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CMS 201H--Intro to Comparative Media Studies (Honors)--Spring 2015

posted Mar 15, 2015, 11:49 AM by Mack Hagood
It’s become something of a cliché to say that media have changed the world. Most middle-class Americans spend much of their days interacting with sights, sounds, and feelings of electronic media, as they text, email, word process, surf the web, play games, watch TV and online video, listen to radio and podcasts, follow the directions of their GPS device, and so on. Indeed, some media theorists go so far as to say we no longer use media, but rather live inside media—in other words, our daily life is so pervasively mediated that it no longer makes sense to talk about life outside of media. Is this really the case? If so, is this a good or bad thing? Questions such as these feel important to many of us as we experience rapid changes in our everyday mediascapes and media practices.

In this class we will tackle such questions head on. What is the meaning and import of changing media technologies and practices? Is evolving technological complexity the same as progress? Are we truly experiencing a new media era with new hopes and anxieties—or have such changes and feelings been around for hundreds or even thousands of years? Who/what is the primary agent of change? The inventor? The media producer? The user? The technology itself? How do our media practices change us as individuals and as society? Does more mediation mean less authenticity? Through media, are we becoming more independent or more dependent? Connected or alienated? Omniscient or merely distracted?

Obviously, we won’t come to conclusive answers on all of these questions. However, we will learn media theory and put theory to work as we experiment with media devices and observe our peers’ everyday media use. By putting critical media theory into practice, you will be able to make more educated and sophisticated assessments of media’s roles in everyday life. This critical stance on media will help you make more informed choices in your life going forward.

Method: Comparative Ethnography 

In this class you will use ethnographic methods to observe and analyze media use on and around the Miami campus. “Ethnography” literally means “writing about people.” It involves interviewing people, observing their normal activities, and even participating in those activities when appropriate. Ethnography allows us to test the writings of media theorists against our own local culture and experiences “in the field.” And conversely, the theories we read will help us experience everyday life in Oxford with fresh eyes and ears as we do our fieldwork. This interaction between critical media theory and everyday life through ethnography is what our class is all about!

As the title of this class suggests, comparison will be central to our analyses. Comparison is a fundamental mode of analysis—we are constantly comparing things to make judgments, whether we realize it or not. As mentioned above, we will be comparing the ideas we read to the experiences we have in the field. Moreover, we will deploy three important modes of comparison to better understand the roles of media in the everyday: historical comparison, cultural comparison, and comparisons between media technologies.

The semester will culminate in your Media Ethnography Project (MEP), in which you will examine a question you have about local media practices. Some examples: What are the roles of video games or a favorite TV show in your circle of friends? How does social media use affect interpersonal relations in your sorority? How do your friends use texting to initiate, maintain, or end romantic relationships? Do people in your dorm have strategies and techniques for regulating or limiting their own media use when it’s time to get things done? What are the unwritten rules about cell phone use in social settings? How do students discipline one another for breaking unwritten rules about decorum on social media? Why is fan fiction or MMORPGs so important to your friend? Do your friends of different genders, cultural backgrounds, sexual orientations, or social groups seem to use particular media differently from one another?

Media Lab 

This is a 4-hour class in which you will learn by doing—that is, we will learn about media by using media and reflecting upon our media practices. Through the use of digital applications and audio and video production you will analyze your data and present your findings in ways that go beyond the written word. At semester’s end you will present your MEP with an audio-visual production of your choosing. But don’t worry—you don’t need advanced media production skills to do well in this class.

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