance, I am particularly interested in smart home research while another student is greatly involved in policing. Both topics are ultimately related to privacy and surveillance.

Words and numbers

In our program, we must take methods classes, which teach us how to do both qualitative and quantitative research. Currently, most of the teaching staff specializes in qualitative research and therefore this is often the go-to approach. Students that are more familiar with quantitative research might struggle with this, but you will find that there are many other students, as well as the teaching staff of course, that are willing to teach you the qualitative ways of life.

As this master is more about understandings and implications, it is not necessary to have lots of prior knowledge on coding or other technical aspects. In my view, this master is for students who are concerned about the direction our world is moving towards in regard to how data is gathered, stored and manipulated, often without the consent of users.

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