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Digital Technology and Economic Organization

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MSc Option Course, Hilary Term
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Professor Vili Lehdonvirta


Why is there trade? Why are there firms? Why are people and assets organized in the ways that they are? And why do things change, sometimes rapidly – as when Uber and Airbnb changed the rules of the game in their industries? The problem of economic organization is central to several fields of social science, including new institutional economics, economic sociology, and organization studies. Over eight sessions, we sketch a stylized answer to the problem, one component at a time. We pay special attention to the role of technology in general and online platforms in particular in the organization of economic activity.

This course will teach students how to apply basic social science theory towards analysing the impact of digital technologies on economic organization, focusing on the “sharing economy”, “platform economy”, distributed ledger technologies, and similar apps and platforms. We will equip students with the analytical tools necessary to begin to assess how these transformations affect firms, workers, and consumers, as well as the associated politics and policy challenges. Students will gain tools that can be used to assess critically claims of transformational potential as well as to generate new concepts.


Students will learn how to apply social science theory to make sense of ongoing transformations in economic organization, with a specific focus on the “sharing economy”, “platform economy”, and distributed ledger technologies; the basics of how to assess the impacts of these transformations on firms, workers, and consumers, as well as the associated politics and policy challenges; and tools for critically assessing the transformative potential of a given technology, as well as for helping to generate new and potentially transformative concepts.