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CMST 4P03 Social Activism And The Media (C01)

Academic Year: Fall 2018

Term: Fall

Day/Evening: D

Instructor: Prof. Dilyana Mincheva


Office: Togo Salmon Hall 305

Phone: 905-525-9140 x 21480

Office Hours: Wednesday, 11.30 a.m. – 12.30 p.m. or by appointment

Course Objectives:

Course description: 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.

Learning Goals: Students will acquire a sound understanding of theories and history of media’s relationship to forms of citizenship and social activism and will be able to apply these in an analysis of recent movements of resistance such as the Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter, #MeToo, among others. They will refine their ability to research and communicate on these topics through formal presentations, classroom discussion and written assignments. Emphasis will be placed on enhancing students' critical thinking as well as writing and presentation skills.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:

The required readings for this course are either designated with hyperlinks or will be made available on Avenue to Learn prior to lecture/seminar. Please, note that this is a reading and writing intensive senior seminar. You are expected to come to class prepared for discussion with all the readings done for the week. You are also supposed to treat all screenings and viewings in the course as course texts, which means that I expect you to watch actively, take notes and be prepared to provide a comment in the discussion that follows.

Method of Assessment:




Attendance (5%)

Class discussion, group activities (15%)



Response paper (1,500 words)


Due on October 15

Avenue (drop-box)

Comparative Film Analysis (1,500 words)


Due on November 26

Avenue (drop-box)

Group Presentation (20-5 minutes)


November 26

December 3

In class

Discussion Post (1,500 words)


On a rolling basis, week 2 – week 13

Avenue (drop box)


Response Paper:You will draw on the course readings and discussions to craft a brief, 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. Your response paper is due on October 15 in a drop box on Avenue to Learn.

Topic: “The flood of digital information – data and facts and charts and hashtags and think pieces and infographics and retweets – is not making us more informed and thoughtful. It’s making us more susceptible to nonsense, more emotional, more irrational and more mobbish. And although we have more information, fast computers and clever analysts to understand these problems, we seem less and less capable of predicting or affecting any of them.”Jaimie Bartlett, Radicals Chasing Utopia, NY: Nations Books, p. 2-3.

Comparative Film Analysis:This semester we are going to see together several documentary selections and one feature movie on topics central to the class. All of these film texts are complex, political, controversial and at moments difficult to understand immediately. Learning to watch and analyze these texts is fundamental to your media literacy. For that reason, please, make sure you watch the film texts carefully and treat them with the same respect and attention you treat academic or literary texts. You are required to pick TWOof the film texts we watch and discuss in class and make a comparative analysis answering the following questions: what is the principle subject of the texts you’ve chosen to analyze and in what way – critical, analytical, positive, negative – it is presented? Would you consider the making and distribution of the texts you’re analyzing as a form of activism? What kind of impact do these films mean to achieve – on audiences, on policy makers, on media professionals? Reflect on the use of material: live action, scene location, interviews, narration, expert opinions, camera work, landscapes and sound. Think about what makes these texts convincing and compelling: their focus on truth telling, their protagonists, the narrator, the argument, the social issue they address, etc. If you compare a feature movie to a documentary, you need to reflect on issues of verisimilitude: how is reality created in a fictional setting and how is fiction created in a real life story? This assignment will be discussed at length during the screening discussions in the schedule. This assignment is due on A2L on November 26.

Group Presentations:For this assignment students are asked to form groups (of three or four), select a specific case study (media campaign, TV program, hashtag story, social media event, film, documentary, etc.) that reveals aspects of the relationship between media and social activism. Your case studies and examples of social activism may be historical or contemporary. Examples include: the civil rights movement, Black Lives Matter, anti-austerity protests, gun control activism, minoritarian identities and media, fashion, celebrities, abortion debates, youth and taste groups, etc. You may also choose specifically one of the case studies that we discussed in class but your presentation must contribute new information or new perspectives to the class discussion. Your presentations will happen in the two final weeks of classes, as I would like YOU to have the final word in this course: November 26 and December 3.

Discussion Post:Throughout the semester we will discuss multiple historical and contemporary topics ranging from civil and human rights activism, social media and hashtag campaigns to youth subcultures, feminism, identity-based activism, media witch-hunts, utopian thinking and the ethics and aesthetics of documentary filmmaking. Choose among the multiple media artifacts or case studies discussed throughout the semester and write a short discussion post about it trying to expand on the points that you find interesting or feel passionate about. Please, note that this assignment will be submitted on a rolling basis throughout the semester and will be made visible to your peers so that we can discuss your insights further in the classroom whenever the occasion arises. Although generally shorter and narrower in focus than a traditional essay, discussion posts should be as coherent and scholarly in tone. Think of these posts as a mini-essay, in which you want to have a single central argument and clear evidence to support that argument. You are expected to incorporate references to the course readings when you write your discussion post. There is no particular due date for this assignment. Your posts have to be submitted on A2L between week 2 and week 13 of the semester.

Attendance and Participation: attendance at lecture and seminar, participation in seminar discussion, and contribution to the general intellectual atmosphere of all parts of the course are the criteria for this portion of the mark.

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. Please note that MSAF is for a maximum period of three days, and can only be used for the assignment’s due date, so even if you submit an MSAF, you will not get additional time beyond the five day grace period.

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 are required to switch off and put away all cell phones, electronic organizers, and all other communication devices in order to minimize distractions and foster an environment of mutual respect. Laptops may be used to take notes; however, if it becomes apparent to the instructor that your laptop is distracting other students you will be asked to leave the seminar.

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:


Style Guides:In this classyou can choose as your reference style APA, Chicago and MLA. However, remember to stay consistent with one citation style throughout your paper(s). Guidelines for how to use these three major citations styles in the humanities, can be found here:




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:

  1. Social Activism and the Media: Historical and Theoretical Perspectives

Week 1. September 10

Introduction to the course. What is the relationship between media and social activism?


Brian Martin, “Activism, Social and Political”, in: Gary L. Anderson and Kathryn G. Herr (eds.), Encyclopaedia of Activism and Social Justice, pp. 19-27,

Joss Hands, “Activism and Technology”, in: @ is for activism: Dissent, resistance and rebellion in a digital culture, pp. 23-47, New York, Pluto Press, available on Avenue.

Clay Shirky, TED Talk, “How Cognitive Surplus Will Change the World”,

Discussion:Under what conditions – media, political, social – we can dream and fight for a better world? What are the limits of this fight/dream? How is solidarity to be achieved in a world divided by race, gender, class, religion, and geography? What is (or ought to be) the role of media and technology in this ‘fight’?

Week 2. September 17

Social movements: the fight for community

Required readings:

Liz Highleyman, “Radical Queers or Queer Radicals? Queer Activism and the Global Justice Movement”, in: Andrew Boyd (ed.), From Act Up to the WTO: Urban Protest and Community Building In the Era of Globalisation, London: Verso, pp. 106-120.

Fern Riddel, “The Weaker Sex? Violence and the Suffragette Movement”,

Hanna Kathleen, “History is a Weapon: Riot Grrrl Manifesto”, in: Bikki Kill Zine 2, 1991,

Elizabeth Groeneveld, “Are We All Pussy Riot? On Narratives of Feminist Return And the Limits of Transnational Solidarity”, in: Feminist Theory, vol. 16(3), pp. 289-307, available on Avenue.

Week 3. September 24

Social movements: the fight for identity

Required readings:

Rashmee Kumar, “How Identity Politics Has Divided the Left: An Interview With Asad Haider”, in: The Intercept_, May 27, 2018,

Shuja Haider, “Safety Pins and Swastikas”, in: Jacobin, May 1, 2017,

Aniko Bodroghkozy, Chapter 8. “Prime Time, Good Times”, in: Equal Time: Television And the Civil Rights Movement”, University of Illinois Press, 2013, pp. 203-224, available on Avenue.

April Joyner, “Blackflix: How Netflix’s Algorithm Exposes Technology’s Racial Bias”,

Week 4. October 1

‘Transracial’ on Netflix?

Required Readings:

Doreen St. Felix, “The Rachel Divide Review: A Disturbing Portrait of Dolezal’s Racial Fraudulence”, in: New Yorker, April 26, 2018,

Traffique Jaam, “The Rachel Dolezal Divide: Blackness As A Forced Classification And A Subsequent Cultural Genealogy and Lineage”, in: Medium, May 1, 2018,

Screening and discussion:

Laura Brownson, The Rachel Divide, documentary, 2018

Week 5. October 8.

No class. Reading Break

Week 6. October 15

The Utopians and Radicals

Required readings:

Jaimie Bartlett, “Is This Portuguese Eco Village a 21stCentury Utopia?” in: Ideas.TED.Com, July 18, 2017,

Jaimie Bartlett, “The Next Wave of Extremists Will Be Green”, in: Foreign Policy, September 1, 2017, available on Avenue.

Gabriela Coleman, “Our Weirdness Is Free: the Logic of Anonymous – Online Army, Agent of Chaos, And Seeker of Justice”,

Discussion: The Activist’s Paradox

Radical environmentalists, transhumanists, and dark net hactivists: rogue movements or visionaries?

Week 7. October 22

Social Media Activism

Evgeny Morozov, “Iran: the Downside To the Twitter Revolution” in: Dissent, Fall, 2009, available on Avenue.

Evgeny Morozov, “The Brave New World of Slacktivism”, May 19, 2009, in: Foreign Policy,

Clay Shirky, “The Political Power of Social Media: Technology, the Public Sphere and Political Change”, in: Foreign Affairs, December 20, 2010, available on Avenue.


The Green Revolution in Iran, the Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street, ISIS on social media


  1. Case Studies: #JeSuisCharlie, #MeToo, #MosqueMeToo, European Neo-Nazism, Alt-Right


Week 8. October 29

#JeSuisCharlie: One Of The Most Popular Hashtags in Twitter History

Required Readings:

Sorin Petrof, “The Dialectics of Media Representation: Je Suis CharlieAs Fetishisation Of An Image”, in: ESSACHESS - Journal for Communication Studies 8 (2015), 2, pp. 207-225, available on Avenue.

Johanna Sumiala (et al.), “#JeSuisCharlie: Towards a Multi-Method Study of Hybrid Media Events” in: Cogitatio: Media and Communication, vol. 4, issue 4, October 2016, pp. 97-108, available on Avenue.

Screening and discussion:

Daniel and Emmanuel Leconte, Je Suis Charlie, documentary, 2015

Week 9. November 5


Required Readings:

Katie Roiphe, “The Other Whisper Network: How Twitter Feminism Is Bad For Women”, in: Harper’s Magazine, February 2018,

Christina Cauterucci, “The Twisted, Confusing Logic of Katie Roiphe’s #MeToo Essay in Harper’s”, in: Slate, February 5, 2018,

Moira Donegan, “How #MeToo Revealed the Central Rift Within Feminism Today”, May 11, 2018,

Media Discussion and screening (parts):

Kirby Dick, The Hunting Ground, documentary, 2015

Week 10. November 12


Required Readings:

Mona Eltahawy, “What the Wolrld Would Look Like If We Taught Girls To Rage”, in: Think, NBC News, February 2018,

Ariella Azoulay, “What Are Human Rights?”, in: Comparative Studies Of South Asia, Africa And the Middle East,vol. 35, number 1, 2015,pp. 8-20, available on Avenue.

Screening and discussion:

Micah Smith, Honour Diaries, documentary, 2013

Week 11. November 19

The Alt-Right and Neo Nazism

Required Readings:

Issie Lapowski, “New Media And the Messy Nature Of Reporting On the Alt-Right”, in: Wired,August 15, 2017,

Paris Martineau, “How Alt-Right Twitter Tricks the Media Into Panicking”, in: The Outline, June 13, 2018,

Jaimie Bartlett, “Alt-Right: From 4chan To the White House Review: In Search of a Right-Wing Rabble”, in: The Guardian, April 23, 2018,

Screening and discussion:

Fatih Akin, In The Fade, 2018

Week 12. November 26

Student Presentations

Week 13. December 3.

Student Presentations. Conclusions.