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MDSB62H3 Visual Culture and Communication



Course Description:

Visual Culture studies the construction of the visual in art, media, technology and everyday life. Students learn the tools of visual analysis; investigate how visual depictions such as YouTube and advertising structure and convey ideologies; and study the institutional, economic, political, social, and market factors in the making of contemporary visual culture.

This course is highly interdisciplinary as it investigates visual culture along the interface of a matrix of other discourses including gender, political and film studies as well as semiotics which lies at the heart of cultural analysis. The course tackles a wide-ranging spectrum of classical and contemporary theoretical texts within the context of visual culture and communication ranging from Walter Benjamin and Susan Sontag to Marita Sturken, Lisa Cartwright and Naomi Klein, to name a few. By the end of the course, it is expected that students will have become more informed analysts of the visual in a variety of cultural contexts. For one of the assignments, students are also given the option of constructing a visual text with the use of communication technologies along with a rationale that goes into the modus operandi of image construction and theoretical concepts/frameworks that have been served as inspiring sources.


Required Texts:

It is hoped that the required texts can be posted on blackboard or emailed to you. You will be notified if this proves to be a problem with regard to certain texts.


Class Location: IC 220


Office Location:   TBA

Lecture Times: Wednesdays, 9:00-11:00

Office Hours: TBA



Course Evaluations:

Type of Assignment


Due Date




Ad Construction or Analysis


January 31

Word/Image News Analysis


February 14

Research Paper


March 7

Final Quiz


April 4


Participation/Attendance: You are required to attend the course regularly. Your participation will be assessed based on your regular attendance and overall engagement with the course material including occasional pop quizzes. You may be encouraged to work in groups in order to share and challenge your assumptions regarding the role of mass media on our lives.

Ad Construction or Analysis: You are given either a choice of designing an ad using a variety of software applications including photoshop, haiku deck, adobe indesign, etc or analyzing an existing advertisement. The former option requires the use of a combination of words and image(s) on a single web page with a rationale of approximately 400 words on an attached word document as to what makes your ad efficient and why you chose that particular application, image and message over others; the latter, requires that you submit an analysis of approximately 1000 words of the ad of your choice. You will offer a critical assessment as to why the ad is effective or not in a way that will include an educated deconstruction of the message and the images as well as a study of its wider sociocultural implications. Works will need to be cited in accordance with the MLA guidelines. Your work has to be double-spaced and use 12-point font.

Word/Image News Analysis: Deconstruct a breaking news story that has received considerable coverage on the local/global TV stations to comment on the encoding and possible variations of decoding. Pay close attention to verbal, visual and textual cues that could have an impact on how the narrative is interpreted. Please include a link with your analysis that should be approximately 800-1000 words in length. Have at least two in-text citations.

Research Paper: Your research paper, due both electronically and in hard copies, should be approximately 1500 words long (this includes footnotes and bibliography).In addition, make sure that your paper is well-written, original and within the context of the course, assigned texts and class discussions. Please, make use of at least four scholarly sources. There will be a 2% deduction per day after the deadline. Observe MLA guidelines (http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/747/01/) to write your papers and use footnotes only if you wish to provide extra information which if included in your main text will disrupt the flow of your argument. Please consult the instructor if you have any doubts as to whether your topic falls into the paradigm of the course.

Some of the criteria that will be taken into account in the marking of your research paper include the following: coherence, relevance to the course and course contents, originality, proper spelling and use of grammar, appropriate use of scholarly sources and the maintenance of a fine balance of the authorial voice versus scholarly citations.

Quiz : The final quiz will include concept definitions, short answer questions and possibly essay format questions. You will be tested all the readings and have 90 minutes.

Blackboard: Make sure to check blackboard regularly for important announcements and resources.

Extensions: Extensions on some coursework may be granted by the instructor only in extenuating circumstances. Please make sure to discuss your case with me in person and bring in appropriate documentation.

NB: Planning and preparing ahead of time will save you a lot of aggravation. Please do not leave your assignments and preparations for the last minute. Life is not as predictable as we would like it to be!

Academic HonestyPlease be especially careful to avoid plagiarism, which is a serious academic offence. Be sure to cite ideas as well as direct quotations, even if these ideas are paraphrased.  All quotes should be either in quotation marks or set off from the main text if they are longer than 40 words.

Students agree that by taking this course all required papers may be subject to submission for textual similarity review to Turnitin.com for the detection of plagiarism. All submitted papers will be included as source documents in the Turnitin.com reference database solely for the purpose of detecting plagiarism of such papers. The terms that apply to the University’s use of the Turnitin.com service are described on the Turnitin.com web site. For students who do not wish to use this service, a draft of the paper must be handed in ten days in advance of the due date.

Essays in which plagiarism is detected will be severely penalized. 

Course Readings:

Week 1: Visual Perception

 Jamieson, H. “The Perceptual Connection.” Visual Communication: More than Meets the Eye. 

 Intellect, 2007,  pp. 13–27.

Available online @ https://teddykw2.files.wordpress.com/2012/07/visual-communication-more-than-meet-the-eye.pdf

Introduction to the course, requirements, etc.


Week 2: Image-Reproduction/Semiotics of Looking:

Walter Benjamin. “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.” Illuminations.  

      Schoken, 1968, pp. 217–251.

Sturken, Marita and  Lisa Cartwright. “Practices of Looking.”  Practices of Looking: an     

     Introduction to Visual Culture (2009): 10–44.


Week 3: Advertising

Jhally, Sut. “Image-Based Culture: Advertising and Popular Culture.” Eds. Gail Dines and Jean 

     M. Humez. Gender, Race and Class in Media. Sage, 2003, pp. 249–257.

Biagi, Shirley.“Advertising: Motivating Customers”. Media/Impact: An Introduction to Mass

     Media. Wadsworth, 2015, pp. 212–232.

Week 4: Visual Perception and the Media:

Sturken, Marita and Lisa Cartwright. “Media in Everyday Life.” Practices of Looking: An

            Introduction to Visual Culture. Oxford UP, 2009, pp. 223–264.



Week 5: Photography across the Ages:

Sontag, Susan. “In Plato’s Cave.” On Photography. Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 1977, pp. 3–26. Available online @ http://www.macobo.com/essays/epdf/onphotography.pdf

Murray, Susan. “Digital images, photo‐sharing, and our shifting notions of everyday aesthetics.”

     Journal of Visual Culture, vol. 7, no. 2, 2008, pp.147–163.


Week 6: Framing/Implosion of News Narratives:

Messaris, P and Linus Abraham. “The Role of Framing in News Stories.” Frame Public Life:       

     Perspectives on Media and Our Understanding of the Social World. Eds. S. Reese, O.H.

     Gandy Jr and AE Grant, 2001, pp. 215–226.   

Jean Baudrillard. “The Implosion of Meaning in the Media”, Simulacra and Simulations, 1994  




Week 7: Gender-Specific Deconstruction of Images:

Gladwell, Malcolm. “Listening to Khakis: What America’s Most Popular Pants Tell Us about the

     Ways Guys Think.The Gender and Consumer Culture Reader. Ed. Jennifer Scanton. New

     York UP, 2000, pp. 179–191.

Hope, DS.. “Gendered Environments: Gender and the Natural World in the Rhetoric of 

     Advertising,” Edited by C. Hill and M. Helms. Defining Visual Rhetorics. Eds. Hill and

     M. Helms (Eds), Defining Visual Rhetorics.  Lawrence Erlbaum & Associates,

     2004, pp. 155–177.


Week 8: Perception of Race in Popular Culture/TV:

 hooks, bell.“Eating the Other: Desire and Resistance.” Black Looks: Race and Representation.

     South End Press, 1992, pp. 21–40.

Gray, Herman. “The Politics of Representation in Network Television,” H. Newcomb, ed.

     Television: the Critical View, 2000, pp. 282–305. 

Video: Color Adjustments: Blacks in Prime-Time


Week 9: Visual Sphere and Colonialism:

Ciarlo, David. “Racial Imperium.”  Advertising Empire: Race and Visual Culture in Imperial

     Germany.  Harvard UP, 2011, pp. 259-304.

McClintock, Anne.“Soft-soaping Empire: Commodity Racism and Imperial Advertising.” Imperial Leather: Race, Gender and Sexuality in the Colonial Context.  Routledge, 1995, pp. 207-231, available online at http://simplelink.library.utoronto.ca/url.cfm/6126


Week 10: (Pre-) Cinematic Gaze/ Instances of Iconic Images:

Friedberg, Anne. “The Mobilized and Virtual Gaze.” The Visual Culture Reader. Ed. Nicholas

     Mirzoeff. Routledge, 2002, pp. 395–404.

Hariman , Robert and John Louis Lucaites. “The Borders of the Genre: Migrant Mother and the

     Times Square Kiss.” No Caption Needed: Iconic Photographs, Public Culture, and

     Liberal Democracy, 2007, 49–92.


Week 11: Tastes and Brands:

Bourdieu, Pierre. “Introduction to Distinction.The Consumer Society Reader, Ed. Martyn J.

     Lee. Blackwell, 2000, pp. 84–91.

Klein, Naomi. Alt.Everything: The Youth Market and the Marketing of Cool.” No Logo: Taking

     Aim at the Brand Bullies. Picador, 1999, pp. 63–85.

Review for the final quiz included as part of the session.


Week 12: