Skip to main content

Seminar Courses

The department's curriculum of graduate courses is central to its work in helping to develop graduate students who are prepared to engage and intervene in scholarly and professional work in communication. In addition to the program's core course requirements, the department also offers a series of rotating seminars meant to give our students both breadth and depth in their knowledge and approaches to communication.

Recent seminar offerings have included such courses as:

COMMRC 2014: Argumentation. This course interrogates argument as a product, process, and method of inquiry, using a variety of theoretical approaches as points of departure, including pragma-dialectics, speech act theory, controversy studies, informal logic, visual communication, and forensics, as well as critical perspectives such as invitational rhetoric and feminist argumentation theory.

COMMRC 2201: Rhetorical Criticism. This class offers instruction and practice in rhetorical methods of criticism, while drawing liberally from critical methods in related fields. Attention is paid to all steps of the critical process: topic identification, archive assembly, archive curation, interpretive methodology, and criticism itself.

COMMRC 2212: Visual Rhetoric. Visual messages, works, and performances are ubiquitous in communication today, at times clamoring for attention, and at other times virtually unnoticed but consequential. How does such visual communication persuade diverse audiences by promoting identifications, and/or fostering divisions among people across social differences such as sex, sexuality, gender, race, ability, religion, and economic class? This seminar offers a wide range of exemplary communication scholarship on visual rhetoric and its numerous synonyms to explore that central question in practical criticism. Through classroom exercises, readings, and writings, participants will become familiar with practices of criticism of various types of visual works, pictorial persuasion and/or visual performance. Participants will perform criticism of visual rhetoric by conducting a sustained study of a pictorial work, visual performance, or a series of related pictorial works or performances.

COMMRC 2215:  Rhetoric and Human Rights. Gender, sexuality, and women are focal points in human rights controversies today. What are human rights? How do claims concerning human rights operate to persuade audiences by promoting identifications and/or fostering divisions among people through public advocacy? In what ways are social differences such as sex, sexuality, gender, race, ability, religion, and economic class featured in human rights advocacy? Such questions are central to the intellectual labor of this graduate seminar in practical criticism, which focuses on key concepts that are generally useful for describing, analyzing, and interpreting significant public texts and symbols produced during human rights controversies domestically and internationally. The central objective is to strengthen the seminar participants’ awareness of qualitative techniques for interpretive and critical studies of public advocacy featuring human rights claims.

COMMRC 2218: Contemporary Rhetorical Theory: Sovereignty. This class studies discourses used to facilitate both external and internal order in the service of both supporting and undermining existing political and social orders. Readings strongly attend to questions of social difference, and draw from work in communication, political theory, film theory, literary theory, and cultural studies.

COMMRC 2220: Readings in Critical Theory: Lacan (Media, Rhetoric, Psychoanalysis). Currently undergoing a renaissance in communication and allied fields, psychoanalysis has played an outsized role in shaping contemporary theories of language, race, sex, gender, and ideology. This course is designed to acquaint graduate students with important concepts in psychoanalytic thought with a particular emphasis on the work of Jacques Lacan as applied to media, rhetoric, and culture. Course readings attempt to balance Lacan’s primary works with important background texts and psychoanalytically inspired scholarship in an effort to encourage students to make their own judgments and conclusions. Major themes include: media and paranoia, figure and trope, sex and gender, power and desire, capital and ideology, culture and subjectivity.

COMMRC 2226: Media and Cultural Studies. This course offers a survey of media theory and research from a cultural studies perspective. Combining reading and discussion of foundational work in cultural studies with more recent readings taking up and responding to cultural studies concepts and ideas, we will seek to understand and evaluate the contributions of cultural studies to the study of contemporary media. How did these earlier theorists understand the economic, cultural, representational and technological dimensions of mediated communication? To what extent do these theories help us to understand later developments within media culture? How might they be extended or amended to better do so?

COMMRC 3306: Seminar in Rhetoric and Culture: Rhetoric of Space and Place. The spatial turn has come to rhetoric in the form of detailed scholarship in public memory and museum studies. Within this subfield “space” and “place” emerge as complex, sometimes inter-changeable, but more often than not antagonistic terms. Compounding such complexity is the increasing relevance of virtual spaces (and places) in democratic and cultural practice. In this course we work with texts from rhetoric and cultural geography in investigating: 1) How are space and place are mobilized as tropes in rhetoric and in cultural geography? 2) How do we read spaces and places as rhetorical enactments that shape individual and collective identity? We will address this question through a set of case studies involving monumental and highly charged spaces (for example, the Washington Mall), and less iconic realms (for instance, urban malls), as well as local places that have significance for various publics. These trips will take place primarily outside of class time. 3) How do rhetorics of space and place complicate and deepen rhetorical studies beyond spatially centered analyses, in particular, in thinking about “public sphere” and “public space” as they are mobilized in radical democratic and rhetorical theory? 4) How do we write with and about space and place?

COMMRC 3317: Seminar in Rhetorical Theory: Inventing Your Tradition. Intellectual history is concerned with where, when, how, and why ideas emerge and change.  Contemporary intellectual history focuses on taking up someone who is important to your own work in order to think about what to adopt, adapt, and/or reject.  No matter your theoretical polestar, all researchers work in a tradition.  Engaging in a prolonged investigation of another researcher in your tradition can be a powerful way of refining your own voice and your own ideas about where critical energy can be found in a given field of inquiry.  Working through such attachments is a key part of graduate school, and this seminar carves out time for you to do that work in a concerted way.  You’re free to focus for the semester on any thinker who is significant to you.  Each week, you’ll develop new skills and write new material on the following sequence of topics: surveying an anthology, choosing an author, establishing a corpus, engaging a text, exploring an archive, assessing a scholarly literature, articulating a context, tracing an affiliation, following an appropriation, crafting a purpose, and drafting a paper.  The seminar concludes with an open one-day conference at which you all present the paper you have been working on over the term.

COMMRC 3326: Seminar in Media Studies: Latina/o/x Media and Cultural Studies. This course addresses historical, political, economic, and cultural issues tied to Latina/o/x media. Students will explore the dynamic and contested construction of Latinidad. This course emphasizes interdisciplinary approaches to Latina/o/xs and media. Students will explore case studies in the production, representation, and reception of Latina/o/x media that will be contextualized by, and connected to, broad theoretical concepts in Latina/o/x, media, and cultural studies. The significance of Latina/o/x media is explored in this course through analysis of 1) the institutional production of Latina/o/x texts, 2) the construction of Latina/o/x identity in media, 3) the issues affecting Latina/o/x consumer agency, 4) the role and relationship of Latina/o/x media to "mainstream" media.

COMMRC 3326: Seminar in Media Studies: Media Ecology. This course considers debates about the role of media technology in shaping our world and everyday lives. Heavily influenced by the work of Marshall McLuhan—who drew upon the earlier work of Lewis Mumford and Harold Innis—the tradition of media ecology places the technological medium of communication at the center of its scholarly inquiry. Our readings and discussion combine classic works of media ecology by such thinkers as McLuhan, Innis, Lewis Mumford, and Elizabeth Eisenstein with more recent work by such writers as John Durham Peters, Armond Townes, Sarah Sharma, and Wendy Chun, who expand upon and critique this tradition of thought. In this way, this class explores a range of ways in which communication technologies interact with, shape, and are shaped by cultural processes.

COMMRC 3326: Seminar in Media Studies: Television Studies. What do we mean when we say television today?  This course works through answers to this question by exploring how such things as Netflix, iPads, YouTube, mobile phones and other digital technologies have altered television’s economics, aesthetics, and representational practices.  How, for instance, have televisual representations of gender, race, and class changed as television has transformed from a three-channel broadcast medium to the more narrowly targeted, on-demand medium characteristic of on-line streaming?  How have these transitions changed both television itself and the academic study of television as a field?  In pursuing such questions, this course combines a survey of classical work in television studies—and classical network and early cable-era television programming—with an exploration of more recent research upon and examples of the “post-network” television of the digital age.