The program is comprised of two fields. The first field, “Visual Communication and Culture,” is a unique offering in communication studies at the graduate level in Canada, while the second field, “Media, Technology and Culture,” is more broadly based in the area of critical Communication Studies. Both fields correspond to the areas of research and teaching specialization of our faculty members, and offer approaches that are critical and contemporary but nonetheless still rooted in the (inter-)discipline of communication studies itself.
The MA program in communication studies emerges out of a commitment to providing a sustained critical and interdisciplinary approach to the understanding of the multiple dimensions of communication as a discrete set of social and cultural practices. More specifically, in focusing on the fields of visual communication and culture and media, technology and culture, we seek to enable students to critically understand and engage the myriad forms of media, technology, and culture in a globalized information society and thereby to become more effective citizens of this society.
As with other graduate programs, the MA in communication studies is guided by a number of overarching pedagogical goals and disciplinary objectives. These include:
- To enable students to see connections between communication and society, especially in terms of producing and sustaining a vibrant and democratic public sphere at all levels of social organization;
- To develop advanced skills of critical analysis and reflexivity that will illuminate the relationship between communication and social structures of power, practices of domination, and struggles for social justice;
- To practice a commitment to interdisciplinarity in which students and faculty draw on a wide array of disciplinary approaches to communication and through which a wide variety of academic and applied approaches are brought to bear on research problems and questions;
- To equip students with the advanced analytical and methodological skills based in a rigorous foundation in the interdiscipline of Communication Studies to pursue further research work at the doctoral level;
- To foster and develop research skills and interdisciplinary competencies in communication studies that may serve as the foundation for successful professional development and advancement in non-academic contexts.
Visual communication and culture addresses the various modes of representation that come to us through our daily exposure to media such as print, the fine arts, photography, film, television, advertising, digital media, and architectural space. Drawing from a range of perspectives from across the humanities and social sciences, visual communication and culture explores the visual as a constituent part of human communication. Courses offer an active engagement with a range of theoretical and methodological perspectives for examining the visual including iconography, semiotics and social semiotics, actor-network theory, and discourse analysis. Courses in visual communication and culture provide students with the skill-set necessary to critically engage with our complex visual landscape.
This field of study addresses the communicative complexity of technologically and culturally mediated social relations with analytical emphases of normative, historical, political-economic, materialist, and rhetorical approaches. Key theoretical and practical areas of the discipline are examined closely, such as the public sphere, digital communication, global media cultures, cultural diversity, media archeology, intellectual property, risk communication, gender, sexuality and communication, communication policy, and strategic communication. Courses in this field provide students with a critical and analytic vocabulary for comprehending our complex socio-cultural landscape.
Our program ensures that students acquire a well-rounded and well-grounded knowledge of Communication Studies appropriate to the Master's level.
Note only selected courses are offered each year.
CS600 Graduate Seminar in Communication Studies (0.5 credit)
This team-taught course introduces students to the core concerns, theoretical concepts and research approaches in communication studies. Particular attention will be paid to the areas of research specialization of faculty and the fields of visual communication and culture, and media, technology and culture. This mandatory course is designed to enable students to do the preparatory work necessary to their research projects.
CS601 Communication Studies Research Methods (0.5 credit)
This course will provide students with advanced training in the methods of research employed in the field of communication studies. Reactive or interactive research methods (participant observation, experimental designs, surveys and interviewing) as well as unobtrusive or non-reactive methodological designs (discourse analysis, semiotics, content analysis, and rhetorical and historical approaches) are studied. Students are encouraged to develop their major research paper or thesis research proposal as the final assignment for this course.
CS610 Media Archaeology (0.5 credit)
In the words of Lisa Gitelman and Geoffrey Pingee, all media, from clay tokens and quipus to email and instant messages, were once new media. This course focuses on traces of these moments in the historical archive, moments before the material means and conceptual modes of new media have become fixed, when such media are not yet accepted as natural, when their own meanings are in flux. Beginning with the tools that shape[,] store, and transmit our own ideas, such as word processors and presentation software, this course investigates and theorizes the social networks that emerging media technologies helped to shape, and the reciprocal roles that those same networks played in deciding which media, became obsolete, and what, if anything, was preserved for posterity.
CS611 Strategic Communication: Practices, Politics, Publics (0.5 credit)
This course investigates the rise of strategic communication practices amongst social and labour movement organizations against the widespread adoption of public relations practices of governments and corporations to contain challenges to their power. Drawing upon a range of theoretical and historical approaches to understanding public and counter-public spheres (e.g. Jürgen Habermas, Nancy Fraser, Oskar Negt and Alexander Kluge) as well as historical and professional approaches to public relations practices and social issues campaigning, this course considers their impact on the battle for public opinion. The course offers an opportunity for students to engage with the history, theory and the practice of strategic communications as it has developed through the 20th century and beyond.
CS612 Opinion-Editorial: Practices, Politics, Publics (0.5 credit)
This course offers an historical and theoretical approach to understanding the role of opinion discourses and editorial writing as both a journalistic and a political practice. Tracing the origins of opinion writing, the course includes a focus on the history, theory and practice of opinion columns and editorial writing in newspapers and periodicals, their role in the advocacy practices of corporate and social movement organizations, and the role performed by think tanks and policy research institutes in the battle of ideas in the contemporary mediascape.
CS613 Owning Culture (0.5 credit)
The course explores the ways in which law shapes technologies of cultural production and consumption, with emphasis upon the intellectual property regimes of copyright, publicity rights, trademark, patents and domain names. How these laws create rights to control information, knowledge, symbols, and meanings as well as how they affect new forms of censorship and social exclusion, shape media environments and affect technological innovation and diffusion are considered. The continuing expansion and extension of intellectual property protections effects a continuing commodification of the public domain with numerous and often unintended social and political consequences in democratic societies. How such legal protections function to provoke the emergence of alternative communities with different moral economies (for example, fanzine communities), new forms of politics, and new forms of identity are also considered.
CS614 Post-industrial Communication: The Rise and Fall of a Very Good Idea (0.5 credit)
This course follows the development and deployment of information and communication technologies (ICTs) by analyzing the relationship between national information infrastructures, the global information infrastructure, and the dot.com economy. The course relies on literatures derived from political economy, history, technology, media studies, policy, and legislation to critique: (1) when, where, how and why the "information economy/society" was a "very good idea"; and (2) given crucial changes in the world economy, security, privacy, and the questionable quality of ICT content, how the "very good idea" has inspired fear, repression, and a troubling disparity called the "digital divide."
CS615 Global Cultures: Hybrids, Homogeneities and Flows (0.5 credit)
What do wasabi peas, salsa music, the Lonely Planet, and Ciao Bella all have in common? This course explores these and other cultural forms and discusses the various forms and flows of global cultural communication. The global diffusion of radio, television, the Internet, satellite and digital technologies has made instantaneous communication possible, rendering many border controls over these transnational flows ineffective. Through these communication networks, new cultural forms and cultural expressions have emerged; and new cultural identities and power relations are being negotiated and contested transnationally. This course examines global cultures in relation to the information and communication technologies (ICTs) and practices that have enabled and constrained cultural forms and flows.
CS616 Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) and Migration Systems (0.5 credit)
This course examines the role of information and communication technologies in migration processes and systems. This course examines the role of ICTs in migration and the impacts of ICT use on social and economic development and change in communities of origin. Attention is given to the role of ICTs in socio-economic development and cultural change, including changes in gender roles and family division of labour. Also, the role of migration in ICT development and technology transfer, economic development and the transnationalization of culture are discussed.
CS617 Risk, Media and Science (0.5 credit)
This course is an exploration of a number of critical approaches to risk communication, framed by a number of case studies. It examines the ways that risk messages are created, the influence they have on public understandings of science, and the effect these understandings have on attitudes and ideas regarding risk. Looking first to the ways that risk may be theorized, constructed and codified, this course then explores the role of media in evaluating and disseminating risk messages. The role played by news media in risk communication, and a look to risk communication by government, non-governmental organizations (such as Greenpeace and the AIDS Committee of Toronto), and other risk stakeholders (such as the pharmaceutical and insurance industries) is explored.
CS618 Queer Media Studies (0.5 credit)
This course is designed to explore and carve out the critical possibilities of a "queer media studies." Building on the work of gay and lesbian media criticism of the 1970s and 1980s which looked to the ways that gay and lesbian identities are censured in mainstream media, queer media studies suggests a different model of both political identity and the role of representation in articulating it. Queer media studies addresses not only representations of gays and lesbians, but also bisexual, transgender, intersex, and other sexual identities outside the purview of heteronormativity. This course explores both the formative and transformative potentials of queer representation in and for culture.
CS619 Cognitive Theories of Communication (0.5 credit)
This course considers theories concerned with how comprehension and understanding is achieved in communication. Linguistic and non-linguistic forms of communication are examined from the perspectives of contrasting and competing traditions of communications thought, including critical theories, psychoanalysis, systems theory (cybernetics), and analytical approaches.
CS620 Communication and Gender (0.5 credit)
This course critically examines the contribution of feminist theory to the discipline of communication studies. Addressing the development of media industries, the introduction of media into the home, the creation of gendered audiences, and the relationship between public and private spheres, this course investigates how gender relations are produced and reproduced through communication.
CS621 [Trans]National Identities, News Media/tions and the Place of the Public (0.5 credit)
This course explore changing relationships between communications technologies and national identities with a particular emphasis on Canada. Key concepts such as the nation, national territory, the mediation of personal and social identity, publics and public spheres, globalization, cosmopolitanism, transnationalism, and diaspora are considered.
CS640 Special Topics (0.5 credit)
A course focusing on a topical area of study. May not be available each year.
CS650 Visual Communication and Culture in Theory and Practice (0.5 credit)
This course examines the inter-related fields of visual communication and visual culture. The course addresses the origins and development of visual communication and visual culture as academic disciplines and fields of practice as well as contemporary approaches and perspectives on the visual. Diverse theoretical approaches are explored in conjunction with an investigation of distinct visual practices from areas such as film, the fine arts, photography, design, new media and architecture.
CS651 Visual Communication and Disciplinary Vision (0.5 credit)
To what extent do images help to frame what can and cannot be known? A central theme of this course is that images and visual communication do not simply represent objects, ideas or concepts within a given field of practice; instead, they are essential in the construction of the field itself and in shaping the vision of its participants. Participants in a given discipline or field of practice learn to see in distinct ways according to established conventions. This training of vision is further reinforced as participants apply this knowledge in their own practices of visual communication. This course examines the role of visual communication in the construction of disciplinary vision.
CS652 Material Culture (0.5 credit)
This course provides a historical analysis of the material cultures of North America and Europe, beginning in the 18th century. Specifically, it examines how art, architecture, and design interact with the development of capitalist markets, mass production, commodity culture, and urbanization. Particular attention is paid to the impact of globalization on art and the built environment.
CS653 Video Game Studies (0.5 credit)
This course investigates the fastest-growing yet least understood aspect of mass digital culture: video games. The course surveys the development of video game forms beginning with the creation of the first video game (William Higinbotham’s ‘Tennis’) in 1958 and ranging through arcade games, simulations, console games, platforming, roleplaying, and adventure games, real-time strategy, first-person shooters, and online gambling to contemporary massive multiplayer online games. Issues including the nature and practice of play, externalities and infrastructure, formal qualities and structure, narrative structure and genre, simulation and realism, spatiality and property, gender and identity, authority and authorship, war and violence are discussed.
CS654 The Politics of Memory Markers: International Comparisons (0.5 credit)
Many societies with a problematic past struggle with the issue of what to do about the visible and often larger physical traces of the history. This course focuses on the politics of memory markers, of monuments and memorialization, in North/South America, Russia, post-Soviet European countries, as well as Germany and France.
CS655 Image, Sound, Text (0.5 credit)
Using the approach known as medium theory, this course assesses some of the techniques used in film, radio, and television from the inception of those media to the present day. Specific emphasis is placed on the process whereby print based narratives – novels, short stories, memoirs – are adapted for re-presentation in image-based media.
CS656 Theories of Visual Communication and Culture (0.5 credit)
This course considers theories that analyse the epistemology and ontology of visually oriented media (film, television, photography). The focus is on understanding how social and political relationships are constituted in visual media. Contrasting and competing traditions of communications thought, including critical theories, psychoanalysis, systems theory (cybernetics), and analytical approaches are examined.
CS690 Directed Studies (0.5 credit)
A selected research project supervised by an individual faculty member.
CS695 Major Research Paper (1.0 credit)
A major research project to be undertaken in one of the two areas of specialization of the program and in accordance with the guidelines of the Department.
CS699 Thesis (2.0 credit)
An independent thesis project based upon research in some topic connected with the discipline of communication studies and the two fields of specialization of the program.
In exceptional circumstances, students may be allowed to complete the Thesis Option instead of the Major Research Paper (MRP) Option. The thesis shares the same basic properties and structure of the MRP, but is considerably larger in scope (100-120 pages) and must contain a substantive amount of original scholarly research.
Students wishing to write a thesis should consult with the graduate program director during the fall term of their first year. A thesis abstract, of approximately 500 words, is due December 15 to the graduate program director. The abstract, along with the student's academic record from the fall term, will be assessed by the director and the Graduate Committee and, if approved, a supervisory committee will be established. Students will be notified of the committee's decision within three weeks of the submission deadline. The committee will then decide upon a work schedule, using the MRP guidelines as a template.
The Major Research Paper is an independent research project that presents an articulate, thoroughly substantiated argument on a topic within the field of Communication Studies. The MRP should demonstrate familiarity with the relevant academic literature and should be clearly situated in terms of one or more trajectories in Communication Studies research and theory. MRPs should be 50-60 pages in length and follow the formal guidelines outlined below. Students may pursue any or all of interdisciplinary research, empirical research, and theoretical argumentation, and may also engage in creative projects (i.e. some students may want to create a film, web-based or print-based project that may be considered part of the MRP). Although the form and content of the MRP will vary between students, a typical MRP includes the following:
Statement of the problem / issue
Theoretical and methodological framework
Analysis and argument
Limitations of the project and avenues for further inquiry
Outline of topic (due January 31)
After preliminary research, students submit a brief (250 word) outline of their proposed topic to the Graduate Officer. The outline should briefly identify the primary issue(s) to be addressed along with the rationale for the project. Students may indicate their preferred supervisor and reader; however, the Graduate Committee is ultimately responsible for assigning these roles.
Proposal (due April 15)
The proposal is a substantial, well-researched, formal document which provides a detailed outline for the MRP (10-12 pages in length). To this end, the proposal must accomplish three things:
- The proposal must identify the particular topic or issue(s) you are addressing and clearly situate it within the relevant academic literature. It is not expected that the student will have read all of the material cited in the proposal; instead, the proposal identifies both sources consulted and those that will be consulted as part of the project. The proposal will therefore include a working bibliography.
- The proposal will document the personal standpoint, theoretical perspective and methodological approach, values and ethics pertinent to the proposed MRP, and will indicate, to the best abilities of the student, the assumptions and exclusions that the project makes.
*Please note that students who intend to work with human subjects must receive ethics approval and should consult with their supervisor prior to submission of the proposal.
- The proposal will include a clearly articulated schedule of research and writing for the project which is in keeping with the timeline provided below.
Research and Writing (May-Aug)
In continued consultation with the supervisor and guided by the proposal, students will research and write the MRP in spring and summer. It is important that students pay particular attention to the possibilities of racism, heterosexism, sexism and other forms of oppression within the language or the design of the MRP. An initial draft of the MRP is due to the supervisor on June 15. This draft should be a complete, formal document with full citations. It is expected that the supervisor and student will meet shortly after the submission date to discuss the draft and plan for subsequent research and writing. The final draft of the document should be submitted to the supervisor by July 15. At this point the supervisor will consult with the reader and, if they conclude that the MRP is defensible, will notify the student of a defense date by August 1.
Oral Defense (early Aug)
The oral defense is an opportunity for the student to present and defend their MRP research. Defenses are Chaired by a Presiding Officer (typically the Department Chair or Graduate Officer or designated) and include the student, supervisor and reader. Defenses are also open to the Laurier community. The defense begins with a 10-15 minute presentation by the student, which should move beyond a simple summary of their project to situate the project within the student’s own intellectual growth and learning experience. This is followed by a period of formal questioning by the reader and supervisor respectively, after which questioning is opened to the audience. The defense committee will determine whether or not the MRP is to be passed, as well as the extent of revisions (if any), and will inform the student of the results at the conclusion of the defense.
Final Submission (Aug 21)
The final copy of the MRP must be submitted directly to the Communication Studies Office by August 21st. You must submit a bound copy of the document along with an electronic copy. Please consult the department office for more detailed instructions. It is expected that this final copy will take into account the criticisms and suggestions made on the final draft of the MRP as well as in the defense. Please note that the final copy of the MRP must be approved by the supervisor before submission to the Department. It is therefore recommended that the document be submitted to the supervisor in advance of the deadline.
Student submits outline of proposed MRP topic to Graduate Committee
Graduate Committee notifies student of supervisor and reader selection
Student submits ethics review material to supervisor and ethics review board (if necessary)
Student submits proposal to supervisor and reader
Student, supervisor and reader meet to discuss project and develop timeline
Research and writing, in consultation with the supervisor
First draft of MRP due to supervisor
June 15-July 15
Revisions, research and writing
Final draft of MRP due to supervisor
July 15 – Aug
Revisions and defense preparation
Student to be notified of defense date
Aug 1- 15
Submit final, revised copy of MRP to Department Office
- The MRP must be double spaced throughout and in 12-point font.
- Paper used for the defense copies should be 8 ½ x 11 inch and of any weight and can be double-sided but the final copy must be 8 ½ x 11 inch, 20 lb. bond paper and single sided. Acceptable printers include laser and ink-jet.
- Margins must be 1 inch on each side, with the exception that the final copy must have a left margin of 1.5 inches to allow for binding.
- The first line of every paragraph should be indented a standard five spaces.
- Abbreviations may be used (if conventional in the particular discipline) but must be defined the first time they are used.
- If there are alternative correct spellings of a particular word, either form may be used, but such use must be consistent throughout the MRP.
- The pages should be numbered in consecutive order with Arabic numerals, starting with the first page of text and continuing through to the last page of the entire MRP, including endnotes/footnotes, appendices and references. Pages preceding the text, starting with the first page of the abstract should be numbered consecutively with lower-case Roman numerals.
- The title page of the MRP must contain the Universal Copyright Notice©.
- References and citations must follow either APA or MLA format.
- The organizational sequence should be as follows:
Title page of the MRP
Table of Contents
List of Tables (if appropriate)
List of Figures (if appropriate)
Text of the MRP
Endnotes and/or footnotes (may be included in the text)
Appendices (if appropriate)
The title page must be organized as follows:
(TITLE OF MRP)
(full name of the author)©
(undergraduate degree, university, year)
Major Research Paper
Submitted to the Department of Communication Studies
in partial fulfillment of the requirements for
Master of Arts
Wilfrid Laurier University