COM 443 Comm. & Cultural Studies

Course Description
Syllabus | Assignments

Students explore the role of communication in the social construction of culture. Emphasis is on acquiring knowledge of culture as an evolving process of codifications, and examining dominant and marginal cultural meaning systems in science, history and the arts. May be used to fulfill general distribution requirements for the social sciences if not used for the major. [W]

Syllabus | Assignment





W 8/28

Course Overview
The first two weeks introduce you to the field of cultural studies; some seminal texts that rooted the field in semiotics, structuralism, and poststructuralism; and the practice of cultural critique. Then, Week #3 (“Music”) provides an opportunity to practice cultural critique by identifying subversive artists who have had an impact on culture and struggled with the music “industry.” The middle of the semester looks at themes related to cultural studies, including gender and sexuality, ethnicity, class, religion, and sports. We will continually fold in perspectives on Marxism, discuss political economy, and examine how/why the field of cultural studies varies in politics and methodologies from other fields of study (e.g., social sciences). We will also look at the concept of “postmodernism” and end by asking whether cultural studies is any longer a viable field.

Class Activities:
Intro to Cultural Studies
“How to Read Critically and Interact with Texts” (link)
Intro to Syllabus, Assignments, and Class (assignments link)


W 9/4

What is Cultural Studies?
After discussing introductory articles that explore the terrain of cultural studies, we’ll look at writings by Barthes and Foucault (notable thinkers in structuralism and post-structuralism). Then, we will take a look at the contemporary critique of culture (“Welcome to Cancerland”) to consider the author’s semiotic “reading” of breast cancer care signifiers, as well as power structures at work in this field of medical care. The Lindy West article (“I’m Not Interested in Finding a Truce in the Culture War”) is an example of how a “culture war” has emerged between the right and left in political arenas, accompanied by their signifiers. As importantly, the West article provides an example of a distinctive style of blog writing we’ll examine.

Class Activities:
Introduce Paper #1 (link to assignments)
Writing Process
Sign up for One-on-one Consultation Time for Paper #1 (bring topic and ideas)

Assignments Due:
“Introducing Cultural Studies,” Toby Miller (link)
Cultural Studies, “Culture Counts,” Chris Rojek (Chapter 1) (link)
Mythologies, “Wine and Milk,” Roland Barthes (pp. 58-61) (link)
The History of Sexuality, Vol. 1, Chapter 1, Michel Foucault (link)
“Welcome to Cancerland,” Barbara Ehrenreich (link)
“I’m Not Interested in Finding a Truce in the Culture War,” Lindy West (link)

Additional References:
The Order of Things, “Preface,” Michel Foucault (link)
“Cultural Studies and Its Theoretical Legacies,” Stuart Hall (link)
(Note: We will be reading the above article the last week of classes, to reflect.)
“Walking the City,” Michel de Certeau (link)


W 9/11

Music, Subversiveness, and “Industry”
Simon Frith’s analysis of musical life in Milton Keynes and Liverpool (see reading assignment) suggests a relatively utopian view: that original music tends to be a vehicle of self-expression that cuts across social classes, manifests in collaborative work, and seeks to make a distinctive mark on culture, even as artists struggle to break into an “industry” and maintain all-male social groups. We will be asking each student to identify and bring in sample work by artists they believe have made subversive impact on culture (whether they believe that impact to be positive or negative) and who have struggled with the music “industry.” Students will explain the perceived impact, analyze lyrics and visual imagery, and trace the roots of the artists and their relationships to the music industry. Choose an artist who genuinely interests you. Feel free to collaborate on your presentation with other class members who share an interest in the artist. If you are a musician, yourself, feel free to bring samples of your own music to class as well.

Assignments Due:
“The Cultural Study of Popular Music,” Simon Frith (pp. 174-182) (link)
Oral Presentations: Subversive Musicians  
(participation credit)

Additional References
The Cultural Study of Music: A Critical Introduction, Clayton, Herbert, Middleton


W 9/18

Representation, “Reality,” and Capital
Our changing relationship to the image/media, largely brought about by changes in technology, have not only altered our understanding and experience of “reality,” but also our understanding of capital. In this unit, we will take a look at some authors who theorized about the changing nature of representation (Benjamin, Foucault, Debord, Baudrillard).

Class Activities:
Reminder of Paper Assignment
Essay Rubric (assignments link)
Visual Analysis Language Tips (PDF)
Style Tips (Words to Avoid) (PDF)
Grammar Tips (PDF)
Proofreading Marks (PDF)

Assignments Due:
“Panopticism,” Michel Foucault (first 12 paragraphs only) (link)
“Society of the Spectacle,” Guy Debord (only items 1-5; 9; 12; 14; 16; 17; 19; 21; 26; 28; 30; 33-34) (link)
“Virtuality and Events: The Hell of  Power,” Jean Baudrillard (first 15 paragraphs only) (link)

Additional References:
“The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” Walter Benjamin (link)


W 9/25

Representation Continued
Continuing our theories of representation, we will look at Baudrillard and The Matrix (which was based on Baudrilard’s theories) and reference at a body of cultural studies scholarship that has sprung up around the movie. We will also look at current events and a 1954 coup staged by the CIA on behalf of the United Fruit corporation, relating these events to Baudrillard’s “Virtuality and Events: The Hell of Power.”

Assignments Due:
Paper #1 Due (link to assignments)

Class Activities:
Case Study: United Fruit v. Guatemala
Screening and Discussion: The Matrix

Additional References
Simulacra and Simulation
, Jean Baudrillard
Film: Wag the Dog


W 10/2

Representation and Gender
John Berger borrowed concepts from Benjamin, Foucault, and other theorists in his seminal book Ways of Seeing. We will use Berger as a segue into thematic cultural critique, beginning with gender and sexuality.  

Assignments Due:
Ways of Seeing, Chapter 3, John Berger (link)
“What’s Wrong with A Little Objectification?” Sut Jhally (link)
“Porn and Me[n],” Christopher Boulton (link)

Additional References:
Ways of Seeing, Chapter 1, John Berger (link)


W 10/9

Gender, Sexuality, and Identity Politics
We move from issues of representation to focus on gender and sexuality, beginning with a cultural history (“Lesbian Bodies”). We consider gender as a performance (Judith Butler) and examine the concepts of feminism and queer theory, as well as problems of academic discipline.

Class Activities:
Guest Speaker: Student member of GLTSBA Pride

Assignments Due:
“Lesbian Bodies: Tribades, Tomboys and Tarts,” Barbara Creed (link)
“Ain’t I a Woman?” Sojourner Truth (link)
“The Discipline Problem: Queer Theory Meets Lesbian and Gay History,”
Lisa Duggan (link)
“What No One Will Tell You About Feminism,” Lindy West (link)

Additional References:
Undoing Gender, “Introduction: Acting in Concert,” Judith Butler (link)
YouTube: “Ain’t I a Woman?” Alfre Woodard performs Sojourner Truth (link)
YouTube: Tough Guise: Violence, Media and the Crisis in Masculinity (link)


W 10/16

Gender & Sexuality Continued

Class Activities:
Take-home test distributed
Guest Speakers: Sylvester and “Ms Authoritarian”
Screening: Southern Comfort OR If These Walls Could Talk II


W 10/23

We move from our exploration of gender and sexuality to a study of ethnicity, looking at the mythology of “race;” a cultural history of immigration; how “pluralism” differs from “multiculturalism;” the problems of “difference” in identity politics; and traditions of representation in film.

Class Activities:
Introduce Paper #2 (link to assignments)
Sign up for one-on-one consultations for take-home test and Paper #2

Assignments Due:
Take-Home Test Due
“A Revolution of Values:The Promise of Multicultural Change,” bell hooks (link)
"Paula Deen Racist Comments," Rachel Tepper (link)
“Disparaging the ‘Other,’” Wilson II, Gutierrez, Chao (link)

Additional References:
YouTube: I am a Man: Black Masculinity in America (link)
“Bamboozling’ Stereotypes Through the 20th Century,” Wilson II, Gutierrez, Chao (link)


W 10/30

Ethnicity Continued

Assignments Due:
“Representing Whiteness in the Black Imagination,” bell hooks (link)
“Selling Hot Pussy,” bell hooks (pp. 113-116 only) (link)

Class Activities:
Review Final Project (link to assignments)
Screening: Killer of Sheep, Charles Burnett OR
Screening: Cultural Criticism and Transformation, bell hooks
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4
Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8


W 11/6

Representing Class
We’ve noted theorists who have said we cannot fully look at gender without looking at ethnicity, and certainly class and geography are important components in the formulation of identity as well. This week, we will look at the concept of “class,” while at the same time considering theory about representation and reality television.

Assignments Due:
“America On Screen,” Ann Hornaday (link)
“Poor White and Pissed,” Joe Bageant (link)
Cultural Studies, “Doing Cultural Studies,” Chris Rojek (Chapter 2) (link)

Class Activities:
Screenings: “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo”

Additional References:
Film: The True Meaning of Pictures, Shelby Lee Adams


W 11/13

Political Economy
We move from a look at “class” to a discussion of political economy, Marxism, historical materialism, and cultural studies. To what extent is cultural studies necessarily or not necessarily enmeshed with political economy?

Class Activities:
Screening: The Queen of Versailles (Netflix Instant Play)

Assignments Due:

Paper #2 Due (link to assignments)
“Why Karl Marx Was Right,” Lee Sustar (link)
"Queen of Versailles and Its Lawsuit," Joe Nocera (link)

Additional References:
“Political Economy and Cultural Studies,” Nicholas Garnham (link)
“Cultural Studies vs. Political Economy: Is Anyone Else Bored with This Debate?” Lawrence Grosby (link)


W 11/20

Religion | Sports
One might think that speaking truth to power could easily include critiques of organized religion—and it can. However, this week we take a more nuanced look at religion as theorist Terry Eagleton defends faith in response to Richard Dawkins’ atheist rationalism. How do your ideas about spirituality come into this discussion?

Assignments Due:
“Lunging, Flailing, Mispunching,” Terry Eagleton (link)
“The God Hypothesis” (From The God Delusion), Richard Dawkins (YouTube)
“Learning to Hate Longhorn Football,” Robert Jensen (link)
“Football Isn’t Just About Capitalism,” Dave Zirin (link)
“Football: A Dear Friend to Capitalism,” Terry Eagleton (link)


W 11/27



W 12/4

FINAL PRESENTATIONS (link to assignments)

Postmodernism & Post Cultural Studies?
We end by looking at evolution in the field of cultural studies and asking whether it is still a viable field.

Assignments Due:
“Cultural Studies and Its Theoretical Legacies,” Stuart Hall (link)
“What’s The Matter With Cultural Studies?” Michael Bérubé (link)
“The Postmodern Turn,” Steven Best, Douglas Kelner (link)
“Where Do Postmodernists Come From?” Terry Eagleton (link)
“The Joke’s On You,” Steve Almond (link)

Additional References:
“Media Sociology,” Todd Gitlin (link)


W 12/11

Receipts for Class Surveys Due (in email for participation credit)

The take-home class is due at 6:00 on the Wednesday, Dec. 11 (finals week) and will be submitted online (there is no class).