Undergraduate Courses in Communication Studies 2013-2014

Fall 2013

COMS 210 (CRN 6231) Intro to Communication Studies (3 credits), Prof. Jonathan Sterne, M/W/F, 1135-1225, Lea 26.

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 exposed to some of the major questions facing Communication Studies scholars today, learn how to take positions in important debates, and explore emerging issues in the contemporary media landscape.

Course Requirements:
Quizzes (30%)
In-lecture Participation (5%)
Conference Participation (10%)
Group Participation (10%)
Short Papers (15%)
Term Paper (30%)

COMS 230 (CRN 13415) Communication and Democracy (3 credits), Prof. Darin Barney, M/W/F, 1335-1425, 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:
Mid-term exam - 20%
Conference participation - 20%
Term paper - 30%  
Final exam - 30%

COMS 340 (CRN 13429) New Media (3 credits), Caroline Bem, M/W/F, 1435-1725, Arts W-215.

As noted by Marshall McLuhan in the 1960s, “the content of any medium is always another
medium”—from the cinema to television, and from early computer terminals to today’s
portable technologies, emerging media forms consistenty incorporate and translate earlier
media. While this remains very much the case in the digital age, the term “new media” has
nonetheless been adopted to designate the numerous technologies, media formats and even
cultural practices which surround us. At the basis of this course, then, lies the question of what
constitutes the “newness” of new media: how has the shift to programmable and networked
media been distrinctive, and to what extent do our digital experiences lose or gain their
distinctiveness as we consider continuities with older media/practices and reflect on human
cultural and social experiences in general?

In the first 6 weeks of the course we will explore the ways in which the emergence of
computing, cybernetics and networked media has raised fundamental questions about human
biology, agency and social structures. The following 4 weeks will offer a detailed look at the
material and immaterial components of new media in order to understand how media and
their contents circulate in the digital age. This discussion will be enriched by a two-week focus
on the cinema as a changing medium: taking David Lynch’s Inland Empire (2006) as a case-study,
we will examine how the shift to digital or “postcinema” presents both a radical break from
and a continuation of filmic conventions. Finally, in the last 4 weeks of the course, we will
consider the ways in which media “converge” in the digital age to usher in changing forms of
cultural participation and creative production, but also new forms of labour.

(A) 10% Attendance/Preparation
(B) 30% Media Reflections
(B) 30% Midterm Exam  
(C) 30% Research Paper

COMS 355 (CRN 17600) Media Governance (3 credits), Prof. Becky Lentz, T/Th, 1135-1255, EDUC 627.

This course introduces intermediate level undergraduate students to that part of the field of communication studies having to do with public policymaking and policy advocacy. Depending on the setting in which it is taught, this area of study travels under several umbrellas, for example information, communication, and technology (ICT) policy; communication and information policy (CIP); communication law and policy; (global) media governance; or just ‘media policy’. The course features 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 like radio, TV, telephones, and the Internet. 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, focusing on “governance”, and in particular the perspective of citizens and consumers, we examine decision-­‐making processes about these media that attend to political, economic, or social welfare goals.

After an introductory class, we spend two weeks covering some key theories, concepts, and frameworks that we will revisit in the remaining weeks of the course, the primary one being the notion of “the commons” and its impact on contemporary media governance theory. Five themed segments follow, each focusing on a different type of electronic media resource involved in media governance debates. The first is the Information and Knowledge Commons, followed by the Spectrum (or Airwaves) Commons, the Telecommunication Commons, the Software Commons, and finally, the Internet Commons. For each type of commons, we observe how media and technology resources are not inherently neutral and as a result, how individuals and institutions with clearly defined objectives and economic interests influence their design, construction, implementation, use, and regulation.

Participation: 30%
Module Quizzes: 30%
Final Cumulative Exam: 40%

COMS 362 (CRN 16981) Selected Topics in Communication Studies 2 (3 credits), Christopher Gutierrez, M/W/F, 1535-1625, Arts W-215.

This course introduces students to a wide range of methodological and theoretical approaches to the study of
life and culture in urban environments. Primarily concerned with mapping and cartography in all of its
various forms, the course will exam the ways in which individuals come to understand the realities of urban
life through their own everyday experiences and how differing understandings of what it means to be in the
city can develop into differing aesthetic, literary, or technological projects. Using mapping as both a
metaphor and a practice, the focus for this course will be on the ways in which affective and emotive states of
being in the city are brought to life, represented, and repeated through the distribution of cultural texts and on
the ways in which these texts come to shape the social and cultural space of the cities they represent. To this
end, COMS 362 will present a variety of different approaches to the study of urban space and will rely on
readings from fields such as cultural geography, urban studies, literary criticism, film studies, feminist and
queer theory and cultural studies. To facilitate this wide array of texts, the course is divided into four separate
parts. The first part, Methods of Affective Mapping, will introduce students to some of the central ideas of
affect theory as they are related to urban space. The second part, Everyday Affective Maps looks more closely
at the ways in which everyday life in urban spaces in imagined and planned by different civic groups. The
third part, Antagonistic Urbanism will investigate both local and global forces that can produce moments of
urban strife, conflict and control. The final part, Mapping the Edges, will look towards the edges of city life to
search for spaces of collective engagement and resistance.

Pop Quizzes - 15% (Regularly throughout the semester)
Reading Responses 20% - (10% x 2 responses per semester, due in class on Monday)
Mid-Term Exam - 25% (October 28th)  
Paper Proposal - 10% (Last day to submit is November 11th)
Final Paper - 30% (December 3rd) 

COMS 425 (CRN 17866) Urban Culture & Everyday Life: "Online Cooperation in Daily Life" (3 credits), Dr. Alessandro Delfanti, W, 0835-1125, Arts W-5.

The seminar will present crucial case studies of online cooperative and  distributed production. We 
will analyse how online cooperation changes and affects the  way information and knowledge are 
produced, circulated and appropriated. The course will introduce students to basic notions of social 
theory related to online cooperation and participatory cultures. The bulk of this seminar will 
examine case studies that belong to  different fields of information and knowledge production, such 
as cinema, science, software or fashion. 

While students will be required to familiarise themselves with and actively engage in the projects 
presented before each lesson, we will discuss them in class with a critical  approach and examine 
issues such as power distribution, access to knowledge or cultural  change. This seminar is intended 
to be an open­ended participatory experience in which  students will debate about their experiences 
with and understanding of cooperative production projects. Its goal is to provide students with a 
basic ability to identify the main problems and  what is at stake relating to online cooperation 

Course Requirements:
Final paper: 30%
Wikipaper: 25% (group project, separate instructions will be given)
Cloud: 20% (group project, separate instructions will be given)
In class and online participation: 25%

COMS 435 (CRN 17601) Advanced Issues in Media Governance: "Policy, Power, and Politics: Internet Governance from a Civil Society Perspective" (3 credits), Prof. Becky Lentz, Th, 1435-1725, Arts W-5.

This is a research and reading/writing-­‐intensive upper division undergraduate seminar that introduces students to the field of scholarly research, policymaking, and issue advocacy known as “Internet Governance”. While many courses featuring the Internet focus on what people are doing and saying online, this one shines a light in a slightly different direction, rendering visible the infrastructure of the Internet itself and the politics involved in governing it. Through inquiry-­‐based research and writing activities, the course is designed to promote active learning that fosters respectful student interaction and informed debate; therefore, there will be few, if any, formal lectures. Instead, the instructional method is a facilitated seminar that requires vigorous student involvement in presentations, discussions of assigned readings, and independent research and writing. Students will be assessed on the quality of their preparation for and engagement in class discussions, their ability to work productively as part of a research team, and by the quality of their contributions to a final research project and presentation.

• Participation -­‐ 40% o Milestones 1-­‐6: Weekly Research Workshop deadlines (Weeks 5-­‐10) – 6%
   Milestone 7: November 14 -­‐ 1 st full Draft of Policy Brief for Peer Review Workshop (10%)
   Milestone 8: November 21 -­‐ Revised Draft of Policy Brief for Peer Review Workshop (10%)
   Milestone 9: December 5 -­‐ Revised draft from 2nd peer review for client review (14%)
• Group Project (Policy Brief) -­‐ 50% o Instructor assessment – 30%
   Peer assessment – 10% o Research client’s assessment – 10%
• Group presentation (Policy Brief) -­‐ 10% o Instructor assessment – 5%
   Peer assessment – 5%

COMS 492 (CRN 13438) Power, Difference and Justice: “Disability, Technology and Communication” (3 credits), Prof. Jonathan Sterne, T, 1435-1725, Arts W-5.

This course explores disability scholarship in order to rethink our basic concepts of communication, technology and culture. 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?

Weekly response paper (30%)
Dates Project (10%)
Discussion Participation and Facilitation (15%)
Semester Project (45%)

COMS 497 (CRN 10683) Independent Study (3 credits) Instructor’s Approval Required.

COMS 541 (CRN 15368) Cultural Industries: "Global Sexualities" (3 credits), Dr. Bobby Benedicto, M. 1135-1425, Arts W-220

The transnational movement of bodies, images, and capital has
transformed modern conceptualizations of gender and sexuality. Sexual
practices, identities, and subcultural formations have been altered
through processes of migration and tourism, as well as by the advent of
new media technologies and the global circulation of categories such as
“gay,” “lesbian,” and “transgender.” In this class, we will examine the
varied ways local histories and geographies interact with the forces of
political, economic, and cultural globalization, focusing especially on the
experiences of sexual minorities in the Global South and of queer
diasporas in the Global North. Drawing on material from Anthropology,
Geography, Literary Studies, Media Studies, and Ethnic Studies, among
others, we will investigate non-normative gender and sexual formations
in relation to emerging discourses on race and class and to anti-colonial
theories of modernity and global capitalism. We will tackle questions
such as: How have queer subjects been incorporated into nationalist
projects and consumer culture? How has the liberal framework of human
rights reshaped the struggles of “queer” movements outside the “West”?
In what ways have transnational labor flows and discourses on
multiculturalism reshaped notions of queer community and belonging in
global cities and in postcolonial metropolitan spaces? What role have
media technologies and various forms of visual culture played in the
reconstitution of gender and sexual identities and of representations of
queer desire, affect, and kinship? In addressing these questions, we will
situate categories of gender, class, and racial difference within specific
cultural and political contexts. We will draw on examples from different
geographical regions in order to investigate how sexual minorities negotiate
the borders between and within nation-states. 

Participation  10%
Seminar Facilitation/Presentation  20%
Final Essay Proposal 20%
Final Essay  (5000-6000 words) 50%

Winter 2014

COMS 200 (CRN 10273) History of Communication (3 credits), Paulina Maria Mickiewicz, M/W/F, 1335-1425, Arts W-215.

The aim of this course is to introduce students to the history of communication by
exploring the social and cultural implications of major developments in communications
from prehistory to the electronic era. The course will be organized around key media
transitions, or what could otherwise be understood as significant media or technological
“revolutions.” Different forms of communication technologies have emerged within
specific social, economic, political, and cultural conditions, all of which provide us with
rich theoretical approaches on how to think about the role of communication and
technology in society, both historically and in the present.  

“History of Communication” will provide students with a deeper understanding of how
these moments were significant within their own historical contexts, while
simultaneously pointing to how they bear on our current cultural realities. By exploring
the ways in which changing communicative practices have evolved in the past we might
shed some light on the character of the changes we are witness to in the present day. This
course seeks to explore the cultural consequences of media change throughout history,
and how evolving communicative practices have shaped and continue to shape our
experience of time and space. 

COMS 310 (CRN 10275) Media and Feminist Studies (3 credits), Cheryl Thompson, T/Th, 1135-1255, Arts W-215.

This course explores a range of feminist scholarship, with an emphasis on feminist studies of media texts, practices, and institutions. COMS 310 highlights feminist media studies’ interdisciplinarity by incorporating critical work from critical race studies, film and television, political economy, postcolonial studies, and sexuality studies. In the process, COMS 310 will demonstrate how and why feminist media studies contests the representation of gender, sexuality, and race in media productions. This course investigates what standpoints and strategies constitute the feminist aspect of feminist media studies, and how these perspectives are intertwined with notions of social justice and social change. From Oprah Winfrey to Women’s Magazines, News Media to American Idol, beauty campaigns to film, COMS 310 pays particular attention to recent areas of debate in feminist media studies, such as postfeminism, racialized and sexualized subjectivities, queer and trans-activism, and masculinity studies. This course will also rely on historical and contemporary texts to explore the intersections of media, race, gender, and class in Canada and the United States.

1. Pop Quizzes (15%)
2. Mid-term Take-home Exam (25%; due Feb 13)
3. Term Paper (25%; due Mar 27)
4. Final Exam (35%)

COMS 350 (CRN 12729) Sound Culture (3 credits), Ryan Diduck, T/Th, 1305-1425, Arts W-215.

This course will offer a comprehensive analysis of historical and contemporary philosophical, physical, cultural, and institutional perspectives toward our sonic world. Hearing often plays a supporting role to vision in the traditional hierarchy of sensorial importance. Even our quotidian language privileges visual metaphors over sonic ones. But recent and emerging scholarship in the field of communication studies and beyond is now giving due critical attention to the primacy of sound in art, science, and everyday life. We will examine key texts from this literature, as well as some that may have been overlooked (underheard).
During the semester, we will engage questions concerning historical conceptions of hearing, acoustic ecologies, technologies of audio recording and reproduction, in addition to the cultural conditions of music and sound in contemporary life. Upon completion, students will be well versed in a variety of discourses around sound, and conversant in a critical vocabulary for discussing sonic and audio-based media.

COMS 400 (CRN 12730) Critical Theory Seminar (3 credits), Prof. Darin Barney, W, 1435-1725, Arts W-220.

“…if the designing of the future and the proclamation of ready-made solutions for all time is not our affair, then we realize all the more clearly what we have to accomplish in the present—I am speaking of a ruthless criticism of everything existing…”
- Karl Marx, letter to Arnold Ruge (1844)
This intensive seminar examines the traditions of critical social theory as they have influenced the field of media and communication studies. Emphasis will be placed on close, critical reading and discussion of primary texts. Strains of critical theory to be studied include: Marxism; the Frankfurt School; post-structuralism; feminism; post-colonialism and queer theory.

Seminar participation   - 20%
Seminar presentation   - 20%
Papers (x3)    - 60% 

COMS 491 (CRN 12731) Media, Communication and Culture: "Queer Theory and Visual Culture" (3 credits), Dr. Bobby Benedicto, M, 0835-1125, Arts W-220

This subject introduces students to current debates in queer theory. Focusing on the role of visual culture in mediating and producing conceptions of gender and sexuality, we will examine how categories such as masculinity, femininity, homosexuality, heterosexuality, transsexuality, and transgenderism have transformed over time. This subject thus approaches gender and sexuality as historically, politically, and culturally contingent rather than as natural expressions of a private self. It provides the theoretical frameworks for understanding the rise of non-normative genders and sexualities in relation to popular images, media technologies, and available psychoanalytic, philosophical, and political discourses. In examining recent formations in queer studies, we will engage a diverse range of texts, from Euro-American re-theorizations of gender and sexuality to recent interventions in postcolonial and transnational studies. Students who successfully complete this subject should understand some of the ways in which contemporary gendered and sexual identities developed in the “West” and beyond as aspects of cultural modernity. They should be able to explicate the complex ways sexual practices and formations relate to other facets of social identity such as race, class, generation, and nationality. Topics covered in this course include: moral panics and intergenerational desire, race and sexuality, kink and sadomasochism, homonormativity and homonationalism, and queer theories of space, time, and utopia, among others.

COMS 492 (13804) / CANS 410 (7703)Power, Difference and Justice: “Migration and Racialization in Canada” (3 credits), Prof. Jenny Burman, W, 1135-1425, Arts 230

In this upper-level undergraduate seminar, we will explore several dimensions of migration and ‘race’/racialization in Canada. After briefly studying selected historical and theoretical materials, we will address and discuss issues that include: racial oppression and indigeneity; commemoration of migrant and Aboriginal histories; reconciliation and reparation; multi- and interculturalism in Canada and Quebec; the intersection of racialization and criminalization; cultural difference in everyday life urban and rural contexts; and cultural/artistic production by racialized people living in Canada. Throughout the course, we will also consider how selected popular and artistic cultural texts have interrogated dominant ideas about migration and ‘race’. 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 racialization processes and histories in Canada. They will be expected to read, comment on, and debate the critical perspectives in the course readings, as well as work on their own original analyses of cases and cultural texts.

COMS 510 (CRN 10280) Canadian Broadcasting Policy (3 credits), Prof. Marc Raboy, M, 1435-1725, Arts W-220.

This course focuses on key issues in the history and evolution of radio, television and
new media in Canada; the legislative and regulatory framework of Canadian broadcasting
and Internet; the role of public, private, community and on-line media; and the efforts of
interest groups to influence the direction of the Canadian media system. The course also
considers the global media policy environment and its impact on Canadian media.