Freedom Ethics & Technology Reading Group

This new reading group will be based at De Montfort University and will explore what does it mean to be free and what is freedom, particularly in relation to technology.

Are men and women free in the same ways? Does freedom depend on your class or race or something independent of these sociological factors? Is freedom ahistorical or something that arises at a specific cultural moment? How might freedom narratives be expressed through artificial intelligence, robotics and new digital technologies? How are sex and freedom connected? Why and in what ways is speech related to freedom? Does power influence freedom? Can humans be free with or without technology? Do we need civil liberties in the age on online clictivism?

Graduate students and academics from other universities are welcome to join us.

 Readings are available for circulation.

This new reading group will be based at De Montfort University. Graduate students and academics from other universities are welcome to join us.

Reading Group Meeting 1

When: Monday 22nd February 2016, 3-4.30, 2016 

Slavery & the Free Subject

What is slavery? Writers have described it as an economic system, a political system, a system of relations of domination and in many more ways. The vision of the free subject grew out of societies where slavery was a dominant form of control and theories about the Free Subject exist alongside slavery and domination.

Reading Group Meeting 2

When: Monday 14th March 2016, 3-4.30, 2016 

Sex & Freedom

What does it mean to be sexually free? Is freedom the uncontrolled and unconditional act of letting ‘anything go’. Does ‘free’ sex include acts of violence and coercion? How is power exercised through sex? Is pornography and prostitution compatible with freedom?

Reading Group Meeting 3

When: Monday 11th April  2016, 3-4.30, 2016 

Speech & Freedom

What is free speech? What is hate speech? How are freedom and speech interconnected. What about silence? Is silence connected with speech? Why do the police on arrest (in some countries, not the UK after the 1994 Criminal Justice Act), say ‘you have the right to remain silent’? Can silence be as powerful as speech? In interpersonal relations there is ‘the silent treatment’. Is speech as powerful as acts? Can speech be violence? Or should we differentiate between a speech act and a physical act? Sticks and stones will break my bones but names will never hurt me – is a rhyme from the school yard of yesteryear. What are the origins of this rhyme and why is it associated with children? Censorship of different views and opinions takes many forms across time and space, how does speech now connect with claims to identity – what is Islamophobia, Transphobia and Whorephobia. And what about the classical organs of public speech, the press, have they lost their power in the age of Web 2.0? We will discuss these themes.

Reading Group Meeting 4

When: Monday 16th May, 2016  2016, 3-4.30 

Techno Relations & Freedom

The Matrix (1999) is set in a future where humans live in a simulated reality. Are we living in this simulated reality? Surrogates (2009) is a another science fiction film staring Bruce Willis, set in a futuristic Los Angeles where no one relates directly to each other anymore, but meet each other through robotic avatars.

We set these films as the context for our discussion on Techno Relations and Freedom and how digital activities are transforming day to day living, even changing the very meaning of what it means to be human.  Digital social life is driven by corporations in Silicon Valley and empirical data proves adults and young people engaging more with online life. According to new data, teenagers spend 27 hours a week online and adults spend an average of 20 hours a week (not including work time) and around 1.04 billion people log into Facebook daily. But online life is not just populated with humans, BOTs of all kinds now account for an increased proportion of the web. There are 83 million fake profiles on Facebook. Five per cent of monthly users are fake, translating to around  20 million accounts. Many activities, such as making ‘friends’ and ‘dating’ have moved online (at least some stages of the process), and Tinder (an online dating site) has 50 million users, 10 million daily active users and 100 million downloads. Some reports claim Tinder is 90% spambots. With online interactions (human and bot) accounting for more experiences, what are the impacts of this way of forming intimate relationships? And will it matter if the person is a human, a robot or a AI bot?

A critical take on this process of mechanisation of human sociality is explored by Adam Curtis in his three part documentary ‘All watched over by machines of loving grace’. Curtis shows how using political power to change the world was negated in terms of managing hierarchies in new ways, but new theories about hierarchies and freedom were transformed in a new language and vocabulary of technology, digital life, the web and online activities.

Have we arrived at a moment where the distinction between person and thing? Or human and machine is even relevant? Are we all just commodities circulating with other commodities? Or is this freedom created through the machines?

Please can participants watch The Matrix (1999) and Surrogates (2009) and the three-part documentary series by Adam Curtis ‘All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace’. 

Monday, May 16, 3-4.30

Reading Group Meeting 5

When: Monday 7th June, 2016  2016, 3-4.30 

Civil Liberties and Freedom

More information coming soon.



Please contact Kathleen Richardson to get a copy of the reading lists for each group.

Dr Kathleen Richardson

Centre for Computing and Social Responsibility,

De Montfort University

T: +44 (0) 116 207 8584




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