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COURSE NAME: "Foundations in Critical Media Studies"
SEMESTER & YEAR: Fall 2020

INSTRUCTOR: Helton Vilar De Andrade Levy
EMAIL: [email protected]
HOURS: TTH 3:00-4:15 PM
PREREQUISITES: Prerequisite: COM 220. Recommended: COM 311.

The aim of this course is to map and explore the canonical scholarship and central research methods in critical media and cultural studies to prepare students to perform advanced and evidence-based media analysis and research. By highlighting key themes and methodologies of the field, the course synthesizes themes from lower-level communications and media studies courses to provide a foundation for advanced study in media. The course applies approaches to inquiry and research practice that students will encounter in a range of courses offered by the program.

This course bridges lower level COM courses with upper level CMS courses by providing students an integrative foundation of core concepts in critical media studies and research methods. Every week will feature a major research theme and method from the field, pairing readings that offer overviews with key theory articles. Each week students will be designated to do individual presentations of case studies based on the weekly topic. Key themes, such as class, race, gender, sexuality, post-colonialism and citizenship will be integrated into the weekly case studies. The course includes several practical research projects to enable students to practice a variety of common analytical techniques, such as discourse, narrative and semiotic analysis. Students will also learn library research skills by producing a literature review based on an individualized topic in order to familiarize themselves with databases and resources. The course culminates with group presentations that feature case studies utilizing synthetic/multiperspectival approaches on emergent and challenging media objects (i.e. popular music, new media, games and gaming, software and digital humanities).


Students will develop the following proficiencies and skills during the course:


·       Distinguish the major areas of inquiry for critical media and cultural studies

·       Understand the relationship between critical media analysis and research methods

·       Identify the major theories and schools of the field

·       Develop skills in media research, analysis and interpretation

·       Acquire information and library research skills through the creation of a literature review 

·       Improve writing, verbal and multimedia communication 

·       Develop collaborative skills (dialogue exchange, working in groups)

Book TitleAuthorPublisherISBN numberLibrary Call NumberCommentsFormatLocal BookstoreOnline Purchase
Media and Communication Research MethodsAnders Hansen, David MachinMcMillan International9781137589644     
Craft of Criticism: IntroductionMichael Kackman, ‎Mary Celeste Kearney Routledge9781134749232     

• Literature review, 5-7 pages Students will write a literature review of a media topic of their choice. Approval of professor required. 20
• Four short research method projectsCritical discourse analysis (10%) Narrative analysis (10%) Semiotic analysis (10%) Ethnographic research (10%) 40
• Individual presentation Every week students will present a research case study from the assigned readings. Each student must make one presentation during the semester.5
• Weekly Questions/ObservationsEvery week students are required to provide a question or observation based on the readings that will be due the night before the second class of the week10
• Group Presentation Students will work in groups to make a 15-minute presentation for the final exam featuring case studies chosen from the following subjects: Stardom and Celebrity Cultural Geography National/Transnational/Global media History and Historiography Popular Music New Media Games and Gaming Software Digital Humanities Mythology Psychoanalytic Criticism Alternative media Queer theory Globalization 15
• Attendance/participation  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.

You cannot make-up a major exam (midterm or final) without the permission of the Dean’s Office. The Dean’s Office will grant such permission only when the absence was caused by a serious impediment, such as a documented illness, hospitalization or death in the immediate family (in which you must attend the funeral) or other situations of similar gravity. Absences due to other meaningful conflicts, such as job interviews, family celebrations, travel difficulties, student misunderstandings or personal convenience, will not be excused. Students who will be absent from a major exam must notify the Dean’s Office prior to that exam. Absences from class due to the observance of a religious holiday will normally be excused. Individual students who will have to miss class to observe a religious holiday should notify the instructor by the end of the Add/Drop period to make prior arrangements for making up any work that will be missed. The final exam period runs until ____________
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 1: Media and cultural studies research: Ontology, epistemology and methods 

  • Media and Communication Research Methods: Chapter 1 (“Introduction”), Chapter 2 (“The research process”)
  • Craft of Criticism: Introduction
  • Key theory reading: “The Uses of Cultural Studies,” A. McRobbie; “Introduction to Cultural Studies,” Kellner

Week 2: Ideology and hegemony

  • Craft of Criticism: Chapter 1 (“Ideology,” Ron Becker)
  • Analysing Media Texts: Chapter 5 (“The politics of representation,” Jason Toynbee)
  • Key theory reading: “Base and Superstructure in Marxist Cultural Theory,” Raymond Williams

Week 3: Political economy

  • Craft of Criticism: Chapter 10 (“Political Economy,” Patrick Burkart)
  • Craft of Criticism: Chapter 22 (“Production,” Timothy Havens)
  • Key theory reading: “Rich Media, Poor Democracy,” Robert McChesney

Week 4: Media Policy

  • Craft of Criticism: Chapter 11 (“Media Policy,” Bill Kirkpatrick)
  • Media and Communication Research Methods: Chapter 3 (“Researching ownership and media policy”)
  • Key theory reading: “Public sphere,” Habermas

Week 5: Discourse and content analysis

  • Craft of Criticism Chapter 2 (“Discourse,” Rosalind Gill)
  • Analysing Media Texts: (“Discourse analysis and content analsyis,” David Hesmondhalgh)
  • Key theory reading: selections from Fairclough and Foucault

Week 6: Narrative and Mythology

  • Craft of Criticism: Chapter 3 (“Narrative,” Jason Mittell)
  • Analysing Media Texts: Chapter 3 (“Narrative Analysis,” Marie Gillepie)
  • Key theory reading: “The Poetics of Prose,” T. Todorov

Week 7: Genre

  • Craft of Criticism: Chapter 16 (“Genre,” Amanda Ann Klein)
  • Craft of Criticism: Chapter 17 (“Intertexts and Paratexts,” Jonathan Gray)
  • Analysing Media Texts: Chapter 2 (“Understanding Genre,” Gill Branston)
  • Key theory reading: “Introduction” From Watching with The Simpsons: Television, Parodyand Intertextuality, Jonathan Gray

Week 8 Non-Fiction Media

  • Craft of Criticism: Chapter 4 (“Non-Fiction Media,” Daniel Marcus)
  • Media Studies: Chapter 4 (“Reality Media”)
  • Key theory reading: “The Image World,” Susan Sontag

Week 9 Visual Style and representation: 

  • Craft of Criticism: Chapter 5 (“Visual Style,” Jeremy Butler)
  • Craft of Criticism: Chapter 8 (“Representation,” Mary Beltrán)
  • Analysing Media Texts: Chapter 1 (“Introduction”) 
  • Key theory reading: “The work of representation” and “Encoding/Decoding,” Stuart Hall

Week 10 Authorship and Auteurism: 

  • Craft of Criticism: Chapter 9 (“Authorship and Auteurism,” Cynthia Chris)
  • Key theory reading: “Death of the Author,” Roland Barthes


Week 10: Orientalism, Postcolonialism, and Cultural Imperialism

Craft of Criticism: Chapter 20 (“National/Transational/Global,” Shanti Kumar)

Key theory readings: “Disjuncture and Difference in the Global Economy,” “Introduction: Instructions on How to Become a General in the Mickey Mouse Club,” Ariel Dorfman and Armand Mattelart

Week 11 Audiences, ethnography and focus groups

  • Craft of Criticism: Chapter 15 (“Audiences,” Matt Hills)
  • Media and Communication Research Methods: Chapter 4 (“Ethnography and observational methods”)
  • Key theory reading: “Oppositional gaze,” bell hooks

Week 12 Sound and Popular Music

  • Craft of Criticism: Chapter 6 (“Sound,” Jacob Smith)
  • Craft of Criticism: Chapter 23 (“Popular Music,” Norma Coates)
  • Key theory reading: "On Popular Music," Theodor Adorno

Week 13 Media ecology, medium studies and technology

  • Media Ecology: Chapter 9 (“Tools”)
  • Key theory reading: “Medium is the Message,” from Understanding Media, Marshall McLuhan; “Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” Walter Benjamin

Week 14: Catch-up and review


Aside from the main textbooks, which are overviews of the key themes in critical media studies, the following are the major theory articles students are expected to read:

  • “Medium is the Message,” from Understanding Media, Marshall McLuhan
  • “Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” Walter Benjamin
  • “The Uses of Cultural Studies,” Angela McRobbie
  • “Introduction to Cultural Studies,” Douglas Kellner
  • “Base and Superstructure in Marxist Cultural Theory,” Raymond Williams
  • “Rich Media, Poor Democracy,” Robert McChesney
  • “Public sphere,” Jurgen Habermas
  • Selections from Fairclough and Foucault
  • “The poetics of prose,” Tzvetan Todorov
  • “Introduction” From Watching with The Simpsons: Television, Parodyand Intertextuality, Jonathan Gray
  • “The Image World,” Susan Sontag
  • “The work of representation” and “Encoding/Decoding,” Stuart Hall
  • “Death of the Author,” Roland Barthes
  • “Oppositional gaze,” bell hooks
  • "On Popular Music," Theodor Adorno