Tracking: From Fitbit to Google

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Increasingly, we live in a world that compels us to track our movements, habits, diet, and routines. Simultaneously, corporations and governments also try to track our behavior in an effort to create predictive analytics or gather other useful information about citizens and users. This phenomenon provokes a number of important questions: What is the history of tracking? Who decided it was a good idea? What do people ‘get’ from tracking their behavior? Why are corporations so invested in learning our behavior? How can we best live in this world that seeks to quantify our lives, turning everything we do into data and information?

 

This course is designed to give students an overview in these critical issues by allowing them to explore the many dimensions of tracking. It will be split into two separate but related halves: self-tracking and surveillance. The first half of the course will be devoted to studying processes of personal record-keeping—from diaries and memoirs to FitBits and calorie counters. Together, we will try to understand why people find these practices useful as we ourselves take part in them, as well as read think-pieces and research articles by top commentators and scholars. The second half of the course will shift to examine the ways that we ourselves are tracked—through surveillance cameras, through credit card purchases, through Google searches, and more. We will examine the various institutions which track our behavior—from Kroger to the United States government—and discuss the various stakes of this tracking. As the course develops towards its conclusion, we will think about the relationship our individual bodies and the larger cultural and political institution that want to “know” our bodies.

 

Throughout the course, students will engage in a series of reflective activities that encourage them to think through the embodied and everyday practices of tracking. By bringing the results of these activities into our classroom, we will have the opportunity to discuss the major differences between our own routines and habits, and what the information we collectively generate “reveals” about our class

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Advertising and Consumer Culture

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Course Summary

It has become commonplace to say that we consume things. We consume food and drink for energy and hydration, and we are consumers of the many goods and services that make up our world. In many respects, consumption fuels our culture and society—it helps organize our lives, fuels how we interact with one another, and offers a foundation for how we constitute our identities. But what exactly does it mean to be a consumer? Where did consumerism come from, and how has it been sustained? How has the growth of advertising played a role in expanding consumer culture? Perhaps most importantly, why might all of us this matter for our everyday lives? This course will attempt to answer these questions through the historical study of advertising and consumerism, as well as an examination of the critical debates surrounding advertising in our contemporary moment, with an eye toward the social and political consequences of living in a commercial world.

This is an upper-level course that is designed for self-motivated students. It requires a good amount of reading each week, and its assignments entail significant levels of critical engagement and creativity. This is not a course that will teach you how to produce advertising content, or train you in the skills of public relations. Rather, it is a course for students to learn key historical, theoretical, and cultural debates related to advertising and consumerism. These are all skills that can make you a stronger producer and creator of media, but the focus of our course is on historical and critical concepts.

Media in the Global Context

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Course Description

What does it mean to think about media as “global?” How do we begin to understand how the emergence of globalization, on the one hand, and digital media technologies, on the other, have shifted the dynamics of media producers, consumers, audiences, locations, mediums, and identities? How do media institutions, such as Hollywood studios, distribute their products around the world? How do local cultures watch and appropriate these media, and distribute their own? These are difficult questions, to be sure, because the shape of global cultures is quite hard to define.

This course is an introduction to the idea of global media, with an emphasis on the distribution of media around the world. This course will provide students with a conceptual overview of key issues raised by the globalization of media, including questions of national identity, the impact of media accessibility, technological changes, and audience behavior. Over the semester, we will explore case studies to help unpack and debate these key issues. These case studies will both help us ground the theoretical questions we explore, as well as help us map a complex perspective of how media travel globally.

This is an introductory course that presumes no prior knowledge of media studies, culture industries or film and media analysis. This course will, in part, train students in the methods and traditions of these fields in ways applicable to a wide array of disciplines.

This course sees writing as the production of knowledge. You will be expected to use your own writing to reflect on and interpret a number of media objects and critical essays throughout the course. Students should expect to devote several hours a week to reading and preparing for each class.

Introduction to Media

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Course Description

People talk about “the media” all the time as powerful, as everywhere, and as important. But what exactly are the media? How do they work? Who controls them? Whom do they benefit, and how? As media increasingly pervade the fabric of daily life, and as fewer and fewer entities maintain ownership over the largest media institutions, the urgency of answering these questions only grows in importance.

 

These questions are very difficult to ask—much less answer—because the ways in which structure and function of media remain, for many of us, either so taken for granted as to seem self-evident, or so opaque as to seem utterly mysterious. This course will introduce you to the basic vocabularies of visual and media literacy, and it will hone your skills at analyzing media texts, institutions, apparatuses, and audiences critically as they exist in and help form culture. This course is divided into three major units: cinema, television, and digital technologies, although we will often gesture to other important media institutions such as advertising and radio in developing our units. Our goal is to explore the relationships between and among form, meaning, and cultural-historical contexts with respect to each.

 

C190 will help you appreciate more fully the complex ways in which media inhabit and affect cultural, political, social, and economic life. More importantly, it will provide you with the analytical and interpretive skills by which to navigate and begin to make sense of the densely mediated landscapes we inhabit.