Communication 405: Social Implications of an Information Society
Fall 2013

Tuesday and Thursday, 12:30–1:45pm
O’Kelly 1

Prof. Kyle Conway
Office: 221D Merrifield
Office hours: Tuesday and Thursday, 10:00–11:30am and by appointment
Phone: 777-4344
Email: kyle dot conway at und dot edu

Class blog:
name: 405student
Password: See syllabus posted on Blackboard

Course objectives and approach:

There are many “social implications of an information society.” This class focuses on one—the way that the distinction between media producers and consumers is blurring.

Our approach will be two-fold. First, we will examine the blurring of this line through the lens provided by the Frankfurt School, whose members worked after the Second World War to try to understand the role of the media in everyday life. We will consider their arguments in the light of twenty-first century concerns, including media convergence. We will apply the theories we read and, at the same time, look for the contradictions they cover up. Second, we will be producing our own media. You will each produce a 2- to 3 ½-minute video, following the conventions of the talking-head documentary. This act of production will provide us with another way to evaluate the claims of the media scholars we read.

By the end of this course, you will have a strong command of the vocabulary shaping theoretical inquiry. You will also have concrete skills related to video production. More important, however, you will have sharpened your skills at critique, skills that will serve you well as you engage with information in an ever-changing media environment.

Required materials:

Henry Jenkins, Sam Ford, and Joshua Green, Spreadable Media: Creating Value and Meaning in a Networked Culture (New York: NYU Press, 2013)

distributed electronically as PDFs


Note-taking 50 points
Participation 150 points
Artifact analyses (3 x 100 points each) 300 points
Final project/reflexive analysis 500 points
TOTAL 1000 points

Grading scale
A: 900–1000 points B: 800–899 points C: 700–799 points
D: 600–699 points F: 0–599 points

Note-taking (50 points)
At the beginning of each class, each student will give his or her three answers to the questions listed below under the heading “reading approach.” One student will copy down these answers and post them to the Comm 405 blog before noon the following day. This responsibility will fall to a different student for each class, following a schedule I will determine.

These answers will guide the discussion of various media artifacts (TV shows, YouTube clips, websites, etc.) that we will examine over the course of the semester.

Artifact analyses (3 x 100 points for 300 points total)
At three points during the semester, you will use the theory we are reading to analyze a media “artifact,” which could be a program, a website, or something else. We will choose these artifacts collectively, and we will examine them in class.

You will then write a brief analysis that answers the following questions:

• What is one question a theorist we have read would ask about this artifact?
• Based on what we have read, how would the theorist answer that question?
• Based on the artifact itself, is this answer plausible? If so, why? If not, why not?

Your analyses should be about 750 words long, and they should be in paragraph form (i.e., not bullet points). They should cite specific aspects of the artifacts (shots, scenes, links, web design, etc.) to support your assertions.

I will grade them as follows:

• Form: 25 points, 5 point penalty for each mechanical or grammatical error
• Content: 75 points, based on quality of analysis and concreteness of examples

Click here for the checklist/rubric.

Final video project/reflexive analysis (500 points total)
Over the course of the semester, you will work with a partner to make a short talking-head documentary. It must be at least 2 minutes long and no longer than 3 minutes 30 seconds. I will post a list of other technical requirements to the blog as we learn about video production.

Each group will turn in one video.

Each student will turn in one reflexive analysis that uses the theory we read to describe and evaluate the process of production. This analysis will mirror the artifact analyses: you will describe questions that theorists we read might ask about the process of production; you will use their theories to answer those questions; and you will use your personal experience to evaluate those answers. The reflexive analysis should be about 2000 words long, and it is due with your final project on Dec. 19.

I will grade the video project and the reflexive analyses as follows:

Video project:

• Form: 250 points, based on a rubric I will post by Sept. 26
• Content: 50 points, based on originality, interest

Reflexive analysis:

• Form: 50 points
• Content: 150 points, based on a rubric I will post by Sept. 26


Communication program policies
Please see this file.

Academic honesty
See the Code of Student life. In addition, you may not turn in work for Communication 405 that you have turned in or intend to turn in elsewhere.

Attendance is mandatory. You get one free absence. After that there will a penalty.

Email and grades
FERPA (the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) prevents me from discussing grades over email. However, I am more than happy to meet with you during my office hours if you would like to discuss your grade.

Cell phones
As a courtesy to me and to your classmates, please turn cell phones off during class, and please refrain from texting.

Recording devices
Please do not record class sessions (either audio or video) without my explicit permission.

Communication program information:

This class address two of the communication program’s goals:

Goal 2
Students will become proficient in communicating critically, creatively, and ethically in diverse contexts and through multiple forms of media, including (though not limited to), written, oral, digital, and print-based communication.

Goal 4
Students will demonstrate the knowledge they have acquired in their Communication coursework in an experiential learning environment, providing relevant and meaningful connections between their classroom work and the broader extended community.

Reading approach:

For each day’s reading, please answer the following questions:

• What is one question the author is seeking to answer?
• What is one main point the author makes?
• What is one critique of the author’s argument?

The first two questions should be relatively straightforward, but the third might be new, depending on the types of classes you have taken before. “Critique,” in this case, means a wide range of things. Some possibilities include:

• Omission: what else might the author have included or discussed?
• External contradiction: how does the author’s argument differ from your experience or from what you observe in the world around you? How does it differ from other theorists’ observations?
• Internal contradiction: does the logic of the author’s argument contradict itself?

Reading schedule:

Week 1 – Introduction
8/27 – Introduction and course overview
8/29 – What is theory? What is method?
Culler, “What is Theory?” (PDF)
Conway, Technology/Form, chap. 1 (PDF)

Week 2 – What’s at stake?
9/3 – The method of critique
Conway, Technology/Form, chaps. 2–7 (PDF)
9/5 – Artifact 1

Week 3 – Video project
9/10 – Camera – framing, lighting – ARTIFACT ANALYSIS 1 DUE
9/12 – Sound


Week 4 – Are viewers dupes?
9/17 – The culture industries
Horkheimer and Adorno, “The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception” (excerpt) (PDF)
MacDonald, “Midcult and Masscult” (PDF)
Scott, “Open Wide: Spoon-fed Cinema” (HTML)
9/19 – Participation as salvation
Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” (PDF)

Week 5 – How does participation becomes production? / Video project
9/24 – Bargain media
Halleck, “Plunk Your Magic Twanger” and “The Uses of Community Media” (PDF)
Boyle, “From Portapak to Camcorder: A Brief History of Guerilla Television” (PDF)
Milner, “Bargain Media: Taking Control of Our Image and Lives” (HTML)
9/26 – Workshop – concept – BRING RAW FOOTAGE


Week 6 – What is the nature of power?
10/1 – Notions of power
Castells, “Communication, Power and Counter-power in the Network Society” (PDF)
10/3 – Artifact 2

Week 7 – What shapes media circulation today?
10/8 – “Stickiness” vs. “Spreadability” – ARTIFACT ANALYSIS 2 DUE
Jenkins et al., introduction
10/10 – REVISED DISCUSSION: Tools for close reading
Conway, “Pedagogy and Digital Aesthetics: A Manifesto” (PDF)

Week 8 – Video project
10/15 – Final Cut Pro – day 1 – BRING YOUR FOOTAGE TO CLASS
10/17 – Final Cut Pro – day 2 – BRING YOUR FOOTAGE TO CLASS


Week 9 – What constitutes “value” in the era of convergence?
10/22 – Final Cut Pro – refining editing techniques – BRING YOUR FOOTAGE TO CLASS
10/24 – Web 2.0 and its notions of value
Jenkins et al., chap. 1

Week 10 – How do industry and viewers interact?
10/29 – Commodity culture vs. the gift economy
Jenkins et al., chap. 2
10/31 – How the industry views viewers
Jenkins et al., chap. 3

Week 11 – What does “participatory” mean?
11/5 – The nature of participation
Jenkins et al., chap. 4
11/7 – How programs encourage participation
Jenkins et al., chap. 5

Week 12 – How does spreadability go beyond conventional borders?
11/12 -Spreadability and independent media
Jenkins et al., chap. 6
11/14 – Spreadability and globalization
Jenkins et al., chap. 7

Week 13 -What is the future of participatory media?
11/19 – Spreadability and the big picture
Jenkins et al., conclusion
11/21 – Artifact 3

Week 14 – Video project
11/26 – open editing – ARTIFACT 3 ANALYSIS DUE

Week 15 – Video project
12/3 – View and critique rough cuts – BRING ROUGH CUT VERSION OF FINAL PROJECT
12/5 – open editing

Week 16 – Video project
12/10 – View and critique rough cuts – BRING ROUGH CUT VERSION OF FINAL PROJECT
12/12 – open editing