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Indiana University Bloomington

Performance and Ethnography | Courses

Undergraduate Course Overview

Performance and Ethnography offers undergraduate courses that explore how people perform different identities and engage with media in their everyday lives. In our classes we compare cultural practices and teach about the different ways people communicate in other cultures. We always have an ethnographic focus, which means that we are interested in how participating in and observing social interactions can give us insights into people's lives.

CMCL C203 Gender, Sexuality, and the Media: Introduction to Queer Representations in Popular U.S. Cinema
This course will introduce students to the history of "queer" representations of sexuality and gender as they are entwined and encoded in popular cinema in the United States. We will examine how constructs of queer behavior and body type are later transformed into modern notions of naturalized identity. We will also interrogate commonly held and frequently unquestioned assumptions about race, class, nationality, and ability that are associated with queer representations. Students will carefully study the traces of gender and sexual norms as they have been constructed in the arch of mainstream U.S. cinema from the turn of the 20th Century to the present. Using the lens of critical media and cultural studies approaches, students will learn to read select examples from this history towards understanding the broader political economies and cultural contexts that shaped contemporary understandings of sexuality and gender.

CMCL C314/ AMST 350 American Captivity Narratives
For centuries, Americans have been telling stories about their experiences in captivity. In these narratives, forced contact with an other becomes the basis for defining and questioning the self. The first best-seller in America told the adventurous ordeal of a Colonial woman captured by Native Americans; 300 years later, fabulous stories of UFO abduction arose in popular culture. What can we learn about America by looking at the evolution of captivity narratives over time? How has American identity been shaped and challenged through imagining the capturing other? And how specifically does writing express and shape experiences of captivity?

This class explores a wide range of captivity narratives, from the historical to the fantastic. Along with Indian captivity and UFO abduction, our study will include fiction and non-fiction accounts of containment and redemption, including texts about slavery, prison, mental hospitals, kidnappings during the Iraqi war, stories of children secluded from society, and the desires for containment and release in the making of nuclear weapons.

This class is interdisciplinary in scope. We will use literature, film, anthropology and psychology to study both scholarly and popular understandings of captivity and freedom in America. Our focus will include the following themes: colonization and the land, the body and technological development, religious questing, and discourses of gender, race and class. Through lecture, students will be introduced to some social theories of containment in culture and language. In addition, we will substantively explore the boundaries between memory and fantasy. Therefore, this class will also introduce students to current theories of traumatized memory and the debates over false and repressed memories in America.

CMCL C314 Mass Media in Other Cultures
People are constantly talking about how media has changed the way we communicate, that mass media has radically altered how communities and nations are organized. In this class, we explore the assumptions that equate media and cultural change. What is it about media that has such a powerful effect on culture? This course will examine the challenges that focusing on the mass media – including technologies, production processes, content, and reception – present for studying cultures. The questions we will address include:

  • How do different communications media construct the boundaries of communities and how “community” is defined?
  • How do different media technologies construct or transform class, gender, and other power structures?
  • How does the introduction of new media into a culture transform the experiences and conceptualization of time, space, society, and the body?

CMCL C314 Discourses of Repression: The Poetics and Politics of American Trauma
This class is an interdisciplinary exploration of trauma and memory in America. Making use of theory from anthropology, psychology and literature, we will think about the ways in which "repression" and "recovery" are imagined as both personal and social/political practices related to both historical and individual traumas. We will explore American constructions of inner memory and public history, including: the politics of recovered memories; hegemony, master narrative, speech and silence; the uncanny and the return of the repressed; and theories of consciousness and memory including trance, disassociation, and cultural forgetting. We will look at American popular texts on Satanic ritual abuse, alien abduction and conspiracy theory, as well as scholarly and theoretical work on trauma, memory and political and psychological redemption.

CMCL C318 Stories of Everyday Life: Media, Ethnography, and the Representation of the Self
What do we mean by "everyday life?" How do ideas about culture, class, gender, race, and the individual emerge through representations of ordinary people -- both self and other -- in different forms of media, ranging from books to the Internet? In making meaning from everyday experience, what are the relationships between ethnography, fiction and autobiography? This course will explore such questions by pursuing two major themes: the expression and framing of the self in everyday life, and the proliferation of many kinds of representation, in various media, which shape the meanings of both everyday and extraordinary experience.

The anthropology of everyday life examines what are often taken-for-granted practices and beliefs. In this course, you will turn an anthropological eye towards the representation of the self in everyday contexts, both in your own culture and in worlds far from home. You will consider works from both academic and popular genres, including written works of ethnography, fiction and memoir, and stories from television, film and the Internet. While some weeks will involve the reading of texts, on other weeks you will critically analyze representations from popular media. Students will have the opportunity to create a creative/ethnographic work focusing on their own familiar worlds. Making use of various constructions of the self in everyday life, we will study the intersections between different media and genres. We will explore the boundaries between the fictive, the autobiographical, and the ethnographic; the impact of feminist anthropology on theories of representation; and deepen our understanding of those cultural and expressive practices, beliefs, values, and discourses that often go without saying.

CMCL C318 Ethnography as Cultural Critique
Topic: Self, Body, Culture
This course explores the ways ethnographic work can serve as a way of "making strange" the world in which we live. By looking at our world through the lens of other societies and cultures, we begin to notice things about our societies and ourselves that we had always taken for granted. We start to understand the ways in which our own world is structured. We begin to pay attention to the culturally specific nature of our own beliefs and assumptions. The self provides a focal point around which our inquiry will be organized. Embedded in our ideas about personhood are broader cultural assumptions about the relationship between mind and body, between individual and society, between structure and agency. By critically examining specific self-making practices in a range of ethnographic settings, we develop a more informed, critical perspective on our own society. The course format features structured discussions, minilectures, small group work, and video and audio presentations. Students in the class also learn to use ethnographic methods and complete a semester-long ethnography project of their own design.

CMCL C333 Stigma: Culture, Deviance, and Identity (with Weekly Film Screenings)
Cultural value systems in every society rely on sets of mutually defining terms -- for example, normal/abnormal, able-bodied/disabled, heterosexual/homosexual, white/non-white -- that largely determine local attitudes of acceptance or ostracism regarding particular categories of persons. Focusing on social stigma allows us to understand how specific cultural value systems affect our most intimate senses of self, contribute to our very notions of personhood, and inform the way we communicate and engage with others in the world.

Stigma theory speaks broadly to the nature of the social relationships that create marked categories of persons, regardless of which particular attributes are so devalued. In this class we look both at theory and at particular cases of stigmatized persons and groups, as attention to the particularities of a given stigma keys us in to the complex of cultural values that create and support it. Since stigmas do change over time, identifying the strategies that have been effective in encouraging such change is a primary focus of the course.

The theoretical centerpiece of this course is Erving Goffman's 1963 study Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity. We will read this text closely to appreciate Goffman's insights, and attempt throughout the semester to update the language he uses to convey his points by applying his model to more recent historical and ethnographic case studies of stigmatized persons and groups. Our primary focus will be on the range and efficacy of the various strategies available for managing and/or deflating stigma. The role of the expressive arts in the life trajectories of stigmatized persons and groups will be explored as one such strategy.

We focus in particular on artists and activists whose work addresses contemporary cases of stigma involving class, race, ethnicity, disability, gender and sexuality. Weekly screenings of landmark films in the fields of disability studies, black studies, queer studies, and gender studies supplement regular class meetings. Online posting on a class-by-class discussion site facilitates full student participation.

CMCL C334 Ways of Speaking
Social life is a communicative achievement, accomplished through the communicative acts of its members. To be a member of society, then, is to be able to communicate in socially appropriate and understandable ways, the most basic of which are ways of speaking. Who we are, what we do, how, when, where, and under what circumstances we do it all rest on ways of speaking: think of the differences between talking like a man and talking like a woman, speaking with an eastern accent and speaking with a southern accent, making a speech and greeting a friend, participating in a business meeting and participating in a religious service, telling a joke and making a promise, talking to your boss and talking to your cat. Moreover, ways of speaking vary from one culture to another: a greeting in Bloomington is very different from a greeting in Senegal or Panama or Tikopia. In this course, we will explore the forms, functions, and meanings of ways of speaking in our own and other cultures.

CMCL C334 Current Topic in CMCL: Queering Sexuality and Gender in the Media
Mediated representations of sexuality and gender permeate our daily lives. The moments and ways these representations come together are powerful in shaping how we come to think of who we are and what we should aspire to be. This course will teach students to critically analyze gender and sexuality as they are entwined and encoded in popular media representation. We will examine how these constructs of subjectivity interrelate to commonly held and frequently unquestioned assumptions about race, class, nationality, and ability. The course opens with two main claims:

  • that popular media are central to our social definitions of self and community
  • that far more than being simply entertaining, media enable certain ways of being in the world while marginalizing others.

How is your sense of gender constructed by the kinds of popular media that surround you? How are your desires shaped by what is available to watch, play, listen to, and buy? How do your socio-economic circumstances, physical bodies, and racial identities intersect with gender and sexual differences in popular culture? We'll think about these questions by carefully studying how our assumptions about gender and sexual norms are shaped through several prominent sites of popular culture: advertising, television, film, music, and cyberculture. Students will learn to critically read the messages and meanings in select examples from each of these sites. Students will also learn to understand how political and economic inequalities in the culture industries structure our sexual and gender choices, especially in terms of what it means to be "normal" and/or "queer."

CMCL C337 New Media: History and Contemporary Experiences in New Media
This course explores the cultural meaning and significance of calling media "new." We will examine how the histories of other media introductions offer models for thinking about the newest "new media" on the block-the Internet and other digital media. We will look at how the introduction of media technologies shape and are shaped by many aspects of modern life from how we keep the lights on to how we see ourselves culturally. We will question how the World Wide Web and other electronic media become part of daily life, what is different about goods, services, and events that transpire online, and what theories of communication and social interaction are useful in understanding online environments and experiences. We will examine questions about the impact of network technology and digital media on social, political, economic, and cultural institutions that comprise modern society. We will read social critics and social scientists that analyze and comment on new media technologies, with an eye toward current controversies regarding technology's impact. You will learn to:

  • trace the history of new media back to early 20th Century technological innovations
  • critically analyze claims made about the information age
  • reflect on the impact of networked computers on social life by examining a variety of online venues.

CMCL C401 Senior Seminar
Topic: Identity and Difference
Modernity has been erected on a foundation of difference. Indeed, modernity's reigning political philosophy of liberalism - although established around notions of liberty, equality, and fraternity - was built on racial, ethnic, and gender distinctions elaborated within colonial empires. Nationalist and postcolonial formations have been equally beset by issues of belonging and exclusion. Even in an increasingly global world order, the proliferation of identity-based movements centered around ethnolinguistic or religious concerns shows no signs of abating.

This course is concerned with how differences are constructed in relation to broader configurations of power and ideology. Our focus will be on the social, epistemological, and imaginative work entailed in the construction and maintenance of difference. We ask: How, despite democractizing rhetorics of freedom and equality, does liberalism in fact rely on a series of differences that have been formulated in racial, ethnic, religious, and gendered terms?

Cross-cultural and comparative in scope, the course will center around a series of situated cases ranging from colonial empires in the period of "high colonialism" (late 19th-20th centuries) to contemporary conditions of late modernity. We investigate practices of Othering from colonial advertisements to contemporary tourist displays. We consider the politics of cultural heritage with regards to museums and other kinds of public exhibits. We inquire into questions of cultural difference with regards to the identity requirements of colonial and contemporary states. We look into the nature of the subjective experience of being "Othered" in both colonial regimes and with regards to the U.S. Patriot Act. Finally, we take up the question of genocide in relation to the politics of humanitarianism and human rights. Readings are drawn from social theorists, anthropologists, and historians, and are complemented by several personal narrative accounts.

CMCL C412 Ethnicity, Class, and the Model U.S. Citizen
This course asks two central questions: What kind of differences are multicultural nation-states trying to govern, and what are the paradoxes involved in governing these differences? We will be looking at the United States as a case study to answer these questions. In this course, we examine how differences are represented in the United States , and what implications this has for being a U.S. citizen.

Why the focus on the model U.S. citizen? In recent years we have heard a great deal about difference and diversity. But in these discussions and debates, the one thing that people will tend not to talk about is -- where are these categories of diversity coming from? How in particular do current ethnic categories emerge? They were never written in stone. Categories of identity develop, shift, and reform over the decades. How does that happen?

Ethnicity and class are social facts: governing constructs that take on a concreteness that lets them become the foundations of our social life. These constructs, these social facts, form the basis of our lived reality. In the case of ethnicity and class, these social facts put certain groups of people at a serious disadvantage. They take on the force of law and science when they are instantiated by people in positions of authority and accepted as such by the rest of us. Ethnicity and class figure very importantly into the history of U.S. cultures. They are central to American culture, whether Americans want to admit it or not (and many do not). As we will see throughout this course, ethnicity and class have worked in ways that keep people who live on the political downside of U.S. culture from being taken seriously.

In this course we are going to pay close attention to the assumptions lying behind public accounts of ethnicity and class in immigration law, the census, congressional hearings, and so on. It is important for you to see how the culture you live in is made.

CMCL C414 Malls, Museums, and Other Amusements: The Public Sphere in the Modern U.S.
This course examines, through the lenses of anthropology and social history, public sites that link commerce, entertainment and education in the 20th century U.S. The goal of the course is to encourage students to analyze connections between the organization of public spaces, the social construction of our public behaviors and personae, and the marketing of sanctioned desires and pleasures as these contribute to our contemporary American (urban) "lifestyle." We ask how ideas about gender, class and race influence the organization of public spaces as well as the experiences available therein. We read ethnographic case studies of iconic U.S. landscapes of popular culture, including Disneyland, Colonial Williamsburg, Central Park and Coney Island. The class includes several short field trips to related urban-scapes. As a theoretical framework the course draws on the work of Habermas, Marx, Foucault, and Goffman among others.

CMCL C415 South Asia Through Performance (with Weekly Film Screenings)
This course looks at South Asian culture through the lens of performance, and at performance through the lens of South Asian culture. Culture and performance always exist in dialogue; our aim here is to make that dialogue explicit, and to understand the multiple participants in it. We will read six ethnographies of performance in contemporary India, beginning with cultural formations of the self and moving into increasingly complex externalized forms. The ethnographies trace this trajectory through a range of sites of cultural expressivity in both rural and urban India, including:

  • daily rites of interaction that constitute self and personhood
  • collective ritual embodiments given life through festivals
  • the socio-historical development of staged theatrical enactments of the tensions in modern identity
  • the class politics of the prolific Indian cinema industry
  • and the pursuit of globalized consumerism in the Indian advertising business.

In addition to learning from these written ethnographies, we will view a range of films that represent South Asian culture through a broad range of performative events (films include Gandhi; Lagaan; Salangai Oli; Monsoon Wedding; Fire; and others).

CMCL C415 Persuading with Words, Persuading with Culture
In this course, we explore how people make others into certain types of people. We do not take for granted that it is somehow obvious how ‘social construction' works or that it can be assumed to be something to do with vaguely conceived processes of socialization in childhood. Rather we set out to understand how the structuring of social relations at all ages - from child to adulthood, from birth until death - implies that people are constantly telling each other who to be and what to do. In this light, children, novices, and by implication, persons of all kinds are seen to be continuously making sense, in practice, of who they can be in relation to other people's historically specific ideas about who it is appropriate for them to become. Exploring this phenomenon of making people in detail, this course aims to provide a solid foundation on which students can begin to confidently make cross-cultural comparisons of processes of teaching and learning, focusing on the question of how people learn in child and adulthood what they come to take for granted as cultural knowledge.

CMCL C417 Power and Violence: Political Systems in Ethnographic Perspective
Different political systems are founded and maintained by varying combinations of overt violence and more subtle workings of ideas and ideologies. Through cross-cultural case studies, the course will examine how coercion, persuasion, consensus, and dissent operate in and through the politics and performances of everyday life. We will ask: How does domination become internalized, such that people willingly submit to it and actively reproduce it? What are some of the ways that opposition and dissent operate in the everyday lives of ordinary people? What constitutes resistance, and in what ways is it connected to power? In what ways is power bound up with forms of knowledge?

During the first half of the course, we engage different approaches to these questions by social theorists including Marx, Engels, Bourdieu, and Foucault. We focus our inquiry around issues of structure and agency, drawing on case studies in Pakistan, Malaysia, and Western Europe. In the second half of the course, we turn our attention to how forms of knowledge have been intertwined with strategies of power. We look at how technologies as diverse as the census, the museum, and advertisements participated in new ways of imagining inequality, and we consider the ongoing legacies of these technologies in the contemporary world - from such seemingly "benign" products as National Geographic to the devastation of ethnic violence in the Rwandan genocide.

CMCL C422 Performance, Culture, and Power in the Middle East and North Africa
This is an especially important moment in global history to develop a more nuanced understanding of Middle Eastern societies. In this course, we will explore the complex relationships between cultural values, power relations, and communicative practices among various populations of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). Taking an ethnographic perspective, we view performance not only in terms of a formal display for an audience but also as the range of events and practices through which cultural values are negotiated and social relations are organized. In other words, Moroccan marketplace talk, Bedouin women's love poetry, or the listening practices of young male consumers of Algerian rai (world beat) music will be as important to our inquiry as the staged concerts of a national Egyptian star. As we ask what it is that people are up to when they engage in communicative practices, we will also problematize what "communicative practice" entails and how it has been variously theorized. In moving from what scholars of performance have called the interaction order (face-to-face communication) to global media, we will necessarily be engaging with a range of theoretical models, drawn from fields including anthropology, performance studies, and cultural studies.

The focus of the course is on how communicative practice is organized in the societies of the MENA rather than on how these societies are represented by Western media. At the same time, we acknowledge that the authors (mostly Western) whose works we will be reading have their own positionality with regards to the locations of their research, and we will also attend to their representational practices and politics. Moreover, the organization of global politics influences the materials that are available to us; Morocco and Egypt are especially well represented in the course because they have been "easy" locations for Westerners to conduct research, while Iraq, Libya, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Afghanistan have been virtually inaccessible. The course format features structured discussions, minilectures, small group work, and video and audio presentations.

CMCL C430 Native American Communication and Performance
This course is organized as a survey of communicative forms in Native North American cultures and their realization in performance. The performance forms we will consider include oral performances (e.g., narrative, oratory) and ceremonial performances (e.g., curing rituals, powwow). We will also explore the use of performance forms as symbolic resources in literature and film. Readings will be supplemented throughout the course by media presentations and animated by in-class performances.

CMCL C445 Media, Culture, and Politics: Media, Social Movements, and the Politics of Representing Dissent
Scholars of communication and democratic practice suggest that the exchange of dissenting opinions is essential to the health and growth of an open society. Equally important is understanding the unique role media play in registering and representing political dissent of social movements working in and beyond the strictures of the legislative process. Labor and anti-poverty organizing, demonstrations against the WTO and other international, global justice efforts, anti-war activism, the civil rights and women's movements, pro and anti-abortion activism, AIDS activism, pro and anti-gay marriage efforts are among the most visible social movements. The perspectives of these social movements are conveyed to the average citizen primarily through media representations. Sometimes defiant, sometimes accommodating, social movements voice political dissent through strategies from nonviolent peace vigils and street guerrilla theatre to orchestrated acts of mass civil disobedience. In complex ways, the public interpretations of these strategies invariably engage an arena of global media. In this course, we will examine readings organized around four questions:

  • how are social movements organized as a form of political dissent?
  • what is the relationship between media, public discourse, and political dissent?
  • what strategies and tactics of dissent do activists use, and how are they publicly interpreted vis-à-vis mass media?
  • what are the political, social, cultural consequences and possibilities of social movements' strategic use of alternative media?

We will explore the above through a close reading of critics and social scientific writing on the sociology of social movements and media studies with an eye towards current controversies regarding uses of alternative media for political dissent and cultural practice.

CMCL C446 Cultures of Democracy
This country is now seen as split between two distinct political worldviews. To be a Democratic or to be a Republican is to take a stand on three ethnographic and philosophical questions central to democracy. What does democratic representation entail? How does a nation become democratic? And lastly, what are a citizen's obligations to their nation – what constitutes a model citizen?

In this course, we are going to address all three questions from an ethnographic perspective, exploring the cultural assumptions that underlie different countries' answers to these questions. We will explore how and when culture matters, asking whether democracy in Chile can ever be same as democracy in Uganda or in the United States . In addition, we will examine how people discuss politics in the United States to look at what is American about politics here, paying particular attention to the assumptions lying behind public accounts of democracy in media, polling, congressional hearings, and so on.

CMCL C450 Gender, Culture, and Narrative
How is gender created, contested, circulated, and made meaningful through narrative? How do the stories we tell produce both possibilities and limitations in the ways we imagine masculinity, femininity and the transgression of boundaries? Most broadly, this class asks students to think rigorously and creatively about gendered experience and its representation in narrative. We will study texts from multiple cultural and historical arenas, from both far away and close to home. We will look at various performances of gender and sexuality within a wide range of narrative genres (both scholarly and popular), including ethnography, fiction, film, memoir, the graphic novel, and the Internet. Through lecture, students will be introduced to relevant concepts in narrative and social theory.

Throughout the course, as we look from the familiar to the cross-cultural, we will question what is meant by such seemingly obvious oppositions as "male and female," "the body and the imagination," "heterosexuality and homosexuality," and "the public and the private." In stories that are sometimes explicitly and sometimes implicitly about gender, we will think about how human beings negotiate gender and sexuality from their positions in familial, social, and global arenas. We will explore ideas about relationships, language and the self, from within the depiction of such topics as: medicine, authority and the body; addiction and anorexia; becoming an adult; sex-based practices of social separation; work and home; fairy tales; and captivity, trauma and memory. We will think about how gender is complicated by race and class, and explore how subjectivity and intimacy are shaped by -- and escape -- forces of power.

CMCL I205 International Communication
This course teaches students to become aware of the ways we communicate, and especially of how culture shapes the ways we communicate. The goal is to see how communication is connected to questions of social identity and social power.

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Graduate Course Overview

This course teaches students to become aware of the ways we communicate, and especially of how culture shapes the ways we communicate.  The goal is to see how communication is connected to questions of social identity and social power.

CMCL C502 Introduction to Performance in Communication and Culture
This course is a graduate-level introduction to performance-oriented perspectives on the study of social life. We will explore the principal conceptions of performance that shape performance studies in the humanities and social sciences, with attention to their intellectual history, their epistemological correlates and implications, their descriptive and analytical foci, and their potential for integration. More specifically, we will consider:

  • performance as practice
  • performance as performativity
  • performance as theatricality
  • performance as artful communication
  • performance as display event

We will balance our attention between the exploration of theoretical and analytical perspectives on the one hand, and ethnographic, case-study examination of specific performance forms on the other.

CMCL C507 Ethnographic Research Methods in Communication & Culture
This course explores ethnographic research methods in the study of communication and culture. It is designed explicitly to connect the three departmental topoi: performance, public discourse, and media under the rubric of ethnography. We address a range of theoretical and methodological issues involved in constructing ethnographies of performance, text, public discourse, television, film, and new media. The course begins by considering current questions related to qualitative ethnographic research practices, including ethnographic authority, ethics, intersubjectivity, representation, and time and space. Through a series of case studies, we then look at how various communicative practices ranging from live performances to multiply mediated events to have been approached ethnographically. Throughout the semester, students work on their own ethnography projects in the Bloomington area.

CMCL C610 Identity and Difference
Modernity has been erected on a foundation of difference. Indeed, modernity's reigning political philosophy of liberalism, although underwritten by notions of liberty, equality, and fraternity, was predicated on racial, ethnic, and gender distinctions elaborated within European colonial empires. Nationalist and postcolonial formations have been equally beset by the problematic of belonging and exclusion. This course is concerned with the poetics and politics of othering. We focus on the social, epistemological, and performative work entailed in the construction and maintenance of difference. Cross-cultural and comparative in scope, the course will center around a series of theoretical works and related cases ranging from colonial empires in the period of "high colonialism" (late 19th-20th centuries) to "alternative modernities" - that is, locations where key terms of modernity (e.g., democracy, individualism, and even "modernity" itself) are being reconfigured in relation to vernacular concepts and practices. We conclude the semester with a look at changing forms of citizenship under neoliberal regimes.

CMCL C620 Media, Politics, and Power: Ethnographic Approaches to New Media: Configuring the Object of Analysis in New Media Research
The qualitative analysis of media technologies, particularly those considered "new" has become increasingly important to a number of fields, from communication and science studies to new media studies design. In order to make the qualitative study of new media as vigorous and grounded as possible, I suggest we:

  • contextualize new media as a kind of information system coming from a rich history of "newness"
  • plumb the "old" methodological toolbags of classical ethnography and qualitative analysis more broadly and
  • investigate what to tweak or rethink in applying qualitative analyses to the study of new media

In this course, we will examine the introduction of past technologies, survey texts that talk about technologies as politically complicated relations of power, and address the rapidly growing body of qualitative analyses examining new media in order to better equip us to modify these principles for our own studies of "new media." You may approach the course in one (or both) of two ways. If you plan on doing ethnographic research of new media as part of your doctoral thesis, then this semester can be used for locating, gaining access to, and undertaking a pilot project at your research site, with the readings guiding you in possible themes. Your final work will be a tightly focused literature review and a project description. Or, you may choose to concentrate on the social and theoretical issues raised by the texts being studied. In this case you will be expected to turn in a theoretical essay discussing general issues in the study of new media (or rethinking a previous position you took in a previous paper) with an eye towards situating new media in these past and ongoing analyses.

CMCL C627 Rhetoric, Performance, and Public Culture
This course will be devoted to the exploration, in ethnographic and comparative perspective, of genres of public speaking, extending from political and ritual oratory to the performances of academic lecturers, market vendors, carnival barkers, and auctioneers. Our first task will be to develop a conceptual and analytical framework for the comparative study of public speaking as public discourse, as rhetoric , and as performance , with special attention to form-function-meaning interrelationships. We will then turn to a cross-cultural survey of public speaking as reported in the ethnographic literature. The final section of the course will be devoted to presentations by seminar participants reporting on their term projects, which may include the empirical study of public speaking in a specific sociocultural and/or historical context or a critical survey of the ethnographic and/or historical literature on public speaking in a particular society or culture area.

CMCL C627 Networks, Systems, and Flows: Theories of Circulation
This course looks at contemporary theoretical approaches to how knowledge and objects circulate. We look at the categories theorists use to conceptualize circulation and distribution, such as networks, systems, and flows, and explore the implications of using one category instead of another. In addition, we will turn to theorists who focus entirely on circulation and speed, disregarding the channels through which objects and knowledge moves. We cover theorists such as Deleuze, Bakhtin, Kittler, Virilio, Latour, Luhmann, and de Certeau. Students will learn a broad range of analytical tools for examining contexts in which circulation is the central problematic.

CMCL C627 Performance in Communication and Culture
How does art express -- and create human experience in all the diversity of cultural conditions around the world? Given the enormous variety of human life, are there universal elements to the aesthetic? How do people from different geographical, economic, political and social areas of the world create, understand, and theorize about their own art and experience? This class encourages students to explore concepts such as "meaning," "value," "art," "experience" and "everyday life" not as autonomous philosophical categories, but rather as inextricably bound up with the myriad cultural and social conditions from which they arise in different situations around the world. The class will, in part, approach art from what might be called an "ethno-phenomenological" perspective, attempting to understand the co-constructions of perception, the senses, the body, and symbolic and aesthetic experience from the point of view of those people whose arts we study. We will also critically study the ways scholars of expressive culture attempt to understand and represent those categories. In addition, we will look at some vernacular works contained within non-aesthetic contexts to analyze the social processes which frame various elements of expressive culture.

CMCL C627 Humor in Use (with Weekly Film Screenings)
This seminar begins from the premise that humor is a good site for the ethnographic study of culture. We will look at a variety of cultural contexts for humor, from staged public performance to private joking, and be primarily concerned with the many and varied social uses to which humor is put. Our focus this spring will be the (very male) world of stand-up comedy, and the women who brave it. While grounded in humor theory, we will explore how our understanding of theoretical models changes when we engage in making comedy of our own (yes, we will!). Our springboard for the study of theories of gendered humor will be Freud's Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious. In studying Freud's paradigm in relation to other theoretical models, and updating these with our own, our aim is to recognize the role of cultural knowledge in what we find funny.

CMCL C627 Stigma: Culture, Deviance, and Identity (with Weekly Film Screenings)
Cultural value systems in every society rely on sets of mutually defining terms -- for example, normal/abnormal, able-bodied/disabled, heterosexual/homosexual, white/non-white -- that largely determine local attitudes of acceptance or ostracism regarding particular categories of persons. Focusing on social stigma allows us to understand how specific cultural value systems affect our most intimate senses of self, contribute to our very notions of personhood, and inform the way we communicate and engage with others in the world.

Stigma theory speaks broadly to the nature of the social relationships that create marked categories of persons, regardless of which particular attributes are so devalued. In this class we look both at theory and at particular cases of stigmatized persons and groups, as attention to the particularities of a given stigma keys us in to the complex of cultural values that create and support it. Since stigmas do change over time, identifying the strategies that have been effective in encouraging such change is a primary focus of the course.

The theoretical centerpiece of this course is Erving Goffman's 1963 study Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity. We will read this text closely to appreciate Goffman's insights, and attempt throughout the semester to update the language he uses to convey his points by applying his model to more recent historical and ethnographic case studies of stigmatized persons and groups. Our primary focus will be on the range and efficacy of the various strategies available for managing and/or deflating stigma. The role of the expressive arts in the life trajectories of stigmatized persons and groups will be explored as one such strategy.

We focus in particular on artists and activists whose work addresses contemporary cases of stigma involving class, race, ethnicity, disability, gender and sexuality. Weekly screenings of landmark films in the fields of disability studies, black studies, queer studies, and gender studies supplement regular class meetings. Online posting on a class-by-class discussion site facilitates full student participation.

CMCL C637 Publics
How can we understand the different ways that publics are composed? This course takes publics to be a distinctive way for linking selves and social unities which relies on technologies, loosely defined.  To ask about publics one must analyze the techniques by which they are constituted. As a result the technological medium becomes central to the question of what is a public.  That is to say, the medium through which the circulation and creation of a public occurs is central to constituting a public.  How are publics constituted using different technologies, and how do these socially constituted technologies affect the publics and people using them?

This course sets out to answer this question by exploring publics from a variety of theoretical and ethnographic angles. Topics covered include the importance of technological structures in shaping publics, the ways in which publics transcend the here-and-now, and the complex relationship between publics and persons. We consider the ways in which personhood is evoked by different publics, as well as exploring how and when publics are culturally specific.  In short, we discuss the benefits and costs of using publics as an analytical lens for understanding historically contingent commonalities and the technologies that enable these commonalities to emerge.

CMCL C645 Topics in the Comparative Study of CMCL
For much of the 20 th century, the study of language has been dominated by perspectives oriented toward language as an abstract formal system. There has, however, been a highly productive counter-perspective, centering around the social semiotics of language and built upon a conception of language as socially constituted, with an emphasis on the situated use of language in the conduct of social life. In this course, the second of a two-semester sequence, we will examine sociological, ethnographic, and performance-oriented perspectives on the social semiotics of language, including the work of Boasian linguistic anthropologists, Bronislaw Malinowski, Erving Goffman, Dell Hymes, and practitioners of conversation analysis and the ethnography of speaking.

CMCL C650 Ethnography and Social Theory
Topic: Middle East and North Africa
As scholars, we are engaged in building social theory through our analyses of social life and communicative practice. Ethnography is a key vehicle through which social theory can be developed. In some cases, social theorists have been ethnographers themselves. Pierre Bourdieu, for instance, developed practice theory and the notion of "habitus" on the basis of his ethnographic research in Algeria. In other cases, ethnographic research has served to hone, complicate, or challenge social theory. Ethnography is also a site for generating new dialogues across theoretical paradigms while at the same time illuminating novel dimensions of social life.

World regions also have their own complex relationships to ethnography. While some regions become ethnographic "blank spots," others become zones of theory and are revisited by ethnographers time and again. The Middle East constitutes one such zone. Indeed, the history of 20th-century social theory - from the functionalism of Emile Durkheim to the disciplinary technologies of Michel Foucault, from the heteroglossia of Mikhail Bakhtin to the diffŽrance of Jacques Derrida - can be interrogated through the ethnography of the Middle East and surrounding regions (North Africa, in particular).

The course pairs a series of theoretical and ethnographic works in order to

  • offer a solid grounding in 20th-century social theory
  • illustrate and problematize how to connect theory and ethnography.

The course also provides an introduction to the organization of social and communicative practice in Middle Eastern and North African societies.

CMCL C793 Seminar in Media: Performing Belonging: Queer(ing) Identities and Mediascapes
Foucault argued that a shift towards understanding sexuality as a pronouncement of an essential (either normal or deviant) identity rather than mere bodily acts marks modernity. This graduate level seminar examines this shift through post-structural, late modern, and post modern approaches to queer theory. We will explore how this body of theory contributes to the examination of representations of and engagements with media as a means of identity construction and belonging with particular attention to the ways in which mediated notions of sex/sexuality necessarily embroil a range of other modern subjectivities, from gender and race, to class and national citizenship.

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