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Academic Year: Fall/Winter 2013/2014

Term: 2

Day/Evening: D

Instructor: Dr. Susan Fast


Office: Chester New Hall 308

Phone: 905-525-9140 x 24715

Office Hours: Tuesdays, 2:00-3:30 or by appointment

Course Objectives:

This is a course about power: 

“Cultural Studies aims to study…cultural practices and their relationships to power.  Its constant goal is to expose power relationships and examine how these relationships influence and shape cultural practices.” (from Introducing Cultural Studies: A Graphic Guide

Power operates everywhere in all cultures, on every level, from decisions made by the state to our everyday interactions with others; from representations of people and things in mass media and social media, to your decision to wear jeans over leggings, or a t-shirt over a shirt and tie today (perhaps influenced by something you saw in the media).  Cultural Studies, then, is political in the sense that viewing all aspects of culture as embroiled in power relations (even when we think they aren’t) and exposing those relations is meant to be a step towards changing them. It has a decidedly leftist political leaning, which has historically been influenced by Marxist thinking, which means that Cultural Studies cares about things like the exploitation of workers and other aspects of capitalism (which pervades everything in our culture). It also cares about popular culture, valuing what goes on there, rather than dismissing it or viewing it as inferior to “high culture” (like the opera, or Shakespeare). In Cultural Studies, we care about everyday life and examine its workings (like your decision about what to wear today as having a politics).

At its best, Cultural Studies uses theories and methodologies from a range of different disciplines (meaning that it is an interdisciplinary field), to help understand how power works throughout culture; that is a kind of activism in and of itself.  But many students of Cultural Studies are also activists in the broader sense of that word, taking part in protests like the Occupy or Idle No More Movements, or community organizations like the Hamilton sex workers’ advocacy group Big Susie’s; by refusing to participate in aspects of corporate culture (e.g. no shopping in big box stores), or pushing back against norms that dominate culture (and therefore wield power):  straightness, whiteness, being able-bodied, or male.  The aim of this course is to introduce you to a range of ways in which Cultural Studies has taken up issues of power, to give you some tools for the interrogation of power relations; we will take up these theoretical ideas, which can sometimes seem a bit dry and difficult, through case studies, which will hopefully bring them to life. That means that we’ll look at concrete examples of things that are happening in the world and figure out the politics of those things…and maybe even about how we might change them.

Textbooks, Materials & Fees:

1) Susie O’Brien and Imre Szeman, Popular Culture: A User’s Guide Third Edition (UG)

2) First Year English and Cultural Studies Handbook

This handbook, prepared by the Department of English and Cultural Studies, contains crucial information on essay writing, documentation, and plagiarism. It is available for purchase for a small fee at Titles bookstore or free for you to download in Avenue to Learn.

3) Other required readings are either available online or on Avenue:  refer to the week-by-week syllabus for the references

Method of Assessment:

Detailed information on each of the assignments can be found on Avenue to Learn


1)         Weekly Reading Response and reflection 10% (10 x 1% each, due every week in tutorials starting week of January 20 ending week of March 31)

2)         Tutorial participation 15% (Based on regular attendance, quality of active participation in tutorial discussions)

3)         Short Critical Essay 15% (500 words, due in tutorial week of February 10)

4)         Longer Critical Essay 20% (800 words, due in tutorial, week of March 24)

5)         “Activist” assignment 10% (Due week of March 10 in tutorial); proposal due week of Feb. 3 (p/f)

6)         Final exam 30% (Multiple choice and an essay question, scheduled by Registrar’s office)


Policy on Missed Work, Extensions, and Late Penalties:

McMaster Student Absence Form (MSAF)

This is a self-reporting tool for undergraduate students to report absences DUE TO MINOR MEDICAL SITUATIONS that last up to 5 days and provides the ability to request accommodation for any missed academic work. Please note, this tool cannot be used during any final examination period. You may submit a maximum of 1 Academic Work Missed request per term. It is YOUR responsibility to follow up with your Instructor immediately (NORMALLY WITHIN TWO WORKING DAYS) regarding the nature of the accommodation. If you are absent for reasons other than medical reasons, for more than 5 days, or exceed 1 request per term, you MUST visit your Associate Dean's Office/Faculty Office). You may be required to provide supporting documentation. This form should be filled out immediately when you are about to return to class after your absence.

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:



At certain points in the course it may make sense to modify the schedule outlined below. The instructor reserves the right to modify elements of the course and will notify students accordingly.



Topics, Readings and Case Studies


Assignments & Important Dates

Jan 7&10

What Is Cultural Studies?

Assigned Readings

1) Raymond Williams, “Culture is Ordinary” from The Everyday Life Reader, ed. Ben Highmore, (Routledge, 2002), pp. 91-100

2) Ien Ang, “Who Needs Cultural Research?” from Cultural Studies:  From Theory to Action, ed. Pepi Leistyna (Oxford, 2005), pp. 477-483.

3) Duncan Grieve, “Lorde’s Song Royals Deserves Nuanced Critique,” The Guardian, November 8, 2013


Case Study:  Lorde, “Royals”


(Optional Reading:  User’s Guide Chapter 1)

Remember: you can always come and see your tutorial instructor, Craig, or Dr. Fast during office hours.

Jan 14&17

Some Big Concepts:  Ideology, Hegemony, Neoliberalism

Assigned Readings:

1) Manfred B. Steiger and Ravi K. Roy, “What’s ‘Neo’ About Liberalism?” from Neoliberalism:  A Very Short Introduction (Oxford, 2008), pp. 1-20.

2) Dick Hebdige, “From Culture to Hegemony,” from Media and Cultural Studies:  Keyworks, ed. Durham & Kellner (Blackwell, 2001), pp. 198-207

3) Paulo Friere, “The Banking Concept of Education” from Pedagogy of the Oppressed (Herder and Herder, 1970), pp. 57-74.


Tutorials Begin

Jan 21&24

Big Concepts Continued:  Representation & Everyday Life

Assigned Readings:

1) O’Brien & Szeman, User’s Guide Chapter 3, pp. 63-71; 92-94 (Section entitled “What Do We Do With Texts”)

2) Tia DeNora, “Music as a Technology of the Self,”  Music in Everyday Life (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), pp. 46-74.


First Reading Response Assignment due this week.

Jan 28& 31

Resistance and Its Difficulties

Assigned Readings:

1) Naomi Klein, “Culture Jamming” from No Logo, 10th Anniversary Edition (Picador, 2009), pp. 279-288.

2) Nancy MacDonald, “The Graffiti Subculture:  Making a World of Difference,” from The Subcultures Reader, second edition, ed. Ken Gellner (Routledge, 2005), pp. 312-326

3) Thomas Frank, “Why Johnny Can’t Dissent,” from The Cultural Resistance Reader, ed. Stephen Duncombe (Verso, 2002), pp. 316-327

You should begin work on your short essay if you haven’t already!

Feb 4&7

Space, Place and Globalization:  Space, Place and Nature

Assigned Readings:

  1. O’Brien & Szeman, User’s Guide, Chapter 9
  2. William Chalupka and R. McGreggor Cawley, “The Great White Hope:  Nature, Environmentalism and the Open Secret,” from In the Nature of Things:  Language, Politics, and the Environment, ed. Jane Bennett and William Chalupka (Minnesota, 1993).

“Activist” assignment proposal due this week.

Feb 11&14

Space, Place and Globalization, Continued:  Fashion

Assigned Readings:

1)  Kate Fletcher, “Fashion, Needs and Consumption,” from Sustainable   Fashion and Textiles (Earthscan, 2008), pp. 117-134.

2) “Bangladesh Factory Fires:  Why Brands are Accountable and Should Compensate Victims Now,” Listen Girlfriends:  A Critical Conversation on Media and Culture (blog)


Short Essay Due this Week


It’s reading week next week:  no class!

Feb 25&28

Space, Place and Globalization, Continued: Food

Assigned Readings:

  1. Michael Pollan, “The Meal:  Fast Food,” from The Omnivore’s Dilemma (Penguin, 2006), pp. 109-122.
  2. Michael Pollan, “Desire:  Control Plant:  The Potato,” from The Botany of Desire (Penguin, 2006), pp. 181-238


Mar 4&7

Space, Place and Globalization, Continued:  Social Media

Assigned Readings:

  1. O’Brien & Szeman, User’s Guide, Chapter 10, “New Technology and Its Discontents,” pp. 323-338
  2. Danah Boyd, “Participating in the Always-On Lifestyle,” The Social Media Reader, ed. Michael Mandiberg (NYU Press, 2012), pp. 71-76

3) Jay Rose, “The People Formerly Known as The Audience,” The       Social Media Reader, pp. 13-16

You should be thinking about your longer essay assignment.


Identities, Bodies, Nations:  Feminism

Assigned Readings:

1) O’Brien & Szeman, User’s Guide, Chapter Six, pp. 167-178

2) Angela McRobbie, “Post-Feminism and Popular Culture:  Bridget Jones and the New Gender Regime”

3) Tamara Winfrey Harris, “Actually, Beyoncé is a Feminist,” Salon, May 22, 2013

Case Study:  Beyoncé The Visual Album (selections)

“Activist” assignment due this week.


Identities, Bodies, Nations, Continued: Constructions of Race & Sexuality

Assigned Readings:

1) Tricia Rose, “Preface,” and “Mutual Denials in the Hip Hop Wars,” from The Hip Hop Wars: What We Talk About When We Talk About Hip Hop and Why it Matters (Basic Books, 2008).

2) Craig Jennex, “Diva Worship and The Sonic Search for Queer Utopia,” Popular Music and Society 36/3 (2013), pp. 343-359



Identities, Bodies, Nations, Continued:  Constructions of Race & Nation

Assigned Readings:

1) O’Brien & Szeman, User’s Guide, Chapter 7

2) Rinaldo Walcott, “Rob Ford and the Truth About Privilege,” The Broadbent Blog, November 4, 2013

Longer essay assignment due this week.

April 1&4

“Generation Screwed?” The Economy, Occupy, Education

1) O’Brien & Szeman, User’s Guide, Chapter 10:  “Lost Generation,” and “The Future of Higher Education”

2) Eric C. Girard, “What I Learned At Law School:  The Poor Need Not Apply,” The Globe and Mail, Sunday, November 13, 2013.

3) Henry Giroux, “Higher Education Under Siege: Implications for Public Intellectuals,” The NEA Higher Education Journal, 2006.


Start reviewing your notes and readings for the final exam:  make sure to give yourself enough time to visit Dr. Fast, Craig, or your tutorial leader with questions.

April 8