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CMST 2BB3 Culture & Communication

Academic Year: Winter 2018

Term: Winter

Day/Evening: D

Instructor: Prof. Dilyana Mincheva


Office: Togo Salmon Hall 308

Phone: 905-525-9140 x 23536

Office Hours: Friday 10.30 am - 12.00 pm

Course Objectives:


This course explores the intersection between communication and cultural studies by way of an interdisciplinary investigation of a range of creative and critical materials that the two fields have in common: debates around such topics as language, text, identity, technology, body, time, truth, space and performance. The course unpacks the tricky nature/culture relationship, and examines to what extent that which seems to be "natural" might prove to be “mediated” and “cultural”. The course also offers an introduction to some of the major debates in communications and cultural studies that constitute the two fields as intertwined, open and ever-evolving intellectual projects. On a pragmatic level, the emphasis of the course is on interdisciplinary understanding of how cultural processes and media artifacts are produced, shaped, distributed, consumed, and responded to in diverse ways. Through discussion, research, and writing, students investigate these varied dimensions of culture and communication; learn to understand them in their broader social, aesthetic, ethical, and political contexts; and thereby prepare for more advanced coursework in communications and cultural studies and, broadly, in the humanities.

Learning Objectives:

  • To understand the ways in which culture and communication intersect.
  • To understand the social and political context within which some forms of culture and communication emerge, and the consequent interpretations and effects.
  • To become well versed in understanding different elements and approaches to cultural studies as these pertain to communication.
  • To acquire/enhance the ability to research and analyze specific forms of communication and culture.
  • To improve critical thinking and communication skills.

Textbooks, Materials & Fees:

Required Texts:

The required readings for this course are either designated with hyperlinks or will be made available on Avenue to Learn prior to lecture/seminar. Students are expected to familiarize themselves with the required texts prior to the time allocated to seminar discussion (Fridays). Please, note that in this class we are going to use an interactive system for seminar discussions called Top Hat. It requires a one-time subscription fee of 26 dollars for the whole semester. Details and instructions on how to navigate Top Hat will be provided in class. The system allows all students to participate, via their computers or tablets, in the class discussion. It is particularly helpful in large class settings, as this one, where many students usually have much to contribute to the class discussion but are shy to talk in front of their peers. The weekly readings are accompanied by a list of various artifacts – literary texts, paintings, documentaries, movies, talks, plays, music – that will help us think through the concepts addressed in the readings and lectures. In some cases I may ask you to get acquainted with the artifacts prior to lecture and seminar. In addition, there are recommended readings on the syllabus. Despite the fact that students are not expected to be familiar with them, those readings will give you an idea about the direction of the lecture/seminar discussions.

Play text:

Wajdi Mouawad, Scorched, University of Toronto Press, 2011.

*We are going to watch in class Denis Villeneuve’s 2010 movie Incendies, which is based on Wajdi Mouawad’s play Scorched. Since in part our discussion will focus on the communications strategies of narrative adaptation in cinema, it will be helpful if you can spend a couple of hours with the text of Wajdi Mouawad’s play before we watch the movie together and enter into the intricacies of the adaptation discussion. While this text is not mandatory, you can find it in the university library or purchase it from

Method of Assessment:

Assignments and Evaluation:





Attendance (5%)

Class discussion, group activities (10%)


Measured weekly through Top Hat and through my ongoing observations of your engagement.

Journal Responses on A2L


4 times per semester

Response paper #1 (750 words)


February 14, on A2L (drop box)

Response paper #2 (750 words)


March 23, on A2L (drop box)

Take-home midterm exam (2000 words)


February 28, on A2L (drop box)

Final Exam, KEY CONCEPTS only, cumulative


Exam period


Assignments explanation and expectations:

Four journal entries on A2L: You are required to write four journal engagements (around 300-500 words each) with four different readings/texts discussed in lecture/seminar and post them on Avenue to Learn. Your responses will be scored on a credit/no credit basis rather than letter-graded. There are no deadlines for this assignment. You have to complete it between the beginning and the end of the semester. All texts announced on the syllabus, including the TED talks, the movies, the fiction, the paintings and the documentaries, could be subject to your journal engagements.

Two response papers: (approximately 750 words each). In these short papers, you will draw on the course readings and discussions to craft a focused argument in response to an assigned statement. You could then agree with the statement, disagree with it, or take a position in the middle. Your position would need to be well supported and would need to take account of different points of view. What will determine your grade will not be the position you take so much as the sophistication and rigor with which you defend it.

First response paper topic: “In order to understand today’s world, we need cinema, literally. It’s only in cinema that we get that crucial dimension which we are not ready to confront in our reality. If you are looking for what is in reality more real than reality itself, look into the cinematic fiction.” (Slavoj Zizek, from Sophie Fiennes’s The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema), due on A2L, February 14.

Second response paper topic: “There is no document of civilisation that is not at the same time a document of barbarism”, (Walter Benjamin, Illuminations, trans. Harry Zohn, New York: Schocken Books, 1968, p. 256), due on A2L, February 25.

Take-home midterm exam: in week 5 we are going to watch together Denis Villeneuve’s 2010 movie Incendies. For your midterm test you will be required to develop a 2000-word long analysis of the movie answering questions related to the communications strategies of the movie, including the discussion of such topics as representation, language, myth, identity and culture. In other words, you are expected to engage the aesthetic, political, and textual particularities of Incendies and relate them to concepts and discussions from the course. Specific guidelines for your midterm will be provided in class and uploaded on A2L. Your midterm is due on A2L, February 28.

Attendance and participation: you must attend all lectures and seminars and are required to come prepared (i.e., having done the week’s readings). Earning a passing grade will require active participation (either through actively taking part in the oral discussions or through participation in the Top Hat virtual discussions during the seminar class). 

Final exam: The final exam will be cumulative, focused on key concepts only and of mixed format. To prepare successfully for the final exam, you need to be familiar with the class readings, lectures, screenings, assignments, and activities. It will be scheduled by the registrar during Final Exam Period and will be 2 hours in length.



Policy on Missed Work, Extensions, and Late Penalties:

Late submission policy: Late assignments for this class will be accepted without penalty within 5 days from the official deadline. After the passing of the five-day gratis period, I am not going to accept late assignments. If you choose to use the five-day gratis period for submission of your assignments, you are not allowed to use MSAF in pursuit of further extensions.

Announcements: 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.

Classroom Etiquette: During class you can use  laptops to take notes and type your answers to my discussion questions during our Top Hat sessions, on Fridays; you cannot use your computers in class to check your Facebook page, Twitter account or to do things unrelated to the learning process in 2BB3. No form of discrimination or harassment will be tolerated in the classroom. Every member of the McMaster University Community has a right to equal treatment with respect to the receipt of education services and related services and facilities without discrimination or harassment on the basis of the following grounds: race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, creed, sex, sexual orientation, age, marital status, family status, disability, gender and identity. For more information visit the Office of Human Rights & Equity Services Website:

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:

Week 1. January 5

Organisation of the course:

Syllabus, Assignments, Seminar organisation, Top Hat, Expectations

Week 2. January 10 and 12

What is culture? Introduction to cultural studies.

Artifacts to be discussed in class:

TED talk: Sheikha Al Mayassa, “Globalizing the Local, Localizing the Global”,

Required Readings:

Matthew Arnold excerpts from Culture and Anarchy, available on Avenue.

Toby Miller, “What Is Cultural Studies and What It Isn’t”, in: Yale Journal of Law & the Humanities, vol. 13: Iss. 1, Article 3, available on Avenue.

Week 3. January 17 and 19

Language and the material: the language game(s) of communications and cultural studies

Debate 1: Marxism has argued that the material mode of production is ‘the real foundation’ of cultural superstructures. That is, the material – understood as the economic – determines the cultural. The ‘narrative turn’ in cultural studies stands against this trend placing an emphasis on the analysis of the autonomous logic of language, culture, representation and consumption.

Screening and Discussion:

Zach Ingrasci, Living On a Dollar, 2013 (documentary)

Required Readings:

Raymond Williams, “Culture is Ordinary”, available on Avenue.

Barthes, Roland. "Myth Today", available on Avenue and here:

Recommended Reading:

Claude Levi-Strauss, “The Structural Study of Myth”, available on Avenue.

Raymond Williams, “The Analysis of Culture”, available on Avenue.

Week 4. January 24 and 26

Location(s) of culture: nationalism, diaspora, and imagination

Debate 2: Insofar as culture is a common whole way of life, its boundaries are largely locked into those of nationality and ethnicity. However, globalization has made the idea of culture as located within identifiable boundaries increasingly problematic.

Artifacts to be discussed in class:

Excerpts from Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses, available on Avenue.

TED Talk: Chimamanda Adichi (novelist), “The Danger of a Single Story”:

Required Reading:

Benedict Anderson, “Cultural Roots”, in: Imagined Communities, Verso, 1991, pp. 9-37, available on Avenue.

Arjun Appadurai, Modernity At Large:

Week 5. January 31 and February 2

Rationality and its limits: the culture/nature division

Debate 3: The non-linear, non-rational and emotionally driven aspects of human behaviour mark the import of psychoanalysis into the interdisciplinary field of cultural studies. What are the implications of psychoanalysis, its theoretical tools and practice, for media and communication studies – specifically for the conceptions of subjectivity in the field?

Artifacts to be discussed in class (please read in advance ONE of the texts hyperlinked below):

Franz Kafka, “A Report to an Academy” (short story),

Jonathan Littell, Excerpts from The Kindly Ones (novel):

Required Reading:

Sigmund Freud, excerpts from Civilization and Its Discontent,

Recommended Reading:

David Gates, “The Monster in the Mirror”,

Week 6. February 7 and 9

Psychoanalysis and cinema: memory, trauma, identity, and representation

Screening and discussion:

Denis Villeneuve, Incendies, 2010

Recommended Reading:

David L. Pike, “Burning the Candle at Both Ends: Denis Villeneuve’s Incendies”,

Week 7. February 14 and 16

The character of truth and cinematic adaptations

Debate 4: While all modern disciplines – from sociology to economics and psychology – were founded on the premise that conceptual and empirical truth could be discovered, these beliefs had been largely displaced in cultural studies. Truth is often seen as a communications strategy: ‘a mobile army of metaphors and metonyms’ (Nietzsche).

Required Readings:

Friedrich Nietzsche, From On Truth and Lie in Extra Moral Sense, available on Avenue.

Yana Meerzon, “Staging Memory in Wajdi Mouawad's Incendies: Archaeological Site or Poetic Venue” in: Theatre Research in Canada, vol. 34, number 1, 2013,

Your first response paper is due this week on A2L; there is a drop-box created for submission.

Week 8. February 21 and 23

Reading break. No classes this week.

Week 9. February 28 and March 2

The Other

Artifacts to be discussed in class:

Jean Léon Gérôme, Le charmeur de serpent (painting),

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Rondo Alla Turka (classical music)

Gustav Flaubert, Excerpts from Letters from Egypt

Required Reading:

Said, Edward, “Introduction” Orientalism, available on Avenue.

Recommended Reading:

Michel Foucault, “Truth and Power”, in: Colin Gordon (editor), Power/ Knowledge. Selected Interviews and Other Writings 1972-1977, Pantheon Books, NY, 1980, pp. 109-134.

Your take-home midterms are due this week on A2L; there is a drop-box created for submission.

Week 10. March 7 and 9

Modern culture versus postmodern culture: rationality and spectacle?

Debate 5: The postmodern debate gained momentum in the 1960s through the work of such theorists as Foucault, Derrida, Lyotard, and Baudrillard. Experiencing the advent of new social movements opposing the Vietnam War, racism, sexism, and imperialism, they believed that a decisive break with the past had occurred – that a revolution in morals, politics, and perceptions was leading to a new era in history. The postmoderns characterized society in terms of fragmentation, pluralism, and individualism and promoted a "politics of difference".

Artifacts to be discussed in class:

The photographic oeuvre of Andres Serrano (particularly the photograph Piss Christ):

The music of Karlheinz Stockhausen from the cycle Light and his comments on 9/11

The last exhibit, All, of Maurizzio Cattelan

Required Readings:

Zygmunt Bauman, “Foreword: On Being Light and Liquid”, in: Liquid Modernity, Polity Press, 200, pp. 1-16, available on Avenue.

Jean Francois Lyotard, “Answering the Question What Is Postmodernism”, available on Avenue.

Recommended Readings:

Jurgen Habermas, “The Unfinished Project of Modernity”, available on Avenue.

Richard Rorty, “Habermas and Lyotard on Postmodernity”, available on Avenue.

Week 11. March 14 and 16

Mediations, technology, art

Screening and Discussion:

Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist, 2011 (movie)

Required Reading:

Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”, available on Avenue.

Week 12. March 21 and 23

Critique of popular culture and technology

Debate 6: In the 1936 letter to Benjamin, Adorno denounces the triumphant commercial logic that ensnares both high and low culture: “Both bear the stigmata of capitalism, both contain elements of change. (…) Both are torn halves of an integral freedom to which, however, they do not add up. It would be romantic to sacrifice one for the other.” In particular, it would be a mistake to romanticize the new mass forms, as Benjamin seems to do in the essay we read last week.

Required Reading:

Theodor Adorno, “The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception”, available on Avenue.

Recommended Reading:

Alex Ross, “The Naysayers: Walter Benjamin, Theodor Adorno, and the critique of pop culture”,

Your second response paper is due this week on A2L; there is a drop-box created for submission.

Week 13. March 28 and 30

The medium is the message

Debate 7: McLuhan's insight summarized in the expression "the medium is the message” means that the qualities of a medium have as much effect as the information it transmits. For example, reading a description of a scene in a newspaper has a very different effect on someone than hearing about it, or seeing a picture of it, or watching a black and white video, or watching a colour video.

Required Readings:

Marshal McLuhan, excerpts from Understanding Media, available on Avenue.

Steve Rose, “The ISIS propaganda war: a high-tech media jihad”,

Week 14. April 4 and 6


Cultural studies and communications studies, some critical junctures

Screening and discussion:

Sophie Fiennes, The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology, 2013

Recommended reading:

Jurgen Habermas, “The Public Sphere: An Encyclopedia Article”. in: New German Critique, number 3, autumn 1974, pp. 49-55, available on Avenue.