Nick Couldry

The Price of Connection

Professor Of Media, Communications and Social Theory
London School Of Economics and Political Science
London, United Kingdom

Capstone Conference Talk

Friday (8/4) 6:10-6:30PM

The Price of Connection

This project explores the contradiction between the values of freedom and autonomy (considered basic to any enhanced quality of life) and the continuous automated surveillance that is increasingly a dimension of our lives online. The project has analyzed discourses about data collection in general debate, and in the specific areas of health and education, and found that surveillance is regularly sidestepped or naturalized to foreground other potential positives. Instead a more open debate is needed, drawing on critical resources from legal theory, philosophy, and elsewhere to identify the risks to autonomy from surveillance, and how those risks might be addressed.


Capstone Conference Research Laboratory

SATURDAY (8/5) 4:00-5:10PM

Enhancing Life in a Digital Age

The aim of this laboratory is to capture and evaluate the most significant impacts of digitalization and media on economic, social, cultural and political life. These impacts may come with enhancements, but also with threats. These impacts include potentials and problems such as data/privacy protection and IT security concerns as well as phenomena such as “hate speech” on the internet; artificial intelligence and “digital labour” (e.g. the impact of permanent [“enhanced”?] availability of employees on labor markets); the “echo chamber” or “filter bubble” effect (as a result of algorithm-based, personalized news streams in social networks, users can get separated from information which disagrees with his/her preferences and views); the use of “big data” applications in the health care sector and many more aspects.

Research Laboratories allow audience members to interact with a panel of ELP Scholars and Interlocutors in addressing a problem of public relevance. We invite active participation from audience members in the creation of new knowledge.

Academic Biography

Nick Couldry is a sociologist of media, communications and culture whose first degree was in philosophy and classic literature (Oxford University). He is Professor of Media, Communications and Social Theory at the London School of Economics where is also Head of the Department of Media and Communications. He was previously Professor of Media and Communications and joint Head of the Department of Media and Communications at Goldsmiths, University of London where he did his MA and wrote his PhD. He is the author or editor of eleven books including Ethics of Media (Palgrave MacMillan, 2013), Media, Society, World: Social Theory and Digital Media Practice (Polity 2012) and Why Voice Matters: Culture and Politics after Neoliberalism (Sage 2010) and more than 100 peer-reviewed journal articles and book chapters. He has led research on citizens ‘public connection’ (funded by the UK’s Economic and Social Research Council: see and on story exchange and community engagement (funded by the UK’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council: see He is currently completing a book with Andreas Hepp (University of Bremen) on The Mediated Construction of Reality (Polity 2016) which revisits the work of social phenomenology for an age of digital media. He was appointed joint lead author of the Chapter on Media and Culture in the International Panel on Social Progress He was Chair and Vice-Chair of the Philosophy of Communication Division of the International Communication Association, 2007-2011. 

Contact Nick Couldry here.

Project Executive Summary

In earlier modernity the infrastructure of communication required for an expanding economy and society remained closely linked to the boundaries of nation-states and, compatible with the normative principles (individual freedom, autonomy) on which democratic nation-states were based. But what if late late modernity - characterized by continuous internet-based connectivity on all scales across the world, apparently an enhancement of freedom - disrupts this precarious balance? What if massively increased ‘connectivity’ (prima facie an enhancement of quality of life) has a price, and that price is the undermining of freedom?


This deepening of connectivity involves a two-way bargain: if every point in space-time is, in principle, connectable to every other, then, by the same token, it is susceptible to monitoring from every other. Indeed, for multiple reasons, commerce generally and the infrastructure of the internet are based increasingly on business models that assume generalized surveillance of people’s actions online from which data can be generated and value produced. Indeed, whatever the historic reasons for this, the internet has emerged as a permanent interconnected space for commerce, potentially coterminous with the planet and reliant on continuous openness to surveillance. Yet in the political domain, we have no doubt that the existence of such powers of surveillance contradicts liberty. There is therefore an emerging contradiction between the ends and means of internet development.


This project investigates that contradiction and how it is addressed in public debate, with a view to identifying potential resolutions that might genuinely enhance life over the longer-term.