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COURSE NAME: "Digital Media Culture"
SEMESTER & YEAR: Fall 2020

INSTRUCTOR: Donatella Della Ratta
EMAIL: [email protected]
HOURS: TTH 4:40-6:00 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.


ParticipationParticipation includes doing the assigned readings and actively contributing to class discussions. Each student has to lead at least a weekly discussion during the semester based on the assigned readings.10%
Midterm examDetailed guidelines will be provided 25%
Final research paper, Library assignment & Oral presentationPaper & Library assignment (25%) + Video Essay/Visual Presentation (15%). Students are required to write a research paper related to the course material. Each student will make a video essay/visual presentation based on the paper at the end of the semester. Detailed guidelines will be provided.40%
Online weekly reflections At the beginning of the semester, students are required to choose a digital platform (Tumblr, Wordpress, etc) where to build their own space to post updates and reflections about the assigned readings on a weekly basis. Students are encouraged to connect the weekly readings to relevant examples 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.). Project will be assessed and graded in two phases, midterm and finals (10+15%). Detailed guidelines will be provided. 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.


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.

No laptops allowed during class.

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.






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

Course overview 22 Sept

Introduction: What is web 2.0 24 Sept 


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


 “The machine is US/ing US” (2007)

Week 2. Histories of computer culture

History of the Internet I 29 Sept

History of the Internet II 1 Oct


Excerpts 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.

Excerpts from: Levine, Yasha. Surveillance Valley : The Secret Military History of the Internet, Icon Books Ltd, 2019.

 Watching: selected clips from “Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World” (2016); Esalen videos, etc. 

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. Ideologies of computer culture

Class discussion: Histories of the Internet 6 Oct

The Californian Ideology as the Internet's founding myth 8 Oct

“Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World” (2016) 9 Oct


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

Excerpts from: Fuchs, C. (2014). Social media : a critical introduction. Los Angeles: SAGE.


Week 4: Technodeterminism, cyberutopias, and the myth of the Internet as a public sphere 

Class discussion: Ideologies of computer culture 13 Oct

'Early' theoretical readings of the Internet 15 Oct

Case study: hacker culture, disruption or freedom of speech? 16 Oct


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

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.

Watching: Mac’s 1984 commercial; ‘Dans la tete de Aziza’ Tunisian remix, “Revolution OS” (2001), “Mr Robot” (2015)

Recommended readings:

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

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


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

Class discussion on technodeterminism, cyber utopias, etc. 20 Oct

Content creation in the digital era 22 Oct


Excerpts 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.

Stallman, Richard, 'Why software should not have owners' 1994

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)

Week 6. Participatory culture and DIY communities

Class discussion on content creation 27 Oct

Convergence and participatory culture 29 Oct


Excerpts 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. Recap and midterm test 

* midterm review of online projects 

Review class 3 Nov

Midterm 5 Nov



Week 8. Memes in digital culture 

Introduction: languages and aesthetics of the Internet 10 Nov

Memes in digital culture 12 Nov

'The Cleaners'  13 Nov


Excerpts from Shifman, L. (2014). Memes in digital culture. MIT Press. 


Week 9: Virality, Aesthetics, Politics of online videos 

Class discussion on memes 17 Nov

Deconstructing online videos 19 Nov


Excerpts from Shifman, L. (2014). Memes in digital culture. MIT Press

Excerpts from 'The Video Vortex Reader' (2008)

Watching: Deepfakes, Cheapfakes, Lonely Girl, etc.


Week 10. Automation and Algorithmic cultures part I

Class discussion on online videos 24 Nov

The politics of automation part II 26 Nov


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

Watching: “How algorithms shape our world” (TedTalk 2011), Workers Living the GooglePlex, The Selfish Ledger, etc. 


Week 11. Automation and Algorithmic cultures  part II

Class discussion on automation 1 Dec

Algorithms, A.I.s & techno-surveillance 3 Dec


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

Watching:  Preempting Dissent (2014), “Facebookistan” (2016), 'Losing Lena' (2019)


Week 12: Wrap up

Wrap up 8 Dec

'The Social Dilemma' 10 Dec 


Final exam (check exam schedule): research paper & visual presentations