Communication 509
Media and Mass Communication Theory:
Production Culture and Media Aesthetics
Fall 2013

Wednesday, 3:00–5:50pm
319 O’Kelly

Prof. Kyle Conway
Office: 221D Merrifield
Office hours: Tuesday and Thursday, 10:00–11:30am and by appointment
Phone: 777-4344
Email: kyle dot conway at und dot edu

Class blog:
Login: 509student
Password: See version of syllabus posted on Blackboard

Course description:

In everyday speech, “aesthetics” evokes ideas of beauty and art, but the word’s Greek roots indicate something broader—sensory experience. This class looks at media theory through the lens of aesthetics in this broad sense, examining the relationship of mutual dependence between form and content and the effect of form/content on our experience of media.

Our approach will be to use ideas about production culture to ask about the role of capital (as it shapes the economic logics of television and other media) in aesthetic creation. How is capital creative, not in the sense of “artistic” but in the sense of acting in an agent-like capacity in the process of creation? In other words, capital shapes the process of creation in ways that conventional theories of aesthetics attribute to people. What are those ways? How do they affect the media we consume, and how do we in turn experience those media?

These questions animate a number of important ongoing conversations about the media. Ultimately, our goal will be to develop not an aesthetic theory of the media but an approach for asking pointed questions about the direct and indirect influence of capital on what we see and read, and its effect in turn on us.


Books (ISBNs in parentheses)

Michael Baxandall, Patterns of Intention (0300037635)
Bart Beaty, Comics versus Art (9781442612044)
John Caldwell, Production Culture (9780822341116)
Paul du Gay et al., Doing Cultural Studies (0761954023)
Todd Gitlin, Inside Prime Time (9780520217850)
Jonathan Gray and Amanda Lotz, Television Studies (9780745650999)
Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media (any version)
Jason Mittell, Genre and Television (0415969034)
Neil Verma, Theater of the Mind (9780226853512)

Articles (links on class blog syllabus)


Participation 10%
Class facilitation 20%
Book review 30%
Paper 40%

Grading scale:

A: 90–100% B: 80–89% C: 70–79% D: 60–69% F: 0–59%

Assignment descriptions:

Class facilitation: Each week, a different person will be responsible for facilitating class. Facilitators have two main responsibilities: first, to post a summary of the readings to the class blog, and second, to come with three or four discussion questions.

Summaries should be 250–400 words long, and they must be posted to the blog at least 24 hours in advance of class. At a minimum, they should identify questions that authors ask, answers they provide, and evidence they use. They should take the form of carefully composed narrative exposition (i.e., not bullet points), and they should reflect a thoughtful synthesis of the material.

Discussion questions should use the readings as a starting point, and they should focus on application, extension, and interpretation. They should require people to go beyond the text to find answers. (In other words, because everyone will have read the material and will have access to a summary to the website, questions should not focus on mere comprehension.)

Book review: You will choose a recently published book (from 2011–2013) and write two reviews, one for class and one for publication. The reviews will differ only in length. You will share the review written for class as a way to orient your classmates with respect to aspects of media theory we do not cover in class. Its length will be whatever is necessary to accomplish that task. You will revise that review for publication, based on the guidelines of the journal you have chosen.

For week 3, you will read 8–10 reviews from recent issues of a range of communication journals. Take note of their structure and content: what makes a good review? During week 3, we will compare notes and develop a “formula” to serve as a guide for writing your reviews.

For resources for finding a book to review, click here.

Paper: You will produce a seminar paper about fifteen pages long. The topic is open, as long as it relates to the themes of the class. It is due on Dec. 16 at 3:15pm.


Academic honesty: All policies described in UND’s Code of Student Life apply in this class. Also, please note that you may not turn in work that has been or will be turned in for credit elsewhere unless you make an explicit, justifiable request by week 10 of the semester.

Attendance: Attendance is mandatory. You get one free absence. After that there will a penalty.

Email and grades: FERPA (the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) prevents me from discussing grades over email. However, I am more than happy to meet with you during my office hours if you would like to discuss your grade.

Cell phones: As a courtesy to me and to your classmates, please turn cell phones off during class.

Recording devices: Please do not record class sessions (either audio or video) without my explicit permission.

Reading Schedule:


Week 1 (8/28) – Introduction
Vancour, “New Directions in Media Studies: The Aesthetic Turn” (HTML)

Overview of the field

Week 2 (9/4) – Media studies: where are we?
Gray and Lotz, Television Studies

First steps

Week 3 (9/11) – Philosophies of production – BOOK REVIEW DISCUSSION
Aristotle, Metaphysics, Book 5 (PDF) (HTML)
Aristotle, Poetics (PDF) (HTML)
Marx, Introduction to Grundrisse (PDF) (HTML)

Week 4 (9/18) – Art history and production
Baxandall, Patterns of Intention

Week 5 (9/25) – Cultural studies and production
du Gay et al., Doing Cultural Studies

Medium and experience

Week 6 (10/2) – Radio and Materialtheorie
Arnheim, Radio (chaps. 2 and 7) (PDF)
Vancour, “Arnheim on Radio: Materialtheorie and Beyond” (PDF)

Week 7 (10/9) – Phenomenology of media
McLuhan, Understanding Media, introduction, chaps. 1–7 plus 8-10, 12, 14, 17-18, 21, 23-32

Production and form

Week 8 (10/16) – Film and style
Bordwell, “Historical Poetics of Cinema” (PDF)
Bordwell, “The Classical Hollywood Style, 1917–60,” chaps. 1–7 in The Classical Hollywood Cinema (on reserve at CFL)
Burnett, “A New Look at the Concept of Style in Film: The Origins and Development of the Problem-Solution Model” (PDF)

Week 9 (10/23) – Arts and Culture conference and book reviews

Week 10 (10/30) – TV and the classic network era
Gitlin, Inside Prime Time, introduction, prologue, parts I and II

Week 11 (11/6) – Production of genre
Mittell, Genre and Television

Week 12 (11/13) – Below the line production culture
Caldwell, Production Culture, introduction, chaps. 1–4

Week 13 (11/20) – Above the line production culture
Caldwell, Production Culture, chaps. 5–7, conclusion

Week 14 (11/27)

Week 15 (12/4) – Comics and the art market
Beaty, Comics versus Art

Week 16 (12/11) – Aesthetics of radio
Verma, Theater of the Mind



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s