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

ENGLISH 2M06B Concepts Of Culture

Academic Year: Winter 2018

Term: Winter

Day/Evening: E

Instructor: Dr. Sarah Brophy


Office: Chester New Hall 331

Phone: 905-525-9140 x 22243

Office Hours: Thursdays 3:00-4:30 pm

Course Objectives:

Course Description:

Human life is literally unthinkable outside of a cultural context, yet attempts to become critically conscious of the historical development of the cultural forces that shape our lifeworlds are often hindered by the very familiarity of these elements. By pursuing a historical understanding of our cultural context, we gain powerful tools for both critique and the creation of future possibilities. In this course, we will analyze the concept of culture from the Enlightenment to the present. The course is organized around the following central themes: education, taste, empire, identity, sub-and-counter culture, commodification, citizenship, space, and the human body as a medium, a text, and a metaphor of culture.  Theoretical readings combined with the analysis of specific cultural texts, objects, forms, andpractices will allow us to trace historical and contemporary debates concerning culture. Our ultimate goal, however, is not simply to understand culture, but to change it! Students are expected to participate actively and thoughtfully in lectures and tutorials as well as to bring creative and critical thinking to the assignments.

Course Objectives:

By the end of the course, students should be able to:

  • critically define, evaluate, and compare key definitions of culture
  • trace the historical roots of various concepts of culture from the Enlightenment to the present
  • reflect on the political and ethical implications of how we think and talk about culture, including the relationship between culture and education
  • draw critically on concepts of culture for the purpose of analyzing specific cultural texts, objects, forms, and practices
  • formulate clear, logical, and well-developed discussion questions and thesis statements about pressing and controversial contemporary cultural issues
  • participate in cultural theory discussions productively, collaboratively, and with increased fluency, in a variety of settings (in tutorial, online, in lecture, and beyond...)
  • write clear, astute, well-supported arguments

Textbooks, Materials & Fees:

Required Textbook for both terms: New Keywords: A Revised Vocabulary of Culture and Society, eds. Tony Bennett, Lawrence Grossberg, and Meaghan Morris (Blackwell) 

Required Texts for Term 1:

Custom Courseware, Part 1, plus online articles and media links

Up in the Air, dir. Reitman*

Olaudah Equiano, The Interesting Narrative and Other Writings (Penguin)

Erna Brodber, Myal: A Novel (New Beacon/Waveland)

Muriel’s Wedding, dir. Hogan*

Bend It Like Beckham, dir. Chadha*

Examined Life, dir. Taylor*

Required Texts for Term 2:

Custom Courseware, Part 2, plus online articles and media links

Marx Reloaded, dir. Barker*

Don DeLillo, White Noise (Penguin)

David Alexander Robertson, 7 Generations: A Plains Cree Saga (Highwater Press)

The Parking Lot Movie, dir. Eckman*

RIP!: A Remix Manifesto, dir. Gaylor*

Method of Assessment:


Attendance and Participation                                                                                                 10%

Tutorial Assignment (5 reading responses @ 2% each)                                                        10%

Midterm Test #1 (50 min.) Oct. 5 in lecture                                                                            10%

Keyword Revision Essay (1500 words)         due week of Nov. 27-Dec. 1 in tutorial             15%

Midterm Test #2 (50 min)                        Feb. 12 in lecture                                                    15%

Making Concepts of Culture Public project (1000 words, plus 500-word rationale)   

                                               --Draft: due week of March 5-9 in tutorial                                 5%

                                               --Revised Final Version: due week of Apr 2-6 in tutorial          10%

Final examination (TBA)                                                                                                          25%

Policy on Missed Work, Extensions, and Late Penalties:

Assignment Policy: Late assignments will be penalized one grade 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). Note, too, that TAs are not authorized to grant deadline extensions. Students must go through the appropriate channels (i.e. contacting Dr. Brophy and your Faculty Office) before any deadline extensions or alternate examination arrangements can be considered. Students are expected to retain copies of all work submitted for the course.

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:

Reading Guide:
1. The critical readings listed here can all be found in your Custom Courseware kit unless they are indicated as “online.” Links to the online articles are available through Avenue on a dedicated links page that we have prepared for the course. All readings are required unless otherwise indicated. 

2. For each unit of study, you are asked to consult a selection of New Keywords entries in order to help you clarify and grasp major concepts in cultural theory. As you review your lecture notes, use your judgement to determine which keywords would be particularly beneficial for you to review.


Term 1

I: Introduction: Re-defining Culture, Knowledge, and Freedom

Sept. 7                         Welcome and Organizational

Sept. 11                       Raymond Williams, “Culture”; and Zadie Smith, “Optimism and Despair”


Tutorials begin week of Sept. 8-12

Sept. 14                       Lisa Duggan, “Downsizing Democracy”; Frederic Jameson, “Postmodernism and Consumer Society”;                                           film clips: Up in the Air

Keywords: education, capitalism, public, freedom, equality, liberalism, ideology, postmodernism

II: The Enlightenment and the Promise of the Public Sphere

Sept. 18                       David Hume, “Of the Standard of Taste”      

Sept. 21                       Edmund Burke, excerpts from Reflections on the Revolution in France; and           Mary Wollstonecraft,                                         “On National Education” from A Vindication of the

Rights of Woman

Sept. 25                       Begin Olaudah Equiano, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah


Sept. 28                       Equiano, continued; and Mary Louise Pratt, “Arts of the Contact Zone” (online)

Oct. 2                           Equiano, continued

Recommended/optional event: Mark Cheetham, Curator’s Talk for the exhibition “Struck by Likening: The Power and Discontents of Artworld Analogies,” McMaster Museum of Art, Wed. October 4, 12:30-1:20 pm

Oct. 5                           Midterm Test (50 min.) in lecture

Oct. 9-15:                    *Reading Week* NO CLASSES

Keywords: taste, elite, reason, reform/revolution, nation, human rights, feminism, race, diaspora, utopia

III: Empire, Culture, and Resistance

Oct. 16                        Thomas Macaulay, “Minute on Indian Education, 1835” (online); and Matthew

Arnold, “Chapter 1: Sweetness and Light” (online)

Oct. 19                        Thomas King, “Too Heavy to Lift” from The Inconvenient Indian; Kent

                                    Monkman, “Shame and Prejudice” (watch interview online)

Oct. 23                        Begin Erna Brodber, Myal: A Novel; and Ania Loomba, “Colonial and Postcolonial Identities”

Oct. 26                        Brodber, continued

Oct. 30                        Brodber, continued

Keywords: civilization, colonialism, postcolonialism, indigenous, virtual, knowledge, identity, body, other

IV: Modernity, Mass Culture, and the Role of the Arts

Nov. 2                         Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer, “The Culture Industry”

Nov. 6                         Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, from The German Ideology; Benjamin Singer,

                                    “Melodrama and the Consequences of Capitalism”

Nov. 9                         Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of its Technological                                                                       Reproducibility”        

Keywords: ideology, industry, mass, popular, modern, individual, mobility, technology, unconscious



V: Gender, Geography, and Contemporary Cultural Studies

Nov. 13                       Stuart Hall, “Cultural Studies and its Theoretical Legacies”; Roland Barthes,

“Myth Today” (online; pp. 107-119)

Nov. 16                       Catherine Driscoll, “Becoming Bride: Girls and Cultural Studies”

                                    Week of November 13-17: Tutorial Visits to the McMaster Museum of Art

Nov. 20                       Catherine Driscoll, “Becoming Bride,” continued; film clips: Muriel’s Wedding

Nov. 23                       Meena Alexander, “Alphabets of Flesh”; Sara Ahmed, “Bend It, happy

multiculturalism?” (online); film clips: Bend it Like Beckham


Keywords: intellectuals, discourse, representation, sign, everyday, desire, gender, family, multiculturalism, home                                                                               

VI: Higher Education Today

Nov. 27                       Mark Edmundson, “Why Major in Humanities?” (online); and Marc

                                   Bousquet, “Your Problem is My Problem”

Nov. 30                       Krista Genevieve Lynes, “Poetic Resistance and the Classroom without

                                   Guarantees” (online)

                                    Keyword Revision Essay due tutorial week of Nov. 26-Dec. 1    

Dec. 4                          Sara Ahmed, “On Arrival”; Julie Avril Minich, “Enabling Whom? Critical

                                    Disability Studies Now” (online); film clips: Examined Life                                

Keywords: education, management, resistance, community, queer, race, disability, normal

Term Two

I: From Postmodernism to Globalization and Biopolitics

Jan. 4                           Eric Cazdyn, “The New Chronic”; film clips: Marx Reloaded

Jan. 8                           Don DeLillo, White Noise

Jan. 11                         DeLillo, White Noise, continued

Jan. 15                         DeLillo, White Noise, continued; Zygmunt Bauman, “Categorical Murder,

                                                or the Legacy of the Twentieth Century and How to Remember It”


Keywords: risk, nature, communication, media, globalization, knowledge, memory, history, Holocaust


II: Rethinking Labour, Citizenship, and Resistance in the Twenty-First Century

Jan. 18                         Michael Hardt & Antonio Negri, “The Becoming Common of Labour”; Silvia

                                                Federici, “Precarious Labour: A Feminist Viewpoint” (online)

Jan. 22                         Engin Isin, “Citizens without Frontiers” (Chapter 5); “Rachel's War” the e-mails

                                                of Rachel Corrie as reprinted in The Guardian, March 18, 2003 (online)

Jan. 25                         Nicholas Mirzoeff, “The Right to Look” (online); Riva Lehrer, “Where all Bodies                                                 are Exquisite” (online)

Jan 29                          David Alexander Robertson, 7 Generations: A Plains Cree Saga

Feb. 1                          Robertson, 7 Generations, continued; Franny Howes, “Imagining a Multiplicity

                                                of Visual Rhetorical Traditions” (online)


Keywords: work, class, citizenship, movements, power, visuality and countervisuality, sovereignty


III: Urban Spaces and Cultures

Feb. 5                          David Harvey “The Art of Rent: Globalization, Monopoly, and the

                                                Commodification of Culture” (online)          

Feb. 8                          Michel Foucault, “Of Other Spaces” (online); film clips: The Parking Lot Movie

Feb. 12                        Midterm Test (50 min) in lecture

Feb. 15                        Ocean Howell, “The Poetics of Security: Skateboarding, Urban Design, and the

                                                New Public Space” (online)


Feb. 19-25                   *Reading Week* NO CLASSES


Keywords: economy, commodity, art, space, city, government, state


IV: Staying Hip or Selling Out? Subculture, Counterculture, Profane Culture

Feb. 26                        Stuart Henderson, “Remaking the Scene,” from Making the Scene: Yorkville and

                                                Hip Toronto in the 1960s

Mar. 1                         Dick Hebdige, Chapters 6 and 7 of Subculture: The Meaning of Style (online);

                                                Angela McRobbie and Jenny Garber, “Girls and Subcultures”

Mar. 5                         Mark Greif, “What Was the Hipster?” (online)

Mar. 8                         Alice Marwick, “Instafame: Luxury Selfies in the Attention Economy” (online);

                                                John Berger, Chapter 7 of Ways of Seeing (online)

                                    Draft of Making Concepts of Culture project due in tutorial week of Mar. 5-9

Keywords: youth, alternative, marginal, spectacle, image, fashion

V: Digitization, New Cultural Forms, Authorship, Ownership

Mar. 12                       Wendy Hui-Kyong Chun, “Habitual New Media; Updating to

Remain (Close to) the Same”; Henry Jenkins, “Quentin Tarantino's Star Wars? Grassroots Creativity Meets the Media Industry.”

Mar. 15                       Brett Gaylor, RIP: A Remix Manifesto (in-class screening)  

Mar. 19                       Mathilda Gregory, “Fan fiction is in a different universe to Kindle Words”

(online); Ben Richmond, “Amazon's Plan to Sell Fan Fic, Explained via Gossip Girl Fan Fic” (online)

Mar. 22                       Ernesto Priego, “Can the Subaltern Tweet?” (online); Dana Goodyear, “I ♥

                                                novels: young women develop a genre for the digital age” (online)

Keywords: audience, participation, copy, writing, individual, community

VI:  Public Culture, Artworks, and Political Struggle: Case Studies

Mar. 26                       Paul Gilroy, “After the Love Has Gone: Biopolitics and the Decay of the Black    

            Public Sphere”; watch: Grandmaster Flash “The Message” and “Eau de

            LaCoste” (online)

Mar. 29                       Eva Mackey, “Postmodernism and the Cultural Politics in a Multicultural Nation:

                                                Contests over Truth in the Into the Heart of Africa Controversy”

Apr. 2                         Christina Sharpe, “In the Wake” (online); “Democracy Now: Extended Interview

                                                with Bree Newsome” (art and activism intervention, online); Yinka

                                                Shonibare, “Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle” and “Wind Sculpture” (installation

                                                artworks, online)

Revised Final Version of Making Concepts of Culture Public project due in

            tutorial Apr. 2-6

Apr. 5                          Rebecca Belmore, “Worth” (performance for video; online); Kristen Daigle,

                                                “Rebecca Belmore: An Artist's Worth” (online) Lee Maracle, “Another

                                                Side of Me”; recommended/optional reading: Jill Bennett, “Migratory


Apr. 9                          Concluding Reflections & Exam Review; recommended/optional reading: Judith

                                    Butler, “Bodies in Alliance and the Politics of the Street” (online)

Keywords (for review): public, desire, race, indigenous, citizenship, heritage, memory, history, art, postmodernism, community, body, resistance

Other Course Information:

Important Notes for 2M06 Students:

In the event of class cancellations, students will be notified on Avenue to Learn and the English and Cultural Studies Department Website.  It is your responsibility to check these sites regularly for any such announcements.

Link:  (Department)

Link: (Avenue to Learn)

Tutorials start during the week of September 8-12. Students are expected to attend every tutorial and to be prepared to discuss the material weekly.

General Tips on Preparing for Lectures and Tutorials:  Carefully read the assigned texts according to the schedule below.  As you are reading, underline key terms and passages and make brief notes in the margins of questions or insights that occur to you along the way.  It is crucial to bring the assigned readings for the day with you to both lecture and tutorial.  And it is always beneficial to review your notes and selected material after we have discussed them in lecture and tutorial.  Although the recommended feature-length films are not, strictly speaking, required viewing, clips will be shown and discussed in lecture, and you will have the option of writing essays on them; therefore, you are encouraged to view them in their entirety. The films are available on reserve at Mills Library.

How to use our New Keywords textbook: For the lectures, I will draw on this textbook, together with a variety of other primary and secondary sources, to define and discuss key terms as we proceed. In order to clarify and to work towards grasping this new vocabulary, you are asked to consult relevant New Keywords entries for each unit of study as indicated on the schedule of readings and lectures. Keep in mind that your engagement with this textbook can’t be entirely programmatic (scripted in advance), but instead involves a process of ongoing engagement and critical thinking—so, you may find yourself landing in on different entries in the book, or returning to review particular entries more than once, as you follow your own interests and questions in the field of cultural theory over the year. And, on Avenue you will find a rich archive of supplementary articles, blogs, websites, and reference texts that will further strengthen your understanding of historical and current terms in cultural theory and the debates that surround them. Note, too, that the Term 1 essay assignment (due in tutorial during the week of Nov. 27-Dec. 1) will ask you to select for revision one of the entries in New Keywords, or, alternatively, to propose a new term that the book ought to include, or more effectively foreground, in a future edition.

Attendance and Participation:  Active, thoughtful, and respectful participation in lectures and tutorials is expected.  Students are required to read the course materials carefully and to keep up with the schedule.  If you must miss a class, be sure to catch up by asking one of your peers to share notes with you.  Dr. Brophy’s PowerPoint slides will be posted on Avenue after each unit of study; keep in mind that the slides offer outlines and should not be considered a substitute for complete lecture notes.  At the end of the semester, a list of the key terms that we have covered will be posted on Avenue for your reference as you prepare for the final exam.

Avenue to Learn: Please check the online course site regularly for announcements about the course as well as important course documents.  While online discussion-board participation is not required and cannot be considered a substitute for in-class contributions, you and your TA may take the quality and quantity of any online postings into account when assessing your contributions at the end of the semester.

Assignments: Detailed instructions, evaluation criteria, and topics (where applicable) will be distributed in tutorial and copies will also be posted on Avenue.

Documentation: Students are required to use MLA format consistently and correctly.  See The Little Penguin Handbook and/or The First-Year English and Cultural Studies Handbook (online) for MLA format and examples of how to apply it.

Assignment Policy:  Late assignments will be penalized one grade 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).  Note, too, that TAs are not authorized to grant deadline extensions.  Students must go through the appropriate channels (i.e. contacting Dr. Brophy and your Faculty Office) before any deadline extensions or alternate examination arrangements can be considered.  Students are expected to retain copies of all work submitted for the course.

Office Hours and Consultation: Your TAs and I look forward to getting to know you and to supporting your learning over the year! Brief, logistical questions may be handled via email; please put the course code 2M06 in the subject line, and we will do our 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 drop by during our posted office hours.  Always see your TA first regarding marked assignments and to discuss how you can improve; only after you have discussed a graded assignment with your TA should you come to see Dr. Brophy or the head T.A. with any further assignment-related concerns.

Email 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 the 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.

Students will be invited to complete an online course evaluation at the end of the semester. Your feedback is much appreciated.