Undergraduate Courses in Communication Studies 2014-2015

Fall 2014

COMS 210 (CRN 6231) Intro to Communication Studies (3 credits), Rafico Ruiz, M, W, F, 1435-1525, MAASS 112

The aim of this course is to introduce students to the study of communication as a social phenomenon. The course defines communication broadly. It shows students how it is an evolving process that can take place anywhere from gaming environments on digital platforms to shipping corridors in the Northwest Passage. The course also emphasizes how communication is a phenomenon that is both material and immaterial by introducing students to various theoretical approaches to the study of communication. It demonstrates to what extent it is a phenomenon that cuts across institutions, technologies, and modes of interpretation: what does communication signify in the digital age? Who profits from it and how? How do we go about studying it as a shifting process? Why isn’t it a static “thing”? What this course aims to investigate is how communication “moves” across contexts, and how, through that movement, it becomes a phenomenon that is always evolving along with a society’s set of socio-political, economic, and cultural practices. 

Midterm exam - 20%
Conference participation, presentation, and short paper - 25%
Term paper - 30%
Final exam
- 25%

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 355 (CRN 17600) Media Governance (3 credits), Guillaume Sirois, M, W, 1605-1725, EDUC 627

This course is designed to introduce undergraduate students to the field of media governance. Depending on academic traditions, this field of study is interchangeably called media policy, media regulation or media governance. In the framework of this course, we will understand the term “governance” as describing complex situations in which various kinds of actors (political, economic, social) intervene to influence the establishment of norms, standards and rules in the media system. This course will be divided into three consecutive modules. The first one will expose students to a selection of major theories of power and policy in order to build their capacity to critically analyse complex situations in the realm of media governance. The second module will introduce students to major components of the media system (content and conduits) and some of the issues surrounding them. In the third module, we will discuss a series of major challenges that are currently being debated by academics and other actors involved in this field. At the end of this course, students will have a general understanding of the field of media governance, and they will have developed their capacity to critically analyse contemporary media governance situations.

Assignments and Evaluation
Quizzes 15%
Mid-term Assignment 30%
Group project 15%
Final exam 40%

COMS 361 (CRN 18656) Selected Topics in Communication Studies 1: “Special Topics: Media and the City” (3 credits), Christopher Gutierrez, M/W/F, 1135-1225, Arts W-215

Media and the City: Urban Senses
This course engages with questions of urbanism and media through the specific lens of the human senses. By conceiving of the city as a space filled with ubiquitous media – including the ambient noise of passing vehicles, the scent of a busy restaurant kitchen, the flashing screens of news and weather in the metro station or the feeling of a cramped bus ride – it aims to investigate how our senses are both shaping of, and shaped by, the different bodies, forces and objects we encounter. To this end, COMS 361 will present a variety of texts on questions of embodiment, consciousness, sensation and affect theory that all touch on our experiences of being in the city.

COMS 400 (CRN 18659) Critical Theory Seminar (3 credits), Prof. Darin Barney, T, 1135-1425, Arts W-5

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.

Course requirements:
Seminar participation - 20%
Seminar presentation - 20%
Papers (x3) - 60%

COMS 490 (CRN 19924) History and Theory of Media: “Philosophy & Technics of the Hand: Digits & Digitalia”, Kyle Stine, W, 1135-1425, Arts W-5

“Nature builds no machines, no locomotives, railways, electric telegraphs, self-acting mules etc. These are products of human industry; natural material transformed into organs of the human will over nature, or of human participation in nature. They are organs of the human brain, created by the human hand; the power of knowledge, objectified.” — Karl Marx, Grundrisse, ca. 1858

“Then I would let my eyes go from his face down to his hands. I would then discover Le Corbusier. It was his hands that revealed him. It was as if his hands betrayed him. They spoke all his feelings, all the vibrations of his inner life that his face tried to conceal [...] Hands that one might have thought Le Corbusier had drawn himself, with that trait made of a thousand small successive traces that seemed to look for one another but that in the end formed a precise and exact line, that unique contour that outlined the shape and defined it in space. Hands that seemed to hesitate but from which precision came. Hands that always thought, just like he did in his thinking, and on his hands one could read his anxiety, his disappointments, his emotions and his hopes. Hands that had drawn, and were to draw, all his work.” — André Wogenscky, Le Corbusier’s longtime assistant on Le Corbusier, 2006

“The hand is in danger” — Jacques Derrida, “Heidegger’s Hand,” 1985

The hand leads a secret life art and media. Testifying to this are its influences scattered throughout our language in unexpected places: A surgeon is literally and etymologically, “one who practices the art of healing by manual operation” (OED), one who heals with hands. The surgeon may do so adroitly, in its root sense, using the right hand (the same source as the word dextrous). Similarly, a handshake, originally a gesture of good faith meant to disarm one’s strong hand, may turn into hand-to-hand combat if someone acts sinisterly, concealing one’s left-handedness and the dagger so clutched. A new television comes with a manual. Video games require hand-eye coordination. Artists engage in handicraft.

This course offers an entry into the complex history and theory of the hand in art, technology, and design. Of special interest will be contemporary digital technologies; however, our readings and screenings will seek to contextualize these technologies by gaining a deeper understanding of the past. Digital technologies are technologies of the digit—technologies of the number and of the finger that once represented it. To understand this aspect of the digital—the digital in its materiality—we have to understand how new media have mobilized the hand in revolutionary ways. The piano keyboard, for instance, opened broad new possibilities for finger placement and hand movement in the creation of music. The typewriter keyboard opened similar avenues for the rapid transcription of texts. The touchscreen on current tablets and mobile phones has inaugurated a new field of human-machine interaction that has only begun to be tapped into. Perhaps the theremin, which allows for orchestration without physical contact between thereminist and instrument, points toward future, touchless technologies between hand and computer, as was the stuff of science fiction in Minority Report (2002).

The course features a number of rigorous philosophical texts, without which any discussion of the hand would be incomplete. I will provide reading questions for several of the more difficult weeks to help guide your reading and our discussions through the text, but one of the best ways for us to get a handle on these complicated issues is to use concrete examples. I have a number of such examples already in hand, but I encourage you to bring your own to the table. Such examples may very well become the topics of final papers.

15% –
Attendance and participation, including one week when you will be scheduled to provide discussion questions on the week’s readings or to lead discussion on an object related to class. Objects might include clips from films and television, artistic pieces of all sorts, literary works, etc. Be creative! I look forward to seeing what you find.

30% – Response papers (6), one page each, due in phases: within weeks 1–2, 3–4, 5–6, 7–8, 9–10, and 11–12. These windows are meant ideally to pace the papers so that different people are contributing each week with written thoughts that they can read aloud to help spark discussion. Papers should be submitted to the course website no later than 8 a.m. on the day of class. I will look over the responses before class and ask people to read their insights to the class. Feel free to offer to read your own. Finally, the specification of one page is just that: keep it to one page using a 12-point font. However, you can adjust the spacing between single-spaced and double- spaced depending on how much you have to say.

15% – Applying theory paper (5–6 pages, double-spaced, 12-point font, 1-inch margins), due October 8 in class. More info to come in an assignment sheet on September 24.

40% –
Semester project, consisting of a formal scholarly paper (15–20 pages). If you have an alternative proposal for the semester project, please get in touch with me by October 10 so we can work out a plan before the first deadline.
October 17: Email me a one-paragraph paper proposal, pitching a topic and some preliminary research questions by 17:00
October 29: Formal paper proposal (4 pages), including a clear statement of topic, research questions, and an annotated bibliography November 26: A short presentation of your research
December 5: Formal scholarly paper (15–20 pages, plus citations) posted on the course website by 17:00.


COMS 491 (19296) Media, Communication and Culture: “Communication & Culture: Sensory Studies in Science” (3 credits), Prof. Axel Volmar (Mellon PostDoc), Th, 1435-1725, Arts W-5

This seminar will introduce students to scholarly literature from science studies and the history of science. We will particularly explore the role of the human senses, sensory practices and media technologies in scientific practice and put them into dialogue with broader work on media, communication and culture. By doing so we will question traditional theories and quotidien views that regard epistemic concepts such as rationality, objectivity, observation, or proof to be primarily connected to the sense of vision, graphic representation, and image technologies. Readings include both classic texts and recent scholarship in order to familiarize students with ethnographic as well as historiographic approaches to study the meaning of science as both an epistemic and a cultural arena.

Seminar participation and exercises (25 %)
Weekly response papers and “cultural context” presentation (25 %)
Book review (10 %)
Semester project (40 %)

COMS 492 (CRN 13438) Power, Difference and Justice: “Queer Theory and Visual Culture” (3 credits), Bobby Benedicto, T, 0835-1125, Arts W-5

Power, Difference, and Justice (Queer Theory and Visual Culture)
This course 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 497 (CRN 10683) Independent Study (3 credits) Instructor’s Approval Required

coming soon


Winter 2015

COMS 200 (CRN 10273) History of Communication (3 credits), Dylan Mulvin, M/W/F, 1135-1225, Arts W-215

Coming soon.

COMS 300 (CRN 13918) Media and Modernity in the 20th Century (3 credits), Prof. Marc Raboy, T/Th, 1435-1555, Arts W-215

An overview of the growth and impact of 20th century media such as radio, television, cinema and the mass-circulation press; their role in shaping the technological, socio-political and aesthetic dimensions of urban modernity.

This course is designed to deal with the relationship between communications media and those social and cultural transformations which have been loosely grouped under the heading of “modernity” in the 20th century. These transformations include the rise of the press and electronic media, widespread urbanization, shifting relationships between elite and popular culture, the development of powerful media institutions, governmental efforts to influence media for various ends through regulation and public policy, and the strategic ‘use’ of media by activist groups for social and political purposes.
The emphasis on “the 20th century” is central to the understanding of the course. Beginning with the discovery by Guglielmo Marconi in 1895 that the electromagnetic, or ‘radio’, spectrum could be used for the transmission and reception of intelligible messages, a new “modern” era of communication was inaugurated. The 20th century saw the introduction of new media like radio and television, and new media practices like advertising, public relations and propaganda. Other communication technologies, like the press, photography, sound recording and motion picture film, combined with the new electronic media to form a “system” of communication that became an integral part of social and cultural life, beginning in the developed economies of Europe and North America and spreading eventually to encompass the globe. Media played an important role in the defining events and social processes of the 20th century worldwide, including the consolidation of a global capitalist economy and the challenges to it, the rise and decline of colonialist and imperialist projects, war and economic crisis, the birth of the welfare state and its neoliberal successor, various iterations of a ‘new world order’, the equating of the idea of ‘the good life’ with that of a consumer society, and the emergence of new social and cultural movements predicated on alternative visions, equality, justice and structural change. Towards the end of the 20th century, the Internet and ‘social media’ ushered in a new set of transformations – which will not figure in the present course except as referents of the transition from ‘then’ to ‘now’.

The course will be organized in three overlapping, roughly chronological sections, mirroring technological changes as follows:
-1895-1930, from the early use of the radio spectrum to the rise of mass media
-1920-1970, press, radio, television; the liberal ideal of mass media for entertainment, education and information; the dominant use of one-way mass communication of persuasion for purposes of political and economic control through propaganda and advertising
-1960-1998, the rise of alternative and oppositional media forms and practices; the beginnings of bi-directional, participatory communication, ‘user-generated content’ etc.

Quizzes: 30%
Assignment: 20th century media user profile - 30%
Assignment: Research paper - 40%

COMS 310 (CRN 10275) Media and Feminist Studies (3 credits), Morgan Charles, M/W/F, 1235-1325, Arts W-215

Coming soon.

COMS 354 (13877) / ARTH 354 (CRN 13876) Selected Topics in Art History 2: "The Visual Culture of Crime" (3 credits), Prof. Will Straw, M, 1435-1725, Arts W-215

The Visual Culture of Crime

The category of "visual culture" encompasses 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.

Please note that there are no tutorials/discussion groups for this class.

Visual Analysis 1: Still Image - 20%
Visual Analysis II: Moving Image - 30%
Readings comments posted to MyCourses - 20%
Final Exam - 30%

COMS 411 (CRN 13921) Disability, Technology and Communications (3 credits), Prof. Jonathan Sterne, Th, 1135-1425, 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 papers (30%)
Dates Project (10%)
Discussion Participation (15%)
Semester Project (45%)

COMS 435 (CRN 13919) Adv Issues in Media Governance (3 credits), Prof. Becky Lentz, T, 0835-1125, Arts W-5

This is an advanced undergraduate seminar that introduces students to the field of scholarly research, policymaking, and public interest advocacy known as “Internet Governance”. Many courses about the Internet feature what people are doing or saying online; in contrast, this seminar covers the structure of the Internet and the technology and politics involved in how it is governed.

Expectations of students in this course are high given that coursework involves taking on a research project for an actual client: an NGO involved in public interest advocacy about Internet governance. For this reason, students should prepare to spend at least 2 hours studying outside of class for every classroom hour: in addition to each weekly 3-­‐hour seminar, students should plan each week to spend at least six hours of study time reading, doing research, and writing related to the final project. In previous seminars, the most successful students often made an investment of nine hours a week, including class time.

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 project that is achieved collaboratively by the entire class.

(CANCELLED) COMS 490 (CRN 13920) / EAST 467 History and Theory of Media (3 credits), Prof. Furuhata, Th, 1335-1725, Arts W-220

Coming soon.

COMS 491 (CRN 12731) Media, Communication and Culture (3 credits), Prof. Gabriella Coleman, W, 1435-1725, Ferrier 230

Hackers, the Class

This course examines computer hackers to interrogate not only the ethics and technical practices of hacking, but to examine more broadly how hackers and hacking have transformed the politics of computing and the Internet more generally. We will examine how hacker values are realized and constituted by different legal, technical, and ethical activities of computer hacking—for example, free software production, cyberactivism and hactivism, cryptography, and the prankish games of hacker underground. We will pay close attention to how ethical principles are variably represented and thought of by hackers, journalists, and academics and we will use the example of hacking to address various topics on law, order, and politics on the Internet such as: free speech and censorship, privacy, security, surveillance, and intellectual property. We finish with an in­depth look at two sites of hacker and activist action: Wikileaks and Anonymous.

Reading Responses - 40% (7 total and see separate sheet for grading rubric).
Questions/participation - 20% (see separate sheet for grading rubric).
Final Writing Assignment - 40% (short essay: what is a hacker? See below for basic description and a longer one is forthcoming)

COMS 497 (14732) Independent Study (3 credits) – Instructor Approval Required.

Coming soon.

(CANCELLED) COMS 541 (CRN 14494) Cultural Industries: “Film and Game Sound Design: “History, Theory, Aesthetics” (3 credits), Prof. Axel Volmar (Mellon PostDoc), M, 1435-1725, Arts W-220

Cultural Industries (Queer Theory, Queer Time)
In this seminar, we will examine the various ways queer theory has complicated, challenged, and appropriated different models of temporality. We will explore questions such as: How is queerness experienced as a form of untimeliness—a being and becoming out-of-step with the normative, linear (“straight”) time of history and of individual and social development? How do queers produce alternative temporalities through new modes of intimacy, textual and visual representations, and forms of kinship? In what way are non-normative genders and sexualities shaped by the fantasies and teleologies imputed by neoliberal culture and by the regulation, management, and imagination of life and death? How are queer thinking and queer politics troubled and enabled by notions of futurity and utopia, hope and optimism, memory and nostalgia, and sociality and negativity? In addressing these questions, we will draw on interventions in queer theory that problematize time through an engagement with psychoanalytic and philosophical discourses, as well as with recent interventions in critical race theory, postcolonial theory, affect theory, and theories of space.

COMS 560 (CRN 13923) Communications and Development (3 credits), Prof. Jenny Burman, T, 1135-1425, Arts W-5

Coming soon.

Summer 2015

COMS 200 (CRN 342) History of Communication – May 4, 2015 -June 4, 2015 on M/T/W/TH 13:35-15:55 in Arts W215.