What is it?
The MA in in the Philosophy of Nature, Information and Technology is a wholly new programme designed to introduce significant developments in contemporary philosophy, science and technology.
The MA approaches the material world as a complex network in which information is exchanged – a world of communication. It draws on philosophy (Michel Serres, Donna Haraway, Katherine N Hayles, Karan Barad), information theory, cybernetics, and science, but also on historical figures that enrich our understanding today (Lucretius, Leibniz). If human life, biological and social, is embedded in the communication of the material world, new perspectives open onto problems that demand our attention today, such as the climate crisis and what it means to be human in and with nature. The programme includes work on new materialisms and posthumanism, but also on the scientific and philosophical ideas that underpin, and perhaps extend, these ways of thinking. The MA brings these approaches together to give students an opportunity to explore new ideas.
The MA is conducted entirely by online leaning with no requirement to attend. In a secure online environment, you will find study materials that include notes, videos and podcasts provided by your tutor, reading available online through the university library, and online discussion spaces for you to talk with both your tutor and your fellow students.
The degree can be pursued part-time or full-time. These options translate roughly into a weekly time commitment of either 15 or 30 hours, averaged over each semester. The MA is designed and run by staff in philosophy who have national and international reputations for their research and many years of experience in the delivery of online learning.
What will you study?
The MA brings together work in contemporary science and philosophy, including reflections on information, materialism, posthumanism, and the significance of work in these areas for understanding the climate crisis and the relation between science and society. It is organised around the following taught modules (a module is what other universities might call a ‘class’ or a ‘course’):
- The Mirror Universe and Relational Ontology One of the aims of the MA as a whole is to present an alternative to the prevailing model of post-Kantian philosophy and in this respect this module is its cornerstone. Taking inspiration from the work of Leibniz, the module will develop an ontological perspective on relations and networks and link this to contemporary thinking on nature and process philosophy. Topics addressed will include the idea of information as the basic constituent of the universe, complexity, non-linearity, and what all this means for the way we understand the local and the global.
- Posthumanism and Technology The module introduces a selection of ‘new materialisms’ (e.g. Jean Francois Lyotard, N. Katherine Hayles, Michel Serres, Jane Bennett, Rosi Braidotti) and their significance for posthumanist philosophy. It will use the insights gained there to reflect critically on the relation of human beings to technology and on the inter-relation of humans and technology, hybridity, the externalisation of human faculties, agency, networks and power.
- Contracts with Nature Central to new materialisms and to the idea of a relational ontology is that there is no fundamental distinction between human communication and the exchange of information between all things. In turn, this leads to questions over how to understand the relation between the human and the non-human. This module is based around the treatment of these ideas in the work of Michel Serres. We’ll read Serres’ book The Natural Contract and pursue the theme of ‘contract’ as a material relation through other texts by him, including his work on Lucretius. This will involve exploring the relation between contracts and narrative, taking in ways that contemporary ecocriticism engages with the problematic relation between the human and the non-human.
- Information and Communication in this module we examine models of information, including ideas in information theory, cybernetics, and quantum information. It will consider how memory is encoded in matter and the importance of ‘scale’ for the understanding of structure. These ideas allow for a new perspective on the idea that we live in a world characterised by communication.
- Research Skills This aims to build on skills you’ve already developed through the course of the MA so that you are well prepared to work on your Research Project.
- Research Project With the support of a designated member of staff in Philosophy you undertake an independent piece of research on a topic you have chosen yourself (as long as it is connected to the work you’ve done on the MA).
You can also choose to replace Posthumanism and Technology by Knowledge and Politics, and/or Information and Communication by Research Topics in Continental Philosophy. See the MA in Continental Philosophy for more details on theses modules.
What is it like?
The academic year is divided into three semesters: September to January, February to May, June to August. Most of the teaching is concentrated in the first two of these, but if you’re studying full-time you will work through semester three to complete your Dissertation.
Modules normally last a full semester (roughly 16 weeks), comprising 11 or 12 weeks of guided reading and discussion, plus time to prepare your end of term assessment. If you are studying full-time you will take two taught modules in each of the first two semesters and your Dissertation in semester three. If you’re studying part-time you normally take one module in each semester, but in your second semester you will need to manage two modules (this is necessary in order to comply with a UK government requirement that MA courses last no longer than 24 months).
To graduate you must complete 180 credits. Two of the taught modules are worth 40 credits each and two are worth 20 credits each. The pattern of work is similar for all of these modules but how much you are expected to do each week and for your assessments will depend on the credit weighting of the module.
Because we have students from all over the world, living in many different time zones, and because they often need to manage study alongside a huge variety of work and life commitments, it is impossible to hold weekly live classes. There will be some live sessions, as it’s good for everyone to meet and to see who they’re studying with, but all the core work is asynchronous; that is, while we expect you to follow the scheduled reading and discussions week by week, it’s up to you how you fit the work into your week.
For each module, you will have access to a dedicated space in the online learning platform. This space will contain everything that you need, including a schedule for the work, background information, tutor notes, videos, and podcasts for each week, and a space for online discussion with your tutor and fellow students. In addition, you will have access to the digital resources of the University Library. Each week, you will be to read the reading (you may need to do this more than once), to engage with the materials provided by your tutor, and to take part in the online discussions.
Your professors will take part in the online discussions. Moreover, you can contact your professors by email for additional help or advice. Finally, there will be occasional special events (e.g. a visiting academic giving a paper) which will be available online and for discussion in the forums. These special events are open to doctoral students here in the department too, meaning that several dozen philosophical voices may be in play. There’s also a ‘Teams’ group where discussions can take place beyond the specific topics covered in modules, and where there are announcements about news and events for everyone studying philosophy at Staffordshire. This space can also be used to organise reading groups.
Each module is assessed slightly differently. There are no tests or exams. Your discussion forum contributions, or other as-you-go-along bits of writing (e.g. short reports or virtual presentations), form part of the typical assessment pattern. Then, toward the end of the semester, you will have a piece of written work to submit, normally an academic essay of 3500-5000 words, depending on the credit weighting of the module. The work you do will be marked by the module tutor, who will provide detailed feedback that will highlight what you did well, what could have been improved, and what you can take forward in future work. In addition, all the work for the module will be moderated internally and by our external examiner (an experienced academic working at a different university).
Your final Research Project is conducted entirely by supervised research. The topic of your project is open, subject to a few obvious conditions — for example, that it has something to do with the material covered on the MA, that we can help you with that particular topic, that time and resources are available for the purpose, etc. In brief: that the proposed topic is feasible. You will be in regular contact with the member of staff who is supervising your work, and he or she will give guidance and advice, and comment on drafts of your work.
Who is it for?
Some students will be pursuing this degree just because they are passionately interested in philosophy and contemporary problems. Others will see it as a way of moving into philosophy from another social science or humanities subject, or of getting an additional qualification that will help them with their career. Still others will see it as a stepping stone to a doctoral degree (with us — we offer doctoral supervision programme by distance learning — or elsewhere). All of you are welcome!
However, the MA is designed to develop a sophisticated and interdisciplinary perspective on contemporary problems, and encourages students to develop their own responses to such problems. As such, it may be more suitable for students who already have a background in philosophy and/or who have a different background but want to develop a more theoretical understanding of issues in which they already have a live interest.
In addition, the MA will support high levels of attainment in academic or professional skills such as:
- clear, careful and organised writing;
- perceptive and sensitive reading;
- critical thinking;
- guide participants towards the ability to carry out independent, scholarly research in philosophy.
Our students come from all over the world. Some of you are young, fresh out of an undergraduate degree; others are older, mid-career, perhaps with families; others are retired. Again, all are welcome!
In order to be successful, you need a number of qualities: an enthusiasm for philosophy; an openness to work in different fields, an ability to motivate yourself independently, and also to organise your time and work flexibly; a willingness to get stuck into intellectual issues in greater depth than usual; the nerve to post your views on to the discussion forum, regularly, and thereby converse with people who you will come to know, but may never meet face to face.
How do I apply?
You can apply for the MA on-line using the application form links here. (Important note: If you can’t see your preferred year of entry, this is merely a software error. Apply for the closest match, but then specify in the ‘personal statement’ part of the application your choice of start date.)
- You can specify either a September (full-time or part-time) or January start (part-time only). If you choose to begin the MA in January, the overall structure of the course is the same, but you take the modules in a different order.
- Normally, in terms of minimum admissions requirements, we ask for a good first (undergraduate) degree in philosophy, or a cognate subject such as social science or literature. However, many applicants have studied philosophy in other ways, perhaps independently, and we examine each application on its merits. We are looking for ability, open-mindedness, and sustained enthusiasm.
- Instruction is in English, so for those of you for whom English is not the first language, we will need an internationally recognised English language proficiency score (the most familiar of these is called IELTS; on this test, we need at least a 6.5 overall, and at least 6.5 in each of the reading and writing sub-scores).
- You will need images of transcripts from previous higher study.
- You will need a couple of people willing to supply you with a letter of reference (preferably professors/ teachers from your previous study; however, if you have been out of education for a long time, then choose people who can offer an objective appraisal of the qualities listed below; perhaps an employer). The letters of reference should address themselves to things like:
- your general suitability for postgraduate study and particular online/distance learning study;
- your experience in the area of philosophy, or cognate subjects;
- your motivations and enthusiasms;
- your intellectual abilities, particularly with relative abstract or theoretical issues, and also your written communication skills;
- and any personal qualities that make you a good candidate (given the nature of online study, ability to motivate oneself, stay organised, and long-term resilience are all virtues!).
- A personal statement sketching, in a couple of hundred words, the background to your interest in studying philosophy, particularly Continental European thought, and why you feel this course and distance learning would be a good ‘fit’ for you.
All the supporting documentation mentioned above can be uploaded onto the admissions site.
There is no deadline for applying. However, even after you have gathered together all your application materials and submitted, it can take up to a month to process an application. So, for practical purposes, the deadline would be a month prior to your chosen start date. We will attempt to deal as quickly as possible with applications that come in after this date, but there may be a delay.
If you have studied philosophy at a postgraduate level before, either some time ago or recently (and you have become disenchanted with your course), you can transfer your credits to us.
How much does it cost?
Fees are displayed on the application page here. This is the total fee for the whole degree (not an annual fee), and represents excellent value in higher education. You can pay this fee in instalments over the period of your study. There is no charge for making an application. If you are a previous Staffordshire University student, you may qualify for a discount, and there may also be a discount if you pay the full year’s quota of fees early. The fee does not include expenses such as buying course books, or ordering off-prints of papers, but these additional expenses are relatively small (unless of course you love getting books!): perhaps £200 per year.
(Please note that although we maintain a listing with Gradschools.com, we are no longer receiving enquiries from them. You will have to contact us directly.)
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If you have any questions about this MA, please contact David Webb at firstname.lastname@example.org.