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CMST 4M03 Communication, Culture & Tech (C01)

Academic Year: Winter 2020

Term: Winter

Day/Evening: D

Instructor: Prof. Lyndsey Beutin


Office: Togo Salmon Hall 309

Phone: 905-525-9140 x 25211

Office Hours: Thursdays 12-2pm

Course Objectives:

Course Description

This course offers a social constructivist approach to the study of technology. Rather than see technology as an autonomous agent of change in the world, we will approach technology as a product of the social, historical, cultural, and power relations of those who make and use technologies. Our central animating question will be: How do technologies conceal and reveal structures of power and oppression? Can technology really “fix” longstanding social inequities? What new worlds are possible if we accurately understand the limitations and affordances of new technologies?

Through a series of case studies that investigate the social implications of transforming social institutions through technology – spanning health care, policing, genetic testing, and movements for Black and Indigenous self-determination – we will question why we so often pin our hopes for the future on technological innovation, and alternatively, why we so often articulate our anxieties about our place in the world through dystopic visions of technology. We will develop a healthy skepticism of easy fixes and a deep knowledge of structural problems. Taken together, we will be prepared to assess which tech innovations make meaningful changes, for better, for worse, and which simply reshuffle existing patterns of discrimination.

Learning Objectives

  1. Develop critical thinking and writing skills and group facilitation skills.
  2. Describe how structures of power, privilege, and oppression operate.
  3. Analyze the relationships among history, power, identity, technology, society, and freedom movements.
  4. Conduct research without using Google Search.
  5. Connect critical thinking about technology to your personal everyday technology use.
  6. Assess, with precision, what changes and what stays the same in any given “new media” practice/technology/system and why that matters.
  7. Appreciate the gravity of skepticism about tech and digital utopianism.
  8. Develop fluency with, and intellectual courage for, discussing difficult pasts and politically sensitive issues within group settings.

Textbooks, Materials & Fees:

  • Broussard, M. (2019). Artificial Unintelligence: How Computers Misunderstand the World. Boston: MIT Press.
  • Noble, S. (2018). Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism. New York: NYU Press.

NOTE: Books are available for purchase in the University bookstore. Broussard (2019) is also available as an e-book through the library and Noble (2018) is on hard copy course reserve in the library.

Method of Assessment:

Course Requirements

  • Discussion Leader & Reflection: 10%
  • 24 hours without Google Project (two parts): 20%
  • Black Mirror Episode Pitch: 20%
  • Final Topic & Sources Exercise: 5%
  • Tech Specialist Final Project: 30%
  • Participation (including weekly discussion question post): 15%

Note: You must complete all assignments in order to pass the class.


Due Dates

  • Jan. 27 – 24hrs without Google Log
  • Feb. 3 – 24hrs without Google Paper
  • March 2 – Black Mirror Episode Pitch
  • March 16 – Tech Specialist Topic & Sources
  • March 30 – Draft Thesis Statement
  • April 17 – Tech Specialist Final Project (paper and op-ed)
  • Ongoing – Discussion Leader & Reflection



  1. Weekly Discussion Questions: Post one discussion question related to the readings each week to A2L by Sunday at 5pm.
  2. Discussion Leader & Reflection: Working in teams of two, you will be responsible for leading the discussion on one week of the semester. You should summarize the key points of the readings, prepare 3-5 interesting discussion questions, and offer at least one interactive or multimedia component. Your discussion must bring in one example of how the readings relate to a Canadian example. After your class, you will write an individual one-page reflection that analyzes the discussion, assesses your facilitation, and details your goals, what new insights you gained from discussing the topic in class, and what you might have done differently. Reflections are due one week after you lead class discussion. Please also attach your written lesson plan for the class.
  3. 24 hours without Google Project (4-5pgs): What would it feel like to live without Google search? Over two 12-hour awake periods, you will record every time that you consider searching for something via Google, describe what you were looking for, and what you did instead to find the information. You are encouraged to find information in alternative ways, such as conversation, speculation, brainstorming, not knowing, using library skills, and going directly to a source. We will share and discuss your 24-hour logs in class. You will then write a 4-5 page reflective essay on the experience, detailing what it felt like to not use Google, what you learned about the functions search plays in your daily life, what functions can be duplicated without the use of Google, and which are (or seem to be) inherent capabilities of the tool. In your reflection, speculate on whether you think Google makes life better or worse affectively, noting how this compares and contrasts with Safiya Noble’s structural critique of the platform. How does the structural relate to the affective? How does your positionality inform your answer? This assignment will raise your awareness of how pervasive media technologies are in our daily lives, encourage you to practice new research skills, and help you make connections between the critical work we have been doing in class and your personal media consumption practices. It will also help you engage with new media pessimism in a more personal and embodied way. You must attach your logs to your paper when you turn it in.
  4. Black Mirror Episode Pitch (5-6pgs): Choose one case study from class (artificial intelligence, policing, medicine, algorithms, etc.) and develop a dystopian plot imagining what the near-future of widespread adoption of the technology would result in. Use your creativity to explain to a public audience the potential negative and positive implications of the technology. Make sure that you show, through your episode, what bringing a social constructivist approach to technology can help society better understand about itself and our collective choices.
  5. Tech Specialist Final Project (8 pgs + Letter): You will choose one new technology to specialize in. In order to become a specialist, you will tinker with the tech for one month and find 5 academic sources on your chosen technology and 3 media sources. You will then write a 8-page synthetic essay on your specialty that details what your chosen technology changes about how communication and culture work. In your paper, you should also speculate on what you see as the positive and negative implications of widespread adoption of the technology in society. You will then apply your specialist knowledge as a one-page letter to the editor where you advocate for the inclusion or elimination of the technology in the local public school system.
  6. Participation: As a class, we will work together and help each other to better understand the histories, policies, and contexts that shape the development of new technology and online tools. This course requires a lot of in-class and out-of-class participation, including taking risks and developing your intellectual courage. Your participation grade will consist of your attendance, your preparedness for class (all readings should be completed before class), verbal contributions to class discussions, individual contributions to in-class solo activities and small group work, and your weekly discussion question post.

Policy on Missed Work, Extensions, and Late Penalties:

Attendance and Participation

In order to build our community and work through difficult concepts, it is extremely important that you attend all class sessions. Since this is an advanced seminar, in-class participation is required for everyone to get the most out of the experience. More than 1 absence is grounds for receiving a ZERO for your participation grade (15% of final grade). Students are responsible for all assignments, instructions, lecture notes, etc. they may miss during an absence. If you miss class, it is your responsibility to get notes from a classmate, and to be prepared for the next class meeting, with all assignments/readings ready. Do not expect the instructor to provide notes or to recap the material for you.

Class attendance also means that you are punctual, stay for the duration of class, and are prepared to participate in the class. You should come to class having read the readings listed for that class meeting. You should be actively engaged in group activities and discussions. If it becomes clear that students are not prepared for class and/or are engaging in inappropriate texting, online chat, etc. during class time, your participation grade will suffer. Regardless of absence, late arrival, or early departure, students are responsible for any announcements made at the beginning and/or end of class.

Late Assignments

If you are absent from class on the day that an assignment is due, you must email the instructor the assignment by the start of class that day to avoid deductions for lateness. I am very flexible with extensions for assignments in my seminar classes; however, you MUST communicate with me in advance of the due date. If you need an extension on a paper or project, you must email me to discuss the situation 24 hours before the paper is due. If I don’t hear from you in advance, late assignments will be subject to one full letter grade deduction for each day the assignment is late. (For example, an A paper turned in two days late becomes a C paper). Because the class moves quickly, late assignments will put you behind and you will have trouble catching up so try to adhere to stated deadlines.

Announcements & Adjustments

The instructor reserves the right to make adjustments in the schedule. Regardless of attendance, students are responsible for all announcements made in class, including adjustments to readings and assignments. Students are responsible for regularly checking A2L for any information that may be distributed online.

Format for Written Assignments

All written assignments must be typed in 12-point Times New Roman font, double-spaced, with standard one-inch margins and in APA style format. Assignments must be printed out and submitted in class upon arrival on the stated due date, unless otherwise stated.

Classroom Technology

Laptops are allowed in class but must be for classroom activities and note-taking purposes only. Inappropriate technology use distracts you and your classmates and will not be permitted. Audio and video recording of class sessions is never permitted without prior consent.

Inclusive Learning Environment

I am committed to making my classroom a welcoming space for a wide spectrum of diverse learners and thinkers. The course will involve a high level of interaction. It is important that each individual is free to contribute and it is our collective responsibility to build trust, respect, and inclusion in the classroom. Any online interaction must also follow these guidelines. If you have a disability that may influence your performance in the course, please inform me so we can make appropriate accommodations. 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 For further information, consult McMaster University's Policy for Academic Accommodation of Students with Disabilities.

Research and Writing Help

Writing is hard. Research is time consuming. Everyone can benefit from seeking out the services at McMaster. For help with finding and accessing appropriate academic sources, please make a research appointment with a librarian. Online form: The Undergrad Writing Centre at the Student Success Centre offers a variety of services to improve your writing, the clarity of your argument, and your grammar. To book an appointment, visit:

For more information about drop-in hours or services, visit:

Office Hours

My office hours are for everyone! I encourage you to take advantage of them. Please make an effort to come once in the first month of the semester, which will help me get to know your interests. Please also be respectful of each other's time, especially when other students are waiting.

Online Course Content

In this course we will be using A2L. Students are responsible for checking A2L regularly for class communication and materials distributed online. Students should be aware that, when they access the electronic components of this course, private information such as first and last names, user names for the McMaster e-mail accounts, and program affiliation may become apparent to all other students in the same course. The available information is dependent on the technology used. Continuation in this course will be deemed consent to this disclosure. If you have any questions or concerns about such disclosure please discuss this with the course instructor.

Authenticity/Plagiarism Detection

Students may be asked to submit papers through a web-based service ( to reveal authenticity and ownership of student submitted work. Students will be expected to submit their work electronically either directly to or via Avenue to Learn (A2L) plagiarism detection (a service supported by so it can be checked for academic dishonesty.


Please Note the Following Policies and Statements:

Academic Integrity

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. It is your responsibility to understand what constitutes academic dishonesty.

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. For information on the various types of academic dishonesty please refer to the Academic Integrity Policy, located at

The following illustrates only three forms of academic dishonesty:

  • plagiarism, e.g. the submission of work that is not one’s own or for which other credit has been obtained.
  • improper collaboration in group work.
  • copying or using unauthorized aids in tests and examinations.

Authenticity / Plagiarism Detection

Some courses may use a web-based service ( to reveal authenticity and ownership of student submitted work. For courses using such software, students will be expected to submit their work electronically either directly to or via Avenue to Learn (A2L) plagiarism detection (a service supported by so it can be checked for academic dishonesty.

Students who do not wish to submit their work through A2L and/or must still submit an electronic and/or hardcopy to the instructor. No penalty will be assigned to a student who does not submit work to or A2L. All submitted work is subject to normal verification that standards of academic integrity have been upheld (e.g., on-line search, other software, etc.). To see the Policy, please go to

Courses with an On-Line Element

Some courses use on-line elements (e.g. e-mail, Avenue to Learn (A2L), LearnLink, web pages, capa, Moodle, ThinkingCap, etc.). Students should be aware that, when they access the electronic components of a course using these elements, private information such as first and last names, user names for the McMaster e-mail accounts, and program affiliation may become apparent to all other students in the same course. The available information is dependent on the technology used. Continuation in a course that uses on-line elements will be deemed consent to this disclosure. If you have any questions or concerns about such disclosure please discuss this with the course instructor.

Online Proctoring

Some courses may use online proctoring software for tests and exams. This software may require students to turn on their video camera, present identification, monitor and record their computer activities, and/or lockdown their browser during tests or exams. This software may be required to be installed before the exam begins.

Conduct Expectations

As a McMaster student, you have the right to experience, and the responsibility to demonstrate, respectful and dignified interactions within all of our living, learning and working communities. These expectations are described in the Code of Student Rights & Responsibilities (the "Code"). All students share the responsibility of maintaining a positive environment for the academic and personal growth of all McMaster community members, whether in person or online.

It is essential that students be mindful of their interactions online, as the Code remains in effect in virtual learning environments. The Code applies to any interactions that adversely affect, disrupt, or interfere with reasonable participation in University activities. Student disruptions or behaviours that interfere with university functions on online platforms (e.g. use of Avenue 2 Learn, WebEx or Zoom for delivery), will be taken very seriously and will be investigated. Outcomes may include restriction or removal of the involved students' access to these platforms.

Academic Accommodation of Students with Disabilities

Students with disabilities who require academic accommodation must contact Student Accessibility Services (SAS) at 905-525-9140 ext. 28652 or e-mail to make arrangements with a Program Coordinator. For further information, consult McMaster University’s Academic Accommodation of Students with Disabilities policy.

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.

Request for Relief for Missed Academic Term Work
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".

Academic Accommodation for Religious, Indigenous and Spiritual Observances (RISO)

Students requiring academic accommodation based on religious, indigenous or spiritual observances should follow the procedures set out in the RISO policy. Students should submit their request to their Faculty Office normally within 10 working days of the beginning of term in which they anticipate a need for accommodation or to the Registrar's Office prior to their examinations. Students should also contact their instructors as soon as possible to make alternative arrangements for classes, assignments, and tests.

Copyright and Recording

Students are advised that lectures, demonstrations, performances, and any other course material provided by an instructor include copyright protected works. The Copyright Act and copyright law protect every original literary, dramatic, musical and artistic work, including lectures by University instructors.

The recording of lectures, tutorials, or other methods of instruction may occur during a course. Recording may be done by either the instructor for the purpose of authorized distribution, or by a student for the purpose of personal study. Students should be aware that their voice and/or image may be recorded by others during the class. Please speak with the instructor if this is a concern for you.

Extreme Circumstances

The University reserves the right to change the dates and deadlines for any or all courses in extreme circumstances (e.g., severe weather, labour disruptions, etc.). Changes will be communicated through regular McMaster communication channels, such as McMaster Daily News, A2L and/or McMaster email.

Topics and Readings:


**The schedule and readings are subject to change**


Week 1 – Mon. Jan. 6

Welcome & Community Building

Key Questions: What is technology? What do we mean by oppression? What does solidarity look like?


Week 2 – Mon. Jan. 13

Can technology get it wrong?

  • Broussard, M. (2018). Artificial Unintelligence: How Computers Misunderstand the World. Boston: MIT Press. (selections) Available as e-book through McMaster Library.
  • Dream Defenders, “Social Media Blackout.” [Blog post].


Week 3 – Mon. Jan. 20

Facebook & Google

  • Amnesty International (2019). Surveillance Giants: How the Business Model of Google and Facebook Threatens Human Rights.
  • LISTEN: Vaidhyanathan, S. (2018, August 1). A Threat to Global Democracy: How Facebook and Surveillance Capitalism Empower Authoritarianism (A. Goodman and J. González, Interviewers). DemocracyNOW! Retrieved from:

In class: Session with Research Librarian to learn how to live without Google Search! (1:15-2:20pm)


Week 4 – Mon. Jan. 27


  • Noble, S. (2018). Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism. New York: NYU Press. (Selections)


Week 5 – Mon. Feb. 3

Precision Medicine & History of Racial Science


Week 6 – Mon. Feb. 10

Predictive Policing

Week 7 – Mon. Feb. 17: Break – no class!

Week 8 – Mon. Feb. 24

Can technology help us resist?

  • Solidariteam, (2016). Joining Standing Rock. Retrieved from:
  • Garza, A. (2014). A Herstory of the #BlackLivesMatter Movement. Feminist Wire. Access at:
  • Freelon, D., McIlwain, C.D., and Clark, M.D. (2016). Beyond the Hashtags: #Ferguson, #Blacklivesmatter and the Online Struggle for Offline Justice. Washington, D.C.: Center for Media and Social Impact at American University. (pp. 1-17 & 74-84)


Week 9 – Mon. March 2

Representation and Digital Alternatives, pt. 1

  • Collins, P.H. (2000/1990). Mammies, Matriarchs, and other Controlling Images. Black Feminist Thought. New York: Routledge. (pp. 69-96).
  • Bailey, M. (2015). Redefining Representation: Black Trans and Queer Women’s Digital Media Production. Screen Bodies. 1(1): 71-86.


Week 10 – Mon. March 9

Representation and Digital Alternatives, pt. 2

  • Christian, A. J. (2018). OpenTV: Innovation Beyond Hollywood and the Rise of Web TV. New York: NYU Press. (Intro, Ch. 3, Epilogue)


Week 11 – Mon. March 16

Is it in our DNA?


Week 12 – Mon. March 23

Indigenous Digital Resistance

  • Martineau, J. (2015). Rhythms of Change: Indigenous Resurgence, Technology and the Idle No More Movement. In More Will Sing Their Way to Freedom: Indigenous Resistance and Resurgence.
  • Duarte, M. E. (2017). Network Sovereignty: Building the Internet Across Indian Country. Seattle: University of Washington Press. (Selections) Available as e-book through McMaster Library.

RECOMMENDED: McMahon, R. (2014). From Digital Divides to the First Mile: Indigenous Peoples and the Network Society in Canada. International Journal of Communication, 8, 2002–2026.


Week 13 – Mon. March 30

Hashtag Activism

  • Clark, M. (2015). Black Twitter: Building Connection through Cultural Conversation. In Hashtag Publics: The Power and Politics of Discursive Networks, edited by Nathan Rambukkana, 205-217. New York: Peter Lang.
  • Jackson, S. (2016). (Re)Imagining Intersectional Democracy from Black Feminism to Hashtag Activism. Women’s Studies in Communication 39, no. 4: 375-379.

In class: Thesis Statement Workshop


Week 14 – Mon. April 6

Review & Reflect

Other Course Information:


This syllabus was arranged with inspiration from, and in solidarity with, the Center for Critical Race and Digital Studies Syllabus, which was edited and compiled by Lori Kido Lopez and Jackie Land, whose goal was to help students better understand how “racial inequalities have always been at the center of debates about technology, politics, and power.” For more information, see: