Undergraduate Courses in Communication Studies 2016-2017

Fall 2016

COMS 210 (CRN 6231) Intro to Communication Studies (3 credits) Christopher Gutierrez, M, W, F, 1535-1625, ADAMS AUD

As the only required course in our minor, COMS 210 offers an introduction to the field of Communication Studies as it is practiced at McGill. Students will be introduced to a variety of ideas and debates within contemporary communication studies. In this version of COMS 210, the focus of the course will be largely on new media theory and participatory models of communication. As such, the course is divided into three separate parts. The first section, People and Machines, will introduce students to questions about the meaning of communicationand to theories of communication technology. The second section, Ownership, Infrastructure, Participation, Representation will elaborate on the meaning of communication by considering the complex network of economic, physical and cultural forces that are created and maintained through varying communication and media technologies. The third section, Emotion, Experience, Design, will evaluate the experience of new media and communication technology by considering the particular affective properties of media experiences and will close the course by considering the impact of developing technologies and ubiquitous media on our everyday life experiences.

Pop Quizzes -- 10%
Conference Participation -- 10%
Group Presentation -- 10%
Reading Response -- 15%
Term Paper -- 25% (November 23rd)
Final Exam -- 30% (Registrar Scheduled)

COMS 230 (CRN 13415) Communication and Democracy (3 credits) Cayley Sorochan, T, Th, F, 1135-1225, Arts W-215

This course introduces students to a range of issues surrounding the relationship between communication, media and politics in contemporary liberal-democratic and capitalist societies. Starting from the premise that media and communication are central to the possibilities of the democratic public sphere(s), the course will critically examine the role, performance and structure of contemporary mass media, democratic governance of media and communication, and emerging political practices and selected issues surrounding digital information and communication technologies and network media.

Course requirements:
Critical response papers - 25%
Mid-term exam - 20%
Term paper - 25%
Final exam - 30%

COMS 354 (CRN 21918)/ARTH 354 (18637) Media Studies of Crime (3 credits) Prof. Will Straw, M, 0835-1125, Arts W-215

The Visual Culture of Crime

The term “visual culture” has been used for a decade or more to describe the range of images which circulate within our social and cultural worlds. "Visual culture" may include prestigious forms of image-making, such as high art painting, or less respectable forms, such as the popular cultural imagery of advertising and television. The institutions of justice and policing have used visual images for a variety of purposes, from cataloguing suspected criminals to reconstructing the scenes of crimes. Painters and photographers have used images of crime to "prove" prejudices about the criminal personality, to aestheticize the contemporary city, to raise metaphysical issues of life and death, to transgress cultural norms of tastefulness and acceptability and so on.

In this course, we will be looking at a wide range of images which deal in some way with crime. Some of these will be in the form of "moving" images -- that is, films or television programs. Others will be "still images": photographs, paintings, drawings, newspaper and magazine covers, maps, etc. The purpose of this course is to provide an overview of many of the genres and styles through which crime comes to be represented visually.

Grading and Assignments
Visual Analysis 1: Still Image - 25%
Visual Analysis II: Moving Image - 25%
Readings comments posted to MyCourses - 10%
Final Exam - 40%

COMS 355 (CRN 17600) Media Governance: "Critical Policy Studies" (3 credits) Prof. Becky Lentz, F, 0835-1125, EDUC 627

Electronic communications systems that include broadcasting, cable, telephony, and the Internet are vital public resources for social, economic, political, and cultural interaction in modern life. The course introduces intermediate level undergraduate students to processes of policy formation having to do with these electronic media systems as resources for communication.

Increasingly essential to our daily lives, these communication systems influence how we learn about, reflect on, and interpret contemporary events; participate in society as citizens, consumers, audiences, and political actors; transmit and share ideas and values; and engage our imaginations. Thus, by focusing on “governance”, and in particular the perspective of citizens, students learn to recognize and also examine decision-making processes about these media that attend to political, economic, or social welfare goals.

Featured are key concepts, histories, and debates taking place primarily in the U.S. and Canada having to do with governance challenges brought on by the convergence of “old” and “new” forms of electronic media.

COMS 411 (CRN 21974) Disability, Technology and Communication (3 credits) Prof. Jonathan Sterne, T, 1135-1425, Ferrier 230

This course explores the intersections of disability and media scholarship in order to rethink our basic concepts of communication, technology and culture, as well as to advance our understandings of disability. We will consider critical accounts of disability against theories of technology and communication. Most available theories of communication and technology presuppose a fully “able” subject, even though there is little warrant for doing this when we consider the full variety of human conditions. What happens if we remove that presupposition and instead begin by presupposing the human variety?

Product (and % of Semester Grade):
I. Weekly Response Papers (30%)
II. Dates Project (10%)
III. Discussion Participation (15%)
IV. Semester Project (45%)

COMS 491 (CRN 19296) Media, Communication and Culture: “Diasporic Media” (3 credits) Paul Fontaine, M, 1435-1725, Ferrier 230

Museum exhibits, news outlets, music, restaurant menus, web sites and cinemas – diasporic groups use a variety of modes and means to communicate across and within nation-state borders. Defined by its extensive reach into public sphere studies, urban studies, sexuality studies, journalism studies, communication studies, media production studies, and Cultural Studies, among other fields and subfields, Diaspora Studies is a broad ranging area of inquiry and host to a myriad of debates about the nature of belonging, exclusion, solidarity, and identity formation. As part of our engagement with diaspora, as a concept and category, we will examine the relationships that constitute diasporas and the media that result from those relationships.

The format of the seminar is as follows: the first half of the seminar will engage with the theoretical and methodological issues that have been addressed in the literature on ‘diasporas,’ ‘diasporic communities,”’ and ‘diasporic communication.’ In the second half of the seminar we will look at case studies of specific diasporic communities and the communications produced by and for those communities. The case studies will be separated into a variety of themes including: gender, heritagization, memory and nostalgia, and journalism.

Seminar participants can expect to develop a greater facility with theoretical texts, to hone their seminar discussion and critical analysis skills, and to improve their understanding of some of the major themes that have emerged in the field of Diaspora Studies.

10% Attendance and seminar participation
25% Mid-term take-home essay (8-10 pp.)

15% Final paper proposal and bibliography. 
20% Reading Responses
30% Final paper (12-15 pp.)

COMS 497 (CRN 10683) Independent Study (3 credits) Instructor approval required

Coming soon.

COMS 521 (CRN 23189) Communications in History: topic "Media Beyond Gravity" (3 credits) Professor Thomas Lamarre, M 10:35-12:25, Arts 230

Description: This course explores new methods for evaluating the social impact of outer space science and technology on sensory experience and its implications for a new approach to geopolitics. The course focus on a specific question: how can outer space inhabitation provide us with a constructive model for intensifying terrestrial psycho-mobility? In the context of global mobility today, information, bodies and goods circulate across the globe, and even further into outer space. However, we face a paradox: the more we move, the more we become sedentary. The modes of transportation that enable our global mobility are working against us, insidiously lessening our psycho-physical mobility. The development of mobile architecture (cars, planes and recreational vehicles among others) is mischievously giving rise to a stationary society: we are a society whose inhabitants travel across the globe in the stationary comfort of a car or a plane, of a sofa or a bed. Globalization is thus, at least in part, the world becoming immobile.

Objectives: Taking the body as the central non-place of political space, Media Beyond Gravity interrogates how one might inhabit mobile circulation, instead of mobile stasis. Departing from the concept of gravity, understood as a relational modality that crosses a variety of scales (spatial, temporal, technical, physical, psychological, scientific and spiritual), this course examines how outer space inhabitation shifts our understanding of critical terms in media studies through its conditions of boundless movement, orientation and distance, and how this new understanding might be brought to bear on questions of globalization, geopolitics, sensory experience, and health. Guided by geopolitical concerns, we will attend to the ways in which different modes of experimentation with gravity (levitation, rocket science, architecture, performance art, among other practices) open up new ways of assessing the impact technology on our well-being. We will seek to create the conditions of an analysis that moves beyond the Cold War’s discourses and geopolitical frontiers while at the same time offering new conceptual tools to think of the construction and the experience of space (physical, geographic and symbolic). Informed by literature in philosophy of sciences, we will look at a series of scientific,artistic, architectural and design projects that address our psycho-physical mobility. Our objective will be twofold: on the one hand, we will identify, document, and develop practical and tactical propositions to today's bodily immobilization; on the other hand, we will seek to translate these outcomes into geopolitical propositions. A key aspect of the course will target the construction of a space mythos based on a rigorous engagement with the sciences and a non-instrumentalist conception of technology.

Participation 20%;
Presentation 20%;
Paper Proposal 15 %;
Final Paper/ Project 45%

COMS 541 (CRN 22379) Cultural Industries (3 credits) Prof. Gabriella Coleman, T, 0935-1225, Arts W-5

Coming soon.


Winter 2017

COMS 300 (CRN 16065) Media and Modernity in the 20th Century (3 credits) Christopher Gutierrez, T, Th, 1435-1555, Arts W-215

Communication Studies 300 is designed to address the relationship between media and social transformation over the course of the 20th century. As such, our focus for this class will be on the dynamic and shifting role of media in both transformational political moments and in the everyday experience of being in the world. To do this, we will evaluate the rise of various media forms (from the radio and cinema to television and architecture) alongside the mutating experiences of political, social and sensorial life in the 20th century. Throughout this course, our focus will be on the nature of power - on questions of how and why change happens, and on the experience of these transformations in everyday life.

The course is roughly divided into two sections to address major themes. In the first section, “On Media and Change”, students will be introduced to key ideas about the relationship between history, media and change: we will discuss the meaning of ‘modernity’ as a historical category, we will map out various positions about the origins of social change, and we will consider the role that media technologies play in our sense of both history and possibility. In the second section, “Time and Place”, our focus will be on the specificities of various mediated and sensorial environments from the twentieth century. Each section of this week will be focus on a broad, affectively organized theme that draws together several historically connected, but temporally dislocated, political moments. Ultimately, the aim of this course is to help us better understand the lived sensorial experience, social movements and political possibilities that connect the long 20th century to our contemporary mediated world. 

Pop Quizzes - 10%
Reading Responses - 25% (12.5% x 2 responses per semester, at least one before March 9)
Midterm Exam - 25% (March 9)
Final Paper Proposal - 10% (March 23 will be the last day to submit)
Final Paper - 30% (April 11) 

COMS 310 (CRN 10275) Media and Feminist Studies (3 credits) Prof. Carrie Rentschler, M, W, 1605-1725, Arts W-215

Feminist Media Studies is a broad ranging and, at its best, deeply engaged and socially conscious area of inquiry. Our course, COMS 310, exposes students to contemporary scholarship and writing in feminist studies of digital culture and new media in dialogue with longer debates in feminist theory and media studies. Our readings and guest speakers this term will help us dig into and interrogate a number of contemporary media practices and the ways they are being used and mobilized with the help of key feminist concepts and analytic tools.

This term, the course will focus in particular on feminist new media studies and critical race feminisms. Across our readings, authors examine new and emerging contours of feminist thinking, doing, and debating in the context of changing media environments. We will pay close attention to how current feminisms are being practiced using the tools and infrastructures of social media, mobile phones, apps, and other current platforms. We will also be analyzing the contemporary terrain of online oppressions and the critical tools feminists are using to fight back. While the course and professor do not espouse a particular feminist politics, part of our task is to openly, and vigorously, discuss the present, past and futures of feminist thinking, feminist research, and feminist activisms in their relation to gendered, sexed, raced, classed and otherwise socially differentiated relations of power.

In-Class Writing Assignments [20%]
Three Media Reports [15%]
Feminist Social Media Artifact Essay [30%]
Selfie Essay Assignment [35%]

COMS 350 (CRN 15148) Sound Culture (3 credits) Prof. Jonathan Sterne, M, W, 1435-1555, Arts W-215

This course provides students with a broad introduction to the interdisciplinary field of sound studies, through a focus on questions of sound, culture, power and media. Students will learn to listen like humanists, to analyze aspects of sound culture from the standpoint of critical and humanistic traditions, and to ask and pursue research questions about sound, culture, media and power. 

Components of Your Semester Grade:
I. Be Ready and Present for Class (25%)
II. Connect the Course to the Culture (5%)
III. McGill Massive Experiment in Sound Studies 2017 (aka, MMESS 2.0): Make or analyze a sound recording that elucidates something about sound, power, culture and the digital (35%) 
IV. Do a Sound Study / or MMESS 2.1 (35%) 

COMS 400 (CRN 16066) Critical Theory Seminar (3 credits) Christopher Gutierrez, T, 1135-1425, Arts 350

Piotr Czerski’s 2012 pastebin manifesto, “We, The Web Kids”, contains a declarative statement about a novel experience of the world, noting that: “We grew up with the Internet and on the Internet” (Czerski, 2012). While the “we” that Czerski offers up is tricky to pinpoint - when does growing up end and start exactly? - his argument does identify a certainty of the present, namely, that it is marked by a ubiquitous experience of mediated networks. Communication Studies 400 is a seminar course dedicated to contemporary critical theory and in this section the emphasis will be on theories of subjectification - on the processes by which individuals come to recognize themselves as distinct subjects within society - and particularly on how to re-imagine theories of subjectification within this present moment. Specifically, we will aim to understand how we come to recognize ourselves - individually and collectively - in a moment characterized by, at the least: an expansive rise in ubiquitous and embedded media, an ongoing automation of transportation, labour and affect, and an increasingly segregated network experience. That is, this course asks how we might understand ourselves as subjects of new media.

To address this question, the course is divided into two sections. In the first, ‘Becoming Subjects’, we will address major texts on the question of individuation and subjectification from the 20th century. Here we will consider Psychoanalytic, Post-structuralist, Marxist, Feminist and Queer theories of the subject in order to develop a critical (and shared) vocabulary. In the second section, “Becoming New Media Subjects”, we will consider how we might update some of the early readings in light of developing forms of automated media and communication. In this section we will cover a variety of texts by theorists, writers, artists and performers that all investigate the experiences, affects and conditions of new media. From within these ideas, we will look specifically at the targeting, tracking, predicting, and circulatory power of new forms of communication to consider how these relate to emergent theories of the subject. In the final class, we will present our own ideas on how to foster and develop new modes of subjectification.

Reading Response - 24% (3 responses, 8% each - One in January, February, March)
Participation - 10%
Paper Proposal - 6% (Last Day to Submit: March 17)
Paper Presentation - 10% (In Class April 7)
Final Research Paper - 50% (April 17)

COMS 425 (CRN 15150) Urban Culture & Everyday Life (3 credits) Prof. Jenny Burman, T, 1135-1425, Arts W-220

In this fourth-year seminar, we will focus on two broad dimensions of urban life in North America: violence and reclamation. “Violence” here refers to numerous processes, structures, and actions, ranging from police violence and surveillance; to displacement, gentrification, and homelessness; to the slow violence of poverty and addiction; to the specificity of gender-based violence. Throughout the course, and especially in the second half of the course, we will examine acts and strategies of reclamation, re-appropriation, rebellion, and regeneration. We will consider “place-making” and other means of refashioning urban space, as manifest in the practices of (and discussed in the writings of) migrants, queer and trans* people, over-policed and under-resourced communities, artists, activists, and planners. We will also discuss reclamations through protest and commemoration, as in the recent Black Lives Matter social movement. At various points, we will examine specific interventions into urban space and culture, on the part of e.g. disability activists, architects and designers, and amateur cartographers. 

Throughout the course, we will look at how popular cultural producers have approached and interrogated urban violence and urban reclamation, using film, video, photography, mobile apps, web-based games and projects, and street theatre. Seminar participants can expect to develop a greater facility with theoretical texts, hone their seminar discussion and critical analysis skills, and improve their understanding of contemporary urban sociocultural transformations. They will be expected to read, comment on, and engage in debate about the critical perspectives in the course readings, as well as to develop original analyses of urban sites and/or interventions.

15% - Attendance and seminar participation
5% - Helping to lead discussion one week
20% - Oral presentation (15 min.)
20% - Mid-term take-home essay. Distributed FEB 16, due FEB 23.
10% - Final paper proposal and bibliography (3 pp.): Due MARCH 14.
30% - Final paper (12-15 pp.): Due APRIL 18. 

COMS 492 (CRN 15151) Emerging Media and New Social Collectives (3 credits) Prof. Carrie Rentschler, Th, 1135-1425, Arts W-220

This course examines the forms of social collectivity that take shape in the context of emerging media practices. Over the course of the term, we’ll be reading an interdisciplinary collection of texts, drawing most directly from political theory and new media studies, that conceptualize the relationship between changing media environments and models of social collectivity around several sites of social resistance– from the 2009 election protests in Iran to immigrant rights media justice activism, the Occupy movements in the US and Canada, indigenous water protectors, and others. We will be reading and discussing current theories of social mobilization and subjectivity that have emerged from these contexts, around the politics and performance of assembly, online aggregated subjectivity and networked community, hashtag publics and new theories of crowd action.

This seminar is reading and writing intensive. Enrolment in the seminar requires deep student engagement with the course materials and a commitment to do a lot of reading, carefully. Students should also be willing to grapple, in substantial fashion, with emerging political concepts and debates, be open to critical and respectful engagement with other seminar participants, and bring their curiosity to class discussions and debates about the relationship between communication, technology, social collectivity, and social mobilization.

Weekly Short Writing Assignments [20% of final grade]
Term Paper Proposal [20% of final grade]
Class Presentation [15% of final grade]
Term Paper [45% of final grade]

COMS 497 (CRN 16588) Independent Study (3 credits) Instructor approval required.

Supervised independent research on an approved topic.