Online course in Politics & the Modern World

Why We Post: the Anthropology of Social Media

Discover the varying uses of social media around the world and its consequences for politics, relationships and everyday life.

Why We Post: the Anthropology of Social Media

  • Duration 5 weeks
  • Weekly study 3 hours
  • Certificate Available

Why join the course?

This free online course is based on the work of nine anthropologists who each spent 15 months in fieldsites in Brazil, Chile, industrial and rural China, England, India, Italy, Trinidad and Turkey.

What are the consequences of social media?

The course offers a new definition of social media which concentrates on the content posted, not just the capabilities of platforms. It examines the increasing importance of images in communication and the reasons why people post memes, selfies and photographs.

Over five weeks you will explore the impact of social media on a wide range of topics including politics, education, gender, commerce, privacy and equality. You will come to understand how the consequences of social media vary from region to region.

Take a comparative and anthropological approach to social media

The course will be taught by the same nine anthropologists who carried out the original fieldwork and who are publishing eleven books based on this research.

You will meet many of our informants through our films, engage with our team through video discussions and lectures, and encounter our ideas through animations, infographics and text.

Adopting an anthropological and comparative approach, we strive to understand not only how social media has changed the world, but how the world has changed social media.

To learn more about our research, see the Why We Post website or read our blog. If you have a question about the project, email

Translations of this course can be found on UCLeXtend in the following languages: Chinese, Italian, Hindi, Portuguese, Spanish, Tamil and Turkish.

Download video: standard or HD

What topics will you cover?

  • What definition can we give to social media?
  • What is an anthropological approach to social media?
  • The rise of visual images in human communication.
  • Social media and its consequence for privacy.
  • Is social media a form of education or a distraction from education?
  • How is social media used in small scale commerce?
  • What difference does social media make to politics?
  • What is the impact of social media on gender?
  • How does social media impact upon inequality both offline and online?
  • What do we learn from a region such as China that uses entirely different social media platforms?
  • Does social media unify the world or mainly express prior cultural diversity?

When would you like to start?

  • Date to be announced
Add to Wishlist to be emailed when new dates are announced

What will you achieve?

By the end of the course, you'll be able to...

  • Explore the academic literature available on previous studies of social media
  • Develop (or confirm) an introductory understanding of anthropology
  • Be introduced to, and identify, ethnography as a research methodology
  • Define and discuss a new definition of social media 'scalable sociality'
  • Compare and contrast between content posted on social media and platform capabilities
  • Recognise the importance of visual images in human communication
  • Identify within social media the influence on politics, gender, communication and equality
  • Compare the researcher's discoveries to the learner's own social media activity
  • Investigate, collate and produce contributions to discussions on learner's own use of social media

Who is the course for?

The only requirement is an interest in social media and people.

What do people say about this course?

As previously, FutureLearn excel themselves with this great little course on social media. It is accessible, lucid and interesting. The course leaders walk you through the steps in a fluid fashion, checking for understanding before moving on to the next stage. There is a helpful use of multi-media resources, and quiz tests to enhance the learning experience. Highly recommended!

Steff Marshall

I have been delighted by how the course articulates one single message - each community adapts social media to their very own social needs. It uses different kinds of very short, impactful mini-lessons (videos, activities, questions, readings). I found it especially valuable how FutureLearn enables discussion among course participants in the online chat, and how teachers for this particular course contributed to it and moderated it. This has made the course eminently practical for me and helped me digest and embrace learnings. I have stayed in contact with a few fellow participants ever since, and even had a work exchange with one of the teachers.

Gianluca Marcellino

Who will you learn with?

Daniel Miller

Daniel Miller

Daniel Miller is Professor of Anthropology at University College London. He developed the Digital Anthropology programme at UCL. @DannyAnth

Elisabetta Costa

Elisabetta Costa

Elisabetta Costa is a postdoctoral research fellow at the British Institute at Ankara. She is an anthropologist specialised in the study of media and digital media in Turkey and the Middle-East.

Jolynna Sinanan

Jolynna Sinanan

Vice Chancellor's Research Fellow at the Digital Ethnography Research Centre and the School of Media and Communications at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, Australia.

Juliano Spyer

Juliano Spyer

i am currently finishing my phd in anthropology, studying social media.

Laura  Haapio-Kirk

Laura Haapio-Kirk

I am a PhD student at UCL Anthropology studying smartphones and ageing in Japan, and a public engagement fellow on the Why We Post project.

Nell Haynes

Nell Haynes

I am a postdoctoral researcher in anthropology

Razvan Nicolescu

Razvan Nicolescu

I am an Honorary Research Associate at the Department of Anthropology, UCL.

Shriram Venkatraman

Shriram Venkatraman

PhD scholar at the Dept. of Anthropology, University College London. Anthropologist/Statistician. Research Interests: Technologies in Workplace, Org Culture & Entrepreneurship. @venkatshriram

Tom McDonald

Tom McDonald

I'm an Assistant Professor at the Department of Sociology, The University of Hong Kong. Member of the UCL Why We Post team. |

Xinyuan Wang

Xinyuan Wang

PhD candidate at the Dept. of Anthropology at UCL. An artist in Chinese traditional painting and calligraphy ( Twitter@amberwanguk

Who developed the course?

UCL was founded in 1826. It was the first English university established after Oxford and Cambridge, and the first to open up university education to those previously excluded from it.

Buy a personalised, digital and printed certificate and transcript

You can buy a Certificate of Achievement for this course — a personalised certificate and transcript in both digital and printed formats, to prove what you’ve learnt. A Statement of Participation is also available for this course.

Certificate of Achievement + transcript $59.00

Statement of Participation $49.00

Get a taste of this course

Find out what this course is like by previewing some of the course steps before you join: