Course Description and Classroom Policies



Faculty in the Department of Cultural Studies and Comparative Literature have devoted considerable time, energy, and resources to develop this course into a unique opportunity for student colleagues (you and me) to engage each other on topics in the fields of cultural studies and comparative literature. Therefore, I am including in this syllabus their language re: what is the intention behind this course [along with my meta-commentary, emboldened and in brackets] explaining how I have incorporated their intentions into the design of our course.

[For Discussion: note the divisive language separating them (the other) from us. What effect does this have on your buy-in for this course?]


CSCL 1301  Reading Culture: Theory and Practice

1. CLA Bulletin copy (also used in the University of Minnesota Course Catalogue):

Introduction to modes of expression through primary works and theoretical systems. Analysis of how discourse creates and contests social borders, replicates cultures, and attaches differential privilege to practices of particular historical moments and locations. Consideration of discursive persuasion and authority.

2. CLA Course Guide blurb (also used on departmental flyers and in the University of Minnesota Course Guide)

This is a basic introductory course turning on one central question: How do things ‘mean’?  Specifically, how do cultural texts mean in relation to each other and to human life in different societies and across history?  ‘Cultural texts’ are things made by human beings, objects and forms of communication that encode messages and values, and that produce effects—anything from movies, TV shows, magazine ads and rock concerts to ‘high art’ (paintings, classical music, plays, poems, etc.).  The course specifically examines 1) the role played by cultural forms in creating, maintaining or challenging social boundaries and power relationships; and 2) the ways in which art and culture function as sites where creative and alternative visions of ‘the good life’ may arise.  Classes are small so that careful close reading, practice in critical writing, and discussion happen easily.  It’s a writing intensive course that addresses both how we write about culture and why we do it in the ways we do: the reading and writing practices of Cultural Studies, and how they differ from those of other disciplines.  An introductory course in every sense, it’s a good beginning for thinking about the problems of culture, and a good place to develop reading and writing techniques for many courses and majors.

3.  Council on Liberal Education description

Course Objectives / Outcomes

CSCL 1301 introduces students to the objects, critical practices and socio-cultural dimensions of cultural studies.  The course presents theoretical background for, and guided practice in analysis of discourse or modes of human expression (texts) in relation to society—both in the present moment and in past historical circumstances.  Attention is directed toward how particular discursive texts mean in relation to the circumstances of their production and reception, and to the ways discourse is used as an instrument of knowledge, persuasion and power in a decidedly international, multicultural society.  In viewing culture as the substrate of national and personal identity, the course examines the nature of citizenship, and ethical behavior, defining both the nation-state and its citizens.  As a writing-intensive course, CSCL 1301 emphasizes the activities of cultural study: critical reading, direct observation, analysis and synthesis of information in varied discursive systems.  Writing is a central practice in the course, as a means of analysis, exploration and expression.

As a foundation course in cultural studies, CSCL 1301 mirrors the intellectual architecture of its interdisciplinary project.  It begins with substantial discussion of the nature of texts themselves, as signifying practices structured to communicate, express and persuade.  Students become familiar with basic formal analysis, including such notions as ‘genre,’ ‘convention,’ ‘narrative,’ ‘trope,’ or ‘theme.’  as well as with ways that texts cohere into larger patterns of discourse.  The relationships of particular discourses to their social and historical contexts lead to discussion of how texts shape, and are shaped by cultural milieus and struggles-in-progress.  What counts as citizenship?  Who is included, who excluded—and how do these operations of definition and ‘othering’ operate to create national and personal identity?  Understanding of the receptions of texts at different points in history supports analysis of the different systems of cultural production and consumption across time and among cultures.  Finally, CSCL 1301 engages the multiple and dialectical relations among knowledge, rhetoric, and power in analysis of ideology as a nexus of ideas and sociopolitical interests.

Conceptual Outline / Topics

CSCL 1301 introduces foundational concepts of cultural studies, but more importantly, it teaches its disciplinary practices of reading, analysis and writing.  Beginning with structural / semiotic concepts of text, discourse and meaning, the course leads students to see all cultural production in terms of systems contingent on time and place, and in dialogical relation to specific patterns of social conflict, hierarchy and power.  Finally, the course asks students to reflect on their own learning experiences and on scholarship generally as a site of social conflict—inside and outside the academy.  Cultural studies is an engaged activity, invested in understanding and intervening in citizenship and public life.

An early project might question the meaning of cultural objects and practices, with readings in introductory theory, e.g., analyzing an article of clothing, with its advertising texts and marketing, might be juxtaposed with a canonical poem to show how meanings are generated by systems of representation, signification and value.  Generally, ‘high art’ and vernacular culture are juxtaposed to raise issues of interests, value-creation, canonicity and institutional systems.  Later ‘case studies’ engage diverse texts to emphasize the range and variation in theoretical methods and historical / cultural difference.  The Magic Flute might serve as a site to explore Mozart’s ostensible depoliticization of the original play.  ‘Race,’ ‘color’ and class, in the bodies and characters of Zorastro, Monostatos and Papageno refract issues of citizenship / power beneath their entertaining surfaces.  Later work might investigate the production of bodies and their relations in society by juxtaposing medical illustration, sex-advice columns, a Hollywood film and legal texts on pornography.

(CLE) requirements fulfilled (see appendix: CLE Criteria)

CSCL 1301W fulfills the Liberal Education core requirement in Arts
and Humanities: Humanistic Studies

As such, it will specifically address the substance of those requirements, via the following questions:

• How can humanistic texts and practices be ‘read’? How can we validate an interpretation? Why is interpretive, critical work important in the first place?

• How does Cultural Studies, as an interdisciplinary and reflective practice, fill gaps and make connections that might be missed in traditional disciplines?

• In what senses can it be said that all cultural activity is historical, i.e., that it both shapes and is shaped by its moment in time? The notion of “historical contingency”—that all cultural artifacts are rooted in specific times and places, and are thus embedded in the political and discursive struggles of the moment—is axiomatic in Cultural Studies and will form part of all of our discussions.

• From what subject positions do we produce and interpret culture?—for example, as women or as Americans; gay or straight; black or white, or ‘Other’? How do subject positions affect how we encounter ‘other’ cultures?

• How is identity formed or influenced through the production and consumption of cultural texts?

• How do different genres of cultural production accord with different places, times, and purposes?

• Specifically: how have race, gender and sexuality served as intertwined systems of difference in the US, structuring large parts of our social and cultural dynamics?

• What kinds of socio-political critique are made possible by, and appropriate for, different cultural products and practices?

• In any given text, which relations of power, prestige or privilege are challenged or supported?

• How does this course contribute to the making of informed citizens and active participants—rather than passive observers—in the nation and world? Put differently: What are the ethical dimensions of our study? How can we imagine and work toward a better world?

This course is open to undergraduate majors and non-majors; there are no prerequisites




The College of Liberal Arts, University of Minnesota provides clear guidelines for classroom, grading, and examination procedures. I’m including this piece here because a) the University suggests I do so, b) you should be aware of what the rules are—or least where to find them, and c) it gives us an opportunity to discuss your school’s policies in terms of critical pedagogy.

Much of this is difficult for me to include—I am not interested in policing the classroom (“Student Conduct Code”)—but some of it is very useful (“Consumer Information”!)—especially when taken full advantage of—and I have included the most important pieces below with bracketed translations indicating what they mean to me.

[For discussion: the examples listed below originally appeared in reverse order. What message would that have communicated differently from the current order?]


You may find a complete list of classroom, grading, and examination procedures at:

Many of the college’s policies are culled from the University of Minnesota Student Conduct Code. You can find the code here:

Finally, you may want to make yourself aware of your rights and responsibilities as a consumer of the University of Minnesota’s products and services at:


Disability Services
The University of Minnesota is committed to providing all students equal access to learning opportunities. Disability Services is the campus office that works with students who have disabilities to provide and/or arrange reasonable accommodations. Students registered with Disability Services, who have a letter requesting accommodations, are encouraged to contact the instructor early in the semester. Students who have, or think they may have, a disability (e.g. psychiatric, attentional, learning, vision, hearing, physical, or systemic), are invited to contact Disability Services for a confidential discussion at 612-626-1333 (V/TTY) Additional information is available at the DS website

As a student you may experience a range of issues that can cause barriers to learning, such as strained relationships, increased anxiety, alcohol/drug problems, feeling down, difficulty concentrating and/or lack of motivation. These mental health concerns or stressful events may lead to diminished academic performance or reduce your ability to participate in daily activities. University of Minnesota services are available to assist you with addressing these and other concerns you may be experiencing. You can learn more about the broad range of confidential mental health services available on campus via

[I care. Please come talk to me if you need to.]

Student Writing Support


Student Writing Support (SWS) offers free writing instruction for all University of Minnesota students—graduate and undergraduate—at all stages of the writing process. In face-to-face and online collaborative consultations, SWS consultants help students develop productive writing habits and revision strategies.

SWS consultants are teachers of writing: graduate and undergraduate teaching assistants and professional staff. Some consultants specialize in working with non-native speakers, and others have experience with writing in specific disciplines.

Consulting is available by appointment online and in Nicholson Hall, and on a walk-in basis in Appleby Hall. For more information, go to or call 612.625.1893.

In addition, SWS offers a number of web-based resources on topics such as avoiding plagiarism, documenting sources, and planning and completing a writing project. See

[These folks can help demystify writing and help you put your thoughts on paper more clearly. Go see them. They’re good at what they do.]

Disruptions Caused by Technology Use
Students who use laptop computers or other computer equipment during class time should also refrain from disrupting the class by using their computers for course-related activities only. Any other use of the computer or the Internet (including e-mail, Internet surfing, games, chat rooms, instant messaging, and so on) is distracting and disruptive to fellow students and is not to be permitted during class time.

[Read: turn your cell phones off, please, and let’s talk about what you are doing on your laptop and that screen I can’t see.]

Disruptive Classroom Conduct
Student conduct at the University is governed by the Student Conduct Code, which prohibits disruptive conduct. All students at the University have the right to a calm, productive, and stimulating learning environment. In turn, instructors have a responsibility to nurture and maintain such an environment. Lively, even heated, discussion is not disruptive behavior. However, student behavior that is an obstacle to teaching and learning should be addressed.

All activities in the University, including this course, are governed by the UniversityofMinnesota Student Conduct Code. Students who engage in behavior that disrupts the learning environment for others may be subject to disciplinary action under the Code. In addition, students responsible for such behavior may be asked to cancel their registration (or have their registration cancelled).

[“Lively, even heated, discussion is not disruptive behavior.”]

Scholastic Dishonesty Defined

The University Student Conduct Code defines scholastic dishonesty as follows:

Scholastic Dishonesty means plagiarizing; cheating on assignments or examinations; engaging in unauthorized collaboration on academic work; taking, acquiring, or using test materials without faculty permission; submitting false or incomplete records of academic achievement; acting alone or in cooperation with another to falsify records or to obtain dishonestly grades, honors, awards, or professional endorsement; altering, forging, or misusing a University academic record; or fabricating or falsifying data, research procedures, or data analysis.

Scholastic dishonesty includes, but is not limited to, the description above. It could also be said that scholastic dishonesty is any act that violates the rights of another student with respect to academic work or that involves misrepresentation of a student’s own work. Also included would be cheating on assignments or examinations, inventing or falsifying research or other findings with the intent to deceive, submitting the same or substantially similar papers (or creative work) for more than one course without consent of all instructors concerned, depriving another of necessary course materials, and sabotaging another’s work.

[Cultural Studies 101 is meant to be a very creative, collaborative, personal, and enjoyable project. Please don’t cheat. Seriously.]


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