Graduate Courses in Communication Studies 2023-2024

On this page: Fall 2023 | Winter 2024

Please note that room locations and schedules are subject to change and all details should be confirmed before the start of the class.

Fall 2023

COMS 611 (CRN 2152)

Dr. Gustavo Ferreira
Mondays, 2:35 pm-5:25 pm

Meme: "Kids these days will never understand" written above photo of CD with title "Summer Mix 1999" featuring mutliple hits and artists of the time, including Jay-Z, Britney Spears and Lou Bega. Generative AI is the topic of 2023. These machine learning technologies which predict text, sound or visual elements to produce images, text, voice and music are being propped up and questioned in creative industries across the world. Following the release of ChatGPT, technology companies, media and commentators have raved about a (claimed) potential for a future Artificial General Intelligence, and its possible catastrophic consequences. In music, the use of these technologies to reproduce famous artists' voices and styles, like Drake and The Weeknd, widened for the general public questions of copyright and creativity which are very common in the specialized music media.

In this seminar, rather than prioritizing this hot technological buzzword of the year, our main goal is to break with the "AI Hype." We will investigate these technologies through one of its more technical and less appealing names: music recommender systems (MRS), which are mostly machine learning technologies themselves. These algorithms predict music choice and output ranked lists of songs to be listened to in different contexts, mainly music streaming platforms. We will use this specific technology and industry as a point of convergence between the history and theory of audio media, music culture, and automation. We will explore research methods for understanding the historically unstable relationship between music recording and media industries, cultures of production and consumption. So instead of taking these technologies as powerful disruptors in cultural consumption, we aim to look at contingent practices of cultural curation and recommendation as essential to their development, adoption, and meaning.

The following are the questions we are going to explore. Some readings will address these topics directly, others are there to inspire them or create links to your research interests. Are human and algorithmic curation/recommendations independent and distinct? How can we study algorithms, platforms, and cultural industries when these operate in such secretive and specialized logics? What purpose do these technologies serve to platforms and to listeners? What are the present harmful and beneficial results of MRS to musicians, listeners, and the broader music culture? What are ways of framing issues of diversity, racism, and cultural imperialism that stem from recommender systems adoption? How do distinct local cultures and industries differ in their relationship with global platforms and these systems? How does the study of music culture and music media contribute to the broad questions on AI and creative labour?

PDF icon COMS 611 Course Outline

COMS 616 (CRN 2153)
Staff-Student Colloquium 1 (3 credits)

Prof. Jenny Burman
Wednesdays, 2:35 pm-5:25 pm
ARTS W-220

Pro-Seminar in Communications. A required course for all new M.A. and Ph.D. students. The Pro-Seminar is designed to explore theoretical and methodological issues in Communications through a series of presentations by the faculty and other McGill associates.

COMS 630 (CRN 2154)
Readings in Communications Research 1 (3 credits)

Reading programs supervised by a member of staff; topics will be chosen to suit individual interests.

Note: Instructor's approval required.

COMS 639 (CRN 2155)
Interpretive Methods in Media (3 credits)
Research for Social Transformation

Prof. Carrie Rentschler
Fridays, 11:35 am-2:25 pm
ARTS W-220

Bald and bespectacled French theorist Michel Foucault cuddles a black cat in a room with full bookshelvesThis is a course in how to think about and practice interpretive methods and critical inquiry in media, technology, and cultural studies for the purposes of social change. The seminar focuses on processes of inquiry: how we transform scholarly intuition and gut feeling into inventive research questions that, with the help of theory, enables us to build concrete objects of study and purposefully interpret and analyze them for reasons that matter. We will examine how researchers think relationally and collectively as part of their inquiry, organized around concepts such “articulation” and “the conjunctural” in Cultural Studies, oppositional research from Black Studies and social movement studies, and affect and the “felt” as key sources of queer and feminist inquiry, among others. Asking the question of “how” will take on particular importance in this course alongside questions of “why” and “what.” We will read key theories, conceptual frameworks, and texts on scale and connection, interpretative maneuvers, and scholarly experiments to foster students’ development of meaningful inquiry in the field.

PDF icon COMS 639 Course Outline

COMS 646 (CRN 2156)
Popular Media (3 credits)
Structures of Modernity

Prof. Yuriko Furuhata
Tuesdays, 11:35 am-2:25 pm
Arts W-220

This seminar on “structures of modernity” explores the roles of various media technologies in shaping histories of colonialism, capitalism, territorial conflicts, and knowledge production. The seminar brings together critical theory, media history, environmental humanities, cultural studies, and science and technology studies to rethink the purported unity of “modernity” across the Asia-Pacific region and beyond. Modernity is not one thing, as we will see, but rather fractured along the lines of media, geopolitics and the environment. The guiding question of the course is Foucauldian: what were the underlying historical and cultural conditions of possibility that led to the invention, circulation, and transformation of certain media technologies? How might we resist the Eurocentric tendency to flatten and homogenize conceptions of key terms such as media, technology, and human by paying attention to the racialized, gendered, sexualized, and classed structures of modernity?

Note: Cross-listed with EAST 564.

PDF icon COMS 646/EAST 564 Course Outline

COMS 675 (CRN 2157)
Media and Urban Life (3 credits)

Prof. Will Straw
Mondays, 11:35 am-2:25 pm
ARTS W-220

The role of media in giving shape to urban life, including ways in which various media, from the newspaper through digital information networks, have shaped urban space, life and culture.

Winter 2024

COMS 500 (CRN 6774)
Special Topics in Communications Studies 1 (3 credits)

Prof. Alex Blue V and Prof. Matthew C. Hunter
Wednesdays, 11:35 am-2:25 pm
ARTS W-220

A seminar for advanced undergraduate students and Masters students dealing with selected topics in Communications Studies.

Note: Cross-listed with ARTH 502.

COMS 611 (CRN 1963)
History/Theory/Technology (3 credits)

Prof. Jonathan Sterne
Wednesdays, 2:35 pm-5:25 pm
ARTS W-220

Cat meme with a smartphone pointed at a white and brown cat. the phone displays a translation app that seems to translate the cats meows. The translated text reads, "Feed me please"Machine learning—often branded as artificial intelligence or “AI”— is an ever-expanding set of political and technological operations in our world today. The last few years have seen an explosion in critical scholarship on AI, as well as a flowering of critiques within industry, in popular media, and among artists. While the first round of that work focused primarily on the processing of images and text, there is growing interest in the relationship between AI and sound, especially as it relates to speech, music, and environmental sound.

Our seminar will consider this intersection in depth. We will read and discuss some of the new critical scholarship on AI in media studies and related fields, and then turn our attention to the politics of machine listening, which are AI systems that process sound. We will focus on actually-existing sonic AI systems rather than prognostications. We will use the tools of sound studies, media studies, and related fields to demystify the technology; to produce sharp, precise, and politicized analyses of technological practices using the tools of the humanities and interpretive social sciences. How is AI like other kinds of computational cultural practices, and how is it different? How does AI relate to automation more generally? Does it raise genuinely new political or ethical questions, or is it just an extension of already existing antagonisms shaped by capitalism, racism, sexism, ableism, colonialism and other axes of power? Along the way, we will critically consider the work of corporations and researchers alongside that of artists, activists, and others who seek to build technology for people rather than for profit.

This course is connected with the international symposium “Machine Listening: Critical Perspectives” that will take place 4-6 April 2024 at McGill University. Students will attend the conference, interview the participants for publication on , and have priority access to all the events (free meals! a party!). After the conference, we’ll spend a class on a debrief.

The reading load with be approximately three essays or a book per week (or the equivalent), and the seminar will be discussion driven, with some lecturing. Students will leave the course with a better understanding of how to study emerging technologies, current work in media studies and science and technology studies, as well as improved skills in interviewing, research, writing, conferencing, and revising. A full reading list will be available later in December 2023.

PDF icon COMS 611 Course Outline

COMS 682 (CRN 1964)
Special Topics in Media Theory (3 credits)
Theory of the Subject

Prof. Bobby Benedicto
Tuesdays, 2:35 pm-5:25 pm

What is the human subject? How does it take form in relation to language and visual representation, image and text? Using psychoanalysis as our principal guide, this seminar will examine how an account of the subject as inherently divided or split might help us apprehend the impasses presented by sex and death, politics and violence. We will draw on psychoanalytic approaches to film, art, and media to illustrate how the limits and possibilities of human subjectivity have been approached as aesthetic problems. 

COMS 683 (CRN 1965)
Special Topics in Media and Politics (3 credits)

Prof. Darin Barney
Mondays, 2:35 pm-5:25 pm
FERR 422

Among the conditions of possibility for communication are the availabilities and affordances of infrastructure. This seminar will investigate the recent (re)turn of attention to infrastructure in the field of communication and media studies, in the context of similar turns in related fields of anthropology, geography, sociology, architecture and environmental studies. What counts as infrastructure, and what are the limits of this category? How is power materialized, mediated and contested as, by and through infrastructure? What role does infrastructure play in the configuration of urban, rural, local, national, colonial and imperial materialities, economies and geographies? Drawing on work on infrastructure in communication studies and beyond, this seminar will explore theoretical and empirical studies of the social, political and environmental dimensions of infrastructure across the terrains of media, resource extraction, energy, storage, disposal, transportation, labour and logistics.

For a preview of the themes of this seminar, see the interview with Professor Barney here.

On this page: Fall 2023 | Winter 2024
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