Play and Toil in the Digital Sweatshop | Spring 2011

In this era of high unemployment, the Web opens up all kinds of opportunities from ad hoc organization of political protests to journalism, but the World Wide Web is also a work place largely without labor laws and worker protections. Play and Toil in the Digital Sweatshop is an introduction to this digital economy. It explores the ways digital media affected shifting labor markets and concepts like community, exploitation, volunteering, expropriation, economic value, intellectual property, and privacy. This advanced seminar will argue that the distinctions between work, leisure, play, and communication have faded and that labor, without being recognized as such, generates profits for a small number of private stakeholders.

Free labor is central to the reality of the almost two billion Internet users worldwide. From the global “participation gap” to government and corporate surveillance, the newly gained freedoms and visions of empowerment have complex social costs that are often invisible. Case studies and examples will include Wikipedia,’s Mechanical Turk, Crowdflower, LiveOps, and Innocentive. This course, utilizing the work of political scientists, economists, media theorists, artists and legal scholars, starts with an examination of the general idea of digital labor and then moves on to a discussion of the history of contemporary, web-based social environments and new forms of labor including “crowdsourcing.” From there this class will proceed to an exploration of the violence of participation and ask how economic value is generated in the actual economy of the Internet.

Introduction to Media Studies | Spring 2011

This course introduces you to basic concepts and approaches in the critical analysis of media. Drawing on contemporary critiques and historical studies, it seeks to build an understanding of media’s myriad forms– including photography and cinema, television and video, and the Internet, in order to assess the role and impact in society. Since media are, sometimes all at once, technologies, arts, mass entertainment, and business enterprise, they demand to be studied from a variety of disciplinary perspectives. The readings for the course reflect a multi-pronged approach, and should draw attention to the work of key thinkers and theorists in the field. Moreover, readings are chosen to build awareness of the international dimensions of media activity, range and power. It is hoped that the analytical tools and skills with which you will become familiar in this course can be employed and developed throughout your work in the Media Studies major. The broader goal of the course is to create a sophisticated and theoretically–informed understanding of your experience of and encounters with media.

This course complements the other foundational courses in the department, “Introduction to Cultural Studies” and “Introduction to Screen Studies.” Although some of the issues the course addresses are similar, there is no overlap and no repetition of readings. They may be taken concurrently and should be taken prior to taking other offerings in the curriculum.


Introduction to Design Studies | Spring 2010

Introduction to Design Studies concentrates on the social and political aspects of design, its ability to shape identities, globally deliver consumers, brand networked publics, and affect digital activism. We will analyze design through the interdisciplinary lens of history of communication, architecture, and physical computing. Learning about net governance, digital activism, Internet pornography, and history, we will recognize ourselves as users and subjects of design.

This seminar and practice course is student-driven. All classes will be lead by pairs of students who will use material provided by Trebol (book chapters, blog essays, websites, videos, films) in addition to reading/writing assignments that they prepared and circulated prior to class. The student leaders, changing from week to week, will also evaluate the blog posts by all students for the week that they are in charge. You are encouraged to respond to their evaluation. If student leaders find the posts dissatisfactory, you will have a chance to re-submit. This process will get you used to peer review and a collaborative learning process.

Social History of New Media | Spring 2009, Fall 2009, Spring 2010

This course follows the history of computing and networked communication through the lens of the political economy of communication. We will approach the history of communication — from the telegraph, radio, and television to the Internet and World Wide Web, from a political, cultural, and social perspective, focusing on key themes including copyright, networked publics, privacy, social networking, peer to peer culture, exploitation and empowerment of Internet users, the commoditization of networked publics, and the reoccurring utopian hopes and dreams that accompany the development of communication media.


Media Toolkit | Spring 2009, Spring 2010

This course situates “media” in the broader context of an innovative and integrative liberal arts education. Media Toolkit is a course designed around creating, sharing, and collaborating through digital media. You will learn various production skills that are key for 21st century media literacy. Readings and discussions about media history and philosophy will inform your work.

As such, a goal of this course is to enable you to negotiate your own relationship to proliferating technologies. This course will combine lectures, student presentations, blog responses and lab-work to help you familiarize yourselves with various software packages, and social media services in order to more effectively gather, analyze, contextualize, present and re-present information within broad political and cultural frameworks. After completing the seven modules (intro, image, word, sound, moving image, space, cipher), you will better understand – and be more confident in utilizing – the various modes and methods which enable the critically informed to “read between the pixels,” as well as meaningfully contribute to the ever-expanding networked public sphere.


The Social Web | website

Prompted by the precipitous growth and celebration of participation in online social life, this class formulates a cautionary, historically informed analysis of the international Social Web with regard to privacy, intellectual property, and the utilization of networked peer production. Aiming for a fair-minded balance between dystopian and utopian views, our discussions will probe web-based phenomena like media sharing, bookmarking, social news, referral, tagging, virtual worlds, games, social mapping, social networking, blogging and dating. We will evoke the history of people-to-people communication and investigate preconditions and motivations for online participation. Together, we will debunk the Web 2.0 ideology, discuss the changed nature of the digital divide, and explore mobile social space. The course will conclude with an examination of issues at the heart of the future World Wide Web and Internet: net neutrality.

This is a theory course with practice components. The course will require regular in-class use of a laptop. You’ll analyze practices on the Social Web from the perspective of the participant.

Global Internet Activism

Net cultures have radically internationalized over the past five years. The hegemony of English-language content no longer rules the Web. User-submitted Brazilian, Russian, Indian, and Chinese content is in the process of taking over. The digital divide is not what it used to be: while the Internet is not accessible to the vast majority of people in economically developing countries, these populations have a larger density of mobile phones than those in the “developed world.”

In this course we will specifically examine the way rappers and bloggers influence politics in Senegal and citizen-media-makers in totalitarian regimes like Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Malaysia challenge the ruling powers. We will study the influence that the South Korean “citizen journalism” site OhmyNews had on politics in that country and explain how the social networking site Facebook helped to track suspected war criminals in Darfur while the global mapping program Google Earth and the virtual world Second Life were used to give visual evidence of the crisis in that country. Together, we will also read the anonymous Iraqi blogger Salam Pax who received considerable media attention prior and after the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Collaboratively annotated Google maps of Indonesian prison camps made the living conditions in those institutions transparent to an international public. Mobile phone video in Malaysia captured police excesses. Google maps in Bahrain led to fierce discussions about land distribution. Citizens in the Philippines used mobile phone ring tones as an activist tool in the context of a political scandal and electoral crisis. Online social milieus like blogs or social networking sites become tantamount to real life situations.

Participation Literacy

This course will provide an introduction to the effective, critical use of various milieus of the Social Web for your professional and personal lives. It will encourage you to thoughtfully and creatively participate in social networking sites such as Facebook, blogs (and micro-blogging sites like Twitter), mailing lists, podcasts, virtual worlds like Second Life, media sharing sites like Youtube and Flickr, social bookmarking sites like Delicious, video forums such as Seesmick, and wikis such as Wikipedia. We will work on establishing a participation literacy, and consider themes of labor, surveillance, and “community.”

Balancing face-to-face discussions with online exchanges, we will draw on readings including Paolo Virno’s Grammar of the Multitude, Ted Purves’ What We Want Is Free, Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone, Armand Mattelart’s The Invention of Communication, Tiziana Terranova’s Network Culture, David Weinberger’s Everything is Miscellaneous, Mark Andrejevic’s Reality TV, and Ray Oldenberg’s The Great Good Place.

This is a practice and theory course that requires frequent use of a laptop. It does not require you to be an Internet socialite.

Graduate Reading Seminar, fall 2007 website

Sociable Media. Democratization and the Networked Public Sphere | website

This course will argue for the potential of sociable media such as weblogs to democratize society through emerging cultures of broad participation. Over the past ten years the public spheres have been dramatically expanded by participatory web-based technologies. “Democratization and the networked public sphere” will focus on various arguments for and against this central claim by examining historical and present-day understandings of the public sphere, ranging from theorists such as Jürgen Habermas and Alexander Kluge to Lawrence Lessig and Yochai Benkler.

The course will investigate the democratizing potential of the Internet by examining the political participation of citizens who contribute news reports to weblogs and wikis, knowledge repositories such as the free online encyclopedia Wikipedia or the open source software archive Freshmeat, web-based platforms for artistic expression, and mobile wireless devices that allow for political participation such as the organization of protests.