Contact a Humanities Office or Academic unit.
Find your course outlines.

ENGLISH 4DL3 Digital Lives (C01)

Academic Year: Winter 2020

Term: Winter

Day/Evening: D

Instructor: Dr. Sarah Brophy


Office: Chester New Hall 331

Phone: 905-525-9140 x 22243

Office Hours: Tuesdays by appointment

Course Objectives:

Course Description:

As Anna Poletti and Julie Rak argue in their introduction to Identity Technologies, it has become clear that “new developments in digital and online communication […] are not just changing the forms of self-expression, but they are in the process of changing our understanding of what life itself is going to mean” (17). Informed by the critical fields of auto/biography studies and new media studies, this honours seminar course offers students an opportunity to investigate critically the burgeoning domain of online life writing. We will examine selected “automedia” modes such as digital photography, iphoneographies, public social media accounts, online diaries, vlogs, blogs, podcasts, multi-platform projects, and/or hashtag campaigns. A main concern will be the possibilities and the limitations of online life writing modalities for “self-authoring” and for social justice activism. Throughout, attention will be paid: to how lives are lived and represented at multiple intersections of disability, race, gender, class, and sexuality; to the social and personal exigencies motivating online autobiographical production; to the matrix of what Jodi Dean calls “communicative capitalism” (with its attendant logics of surveillance, promotion, and spectacle); and to how the design affordances of different platforms shape self-inscription and self-narration. Through response papers, a commonplace book assignment, and a variety of in-class exercises, students will take an active role in shaping the discussion around the seminar table. Each student will develop a sustained research essay, and we will devote a class period in the latter half of the semester to workshopping these projects. A list of recommended resources for research will be made available at the beginning of the semester.


  • studying and discussing forms of online self-representation in the 21st century, exploring their contexts and architectures, and assessing their social and political significance
  • developing your command of key concepts in the intersecting fields of auto/biography, new media, and cultural theory/studies
  • devising, focusing, and carrying out a research project on a topic of your choice, in which you actively a) engage criticism and theory; b) think critically and creatively through methodologies for studying online lives; and c) adopt ethical practices for internet research
  • practicing the effective use of digital tools for project development and documentation
  • demonstrating proficiency in writing and research by preparing cogent, polished prose essays in shorter and longer formats
  • fostering collaboration and oral communication skills in a supportive and stimulating learning environment
  • familiarizing you with resources for research available through Mills Library and the Sherman Centre for Digital Scholarship.

Textbooks, Materials & Fees:

Required Texts:

Chun, Wendy Hui-Kyong. Updating to Remain the Same: Habitual New Media. MIT P, 2015.

Poletti, Anna, and Julie Rak, eds. Identity Technologies: Constructing the Self Online. U of Wisconsin P,


Eighth Grade, dir. Bo Burnham (Criterion/Elevation Pictures, 2018). [Group screening will take place on Monday,

Jan 27, at 3:30 pm in the Black Box Theatre, followed by a panel discussion]

Additional required book chapters and articles are posted on A2L (see both the “Content” and

“ResourcesàLinks” tabs).

Method of Assessment:


  1. Two Response Papers (300 words each): the paper that receives the higher grade will be worth 12%, the other paper 8% = 20%
  2. Commonplace Book (12-15 media clippings, labelled and organized; graded on a pass/fail basis) = 10%
  3. Preparation, Participation, and Attendance = 15%
  4. Essay Proposal and Annotated Bibliography (500 words, plus eight annotated sources) due Friday, March 6, as a Word document via A2L = 15%
  5. Final Research Paper (2000 words) due Thursday, April 9, as a Word document via A2L = 40%

Bonus Assignment: To be eligible for a 3% bonus (to be added to your final grade for the course), attend a seminar or talk at the Sherman Centre, and then send me an email (200-300 words) documenting your response to the session: what conceptual, ethical, and/or practical lessons did you take away? How did the session enhance your understanding of the interdisciplinary fields of new media studies and digital scholarship? Be as specific as possible in documenting your experience of the session. (See dates/topics for these sessions noted in the weekly schedule below.)

The Assignments

Response Papers: Each seminar member will be assigned to one of four rotating groups, and you will each write two position papers (300 words) in response to a prompt that I will post on A2L at least one week prior to the due date. (See dates for the groups indicated in the weekly schedule.)

The response paper that earns the higher grade will be weighted at 12% and the other paper will be weighted at 8%. These papers should be thoughtful, focused, argumentative interventions that take an analytical stand on a course reading or introduce us to a relevant critical/theoretical text, testing its assumptions and framework in relation to a specific example. Avoid relying heavily on summarizing the assigned reading materials: instead, put the focus on your own thinking work in engaging with selected texts/concepts. You are encouraged to embed pertinent media artefacts in your paper (i.e. screen caps, links). Your position papers should, above all, be designed to generate lively, high-level in-class discussion.

You are asked to submit your response papers on A2L using the Discussions tool (under “Communication”), posting each assignment in the Discussion forum “Response Papers.” You must submit your response paper by 3:00 pm on the Monday prior to the class meeting for which the paper is due. Late response papers and papers over the word limit will be subject to deductions, as specified below under assignment policies. I will communicate my comments and grades on your response papers via email.

You are asked to read and reflect upon your colleagues’ response papers before each class. We will use these short papers to generate some of the class discussion, so while you will not be asked to formally present your papers to the class, please come ready to elaborate on, think more deeply about, and re-contextualize your ideas.

Policy on Missed Work, Extensions, and Late Penalties:

Preparation, Participation, and Attendance (PPA): In this capstone Honours seminar course, you are expected to sustain good quality contributions to class discussion throughout the semester. Your contributions should demonstrate meaningful preparation for class each week, and intellectual engagement with assigned materials and your own and your peers’ ideas, response papers, commonplace books, and research projects. Thoughtful, empathetic, and respectful participation in class discussions, in-class group work and active learning exercises, and on A2L is expected, as is responsible use of technology and an ongoing commitment to sustaining an equitable and inclusive learning environment, free from harassment and discrimination.

Attendance at all seminar meetings is mandatory, and you are asked to make every effort to be punctual. Please notify Dr. Brophy promptly if you will be late or absent. If you must miss a class, then you are asked to catch up on any missed readings/screenings and to obtain class notes from a peer.

If you require academic accommodations, I am happy to connect with you at the start of the course to create an alternative plan for your PPA, and also to stay in touch throughout the course to support you in meeting the course objective of fostering skills in collaboration and oral communication.

In March, students will be invited to attend a one-on-one conference with the professor about their research-in-progress, and also to share a preview of their research project with their peers during a class period set aside for this purpose; these research development activities will be taken into account in the assessment of your PPA. A provisional grade and a written comment on your PPA will be communicated to you during the week of February 10-14th, with the final grade reflecting the entire semester’s contributions to be determined at the end of the semester.

Please Note the Following Policies and Statements:

Academic Dishonesty

You are expected to exhibit honesty and use ethical behaviour in all aspects of the learning process. Academic credentials you earn are rooted in principles of honesty and academic integrity.

Academic dishonesty is to knowingly act or fail to act in a way that results or could result in unearned academic credit or advantage. This behaviour can result in serious consequences, e.g. the grade of zero on an assignment, loss of credit with a notation on the transcript (notation reads: "Grade of F assigned for academic dishonesty"), and/or suspension or expulsion from the university.

It is your responsibility to understand what constitutes academic dishonesty. For information on the various types of academic dishonesty please refer to the Academic Integrity Policy, located at

The following illustrates only three forms of academic dishonesty:

  1. Plagiarism, e.g. the submission of work that is not one’s own or for which other credit has been obtained.
  2. Improper collaboration in group work.
  3. Copying or using unauthorized aids in tests and examinations.

Email correspondence policy

It is the policy of the Faculty of Humanities that all email communication sent from students to instructors (including TAs), and from students to staff, must originate from each student’s own McMaster University email account. This policy protects confidentiality and confirms the identity of the student.  Instructors will delete emails that do not originate from a McMaster email account.

Modification of course outlines

The University reserves the right to change dates and/or deadlines etc. for any or all courses in the case of an emergency situation or labour disruption or civil unrest/disobedience, etc. If a modification becomes necessary, reasonable notice and communication with the students will be given with an explanation and the opportunity to comment on changes. Any significant changes should be made in consultation with the Department Chair.

McMaster Student Absence Form (MSAF)

In the event of an absence for medical or other reasons, students should review and follow the Academic Regulation in the Undergraduate Calendar Requests for Relief for Missed Academic Term Work. Please note these regulations have changed beginning Fall 2015. You can find information at If you have any questions about the MSAF, please contact your Associate Dean's office.

Academic Accommodation of Students with Disabilities

Students who require academic accommodation must contact Student Accessibility Services (SAS) to make arrangements with a Program Coordinator. Academic accommodations must be arranged for each term of study. Student Accessibility Services can be contacted by phone 905-525-9140 ext. 28652 or e-mail For further information, consult McMaster University's Policy for Academic Accommodation of Students with Disabilities.

Academic Accommodation for Religious, Indigenous and Spiritual Observances

Students requiring academic accommodation based on religion and spiritual observances should follow the procedures set out in the Course Calendar or by their respective Faculty. In most cases, the student should contact his or her professor or academic advisor as soon as possible to arrange accommodations for classes, assignments, tests and examinations that might be affected by a religious holiday or spiritual observance.

Topics and Readings:

English 4DL3: Digital Lives

Week-by-Week Schedule, Winter 2020


  • The readings/screening listed here are required, except where I have noted “recommended”
  • All materials are available via A2L (see the “Content” tab for PDFs of book chapters and “ResourcesàLinks” for online articles).
  • Please feel welcome to approach Dr. Brophy if you have any questions or need support to access the materials. I am happy to assist.

Part 1: Introduction to Studying Online Life

WEEK 1 (Jan 7): Welcome and Organizational. Preliminary discussion of digital lives.

Woods, Melanie. “From Doge to Tik Tok: How Society and Our Memes Changed in the 2010s”

[Recommended foundational reading: Laurie McNeill and John Zuern, “Online Lives 2.0”; Anna Poletti and Julie Rak, “Introduction: Digital Dialogues” (in Identity Technologies, eds. Poletti and Rak)

WEEK 2 (Jan 14): Autobiography Studies Meets New Media

Richard Seymour, “We Are All Connected” (from The Twittering Machine)

Julie Rak, “Life Writing vs. Automedia: The Sims 3 Game as a Life Lab”

Laurie McNeill, “Life Bytes: Six-Word Memoir and the Exigencies of Auto/tweetographies” (in Poletti and Rak)

Lauren Berlant and Jay Prosser, “Life Writing and Intimate Publics: A Conversation with Lauren Berlant”

Response Papers: Group #1

WEEK 3 (Jan 21): Research Problems, Methods, and Ethics

Madeleine Sorapure, “Autobiography Scholarship 2.0?”

Emma Maguire and Ümit Kennedy, “The Texts and Subjects of Automediality”

Moya Bailey, “#transform(ing) DH Writing and Research”

Alexander Cho, “Queer Reverb”

[Recommended further reading on methods: Sidonie Smith and Julia Watson, “Virtually Me” (in Poletti and Rak); Sarah Brophy, “Studying Visual Autobiography in the Post-Digital Era”]

Sharing of Commonplace Books (all)

Part 2: Networked Identities and Labour

Screening of Eighth Grade and Panel Discussion on “Social Media, Anxiety, and Feminisms,” Monday Jan 27th in the Black Box Theatre, 3:30-6:30 pm.

WEEK 4 (Jan 28) The Neoliberal Internet

Aimée Morrison, “Facebook and Coaxed Affordances” (in Poletti and Rak)

Wendy Hui-Kyong Chun, Preface: “The Wonderful Creepiness of New Media,” Introduction: “Habitual New                Media,” and “They--˃You” (from Updating to Remain the Same) (pp. 1-23)

Lisa Nakamura, “Cyberrace” (in Poletti and Rak) and “The Unwanted Labour of Social Media”

Response Papers: Group #2

WEEK 5 (Feb 4): Networked Youth

Eighth Grade, dir. Bo Burnham

Emma Maguire, “Introduction” and “Camgirls” (from Girls, Autobiography, Media)

danah boyd, "Why Youth (Heart) Social Networking Sites”

Mary Grey, “Negotiating Identities/Queering Desires” (in Poletti and Rak)

Response Papers: Group #3

WEEK 6 (Feb 11): Celebrity, Self-Branding, and Influencers

Alice Marwick, “Instafame”

Brooke Erin Duffy and Sarah Kessler, “Being a Social Media Influencer” (Interview with Brooke Erin Duffy)

Gavin J.D. Smith, “Surveillance, Data, and Embodiment”

Isabel Pedersen and Kristen Aspevig, “Being Jacob”

Response Papers: Group #4

~READING WEEK~ (Feb 17-21: no classes)


Part 3: Resistant Media Practices, Discourses & Genres

WEEK 7 (Feb 25): The Personal is Political 2.0

Jessie Daniels, “The Trouble with White Feminism”

Sarah J. Jackson, Moya Bailey, and Brooke Foucault Welles, “Women Tweet on Violence: From #YesAllWomen to                #MeToo”

Hannah McGregor, Secret Feminist Agenda, Episode 4.3 “ENTHUSED!!!” and The View from Venus, Episode 6:                “Podcasting and Public Engagement”

Sharing of Commonplace Books (all)

WEEK 8 (March 3): Black Lives Matter

Brendesha M. Tynes, and Joshua Schuschke, and Safiya Umoja Noble, “Digital Intersectionality Theory and the                #BlackLivesMatter Movement”

Mia Fischer and K. Mohrman, “Black Deaths Matter?”

Sarah Brophy “#FreeBree: Witnessing Black Artivism Online”

Janell Hobson, “Black Beauty and Digital Spaces”

Response Papers: Group #1

                                                REMINDER: Proposals and Annotated Bibliographies due Friday, March 6 via A2L

[Thurs. March 5: Workshop on Social Media Research Ethics and Data Management at the Sherman Centre, 1-3 pm]

WEEK 9 (March 10): Disability Justice & Access

Olivia Banner, “’Treat us Right!’” (in Poletti and Rak)

Rachel Reinke and Anastasia Todd, “Cute Girl in Wheelchair—Why?”

Johanna Hedva, “Sick Woman Theory”

Lauren Fournier, “Sick Women, Sad Girls, and Selfie Theory”

Response Papers: Group #2

WEEK 10 (March 17): Research Workshop: Sharing of Research in Progress (all)

[Wed. March 18: Designing a DH Research Activity for the Classroom, Sherman Centre, 1-3 pm]

Part 4: Belonging, Unbelonging, Citizenship

WEEK 11 (March 24): Crisis, Anxiety, Responsibility, Friendship

Kylie Cardell and Emma Maguire, “Hoax Politics”

Wendy Hui-Kyong Chun, Chapter 2: “Crisis, Crisis Crisis” and Chapter 3: “The Leakiness of Friends” (Updating, pp.                 69-96, 103-127)

Response Papers: Group #3

WEEK 12 (March 31): Revising the National

Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, “Constellations of Co-Resistance” (from As We Have Always Done)

Emily Doucet, “Indigenous Activists Speak in New Instagram Documentary”

Premila D’Sa, “Hong Kong Student’s Viral Thread on Canada Brought Him Praise and Racism”

Courtney Rivard, “Archiving Disaster and National Identity in the Digital Realm” (in Poletti and Rak)

Response Papers: Group #4

WEEK 13 (April 7): Documenting Displacement, Solidarity, and Hospitality

Gillian Whitlock, “The Hospitality of Cyberspace”

Behrouz Boochani, “A Letter from Manus Island”

Wendy Hui-Kyong Chun, “I Never Remember; YOUs never forget” (Updating, pp. 129-33)

Sharing of Commonplace Books (all)

                                                REMINDER: Final Research Papers Due Thursday, April 9, as a Word document to A2L.

Other Course Information:

See A2L for detailed instructions and grading criteria for the Commonplace Book, Research Proposal and Annotated Bibliography, and Final Research Essay. We will discuss these assignments in class, and there will be ample opportunity to ask questions and share strategies. Samples of successful past student assignments are posted on A2L as models for you to consult.

Assignment Policy:

Response papers are due via A2L by 3 pm on Mondays so that the instructor and your peers may read your work prior to our Tuesday seminar meeting. Late response papers will be subject to deductions of one per cent per hour late, and no response papers will be accepted after 8 pm on Mondays. Response papers more than 50 words over the limit will be subject to deductions of one grade point (3%) per 50 words over the limit.

Late research proposal assignments and late research essays will be penalized one grade point (3%) per day late up to 7 days. For example, a B+ paper handed in two days late would be lowered to a B-. Saturday and Sunday are included in the calculation of days late. After seven days the grade is zero. Essays more than 100 words over the assigned limit will be subject to similar deductions (deduction of one letter grade per 100 words over the limit).

Students are expected to retain copies of all work submitted for the course.

Except for the Commonplace Book (which will be graded as pass/fail), all work will be assessed with reference to the meaning of letter grades in English and Cultural Studies courses, outlined below on p. 6.

Students must go through the appropriate channels (i.e. filing an MSAF or contacting your Faculty Office, and consulting with Dr. Brophy) before any deadline extensions or alternate examination arrangements can be considered.

Adjustments to the above policies may be made for students who require academic accommodations: please feel welcome to get in touch with me to discuss as needed.

Documentation: Students are required to use MLA format (version 7 or 8) consistently and correctly. See the Purdue Online Writing Lab and/or The First-Year English and Cultural Studies Handbook (both online) for MLA format and examples of how to apply it.

Office Hours and Consultation: I look forward to getting to know you and to supporting your learning this year! Brief, logistical questions may be handled via email; please put the course code 2NH3 in the subject line, and I will do my best to reply within 48 hours. If you wish to discuss course materials and/or your written work in detail, then please feel welcome to make an appointment to meet with me: