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    Digital Media and Society

    Department of Sociological Studies, Faculty of Social Sciences

    Develop a broad understanding of the interweaving of digital media and society from a sociological perspective. You'll think about digital media developments, data and algorithms in terms of a range of social issues, such as gender, race, health, intimacy, surveillance and activism. You will also advance your skills in qualitative, quantitative and digital methods.
    Students in a seminar with laptops

    Course description

    This course offers you a unique opportunity to develop a broad understanding of the interweaving of digital media and society from a sociological perspective.

    Drawing on staff expertise in digital media and digital society, you'll get a thorough grounding in key aspects of digital media, allowing you to specialise in a specific area. You'll develop a deep understanding of the following themes: researching digital society, digital practices and digital methods.

    As a student within the Faculty of Social Sciences, you'll also benefit from the research and training activities of both the Sheffield Methods Institute and the faculty-wide Digital Society Network. The latter brings together interdisciplinary researchers engaged in cutting-edge research at the intersection of society and technology.


    A selection of modules are available each year - some examples are below. There may be changes before you start your course. From May of the year of entry, formal programme regulations will be available in our Programme Regulations Finder.

    You'll complete 180 credits in total.

    Core modules:

    Academic Skills and Literacy

    This 'zero credit''module is designed to support students as they progress through semester 1 of their Digital Media and Society postgraduate degree at the University of Sheffield.

    Perspectives on Digital Society

    This unit examines key issues in researching digital society and the relationship between digital media and society. The unit introduces key concepts that have shaped understanding of digital developments and evaluates debates about how these developments a) have been shaped by the societies in which they have emerged and b) shape those societies. It develops students' understanding of the social, cultural, political, economic and technical contexts in which digital developments emerge,. Topics covered include, but are not limited to: key concepts; users, producers or produsers; identity, representation and self-representation; internet governance and regulation; privacy and publicness; visual digital society; big data and datafication; mobility; gaming and gamification; changing work practices; alternative digital media; health, well-being, education and work.

    15 credits
    Digital Methods

    This unit introduces students to new and emerging methods for carrying out digital research that is, digital methods. Digital methods are natively digital techniques for researching the natively digital (for example, social media content, likes and shares; blog posts and comments; hyperlinks; tag clouds; folksonomies; search engines; recommender culture) (Rogers 2013). Digital methods include social media insights and analytics, social network analysis, issue network analysis, data visualisation, and data sprints, amongst others. As well as learning how to use these tools, techniques and processes, students on this module will evaluate them, the context of their emergence (and sometimes rapid decline). They will develop an understanding of how digital methods are used to create knowledge. In this way, the module addresses questions of web epistemology, information politics, ethics, device critique, and the social life of methods.

    15 credits
    Researching Society

    This unit introduces students to key theories, principles and practices in social research. It provides an overview of the research process in the social sciences, with direct consideration of research design, different methodological approaches, a range of methods available and good ethical standards. It provides students with theoretical understandings and the practical skills required to design and develop a small-to-medium scale research project.

    15 credits
    Digital Media in a Datafied Society

    This unit examines the social consequences of widespread use of social media, a key characteristic of digital society. It explores what happens as a result of the digitised and networked sharing of personal information and life experiences of all kinds, in times of datafication (that is, the transformation into data, numbers and statistics aspects of social life which formerly did not exist in such forms). The unit reviews theoretical literature on social media, data and society and addresses specific debates and issues, including: social media data mining; social media surveillance; the economic value of social media data; data tracking, privacy, rights and data subjects; governing social media data mining; data activism and open data; data visualisation; new forms of data work; data and everyday life.

    15 credits
    Dissertation in Digital Media and Society

    This unit enables students to undertake an in-depth study on a topic of their own choice, which relates to digital media and society, and is guided by one-to-one academic supervision. It aims to enable students to develop and demonstrate skills in the planning, definition and management of a substantial piece of enquiry on digital media and society. The dissertation may take the form of a theoretical literature-based analysis, an empirical exploration, either through primary or secondary research, a work-experience-based piece of work, or it may incorporate elements of digital media production.

    60 credits

    Optional modules - two from:

    The Digital Self

    This module explores how gender, age, race, class and other identities are being reimagined in what various commentators have called a 'social media age'. It provides students with an in-depth understanding of social media platforms, roles in people's identity negotiations, examining users' social media identities in different global contexts, and paying close attention to the intersections between different identities. It reviews debates about self and identity formations from the earliest digital media moments and considers contemporary concerns, such as: anonymity and agency; selfies and influencers; online censorship, resistance and collective identities; social media fandoms; disconnection and digital detox

    15 credits
    Hate, Hope and Digital Misinformation

    The module explores contemporary issues that affect the relationship between digital media and society in the global context. It focuses on digital media and dis/misinformation (for example debates around fake news), the relationship between misinformation and online extremes (such as online hate, conspiracy theories, or online radicalisation), and attempts to counter these phenomena (including fact-checking and the creation of digital counter-narratives). These developments are contextualized in relation to longstanding debates about the ways that power, inequality and the political economy of the mainstream media shape the availability and visibility of information. The module takes examples from around the world and applies relevant theories to their analysis.

    15 credits
    Contemporary Challenges: Refugees and Asylum

    Contemporary Challenges explores a key contemporary challenge in depth and applies key concepts in Sociology (e.g. class, race, nationalism, democracy) in analysing it. The focus of the challenge will change on a 3-4 yearly basis.
    In its first iteration, the module focuses on Brexit: ideas of class and 'the left behind', English nationalism, nostalgia for empire, the media, and some of the impacts of Brexit in relation to everyday life. In doing so the module will develop a deeper understanding of the reasons behind the vote for the UK to leave the EU, as well as some of its consequences.

    15 credits
    Digital Practices

    This unit provides students with practical skills in digital media production, covering the following areas: creative media content; visual design; web design (including areas such as usability and user experience design, web accessibility, search engine optimisation). It introduces students to software and processes relating to these areas in a workshop environment, and students proceed to develop their skills through the production of portfolio work. It focuses on digital media in society by highlighting the importance of users, usage and use contexts of digital media products.

    15 credits
    Digital Health

    This module looks at the social implications of digital technologies in health, considering what these mean for our experiences of health and illness as patients and as citizens, for the work of health care professionals, and for the provision of health care. The module will consider a range of contemporary areas such as self-tracking and gamifying health, telemedicine and care at a distance, health information on the net, electronic patient records, illness death and dying on the web, and health activism and online patient groups. Drawing across these, the module will consider questions about changing representations and cultures of health and illness, whether we can all be medical experts now, who has responsibility for health, how we relate to health care professionals, the commodification of health data and the relative benefits for state and industry.

    15 credits
    Advanced social media research

    This module focuses on innovative techniques that move beyond the traditional distinction between quantitative and qualitative approaches in the analysis of social media data. Students will critically discuss and apply some of the most contemporary digital methods developments. These include:
    - interface methods, that is, methods combining analytical traditions from digital media, social studies of science and technology (STS) and sociology;
    - app walkthroughs, that is, methods to explore the intersections of apps original purposes, normalised meanings and implied users and usages;
    - techniques to detect bots and botnets in social media platforms;
    - techniques to investigate the circulation of fake news on social media platforms;
    - digital methods for visual research.

    15 credits
    Sociology of Genders, Sexualities and the Bodies

    Why are gender, sexuality and the body important areas for sociological study? How can these domains be seen to be political as well as personal? How have understanding around gender, sexuality and the body changed across time and cultures? How might experiences and practices of gender, sexuality and the body be impacted by intersectional factors such as race and ethnicity, ability and disability, faith, social class, age, and space and place? These are some of the key questions explored on this module, which will consider the diverse ways in which gender, sexuality and the body are understood and practiced at individual, collective and structural levels.

    15 credits
    Visual Methods for Social Scientists

    The module explores different approaches to understanding social reality by collating, creating and analysing images. The course will cover several methods such as compositional analysis, content analysis, and discourse analysis. It will also cover the use of different media such as magazine images, video and photography in social research. Ethical and intellectual property issues will also be dealt with such as copyright, anonymity and consent during the research process. Including the visual as part of a mixed methodology in research will underpin much of the material. The students will be expected to take photographic images during the course.

    15 credits
    Information Governance and Ethics (distance learning)

    The syllabus is designed to explore a) the emergence of information and data as an economic resource b) the governance challenges and ethical issues arising from organizations’ systematic capture, processing, and use of information and data for organizational goals, e.g. value, risk, accountability, ownership, privacy etc. c) governance, ethical, legal and other frameworks relevant to the capture, processing and use of information and data within organizational and networked contexts d) technologies and techniques used in the governing and governance of information and data. Case examples from a number of domains, e.g. business, government, health, law, and social media illustrate the topics investigated.

    15 credits
    Digital Advocacy

    This module will examine how digital media are used to facilitate and promote the campaigns of contemporary advocacy groups and Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs). Theoretical perspectives such as connective action and the clicktivist critique of online activism are introduced in order to explore the effectiveness of online campaigns. Students will also consider the criteria by which such campaigns can be considered successful, drawing on a range of case studies including the Occupy Wall Street movement and the so-called 'Arab Spring' in North Africa and the Middle East in 2011.

    15 credits

    Guided Module Choice - you can take a maximum of 15 credits from the following:

    The Japanese Empire in East Asia, 1895-1945

    Between 1895 and 1945 Japan joined the ranks of imperial powers in East Asia, acquiring Taiwan, Korea, and ever greater portions of China. This module examines how the Japanese empire was built, run, and resisted. We will ask whether approaches to colonialism honed by historians of Western imperialism work in the Japanese context, and will consider too how Japan's rapid modernisation, political development, and diplomatic and ideological engagement with rival great powers shaped its colonial policy. No prior knowledge of East Asian history is required to take the course.

    15 credits
    Before Facebook: Social Networks in History

    In a world of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, social networks seem a distinctly modern phenomenon, but are they only a product of our digital age? This module explores historians' efforts to reconstruct social networks in diverse contexts, from the ancient to the modern world. Drawing upon techniques first developed by social scientists, and increasingly digital methods too, they have found networks of trade and business; religious groups and political exiles; family, friends and much more. This innovative work is revealing how far lives and communities cut across boundaries of time and space - with important consequences for historical debates and issues.

    15 credits
    Managing Climate Change

    This module aims to provide students with a strong understanding of the social and physical science of climate change with relevance to international development. This understanding is then applied to consider the challenge of living with climate change in the Global South. The module is taught through seminars and lectures. Lectures introduce and impart factual knowledge while seminars allow discussion and an emphasis on applying key concepts to practical situations. Together these structure students' learning, and provide an environment in which they can develop their skills in researching, presenting and debating arguments drawn from the wide ranging literature on climate change.

    15 credits

    The content of our courses is reviewed annually to make sure it's up-to-date and relevant. Individual modules are occasionally updated or withdrawn. This is in response to discoveries through our world-leading research; funding changes; professional accreditation requirements; student or employer feedback; outcomes of reviews; and variations in staff or student numbers. In the event of any change we'll consult and inform students in good time and take reasonable steps to minimise disruption. We are no longer offering unrestricted module choice. If your course included unrestricted modules, your department will provide a list of modules from their own and other subject areas that you can choose from.

    Open days

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    Upcoming open days and campus tours


    • 1 year full-time
    • 2 years part-time


    Teaching is conducted through a combination of lectures, workshops, seminars, and small-group work. Emphasis is placed on the individual aspects of learning.

    Professor Helen Kennedy, Department of Sociological Studies

    I've been studying and making digital media since they came along in the mid-1990s. I love using and engaging with digital media, from apps and social media platforms to data visualisations, but their place in society is not straightforward. They can be a force for the good, or not. They’re shaped by the world from which they emerge, and this isn’t always a good thing.

    I’m passionate about understanding this relationship between digital media, society and everyday life, and about sharing that learning journey with my students.

    Professor Helen Kennedy
    Professor of Digital Society


    Assessment forms vary across modules and will include essays, blog posts, reports, research projects and practical work.

    Formal examination may be required for some optional modules. Students are also expected to complete a dissertation-length project equivalent to 15,000 words in length.

    Your career

    Find out more about graduate careers on our PGT Careers and employability page.


    You'll learn about key concepts like community, identity and welfare. Our degrees explore important sociological issues including crime, migration, gender and poverty.

    Our world-leading research shapes our teaching, so you're always challenged and up to date. Our interdisciplinary approach brings sociologists, social policy analysts and social workers together under one roof.

    Our staff are experts in their field and work with organisations in the UK and worldwide, bringing fresh perspectives to your studies. They'll give you the advice and support you need to excel in your subject. There are around 130 places available on our courses.

    Department staff also play key roles in the Faculty of Social Science's Digital Society Network (DSN), an active group of researchers working on all aspects of digital-society relations. The DSN hosts events and activities to stimulate and support research in this area.

    Our courses develop students who are socially aware, with strong analytical skills and a flair for approaching problems in new ways. You'll become skilled at research and bring your own insights to key issues that affect our lives. In your third year, specialist modules allow you to investigate current thinking on a wide range of topics. You'll learn about the latest research from subject experts and explore your ideas in workshop-style sessions.

    Student profiles

    Sociology MA Digital Media and Society student

    The course has enabled me to learn practical skills and think critically. I’ve learned to use different tools for data scraping, data mining, data visualisations and to conduct research using qualitative and quantitative methods. I then analyse the results from a social and cultural perspective.

    I am going back to China after the course ends. My plan is to find a job that is related to the media so I can use the skills I have gained.

    Yuqian Chen
    MA Digital Media and Society

    Entry requirements

    Minimum 2:1 undergraduate honours degree in a relevant social science subject.

    We also consider a wide range of international qualifications:

    Entry requirements for international students

    Overall IELTS score of 6.5 with a minimum of 6.0 in each component, or equivalent.

    Pathway programme for international students

    If you're an international student who does not meet the entry requirements for this course, you have the opportunity to apply for a pre-masters programme in Business, Social Sciences and Humanities at the University of Sheffield International College. This course is designed to develop your English language and academic skills. Upon successful completion, you can progress to degree level study at the University of Sheffield.

    If you have any questions about entry requirements, please contact the department.


    We use a staged admissions process to assess applications for this course. You'll still apply for this course in the usual way, using our Postgraduate Online Application Form.

    Apply now

    Any supervisors and research areas listed are indicative and may change before the start of the course.

    Our student protection plan

    Recognition of professional qualifications: from 1 January 2021, in order to have any UK professional qualifications recognised for work in an EU country across a number of regulated and other professions you need to apply to the host country for recognition. Read information from the UK government and the EU Regulated Professions Database.

    Professor Helen Kennedy, Department of Sociological Studies

    I've been studying and making digital media since they came along in the mid-1990s. I love using and engaging with digital media, from apps and social media platforms to data visualisations, but their place in society is not straightforward. They can be a force for the good, or not. They’re shaped by the world from which they emerge, and this isn’t always a good thing.

    I’m passionate about understanding this relationship between digital media, society and everyday life, and about sharing that learning journey with my students.

    Professor Helen Kennedy
    Professor of Digital Society
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