Communication and Culture | Studies in Contemporary Communication (Topic: The Social Matrix of Mass Culture)
C626 | 26084 | Striphas, T.

Th, 9:30 AM-12:00 PM, 800 E. 3rd St. – room 272

Open to Graduates Only!
Meets with AMST-G 620 and CULS-C 701

Instructor: Ted Striphas
Office: 800 E. 3rd St. – room 213
Phone: 856-7868

Mass produced consumer goods or mass culture pervades everyday life—
and, arguably, the politics of everyday life—in modern societies.
From macaroni and cheese to cars, carpeting, and khakis, chances are
a preponderance of these goods surrounds you at almost any moment of
the day.  Their existence depends on an array of individuals,
industries, and technologies working more or less in concert.
Advertising and P.R. firms, distribution systems, retail
establishments, financial institutions, communication networks,
legal codes, public rituals, labor practices—these and other
elements comprise the complex infrastructure or “social matrix” out
of which mass culture emerges.

Despite (or perhaps because of) mass culture’s ubiquity, studying it
can be a fraught undertaking.  Indeed, the critical study of mass
culture poses numerous challenges, beginning with the issue of how
best to define the object of study: “mass” or “popular” culture?
Delimiting the object domain can be no less confounding.  Should we
focus on production, distribution, exchange, or consumption?  Texts,
audiences, or apparatuses?  Some combination thereof?  If so, in
what proportions?  Assessing the politics of mass culture is a
delicate endeavor as well.  How do we respect people’s investments
in mass produced consumer goods while at the same time taking stock
of mass culture, critically?

This seminar will focus on developing a set of theoretical,
methodological, and historical frameworks for making better sense of
mass culture.  We will take a specific orientation to accomplish
this task: cultural studies.  Cultural studies will push us to
consider not only specific mass cultural artifacts and trends, but
perhaps more important, to attend to, theorize, and historicize the
broader sets of relations—the social matrix—within which mass
culture is embedded.

Assessment likely will be based on: active and engaged seminar
participation; one in-class facilitation; and your choice of paper
options (two 10-12 pp. essays or a more traditional 20-25 pp.
seminar paper)

The reading list is likely to include most of the following: Mark
Andrejevic, iSpy; Yochai Benkler, The Wealth of Networks; Rachel
Bowlby, Carried Away; Lizbeth Cohen, A Consumers’ Republic; Stuart
Ewen, Captains of Consciousness; Christine Harold, OurSpace; Joseph
Heath & Andrew Potter, A Nation of Rebels; Henri Lefebvre, Everyday
Life in the Modern World; Stephen Nissenbaum, The Battle for
Christmas; and Joseph Turow, Niche Envy.  We will also watch Adam
Curtis’ documentary, The Century of the Self.

Supplemental readings are likely to include essays by some or all of
the following: James Beniger; Walter Benjamin; Gilles Deleuze;
Stuart Hall; Robert L. Heilbroner; Lawrence Grossberg; Max
Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno; Henry Jenkins; Karl Marx; Tiziana
Terranova; and Thorstein Veblen.