Graduate Courses in Communication Studies 2016-2017

Fall 2016

COMS 616 (CRN 1594) Staff-Student Colloquium (3 credits) Prof. Darin Barney, M, 1135-1425, Arts W-5

This course introduces incoming AHCS graduate students to the field of communication studies and to the expectations and requirements of the MA and PhD programs in communication studies at McGill University. The course involves a review of selected materials in the field of communication studies grounded in interdisciplinary, critical, anti-oppression, and/or interpretive perspectives. Students are expected to prepare for each seminar by completing the assigned readings and related activities, actively taking part in seminar discussions and events in the department, and completing a series of writing assignments. Attendance is mandatory. The course will be augmented by specialized seminars given by the departmental faculty in their respective fields.

Course requirements:
Seminar participation - 50%
Short papers (x10) - 50%

Seminar participation will consist of vigorous engagement in weekly discussions of assigned texts. Consistent failure to attend or participate will be penalized.

Short papers will consist of brief essays (500 words max. except where indicated).
The distribution of essays will be as follows:
- 2 essays Weeks 1 and 2
- 7 essays from Weeks 4-11 (critical responses to one or more of assigned readings; note special instructions for some weeks as indicated)
- 1 essay Week 12

COMS 630 (CRN 12473) Readings in Communications Research 1 (3 credits) Instructor’s approval required

Instructor’s approval required

COMS 646 (CRN 22499) / EAST 600 (CRN 22408) Popular Media: “Comparative Media and Critical Area Studies” (3 credits) Prof. Yuriko Furuhata, Th, 1235-1525, SH 688 room 495

This seminar aims to bridge the institutional and geopolitical distance that separates media studies from area studies through the framework of comparative media. The historicity of “comparison” as an epistemological problem haunts established humanities disciplines such as area studies, comparative literature, and anthropology, and the comparative method has gained critical attention alongside recent transnational, global, and cosmopolitan approaches to research objects. This general move away from the taken-for-granted unity of the nation-state and language, which has been the premise of area studies, coincided with an equally expansive approach to the definition of media within media studies. Scholars working in the fields of infrastructure studies, media archaeology, and media ecology have redefined the parameter of media to include a plethora of media objects – both old and new – and developed new alliances with scholars working in area studies, anthropology, environmental studies, and science and technology studies. In light of these shifting boundaries of area studies and media studies, how might we critically displace North America as default center of media studies, all the while going beyond the specialist understanding of a nation, region, or area that scholars of non-Western media often presuppose? How might we situate our own methodological, theoretical, and political stance within the emergent interdisciplinary terrain of comparative media studies?

The goal of this seminar is thus twofold: 1) students are encouraged to reflect critically on their assumed geopolitical “area” of their study and its claim to universality and/or particularity; 2) students are encouraged to compare, contrast, and synthesize different methodological and disciplinary approaches introduced in class with a keen sense of their affinities and differences.

Assignments and Evaluation
Class participation & Weekly Response Papers - 40 %
Midterm Workshop - 25 %
Research Proposal - 35 %

COMS 647 (CRN 21984) / ARTH 730 (CRN 19316) Emerging Media (3 credits) Prof. Carrie Rentschler, Th, 1135-1425, Arts W-5

Course Description: This course examines the cultural, historical and political conditions of emergent media and the social configurations generative of them. This term’s seminar focuses on a range of conceptual frameworks for understanding the social conditions in which new media and technology emerge and the forms of social and political collectivity shaped in and by them. Our goal this semester is to deepen our understandings of contemporary theory of new and emergent media and develop robust conceptual frameworks for analyzing the cultural practices, modes of sociality and configurations of power and resistance at stake in the emergence of new media systems and technologies.

The following questions will guide some of our exploration: What constitutes the conditions of media emergence? How do media historians and cultural studies scholars approach the creation of “new” media with a view toward longer genealogies of social practice (for example, around histories of slavery, colonialism and surveillance)? How are practices of self-making and social collectivity linked to the emergence of media forms and systems (such as in the quantified self movement, for example)? How are emergent social formations – as Raymond Williams might ask -- formed by and through technological and media developments (for example, in the forms of aggregate subjectivity we find in video aggregators, comment culture, and other sharing platforms)?

Our course readings have been chosen to help us better conceptualize and analyze the relationships between cultural practices, social formations, and changing media environments and tools. Each text fleshes out and deepens the critical frameworks available to us for understanding and conceptualizing what constitutes “the emergent” in social formations and technological systems, in radically contextual ways. Course readings are drawn from literature in Cultural Studies, media history, social media studies, new media studies, feminist and queer technology studies, Black studies, and surveillance studies, among others. Course texts explore key concepts in new media and digital culture as well as case studies in the cultural politics of contemporary social media, cultures of surveillance, and data systems. Most weeks’ readings are accompanied by short passages on digital keywords in the field.

Weekly Short Writing Assignments [ungraded but required; 15% of final grade]
Discussion Facilitation [15% of final grade]
Seminar Paper Proposal [20% of final grade]
Peer-Workshop of Draft Seminar Paper [ungraded but required; 10% of final grade]
Seminar Paper [40% of final grade]

COMS 675 (CRN 18662) / ARTH 731 (CRN 21403) Media and Urban Life / Current Problems in Art History: topic "Media and Urban Life" (3 credits) Prof. Will Straw, F, 1135-1425, Arts W-5

Coming soon.

COMS 683 (CRN 22003) Special Topics in Media and Politics: “Critical Policy Studies” (3 credits) Prof. Becky Lentz, W, 1135-1425, Ferrier 230

The subfield of policy studies referred to as “critical policy studies” challenges established accounts and norms of policy-analytic methods. Critical policy studies scholars explore alternative approaches to policy-making that pertain to democratic forms of governance, participatory practices, social justice, and general public welfare. This orientation to policy formation, policy analysis, and policy evaluation necessitates an emphasis on the interplay between qualitative and quantitative modes of inquiry. The course thus moves beyond narrow empirical approaches to pay special attention to critical, interpretive, and discursive orientations.

To apply course readings, students will select a specific policy issue involving an inequity in a policy domain of their own choosing (e.g., environment, housing, reproductive rights, health, migration, incarceration, education, media justice, racialization, immigration, sexuality, homelessness, poverty, etc.). Students will learn to write a Policy Memo arguing the benefits of a critical policy studies approach to their chosen issue area.

At minimum, by the end of the course, students should be able to:
• Demonstrate in discussion and writing an increased awareness of the value of alternative models and approaches to policy formation, analysis, and evaluation;
• Drawing on selected readings from the course, develop a convincing rationale for a critical policy perspective on a policy issue of their choosing; and
• Learn how to draft a Policy Memo from a critical policy studies perspective

• Participation 60%: attendance and quality of required weekly reading reflections, substantive contributions to seminar discussion, and oral presentations in seminar
• Final paper and presentation of paper (40%) that demonstrates the ability to apply a critical policy perspective to a dominant policy genre: the Policy Memo. The assignment demands synthesizing course readings into an actual policy argument, in this case, a convincing rationale (with examples from the student’s chosen policy issue area) for requiring a course in critical policy studies as part of McGill’s forthcoming new major/minor concentration in Public Policy.

COMS 692 (CRN 3404) M.A. Thesis Preparation 1 (6 credits)

Preparatory work towards the Master's thesis.

COMS 693 (CRN 3405) M.A. Thesis Preparation 2 (6 credits)

Preparatory work towards the Master's thesis.

COMS 694 (CRN 3406) M.A. Thesis Preparation 3 (6 credits)

Preparatory work towards the Master's thesis.

COMS 695 (CRN 3407) M.A. Thesis Preparation 4 (6 credits)

Preparatory work towards the Master's thesis.

COMS 702 (CRN 7097) Comprehensive Exam (0 credits)

Comprehensive examination as per departmental procedure.

COMS 703 (CRN 4271) Dissertation Proposal (0 credits)

Dissertation proposal.

COMS 730 (CRN 3408) Readings in Communication Research 2 (3 credits) Instructor’s approval required

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


Winter 2017

COMS 611 (CRN 16067) / ARTH 731 (16952) History/Theory/Technology: “Materialities in Comparative Perspective” (3 credits) Prof. Jonathan Sterne, F, 1135-1425, Arts W-5

This seminar will engage with a number of new approaches to materiality and its various others in the history and theory of technology, from a variety of disciplinary and epistemological perspectives. The term materiality is everywhere in humanities discourse right now. Scholars who agree on nothing else will still speak in the name of materiality or appeal to it at key moments in their arguments. In this class, we will examine some competing approaches to the “material” dimensions of media, culture, and technology. Is materiality the key to a new theory of the human and ecology? Is it a path back to old arguments about base and superstructure? Is embodiment a form of materiality or subject to it? Is materiality found in the workings of machinery, infrastructure, or standards? Relations of power and difference? Is it a path out of the maze of discourse or a supreme form of academic self-delusion? Is materiality the base of our existence or a product of it? Does materiality offer us better theories of power or take us away from the contests of politics?

This is also a course in the crafts of writing media history and constructing theory. To this end, we will engage assigned texts through a practice of hermeneutic reverse-engineering. We will read from the inside out, engaging the intersections of history, theory and technology through a careful understanding of the discursive fields from which our authors draw and to which they contribute. Every scholar should practice and develop their skills in these areas. Every humanities thesis makes historical claims (many have a “history chapter”) and there is no such thing as atheoretical scholarship, only scholarship unaware of its own theoretical implications.

We will engage history and theory by thinking through how others write it, by imitating them, and in our imperfect imitations, try out a wide variety of styles, adaptations, and methods. This is a class in practice, more in the musician’s sense of “go home and practice” than the activist’s sense of “moving from theory to praxis.” Class time will feature discussion of assigned texts and those generated by students, lectures, and occasional creative, collaborative, or experimental projects. In lieu of a major term paper, students will produce a series of short essays according to the protocol defined below, and a final revision essay that makes use of prior work from the course. There will be guest stars.

Product (and % of semester grade):
I. Participation (20%)
II. Semester Project (80%), aka, “The Process. Commit to the process.”

COMS 627 (CRN 16781) Global Media Governance (3 credits) Prof. Marc Raboy, W, 1435-1725, Arts W-5

A diverse array of political, economic, social and cultural processes have traditionally shaped media and communication systems and their governance at the national level, rooted within territorial boundaries. Within a context of globalization, however, local and national media and communication systems have been evolving and forced to adapt, increasingly, to transnational dimensions of media and communication policy. This trend has influenced the emergence of a global media and communication system that now demands attention to new policy issues, innovative approaches to these issues, and consideration for the assortment of policy actors, processes and structures that support their governance. For example, the convergence of the media and telecommunications sectors, shifting regulatory demands, the emergence of the Internet and social media, and changing communication needs affect policies that operate simultaneously at the local and global levels but which still pass through the national domain.

This course will cover key issues that arise in the context of emergent spaces for global media policy governance. These issues include the fundamental relationship between media policy and democracy, the role of civil society in shaping global media policy, as well as core topics such as internet governance, concentration of media ownership, access to technologies, intellectual property, communication rights and the role of media in reflecting cultural diversity.

The course will draw from a variety of policy, institutional, theoretical and analytic texts. Students will be encouraged to consider the utility and methods of mapping the shifting media policy landscape in order to critically reflect upon issues, opportunities and challenges for actors, processes and policy activities taking shape in the global arena.

COMS 630 (CRN 4374) Readings in Communication Research 1 (3 credits) Instructor’s approval required

Coming soon.

COMS 683 (CRN 16069) Special Topics in Media and Politics: “Infrastructure” (3 credits) Prof. Darin Barney, Th, 1135-1425, Arts W-5

“We are going to fix our inner cities and rebuild our highways, bridges, tunnels, airports, schools, hospitals. We’re going to rebuild our infrastructure, which will become, by the way, second to none. And we will put millions of our people to work as we rebuild it.”
          - US President-elect Donald Trump. Election victory speech, New York, New York, 9 November 2016.
"We've invested more in infrastructure in 10 months than the Conservatives did in five years."
         - Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Press conference, Ottawa, Ontario, 21 September 2016.
Among the conditions of possibility of 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 imaginations, economies and geographies? Drawing on an emergent, interdisciplinary literature, this seminar will explore theoretical and empirical studies of the social, political and environmental dimensions of infrastructure across the terrains of communication, 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.

Course requirements:
Seminar participation - 25%
Seminar presentation - 25%
Term Paper (5000-6500 words) - 50% 

COMS 692 (CRN 1458) M.A. Thesis Preparation 1 (6 credits)

Preparatory work towards the Master's thesis.

COMS 693 (CRN 1459) M.A. Thesis Preparation 2 (6 credits)

Preparatory work towards the Master's thesis.

COMS 694 (CRN 1460) M.A. Thesis Preparation 3 (6 credits)

Preparatory work towards the Master's thesis.

COMS 695 (CRN 1461) M.A. Thesis Preparation 4 (6 credits)

Preparatory work towards the Master's thesis.

COMS 702 (CRN 6119) Comprehensive Exam (0 credits)

Comprehensive examination as per departmental procedure.

COMS 703 (CRN 3269) Dissertation Proposal (0 credits)

Dissertation proposal.

COMS 730 (CRN 1462) Readings in Communications Research 2 (3 credits) Instructor’s approval required

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