Have a Question? Contact the Humanities Office or an Academic Unit

CMST 4P03 Social Activism And The Media

Academic Year: Fall 2017

Term: Fall

Day/Evening: D

Instructor: Prof. Andrea Zeffiro

Email: zeffiroa@mcmaster.ca

Office: Togo Salmon Hall 307

Phone: 905-525-9140 x 23503


Office Hours: Tuesday 3:00-5:00

Course Objectives:

This course examines the role of print, electronic and digital media in the relationship between social movements, the state and corporate interests. The course will explore social activism in philosophical and practical terms, and investigate the changing uses of media by social activists. Students who have taken this course should be able to:

  • Describe, discuss and evaluate activist media strategies

  • Debate the benefits and drawbacks of specific activist media strategies

  • Describe, discuss and evaluate the potentials of new media for activist groups

  • Synthesize and evaluate a range of arguments and theories about social activists’ media use and portrayal; analyze and explain the portrayal of social activism in traditional media

  • Discuss the social activists’ use of media to challenge symbolic/cultural forms

  • Discuss the relationship between new trends in social activism and state power

Textbooks, Materials & Fees:

Course materials are available via Avenue to Learn.  Some readings may be accessed through a link provided or as a pdf, and others will require that you log on through the library system in order to access the journal.

Method of Assessment:

Assignment guidelines will be provided at the start of the semester and posted to Avenue to Learn. Due dates are posted below.


Discussion and group work is central to this course. Students are expected to attend class regularly. Participation means coming to class having read the assigned readings, contributing to class discussions, and participating in class exercises and group work. Absenteeism, chronic lateness, and non-participation will affect the final grade. Students are responsible for the following each week: 1) completing the required readings; 2) coming to class with two questions and/or perspectives that you would like to discuss; and, 3) being prepared to present these questions and perspectives in class.

IN-CLASS SHOW + TELL (5%) DUE: September 26

On September 26 we’ll take reflective pause and assess, explore, and discuss broad examples of social activism and the media. Students will employ the theoretical terms and frameworks explored during the first few weeks of class in the ‘showing and telling’ of one artifact that, in their opinion, constitutes ‘social activism and the media’. The guideline for the in-class activity will be provided and discussed during the first class.


Students will write an evocative reflection on the example they brought to class on September 26. The guideline for the assignment will be provided and discussed during the first class.

GROUP PRESENTATION (20%) DUE: Starting October 3

Each week, a group of 3-4 students will lead and moderate a discussion on the readings, incorporating historical and/or contemporary examples that illustrate some of the main ideas, themes or concepts pulled from the readings. This will be followed by an in-class activity designed and led by the group. Each group will submit a one-page summary of their presentation topic. The guideline for group presentations will be provided and discussed at length during the first class.

PROJECT PROPOSAL (10%) DUE: October 30

Students will submit a proposal for their final course project. On October 17st, students will bring 3 copies of their draft proposal to class for peer review. The guideline for the project proposal will be provided at the start of the semester.

PROJECT PRESENTATION (10%) DUE: November 28th / December 5th

Students will present to the class their research project (in-process) in a Pecha Kucha format on November 28th or December 5th. The presentation schedule will be set mid-term. This is an means for students to receive feedback as they work towards project completion. Guidelines will be provided at the start of the semester.

FINAL PROJECT (20%) DUE: December 12th

Students will have an opportunity to produce a research exposé or a hybrid research project. The guidelines for the final project will be provided at the start of the semester.

Policy on Missed Work, Extensions, and Late Penalties:

Late assignments will be penalized 5% per day, including weekends and holidays. Assignments not handed in within one week (7 days) of the due date will receive a 0 grade. E-mailed assignments will not be accepted. Extensions will be given only for documented reasons. A technical difficulty (network outages, hardware or software malfunctions, data loss) does not warrant an extension. Please keep this in mind. Plan accordingly and maintain back-up copies of work.

Please Note the Following Policies and Statements:

Academic Dishonesty

You are expected to exhibit honesty and use ethical behaviour in all aspects of the learning process. Academic credentials you earn are rooted in principles of honesty and academic integrity.

Academic dishonesty is to knowingly act or fail to act in a way that results or could result in unearned academic credit or advantage. This behaviour can result in serious consequences, e.g. the grade of zero on an assignment, loss of credit with a notation on the transcript (notation reads: "Grade of F assigned for academic dishonesty"), and/or suspension or expulsion from the university.

It is your responsibility to understand what constitutes academic dishonesty. For information on the various types of academic dishonesty please refer to the Academic Integrity Policy, located at www.mcmaster.ca/academicintegrity

The following illustrates only three forms of academic dishonesty:

  1. Plagiarism, e.g. the submission of work that is not one’s own or for which other credit has been obtained.
  2. Improper collaboration in group work.
  3. Copying or using unauthorized aids in tests and examinations.

Email correspondence policy

It is the policy of the Faculty of Humanities that all email communication sent from students to instructors (including TAs), and from students to staff, must originate from each student’s own McMaster University email account. This policy protects confidentiality and confirms the identity of the student.  Instructors will delete emails that do not originate from a McMaster email account.

Modification of course outlines

The University reserves the right to change dates and/or deadlines etc. for any or all courses in the case of an emergency situation or labour disruption or civil unrest/disobedience, etc. If a modification becomes necessary, reasonable notice and communication with the students will be given with an explanation and the opportunity to comment on changes. Any significant changes should be made in consultation with the Department Chair.

McMaster Student Absence Form (MSAF)

In the event of an absence for medical or other reasons, students should review and follow the Academic Regulation in the Undergraduate Calendar Requests for Relief for Missed Academic Term Work. Please note these regulations have changed beginning Fall 2015. You can find information at mcmaster.ca/msaf/. If you have any questions about the MSAF, please contact your Associate Dean's office.

Academic Accommodation of Students with Disabilities

Students who require academic accommodation must contact Student Accessibility Services (SAS) to make arrangements with a Program Coordinator. Academic accommodations must be arranged for each term of study. Student Accessibility Services can be contacted by phone 905-525-9140 ext. 28652 or e-mail sas@mcmaster.ca. For further information, consult McMaster University's Policy for Academic Accommodation of Students with Disabilities.

Academic Accommodation for Religious, Indigenous and Spiritual Observances

Students requiring academic accommodation based on religion and spiritual observances should follow the procedures set out in the Course Calendar or by their respective Faculty. In most cases, the student should contact his or her professor or academic advisor as soon as possible to arrange accommodations for classes, assignments, tests and examinations that might be affected by a religious holiday or spiritual observance.

Topics and Readings:

Tuesday, September 5, 2016 - Introduction To The Course


Zenger, J., and Folkman, J. (2016 July 14). What great listeners actually do. Harvard Business Review. Online: https://hbr.org/2016/07/what-great-listeners-actually-do

Tuesday, September 12, 2016 - Social Activism, The Media, And Communication Technologies


Martin, Brian. (2007). Activism, social and political. In Gary L. Anderson and Kathryn G. Herr (eds.), Encyclopedia of Activism and Social Justice. (pp.19-27). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. Online: http://www.bmartin.cc/pubs/07Anderson.html

To explore:

Tactical Tech. The Info-Activism How-To Guide. Online: https://howto.informationactivism.org/

FLOSS Manuals. (2014). Tech Tools For Activists. Online: http://www.flossmanuals.net/tech-tools-for-activism/

Tuesday, September 19, 2016 - Social Movements: An Introduction


Staggenborg, Suzanne. (2008). ‘Introduction’ & ‘Issues in the study of social movements and collective action’. In Social Movements. (pp. 1-10, 23, 26-42). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Johnston, Hank. (2014). What do social movements do? In What is a social movement? (pp. 94-117). Cambridge: Polity Press.

Tuesday, September 26, 2016 - Show + Tell


Tuesday, October 3, 2016 - Truth, Reconciliation & Decolonization in Theory & Practice


Bloom, Liza Minno., Carnine, Berkley. (2016 October 4). Towards Decolonization and Settler Responsibility. Unsettling America: Decolonization in Theory & Practice. Online: https://unsettlingamerica.wordpress.com/2016/10/04/towards-decolonization-and-settler-responsibility-reflections-on-a-decade-of-indigenous-solidarity-organizing/

Residential Schools. (2015 October 7). Canadaland. Available:  http://www.canadalandshow.com/podcast/residential-schools/ 

Wiart, Nikki. (2015 June 23). Crowd-sourced video project aims to make TRC report more accessible. CBC News. Online: http://www.cbc.ca/news/indigenous/crowd-sourced-video-project-aims-to-make-trc-report-more-accessible-1.3123525

To explore:

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: http://www.trc.ca/websites/trcinstitution/index.php?p=3

Bascaramurty, Dakshana. (2017 July 1). ‘A horrible history’: Four Indigenous views on Canada 150. The Globe & Mail. Online: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/canada-150/canada-day-indigenous-perspectives-on-canada-150/article35498737/

Tuesday, October 17, 2016 - Culture Jamming: From Anti-Globalization To Corporatized Cultural Activism


Harold, Christine. (2004). Pranking rhetoric: “Culture jamming” as media activism. Critical Studies in Media Communication, 21(3), 189-211.

To explore:

#newsbrok.(2016). White Fragility Workplace Training Video: https://amp.twimg.com/v/2d5eeb9b-db4d-436c-a543-0d79f52c61d9

Whitford, Emma. (2015 April 27). Black Lives Matter protesters stock Forever 21 with ‘Never 21’ t-shirts. Gothamist. Online: http://gothamist.com/2015/04/27/black_lives_matter_forever_21.php

Klein, Naomi. (2017 April 12). How to Jam the Trump Brand. The Intercept. Online: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-mxExkIVw-c

Tuesday, October 24, 2016 - DIY Cultural Production, and The [Contested] Legacy of Feminist Zines


Atton, Chris. (2011). Zines. In John D.H. Downing (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Social Movement Media. (pp. 565-567). London: Sage. PDF

Zobl, Elke. (2009). Cultural production, transnational networking, and critical reflection in feminist zines. Signs, 35(1), 1-12.

To explore:

Hanna, Kathleen. (1991). History is a weapon: Riot Grrrl manifesto. Bikki Kill Zine 2. http://www.historyisaweapon.com/defcon1/riotgrrrlmanifesto.html

‘Anti-Oppression Zines’. Sprout Distro. Online: https://www.sproutdistro.com/catalog/zines/anti-oppression/

Tuesday, October 31, 2016 - Digital Activism in Focus: #IdleNoMore


Barker, Adam J. (2015). ‘A Direct Act of Resurgence, a Direct Act of Sovereignty’: Reflections on Idle No More, Indigenous Activism, and Canadian Settler Colonialism. Globalizations, 12:1, 43-65.

Coulthard, Glen. (2014 December 24). #IdleNoMore in Historical Context. Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society. Online: https://decolonization.wordpress.com/2012/12/24/idlenomore-in-historical-context/

To explore:

Idle No More: http://www.idlenomore.ca/

Tuesday, November 7, 2016 - Digital Civil Disobedience: Data Hacks, Data Dumps, and the Ethics of Data Publicity


Züger, Theresa., and Milan, Stefania. (2015). Sand in the information society machine: How digital technologies change and challenge the paradigms of civil disobedience. The Fibreculture Journal, 26. Online: http://twentysix.fibreculturejournal.org/fcj-192-sand-in-the-information-society-machine-how-digital-technologies-change-and-challenge-the-paradigms-of-civil-disobedience/

To explore:

Wikileaks: https://wikileaks.org/

Tuesday, November 14, 2016 - Activist Spaces: The Dakota Access Pipeline + Standing Rock


Glenn, Evelyn Nakano. (2015). Settler Colonialism as structure: A framework for comparative studies of U.S. race and gender formation. Sociology of Race and Ethnicity 1(1), 54-74.

Estes, Nick. (2016 September 18). Fighting for Our Lives: #NoDAPL in Historical Context. The Red Nation. Online: https://therednation.org/2016/09/18/fighting-for-our-lives-nodapl-in-context/

To explore:

Standing Rock: http://standingrock.org/

Tuesday, November 21, 2016 - Black Lives Matter: A Movement Unfolding


Rickford, Russell. (2015 December 28). Black Lives Matter: Toward a modern practice of mass struggle. New Labor Forum. Online: http://newlaborforum.cuny.edu/2015/12/28/black-lives-matter-practice-of-mass-struggle/

Simpson, Leanne. (2014 December 4). An Indigenous View on #BlackLivesMatter. Yes! Magazine. Online: http://www.yesmagazine.org/peace-justice/indigenous-view-black-lives-matter-leanne-simpson

To explore:

The Equal Justice Initiative. (2016). From slavery to mass incarceration. Online: http://www.creativeresistance.org/slavery-to-mass-incarceration/

Roose, Kevin. (2015 July 21). The next time someone says ‘all lives matter,’ show them these 5 paragraphs. Fusion.net. Online: http://fusion.net/story/170591/the-next-time-someone-says-all-lives-matter-show-them-these-5-paragraphs/

Tuesday, November 28, 2016 - Project Presentations

Schedule to be determined.

Tuesday, December 5, 2016 - Project Presentations

Schedule to be determined.