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CMST 2BB3 Culture & Communication (C01)

Academic Year: Winter 2019

Term: Winter

Day/Evening: D

Instructor: Prof. Dale Shin

Email: shindale@mcmaster.ca

Office: Togo Salmon Hall 333

Phone: 905-525-9140 x

Office Hours: TBA, TSH 333



Course Objectives:

An introduction to theoretical and methodological approaches to cultural studies focusing on communicative practice. Students will analyse relationships between cultural identity, producers, consumers, institutions, technologies and practices of mediated communication.

This course considers culture as one of the primary sites and scenes of communication in the modern world, in order to grasp its underpinnings and identify its significance. Students will be introduced to some of the dominant theoretical approaches and critiques within communication studies, in order to bring these to bear upon some different contemporary examples of culture and cultural production, across a range of genres, forms, and practices – television, film, music, photography, among others.

Possible topics of focus include the transfiguration, and restabilization, of the division between “high” and “low” or popular culture; debates around globalization as Americanization and cultural imperialism vs. globalization as hybridity and creolization, and the persistence of nationalist politics, especially in relation to diasporic cultural identities and production; representations of “difference” (race, gender, sexuality, class, ability) in contemporary popular culture, art, and media.

Upon completion of the course, students will

  • specify the tensions, as well as traffic, between popular/non-academic and scholarly/academic conceptions of culture
  • be able to critique specific cultural products and practices from our own lives – music and fashion trends, television programs and films, sporting events and spectacles, and so on – as well as the particular desires, identifications, and intimacies they at once solicit and mobilize
  • understand the complex and contradictory role that power, political economy, and identity play in the production, distribution, and consumption of culture in our society.


Textbooks, Materials & Fees:

All readings will be available on Avenue to Learn, through Google Books, or via the McMaster library catalogue. There are no texts that need to be purchased for this course.


Method of Assessment:

Attendance (10%)

Students will be graded for regular, punctual attendance in classes. Attendance will be taken during most classes. At the end of the term, the total number of classes attended by a student will be divided by the total number of classes held (e.g., twenty two classes attended out of twenty six classes held will result in a 85% for participation in the course). Absences due to illness, bereavement, etc., supported by documentation, will not count against the participation grade.

Quizzes (15% + 15%) – Feb 8, Mar 8

Students will write two in-class quizzes during the term. Each quiz will be based on material (both readings and lectures) covered up to the date of the quiz in question.

Critical reflection paper (30%) – Apr 9, 11:59PM

Students will submit a paper (1500-2000 words), drawing upon course assigned materials and secondary sources to explore a particular concept, idea, or theme in relation to the study of culture (e.g., high culture, popular culture, mass culture, subculture, difference and culture, global or national culture, postmodern culture, the nature-culture binary) at length. A range of questions will be provided at the outset of the course. Further instructions will be provided in class and shared on Avenue to Learn in the first week of classes.

Final exam (30%) – during exam period

Students will write a final exam during the official final exam period at the end of the semester. The exam will be based on material (both readings and lectures) covered up to the last class of the semester.


Policy on Missed Work, Extensions, and Late Penalties:

Assignments must be submitted by the exact date and time specified. Late submissions will be penalized 3% for each day – including Saturdays and Sundays – that they are overdue. Submissions that are more than five days late will not be accepted and will instead receive a 0% grade. Students are responsible for retaining a back-up copy of their work; computer hardware or software malfunctions, network outages, data loss or corruption, and other common problems of a technical nature are not in and of themselves sufficient grounds for having the penalties for late submissions waived.

Requests for extensions by reason of extenuating circumstances will be considered by the instructor on a case-by-case basis, and only with the provision of supporting documentation (i.e., a completed McMaster Student Absence form). Extensions will only be offered in exceptional cases; students should not assume their provision.


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:

Jan 8-11. Introduction: Defining “Culture”

  1. Raymond Williams, “Culture,” in Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society, rev ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1983), 87-93
  2. Toby Miller, “What It Is and What It Isn’t: Cultural Studies Meets Graduate-Student Labor,” Yale Journal of Law & the Humanities, Vol. 13 (60) (2001): 69-94

Jan 15-18. The Medium Is the Message: Technology, Culture, and the Problem of Determinism

  1. Marshall McLuhan, “The Medium Is the Message” and “Media Hot and Cold,” in Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (London; New York: Routledge, 2001), 7-35

Jan 22-25. Signs Taken for Wonders: Semiotics, Cultural Studies, and Representation

  1. Stuart Hall, “The Work of Representation,” in Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices, ed. Stuart Hall (London: Sage Publications, 1997), 15-41

Jan 29-Feb 1. The Camera Obscura of Ideology: Culture, Class, and Inequality

  1. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, “The Ruling Class and the Ruling Ideas,” in Media and Cultural Studies: KeyWorks, eds. Meenakshi Gigi Durham and Douglas Kellner (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2006), 9-12
  2. Karl Marx, “Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right: Introduction” in The Marx-Engels Reader, ed. Robert C. Tucker (London; New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1978), 53-65
  3. Christian Fuchs, “Karl Marx and the Study of Media and Culture Today,” Culture Unbound: Journal of Current Cultural Research 6 (2014): 39-76

Feb 5-8. On the Culture Industry: Critical Theory and the Critique of Mass Culture

  1. Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno, “The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception,” in Dialectic of Enlightenment: Philosophical Fragments, trans. Edmund Jephcott (Stanford, Ca.: Stanford University Press, 2002), 94-136

Feb 12-15. Counterculture?: Resistance, Subcultures, and Incorporation

  1. Dick Hebdige, “(i) From Culture to Hegemony; (ii) Subculture: The Unnatural Break,” in Media and Cultural Studies: KeyWorks, eds. Meenakshi Gigi Durham and Douglas Kellner (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2006), 144-162

Feb 18-24. Midterm recess (no classes) 

Feb 26-Mar 1. Culture and Its Others: Racing Representation, Representing “Race”

  1. Stuart Hall, “The Spectacle of the ‘Other,’” in Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices, ed. Stuart Hall (London: Sage Publications, 1997), 239-277
  2. Edward W. Said, “Introduction to Orientalism,” in The Edward Said Reader, eds. Moustafa Bayoumi and Andrew Rubin (New York: Vintage Books, 2000), 67-92

Mar 5-8. Gender and Sexuality in the Field of Vision

  1. Laura Mulvey, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” in Film Theory and Criticism: Introductory Readings, eds. Leo Braudy and Marshall Cohen (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 833-44 
  2. Rosalind Gill, “Empowerment/Sexism: Figuring Female Sexual Agency in Contemporary Advertising,” Feminism & Psychology 18, no. 1 (2008), 35-60

Mar 12-15. The Globalization of Culture: Nationalism, Diaspora, and Imagination

  1. Arjun Appadurai, “Disjuncture and Difference in the Global Cultural Economy,” Theory, Culture & Society 7 (1990): 295-310
  2. TBA

Mar 15. Last day for cancelling classes without failure by default.

Mar 19-22. Desert of the Real: Postmodern Culture

  1. Jean Baudrillard, “Precession of Simulacra,” in Media and Cultural Studies: KeyWorks, eds Meenakshi Gigi Durham and Douglas Kellner (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2006), 453-481
  2. Roger Stahl, “War Games,” in Militainment, Inc.: War, Media, and Popular Culture (London; New York: Routledge, 2010), 91-112

Mar 26-29. Fear of a Cyborg Planet: Redefining Culture, Nature, and the (Post)human

  1. Donna Haraway, “A Cyborg Manifesto,” in Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature (New York: Routledge, 1991), 149-181
  2. Kim Tofoletti, “Origins and Identity in a Biotech World,” in Cyborgs and Barbie Dolls: Feminism, Popular Culture, and the Posthuman Body (London; New York: I.B. Tauris, 2007), 133-160

Apr 2-5. Trauma, Cultural Memory, and Witnessing: Communicating the Incommunicable

  1. Giorgio Agamben, “The Witness,” in Remnants of Auschwitz: The Witness and the Archive (New York: Zone Books, 1999), 15-39
  2. Matthew Boswell, “Inglourious Basterds (Quentin Tarantino),” in Holocaust Impiety (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012), 173-184

Apr 9. Summary and outro


Other Course Information:

Lectures will normally incorporate various kinds of multimedia and visual aids, including slideware presentation software (e.g., PowerPoint). As a rule, these presentations will be made available (as .ppt files) to students for download immediately before the corresponding class.