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CMST 2K03 PoliticalEconomy:Media

Academic Year: Winter 2017

Term: Winter

Day/Evening: D

Instructor: Prof. Laura Visan


Office: Togo Salmon Hall 333

Phone: 905-525-9140 x

Office Hours: Friday, TSH 333, 13.30-14.20

Course Objectives:

The course will introduce students to the main concepts and debates of the political economy of the media, approaching the field from a variety of lenses. We begin with Marx and the Frankfurt School, to create a theoretical foundation, then we move to more concrete issues: the cultural industries and their change (evolution?) in time, media ownership concentration, the political economy of advertising, social media as a public sphere – or what it needs to become one -, digital surveillance and digital labour.


The main objective of this course is to demonstrate that the political economy of communication is not a wax figure in a museum, but instruments that allow us to have a better understanding of the world we live in – from the news we read and the brands we buy, to the social media causes that we choose to support. All the concepts and ideas we will study will be richly illustrated with real life examples. To give a few examples, we will talk about the difficulties faced by a young artist who wishes to make a name in the music industry, about playbouring, about the stereotypes in Disney’s Alladin, or about Toronto’s iconic buildings.  


Course objectives

By the end of this course, students will be able to:

-define and explain the concepts studied in course by linking them to our day-to-day realities, and not using memorization;

-illustrate the concepts studied in course with personal examples;

-set connections between course topics and approach them from a critical perspective.


Textbooks, Materials & Fees:

Required Texts

All texts required for this course are available online:

-scanned and posted on A2L

-via URL provided

-as McMaster University Library e-books


Method of Assessment:


Participation and class attendance  (ongoing evaluation)                                     10 marks                                                            

Mid-term test (February 14th 2017)                                                                       15 marks 

Written assignments (5 x 9 marks each; at least 500 words each)                       45 marks                                                        

Choose 5 (five) assignments from the list posted on A2L

Assignment 1 DUE January 26th 23.59 via A2L

Assignment 2 DUE February 2nd 23.59 via A2L

Assignment 3 DUE February 9th 23.59 via A2L

Assignment 4 DUE March 2nd 23.59 via A2L

Assignment 5 DUE March 6th 23.59 via A2L

Assignment 6 DUE March 13th 23.59 via A2L

Assignment 7 DUE March 16th 23.59 via A2L

Assignment 8 DUE March 23rd 23.59 via A2L

Assignment 9 DUE March 30th 23.59 via A2L


Final exam (scheduled by Registrar)                                                                    30 marks



Participation and class attendance

Though this is a large class, participation is an important part of your coursework. You are expected to conscientiously do all readings, attend all classes and come prepared for class discussions and activities. An attendance list will be kept for all classes and if you are absent, you will be marked accordingly.

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.

Cell phones, smart phones and iPods must be switched off during class. Use of laptops will only be allowed for note-taking. Phoning, texting, online social networking, web-surfing and / or listening to music in lectures are forbidden.

Being regularly late for class or regularly leaving early will be penalized (you will only receive half a mark for the classes where you arrive late / come early). If you absolutely need to be late, please come in quietly, so as not to disturb the instructor and your colleagues. However, if it is impossible for you to come to class, please notify me in advance.

Mid-term test – February 14th

The test will be held during lecture, and will cover material from lectures, readings and tutorial exercises from weeks 2, 3, 4, 5. It will include short answer questions, definitions and multiple-choice questions.

You are not permitted to use any electronic notes, computing devices, handwritten or other multimedia aids of any kind. Mobile phones and other portable computing devices will not be permitted on the surface of the tables that you are working on. Anyone found infringing these instructions will receive an automatic zero (0) on this test, and will be reported to the Communication Studies & Multimedia Department Director for possible further academic disciplinary action.

Written assignments

You will submit five reflection papers of at least 500 words each via A2L.

At the beginning of week 3, I will post on A2L a list of nine topics that refer to the course readings and screenings from week 4 up to week 12 (included). You are required to choose five topics of this list. Each topic contains several sub-questions, so please read everything carefully.

The assignments will test your reading comprehension and your critical thinking abilities (your ability to challenge the author, building on her/his arguments, or to engage in role-playing). The papers should be carefully written: clear, concise, without grammar or spelling errors.

Assignments will be submitted via A2L, before lecture. For instance, if the written assignment refers to the course reading from January 27th, submission will only be accepted until January 26th at 23.59 PM.

Because these assignments are time-sensitive, late submissions will not be accepted.

Final exam (scheduled by Registrar)

The final exam will be cumulative and of mixed format. It test concepts and materials from class readings, lectures, screenings, assignments, and activities. It will be scheduled by the registrar during Final Exam Period and will be 2.5 hours in length.

Policy on Missed Work, Extensions, and Late Penalties:


Extensions will only be granted in exceptional circumstances and will not be granted retroactively (for assignments that are already late).

Because short assignments are time-sensitive, the only extension that may be granted, and only in exceptional circumstances, is 12 hours from the initial deadline. For instance, if the assignment is due January 26th at 23.59 PM, you may only get 12 hours extra, until January 27th, at 11.59. AM.

Taking this into consideration, please carefully select the five short assignments you wish to submit from the list of nine provided on A2L.

If you need an extension, please contact me before the initial deadline: 23.59 PM.



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

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 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 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:

Course Schedule

WEEK 1, January 6th

: Course content, expectations and policies


WEEK 2 What is and what isn’t Political Economy of Communication?


January 10th  

-Wasko, J., G. Murdock and H. Sousa (2011). “Introduction: The Political Economy of Communication: Core Concerns and Issues”. In The Handbook of Political Economy of Communication. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 13-40. A2L

-Marx, K. and F. Engels (1887 / [2006]). “The Ruling Class and the Ruling Ideas”. In G. Durham and D. M. Kellner (Eds.), Media and Cultural Studies – Key Works. Malden: Blackwell, 9-13 A2L.

January 13th

-Marx, K. (1859). “The Fetishism of the Commodity and Its Secret”.

Available online at:


WEEK 3 The Frankfurt School

January 17th

-Horkheimer, M. and T. Adorno (1944). The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception. Available online at,

-Kellner, Douglas, The Frankfurt School, UCLA

January 20th - Cultural Hegemony: Gramsci

-Gramsci, A. ([1988]). “Structure and Superstructure”; “Ideologies”. In D. Forgacs, A Gramsci Reader. New York: New York University Press. 189-192; 199-200. A2L.


WEEK 4 Cultural Industries: Contemporary Perspectives

January 24th

-Hesmondhalgh, D. (2013). “Why the Cultural Industries Began to Change in the 1980s”. In Cultural Industries, 3rd edition. London: Sage. 93-117. A2L

January 27th

-Stahl, M. and L. M. Meier (2012). “The Firm Foundation of Organizational Flexibility: The 360 Contract in the Digitalizing Music Industry”. Canadian Journal of Communication. Vol 37, 441-458. Available online at:


WEEK 5 Media Ownership Concentration

January 31st

-Wynseck, D. (2010). “Financialization and the “Crisis of the Media”: The Rise and Fall of (Some) Media Conglomerates in Canada”. Canadian Journal of Communication. Vol 35, 365-393. Available online at:

-Spence, Howard H., A. Alexandra, A. Quinn and A. Dunn. (2011). “The Business of the Media and the Business of the Market”, in Media, Markets, and Morals, Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.  50-72. A2L.


February 3rd

-Couture, Toby, D. (2013). “Without Favour: The Concentration of Ownership in New Brunswick’s Print Media Industry”. Canadian Journal of Communication. Vol 38, 57-81.

Available online at:


WEEK 6 Media Conglomerates: Disney

February 7th

-Matusitz, J. and L. Palermo (2014). “The Disneyfication of the World: A Grobalisation Perspective”, Journal of Organisational Transformation & Social Change, Vol. 11 No. 2, August, 91–107. A2L.

- Wasko, J. (2001). “Challenging Disney Myths”. Journal of Communication Inquiry, ISSN 0196-8599, 07/2001, Volume 25, Issue 3, pp. 237 – 257. A2L.

February 10th

-Giroux, H. (1999). “Children’s Culture and Disney’s Animated Films”, in The Mouse that Roared. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 83-119. A2L.



February 14thMID TERM test

February 17th – NO CLASS

READING WEEK – February 20th – February 26th NO CLASSES


WEEK 8 Advertising and branding

February 28th

-Hardy, J. (2015). “Political economic approaches to advertising”, in Advertising: Critical Approaches. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge. 65-84. A2L.

March 3rd

-Jenkins, B. (2005). “Toronto's Cultural Renaissance”. Canadian Journal of Communication. Vol. 30, no. 2. Available online at:


WEEK 9 Public Sphere

March 7th

-Habermas, J. (1989). “The public sphere: An encyclopedia article.” In S. Bronner and D. M. Kellner (Eds.), Critical Theory and Society: A Reader. New York and London: Routledge, 136-142

-Fuchs, C. (2014). Social Media and the Public Sphere. Available online at:

March 10th

Screening: Facebook Follies



Media and Surveillance

March 14th

-Foucault, M. (1977 [1995]). Discipline & Punish: The Birth of the Prison. New York: Vintage Books, 195-228. A2L.  

-Winch, A. (2015). “Brand intimacy, female friendship and digital surveillance networks”. New Formations 84-85, 228-245. A2L.

March 17th

-Lyon, D. (2014). “Surveillance, Snowden, and Big Data: Capacities, consequences, critique”. Big Data & Society July–December 2014: 1–13
. A2L.


WEEK 11 From prosumption to digital labour

March 21st

Staab, P. and O. Nachtwey
(2016). “Market and Labour Control in Digital Capitalism”. tripleC 14(2): 457–474. Available online at:

March 24th

-Bulut, E. (2014). Playboring in the Tester Pit: The Convergence of Precarity and the Degradation of Fun in Video Game Testing. Television and New Media 16 (3), 240-258. A2L.

Watch: Intern Nation


WEEK 12  

March 28th Social media and public participation

-Fuchs, C. (2014). “Social Media as Participatory Culture”. In Social Media: A Critical Introduction. London: Sage, 52-68. A2L.

-Lessig, L. (2012). “How Creativity Is Being Strangled by the Law”.  In M. Mandiberg (Ed.), The Social Media Reader. New York: New York University Press, 155-169.

McMaster University Library e-book

March 31st New technology and ecology

-Mosco, V. (2014). “Dark clouds” (excerpt), in To The Cloud – Big Data in a Turbulent Road. Boulder: Paradigm Publishers. 123-137. A2L.

WEEK 13 April 4th







Other Course Information:

Avenue To Learn

In this class, we will be using A2L. 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 email 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 instructor.