Programme overview

Engaging Public Issues

The study programme in a nutshell

Most of today’s major issues, such as climate change, racism or automated technologies, are not limited to traditional parliamentary politics. They play out in the public sphere of (online) media, social movements, expertise, activism and policy making. This master programme (MSc) enables you to understand how such concerns become public issues. It provides you with the tools to navigate and broker complex issues, to develop your own engagement with them and to intervene in them.


This programme starts from an engagement with issues that concern you, and trains you in advanced and publicly relevant social science. Situated in sociology but learning from other disciplines (media studies, science & technology studies, anthropology, postcolonial studies, urban geography, gender and queer studies), this master programme helps you develop your engagement with 21st century public issues.

During the programme, you get to work on issues you choose, and ask questions such as:

  • how are alternative futures imagined by climate activists, policy makers and professionals?
  • how does public mobilization around sexism or racism take shape?
  • how do young people in precarious, flexible employment, organize new forms of solidarity?
  • how are public issues mediated through online platforms like Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook?
  • how does the ‘smart city’ change urban politics?
  • how do knowledge and expertise help shape public issues, and how do such issues shape access to, and the definition of, knowledge?
  • how does European migration infrastructure shape the way people speak about immigration?

Next to studying social scientific approaches to such questions, you will be able to participate in field trips and seminars with people working on public issues.

The curriculum is subject to change. No rights can be derived from this information (including the information via the hyperlinks).

Teaching at Erasmus University Rotterdam

  • Mode of education

    The programme consists of 60 ECTS. It is comprised of three core courses, one methods course, one elective and a thesis. Next to studying social scientific approaches to different problems, you will be able to participate in field trips and seminars with people working on public issues.
  • Electives

    The programme features some electives in block 2, but electives can also be selected from courses offered in other master specialisations in Sociology. Please note that electives only take place when more than 12 students are enrolled. In case of a lower number of enrollments electives will be cancelled and you will be kindly asked to enroll in another elective.


Block 1

Public issues are issues of public contestation whose formation often coincides with the formation of previously non-existent publics. This introductory core course studies the historical, geographical, socio-political and socio-technical aspects of such issues. We ask how issues are publicly imagined, and by which technological mediations and infrastructure this occurs. We also focus on the ways issues are intertwined with (potential) publics. This requires also that we investigate contemporary conceptions of the public sphere in an interdisciplinary way. In order to do so, you are made familiar with a number of key contemporary public issues, such as: climate change, racism, smart urban technologies, global drone warfare, sexism and contemporary neoliberal capitalism and the precarization of life.

These issues are analyzed by means of a conceptual vocabulary that centers on the social and material infrastructures (policy and politics, media, the internet, energy supply lines etc.) that underlie many public issues; the social imaginaries through which public issues come into being; the identities at stake in public issues; the interfaces that allow people to engage with such issues; and the investments and interests that are entangled with them. By means of this conceptual vocabulary, the course seeks to highlight the importance of composition in making things public, and to move from ‘the public’ and ‘the public sphere’ to the ongoing and uncertain constitution of a plurality of publics (policy makers are one particular public, or they can be part of publics). Publics, in other words, are composed out of a variety of people and things.

The course provides room for the development of your own engagement with public life and allows you to experiment with ways of unpacking the complexities of a public issue of your choosing in a paper.

Block 2

This course sensitizes you to the social and material groundedness of public issues in intersectional systems of power related to gender, class, ancestry and (post)colonialism, economic class, technology. It familiarizes you with cutting edge work in social theory, as told through cases that reveal the varied power of the socio-technical infrastructures that provide the context for public contestation (by authors such as Haraway, Hall, Roy, Star, Bowker, Edwards, Kitchin, Starosielski, and Mattern). Infrastructure here includes both the material settings of—to give two possible examples—water or internet infrastructure, and the social organization and work practices that go into the making of publics and issues, such as standards for ‘clean’ water or debates over corporate control of internet bandwith.

You will learn a selection of major approaches in contemporary social theory, and will yourself form strategies for thinking with/against these approaches and applying them to relevant public issues. The aim is to come up with new ways to address the varied infrastructures of power that infuse struggles over contemporary issuess in particular places and times. The course also highlights the ways that the legacies of past power imbalances continue to shape current debates, and how the uneven form and contexts of social issues, such as legacies of sexism and colonialism, can change through an awareness of the lives and theorizing of actors who were traditionally omitted from public debates. It puts socio-material power imbalances at the core of social theory, and uses these to better address which publics and issues become visible and how more heterogeneous solutions can become viable.

One way to think about infrastructures is as the concrete manifestation of power across time and space. So the role of space and the uneven effects of power in infrastructures are also central to this course. It also pays attention to the significance of relatively recent technological infrastructures, in particular to ‘digital infrastructures’ and to the ways these transform, and are transformed by, public debates. For example, you may learn to empirically study how online algorithms sort out what can become visible and what counts as public knowledge, and the ways that technology can alternately alleviate or deepen social injustice.

See below.

Block 3

This course brings together state-of-the-art theories on public knowledge, in-depth analyses of knowledge circulation in public issues, and exciting field experiments with inventive methods. The aim of this course is to develop your critical understanding of what knowledge can do in public issues. By studying exemplary cases and experimenting with methods, you will learn how research can itself be an intervention in and engagement with public issues.

As a start, you will become more familiar with a set of concepts and approaches that will allow you to analyze what knowledge can do. You will learn how methods, research and knowledge are performative: they do not disinterestedly describe but actively compose our common worlds and the issues through which we engage with it.

On this basis, you will be performing your own attempts at (re-)composing a public issue through social scientific research methods. Throughout the course you will be testing materials and methods as ways to intervene in public issues.

This course is expressly aimed at preparing you for your thesis trajectory. You’ll deepen your understanding of research methods, while also developing an initial mapping of the topic and field that you have chosen for your thesis. The final assignment of the course consists of a field exploration report that will become your launching pad into your master’s thesis research.

Block 4


Programme electives

'Modern Families' (see Course Guide)

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