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COURSE NAME: "Contemporary Visual Culture"
SEMESTER & YEAR: Fall 2019

INSTRUCTOR: Antonio Lopez
EMAIL: [email protected]
HOURS: TTH 3:00-4:15 PM
PREREQUISITES: Prerequisite: Junior Standing. Recommended: COM 111

The course investigates current trends in visual communication, as well as the methods for how to analyze and contextualize these. Contemporary aspects of media and visual culture will be examined together with modern and historical texts for a well-rounded engagement with the medium as well as the narratives and issues it articulates. Drawing on TV, film, internet memes, contemporary art, digital media, and popular culture, the course may include topics like the impact of celebrity, selfies, postmodern visual practices, identity politics and social movements, memes, and viral media. Students will engage in advanced level visual research and analysis that will foster competencies useful for further cultural studies or media careers.
The course explores critical visual culture in three sections. In Part I, students are introduced to basic theoretical approaches to images, power, politics and identity. and. Next, students learn viewing and analytical strategies that will applied to case studies throughout the semester. Part II takes students on a historical journey on the emergence of the Western visual regime, exploring linear perspective and realism in European art; the rise of modernity, spectatorship and surveillance; visual control through the gaze of the Other in colonial expansion; and the emergence of a postmodern visual culture and its spread across the globe. Part III examines contemporary issues of visual culture, including the rise of celebrity culture and the selfie; memes and the economy of attention; identity politics and visual activism; image and pseudo events; and environmental politics. The course is structured around in-class discussions of images and videos, and hands-on analysis activities. Students are expected to write an in-depth analysis of a pre-approved media object and to curate a visual culture topic using multimedia software.


* Identify key themes in the history of visual culture

* Analyze key texts and respond to them both verbally and in writing 

* Apply established theoretical frameworks to contemporary visual culture

* Critique the role of images in shaping identity and political discourses
Book TitleAuthorPublisherISBN numberLibrary Call NumberComments
How to See the WorldNicholas MirzoeffPelican978-0141977409  
Book TitleAuthorPublisherISBN numberLibrary Call NumberComments
The Practices of Looking (Third Edition)Marita Sturken and Lisa CartwrightOxford University Press978-0190265717  
The Visual Culture Reader (3rd edition)Nicholas MirzoeffRoutledge9780415782623  
Visual Culture: The ReaderEdited by Jessica Evans and Stuart HallSage/Open University Press9780761962489  
Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices (Second edition)Edited by Stuart Hall, Jessica Evans, Sean NixonSage9781849205634  
Spaces of Disappearance: The Architecture of Extraordinary RenditionJordan CarverUR (Urban Research)978-1947198012  

Final presentationPresentation of research project during the final exam period.10%
Group reading presentationWork with a group to present readings and topic. To be scheduled in class.10%
TimelineEnter images from first six weeks into online timeline software 20%
Curated Exhibit Create a curatorial project (with proposal) relating to ideas raised during the course using Omeka20%
Participation and AttendanceA combination of class participation, attendance and evidence of reading required texts.10%
JournalYou are required to keep a visual journal and take physical notes during class. 5%
Curation paperSubmit a 5-7 page accompanying paper.25%

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.


More than three unexcused absences will result in the loss of a letter grade. More than six unexcused absences will result in the loss of two letter grades.

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.


Note: Schedule is subject to change. Please see the class Moodle for updates. On average you are expected to read a mix of three chapters/articles per week. Some weeks feature shorter articles, so more are included. When readings are longer or complex, there are fewer readings.

Pt. I: Overview, introduction

Week 1: Intro: Image maps, image ecologies

How to see the world (Introduction)

Introduction (pp. 1-16), The Cinematic Footprint (Nodia Bozalk)

"We Aren't the World," Pacific Standard

Week 2: Images, Power, Politics and identity

The Work of Representation, Stuart Hall (Ch. 1 Representation)

How to See the World (chpts. 1-2)

Pt. II: Visual Regimes                 


Week 3: Viewing strategies and ethics

The Work of Representation, Stuart Hall (Ch. 1 Representation)
How to See the World (chpts. 1-2)

Week 4: Visual literacy, realism, perspective

Technology as Symptom and Dream, Robert D. Romanyshyn (excerpt, PDF)

Ways of Seeing, John Berger (excerpts, PDF)

Visual Literacy (ch. 4, PDF)

Week 5: Modernity

Modernity: Spectatorship, the Gaze, and Power (Practices of Looking, Ch. 3)

Panopticon, Michel Foucault (Visual Culture: A Reader, Ch. 5)

The work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction (Visual Culture: A Reader, Ch. 6)

Week 6: Colonialism and the gaze

The Spectacle of the “Other,” Stuart Hall (Representation, Ch. 4)

(Re)thinking Orientalism, Rachel Bailey Jones (handout)

The poetics and politics of exhibiting other cultures (Representation, Ch. 3)

Week 7: Postmodernism, Remix and globalization

The world Image, Susan Sontag (Visual Culture: A Reader, Ch. 7)

Jean Baudrillard, ‘The Hyperrealism of Simulation’’, Art in Theory: 1900-2000

Week 8: Image analysis workshop

Part III: Contemporary issues

Week 9: Image culture: Celebrity to Selfie -- The Role of the Image in Constructing the Self

Amelia Jones, “The Body And/In Representation,” The Visual Culture Reader

Lisa Nakamura, “Digital Racial Formations and Networked Images of the Body”

Handout: (excerpts from) Karen Archey, “Post Internet Curating: An Interview with Carson Chan,” Rhizome, 2016

Week 10: Memes and economy of attention

How to see the world (Chapters 7, Afterward)

Week 11: Identity politics and visual activism

Fred Moton, “The Case of Blackness,” The Visual Culture Reader

Lisa Nakumura, “Digital Racial Formations and Networked Images,” The Visual Culture Reader

Malek Alloula, “From the Colonial Harem,” The Visual Cultural Reader

Week 12: Image and pseudo events

How to see the world (Chapters 3)

The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America, Daniel J. Boorstin (excerpt, handout)

Amusing Ourselves to Death, Neil Postman (Ch. 1, handout)

Week 13: Environmental politics

How to See the World (chapter 6)

Image Politics: The New Rhetoric of Environmental Activism, Kevin Michael DeLuca (excerpt, handout)

Week 14: Wrap-up

Reading quiz