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COURSE NAME: "Digital Media Culture"
SEMESTER & YEAR: Fall 2018

INSTRUCTOR: Donatella Della Ratta
EMAIL: [email protected]
HOURS: TTH 4:30-5:45 PM
PREREQUISITES: Prerequisite: COM 220

This course provides students with a number of theoretical approaches to critically assess how digital media function and their expanding and expansive role in contemporary culture. The course further investigates digital media convergence in order to develop a critical lexicon that can both chart its development and engage in intellectual interventions in its use within the transformations occuring in more traditional cultural forms such as television, film, popular music, print, and radio. Special emphasis will be placed on the specific cultural, political, economic, and social issues raised by digital media forms.
The course will attempt at first to define the domain of Digital Media, proposing it as the amalgamation of different traditional media forms into new digitally based varieties. Subsequently the course will analyze the various forms which Digital Media has assumed and concentrate on the specific issues –cultural, political, economic, technological and social—that the various forms raise.

This is a lecture and discussion course. We will shift back and forth between discussing theoretical and practical issues in relation to digital media culture media and their relation to society. Lectures and discussions will be supported with several multi-media content. Students are strongly encouraged to propose their own choice of media material for the class.

Readings include texts by influential scholars and new media theorists such as (among others): Lev Manovich, Geert Lovink, Jodi Dean, Tiziana Terranova, Wendy Chun, Manuel Castells, Yochai Benkler, Lawrence Lessig, Gabriella Coleman, Henry Jenkins.

You can find all the reading materials in the JCU library (paper format/online); those not available there will be distributed in digital format. 


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

1.  understand and analyze the corresponding influences that traditional media and digital media are having upon each other.

2. understand and analyze how digital media use contributes to shape personal identities and social relationships.

3.  recognize the influences that digital media is expressing in the cultural, social, economical and political spheres.

4. learn some key concepts such as hypertextuality, interactivity,  remediation, web 2.0., communicative capitalism, digital labor, etc., and connect them to diverse forms of popular culture (e.g. films, novels) and to the use of digital media in everyday life. 

5.  advance one’s ability to work in team and produce qualitative research reports and reflection papers.


Attendance and participationAttendance includes attending a mandatory session with the Library and completing a library assignment. Also see attendance requirements here below. Participation includes doing the assigned readings and actively contributing to class discussions. Each student (alone or in team with another, depending on total number of students) has to lead at least one group discussion during the semester based on the assigned readings.15%
Midterm examClassroom Test with short answers and one essay question.20%
Research Paper Students are required to write a paper between 3000-4500 words in connection to a novel (see list in the syllabus). Detailed guidelines to be provided.30%
Final oral presentation Discuss a digital media object/culture in light of the readings and theories analyzed in class. Detailed guidelines to be provided.15%
Short video assignmentCreative assignment “Man/Woman with the smartphone camera”. Detailed guidelines to be provided.10%
"Bring your own example": weekly reflections Every week students are required to provide a short paragraph connecting the weekly readings to a relevant example from contemporary digital media (e.g. an Instagram/Facebook/etc post; a Twitter conversation; a YouTube video; a selfie; a digital community or lifestyle; etc.). The paragraph (including weblinks to the selected digital objects) should be sent via email the night before the first class of the week.10%

AWork of this quality directly addresses the question or problem raised and provides a coherent argument displaying an extensive knowledge of relevant information or content. This type of work demonstrates the ability to critically evaluate concepts and theory and has an element of novelty and originality. There is clear evidence of a significant amount of reading beyond that required for the course.
BThis is highly competent level of performance and directly addresses the question or problem raised.There is a demonstration of some ability to critically evaluatetheory and concepts and relate them to practice. Discussions reflect the student’s own arguments and are not simply a repetition of standard lecture andreference material. The work does not suffer from any major errors or omissions and provides evidence of reading beyond the required assignments.
CThis is an acceptable level of performance and provides answers that are clear but limited, reflecting the information offered in the lectures and reference readings.
DThis level of performances demonstrates that the student lacks a coherent grasp of the material.Important information is omitted and irrelevant points included.In effect, the student has barely done enough to persuade the instructor that s/he should not fail.
FThis work fails to show any knowledge or understanding of the issues raised in the question. Most of the material in the answer is irrelevant.

Please note that the library session on citing is mandatory and absences will automatically lower your participation grade. 

Also please consider that more than 4 absences will automatically result in lowering your participation grade by one letter grade for each absence.
Anything above 8 absences will result in failing the course.

If you have a serious health problem which causes you to miss more classes than allowed here, please contact the Dean's Office.

Lateness: If unexcused, students more than 10 minutes late are marked as absent. Late arrival (less than 10 minutes) is marked as such, and 3 late arrivals are counted as one absence. 

Class procedure:  Use of cell phones and laptops affects your participation grade and is strictly forbidden during class. Please make sure that your cell phone is turned off (and not just muted) when class starts. Kindly note that any infringement of such policy shall automatically result in a F grade in participation.
As stated in the university catalog, any student who commits an act of academic dishonesty will receive a failing grade on the work in which the dishonesty occurred. In addition, acts of academic dishonesty, irrespective of the weight of the assignment, may result in the student receiving a failing grade in the course. Instances of academic dishonesty will be reported to the Dean of Academic Affairs. A student who is reported twice for academic dishonesty is subject to summary dismissal from the University. In such a case, the Academic Council will then make a recommendation to the President, who will make the final decision.
John Cabot University does not discriminate on the basis of disability or handicap. Students with approved accommodations must inform their professors at the beginning of the term. Please see the website for the complete policy.




For the research paper choose a novel from among the following:


1. Borges, Jorge Luis, “The Garden of Forking Paths” and “The library of Babel”, in Labyrinths: selected stories and other writings (New York: New Directions Pub. Corp., 1964).


2. Gibson, William, Neuromancer,(New York: Ace Books, 1984).


3. Cronenberg, David, Consumed,(New York: Scribner, 2014).


4. Dick, Philip K. Ubik, (New York: Doubleday, 1969).




A scanner darkly (New York: Doubleday, 1977).






Week 1Introduction and course overview: What is digital media and what's new about it?

 Selected readings from:

 Tim O'Reilly What is web 2.0, blog post.

 Lindgren, S. ‘Digital Media and Society’, London: Sage, 2017.


Selected clips from “Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World” (2016), “The machine is US/ing US” (2007)

Week 2. The origins of computer culture

 Selected readings from:

Curran, James, “The internet of history: rethinking the internet's past”, in Misunderstanding the Internet, eds. James Curran, Natalie Fenton and Des Freedman, London and New York: Routledge, 2016.

Barbrook, Richard, and Cameron, Andy, “The Californian Ideology”, Mute Magazine, 1995.

 Watching: selected clips from “Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World” (2016), “The Social Network” (2010)

Recommended readings:

Barlow, John Perry, A Declaration of Independence of Cyberspace, 1996.
Packer, George, “Change the world”, The New Yorker, May 27, 2013.

Week 3. Technodeterminism, cyberutopias, and the myth of the Internet as a public sphere 

Selected readings from:

Toffler, A. ‘The Third Wave’, London: Collins, 1980.

 Lindgren, S. ‘Digital Media and Society’, London: Sage, 2017.

 Watching: Mac’s 1984 commercial; ‘Dans la tete de Aziza’ Tunisian remix 

Week 4 From early hacker cultures to Anonymous.

Selected readings from:

Coleman, E. Gabriella, Coding Freedom: The Ethics and Aesthetics of Hacking, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2013).

Coleman, G. (2013) ‘Anonymous and the Politics of Leaking’, in Brevini, B., Hintz, A., and McCurdy, P. (eds.) Beyond WikiLeaks, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan; pp. 209-228.

"Hacker", in Ryan, M., Emerson, L., & Robertson, B. (Eds.). (2014). The johns hopkins guide to digital media. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Watching: selected clips from Anonymous, “Ghost in the shell” (1995), “The Matrix” (1999), “Revolution OS” (2001), “Mr Robot” (2015)

Recommended reading:

Wark, McKenzie, A Hacker Manifesto, version 4.0.


Week 5. Free software, open source movement, and remix cultures

 Selected readings from

Lessig, Lawrence Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy,(London: Bloomsbury, 2008).

"Free and Open Software", in Ryan, M., Emerson, L., & Robertson, B. (Eds.). (2014). The johns hopkins guide to digital media. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Watching: selected clips from “Good copy bad copy” (2007), “RIP!A Remix Manifesto” (2008), “Re-examining the Remix: Larry Lessig's TEDTalk” (2010); ‘This is America’’s user-generated remixes (2018)

Recommended reading:

Stallman, Richard, The GNU Manifesto, 1985.

Week 6. Participatory cultures and DIY communities


Selected readings from

Jenkins, Henry Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide, (London and New York: New York University Press, 2006).

Davidson, Patrick. "The language of Internet memes", in Mandiberg, M. (Ed.). (2014). The social media reader

"Mash-up", "Participatory culture", in Ryan, M., Emerson, L., & Robertson, B. (Eds.). (2014). The johns hopkins guide to digital media. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Watching: user-generated remixes, mash-ups, memes case studies 



Week 7. * Midterm test*

Introduction to Section Two: Metaphors and languages of digital media.

Selected readings from:

Manovich, Lev, The Language of New Media (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2002).

Watching: clips from “The man with the movie camera” (1929)


Week 8The five principles of digital media: Representation, Modularity

Selected readings from:

Manovich, Lev. The Language of New Media (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2002).

Miller, V. Understanding Digital Culture, London: Sage, 2011.

Watching: clips from “Videodrome” (1983), “Histoire(s) du Cinema” (1988), “Minority report” (2002),  “Blade runner” (1982),


Week 9. The five principles of digital media: Automation 

*Workshop for the research paper 

Selected readings from:

Manovich, Lev, The Language of New Media (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2002).

Miller, V. Understanding Digital Culture, London: Sage, 2011.

Watching: clips from “Histoire(s) du Cinema” (1988), “Goodbye to language” (2014), “Immemory” (2002), “How algorithms shape our world” (TedTalk 2011), case studies of algorithms and A.I.s


Week 10. The five principles of digital media: Variability and Transcoding 

Manovich, Lev, The Language of New Media (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2002).

Miller, V. Understanding Digital Culture, London: Sage, 2011.

Watching: case studies from Instagram, Snapchat, selfies, etc 

Week 11: Virtuality, Simulation, Remediation

* Video exercise due 


Selected readings from

Bolter, Jay David, and Grusin, Richard, “Remediation”, Configurations: A Journal of Literature, Science, and Technology 4, 3 (1996 Fall): 311-358.

Baudrillard, Jean, Simulacra and Simulations, in Selected Writings, ed. Mark Poster (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1988), 166-184.

Watching: clips from “Strange days” (1995), etc.



Week 12. Sharing economies or free labor? 

Selected readings from:

Shirky, Clay, “Gin, Television, and Social Surplus”, in The Social Media Reader, ed. Michael Mandiberg, (New York: New York University Press, 2012), 236-241.

Benkler, Yochai, "Sharing nicely", in Mandiberg, M. (Ed.). (2014). The social media reader. 

Terranova, Tiziana, “Free Labor: Producing Culture for the Digital Economy”, in Social Text 2, 18 (2000 Summer): 33-58.

Watching: “How cognitive surplus will change the world: Clay Shirky's TED Talk” (2010), “Smart mobs: the next social revolution” (2002); “Facebookistan” (2016).

Recommended reading:

 Ippolita, In the Facebook Acquarium: the Resistable Rise of Anarcho-Capitalism, Institute of Network Cultures (Amsterdam: 2015).

Week 13. Social media and its discontents: a case study of the Arab Spring's "Facebook revolutions"

*Research paper due 

Selected readings from:

Van Dijck, José, The Culture of Connectivity: a Critical History of Social Media, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013).

Della Ratta, Donatella.  On the narrative of Arab 'DIY revolutions' and how it fits into out neoliberal times, in Bennett, P., & McDougall, J. (Eds.). (2017). Popular culture and the austerity myth : Hard times today (Routledge research in cultural and media studies, 98). New York, NY: Routledge.

Watching: selected clips and user generated content from the Arab Spring

Recommended reading:

Lovink, Geert, Social Media Abyss: critical Internet culture and the force of negation, (Cambridge UK: Polity Press, 2016).


Week 14. Wrap up and discussion of students’ projects for the final exam

Final exam (check exam schedule): oral presentations