Semiotics and Fieldwork

COURSE DESCRIPTION: This course examines how semiotics applies to the changing roles of images in today’s media-immersed society. You will analyze meaning making in multicultural social contexts, comparing both hyper-local and globally pervasive renditions of image-based media. A fieldwork assignment will take you through the steps of visual semiotics fieldwork, including hypothesis generation, site selection and access, data gathering and analysis leading to findings that potentially can contribute to your dissertation.

LEARNING OUTCOMES AND ASSESSMENT MEASURES: Upon completion of the course, you will be able to demonstrate knowledge of human subjects research protocol; fieldwork methods; and semiotics as a theoretical framework that informs hypothesis generation and interpretation of field data. I will evaluate you on your ability to achieve the following milestones in the process of preparing to enter the field, entering the field to gather data, and analyzing that data:

MILESTONE 1: Read and reflect on the Lofland and Luker texts. Then, on January 23, the first day of class, submit a 500-1000 word memo that describes your personal history and how it’s shaped your current intellectual and research interests. To meet that goal, the Lofland and Luker suggest responding thoughtfully to these questions: What are the social worlds that you traverse in your daily life? What are the activities, issues, and ideas that you find personally engaging? What kinds of things about the world worry and provoke you? What kinds of questions do you find interesting enough to get you out of bed in the morning with energy and excitement? Use 12 point type, Georgia or Verdana font or an equivalent, single spaced line spacing, and 1 inch margins.

MILESTONE 2: On February 13 submit a 500-1000 word memo in which you interrogate and update Berger’s 1991 approach to semiotic analysis and use it to interpret an image. Use 12 point type, Georgia or Verdana font or an equivalent, single spaced line spacing, and 1 inch margins.

MILESTONE 3: By February 27 email me your CITI Training Completion Report.

MILESTONE 4: On March 3, submit the first draft of your IRB proposal to conduct human-subjects fieldwork for peer review. Guidelines will be provided.

MILESTONE 5: By March 31 submit your IRB-approved, fieldwork proposal.

MILESTONE 6: On May 1 or May 5, deliver a 20-minute, Powerpoint presentation in a mock conference. The purpose of the presentation will be for you to present your findings from fieldwork conducted over the course of the term. The presentation outline should include the following topics: problem, hypothesis, method, data, analysis, conclusion. You will exceed expectations for this milestone if you: use no more than 10 words per bullet; use title and presentation outline slides; use typographic and visual treatments that facilitate readability and legibility; have no factual, spelling, word usage, or grammatical errors; support your argument with properly formatted references to relevant primary and secondary required texts (at least two).

MILESTONE 7: Attend class and be prepared to participate thoughtfully, respectfully, and according to the guidelines in the course schedule. You will exceed expectations for this milestone when you attend and participate in all class sessions. You will meet expectations for this milestone with up to two excused absences. You will fail to meet expectations for this milestone with unexcused absences or three or more excused absences. Being late 3 times by 15 minutes or over will constitute an unexcused absence. Leaving early or taking a break from class for more than 15 minutes will also constitute an unexcused absence.

GRADING: A major challenge of conducting fieldwork is getting your data under time, institutional, cultural, environmental and/or political constraints. For each assignment, you will earn an “M (Meets expectations)” based on your ability to meet the deadline for each milestone with work that reflects satisfactory effort. If you fail to do so then you will earn an “F (Fails to meet expectations).” Thus, milestone deadlines are firm. I will not grant extensions, except in the case of an extreme health emergency, confirmed by a doctor. If you receive an “F” on any milestone or an “M” on Milestones 1, 2, or 4,  you have one week (from the date that you receive your grade) to revise and resubmit for a better grade. You can receive an “E (Exceeds expectations)” on Milestones 1, 2, and 4 based on how well you: support your argument with properly formatted references to relevant primary and secondary required texts (at least two); check spelling, grammar, word usage, and facts. Read the previous descriptions for Milestones 6 and 7 for information on how to exceed expectations.

YOU WILL EARN AN “A” in the course if you meet expectations for Milestones 3 and 5; exceed or meet expectations for Milestone 7; and exceed expectations for Milestones 1, 2, 4, and 6.

YOU WILL EARN AN “A-” in the course if you meet expectations for Milestones 3 and 5; exceed or meet expectations for Milestone 7; and exceed expectations for three of the remaining four Milestones (1, 2, 4, and 6)–at least meeting expectations for the remaining milestone.

YOU WILL EARN A “B+” in the course if you meet expectations for Milestones 3 and 5; exceed or meet expectations for Milestone 7; and exceed expectations for two of the remaining four Milestones (1, 2, 4, and 6)–at least meeting expectations for the remaining two milestones.

YOU WILL EARN A “B” in the course if you meet expectations for Milestones 3 and 5; exceed or meet expectations for Milestone 7; and exceed expectations for one of the remaining four Milestones (1, 2, 4, and 6)–at least meeting expectations for the remaining three milestones.

YOU WILL EARN A “B-” in the course if you meet expectations for Milestones 3 and 5; exceed or meet expectations for Milestone 7; and meet expectations for the remaining four Milestones (1, 2, 4, and 6).

YOU WILL EARN A “C+” in the course if you meet expectations for Milestones 3, 5, and 7; but fail to meet expectations for one of the remaining four Milestones (1, 2, 4, and 6).

YOU WILL EARN A “C” in the course if you meet expectations for Milestones 3, 5, and 7; but fail to meet expectations for two of the remaining four Milestones (1, 2, 4, and 6).

YOU WILL EARN A “C-” in the course if you meet expectations for Milestones 3, 5, and 7; but fail to meet expectations for three of the remaining four Milestones (1, 2, 4, and 6).

YOU WILL EARN A “D”  in the course if you meet expectations for Milestones 3, 5, and 7; but fail to meet expectations for the remaining four Milestones (1, 2, 4, and 6).

YOU WILL EARN AN “F” in the course if you fail to meet expectations for Milestones 3, 5, or 7. Please note that I am required to give you an EWS for excessive latenesses, absences, or poor quality work.

If you have questions about your grade at any time during the semester, please contact me immediately by email.

COURSE TEXTS: The primary required texts come from original and secondary sources in semiotics and historical and contemporary introductions to fieldwork methods. I will also require you to read secondary texts of your choice that extend the semiotics concepts listed in the course schedule. You are to read each required text before the class in which it is discussed. You will have an opportunity to lead a class discussion of the required texts independently or in a small group at least twice over the course of the semester. Plan for discussions running the entire class, 110 minutes with a ten minute break, unless other class activities are noted in the schedule for that day. If so, then plan to discuss the readings for no more than 60 minutes. The required readings are available in soft copy via Rensselaer’s Learning Management System. On the first day of class, I will distribute a course schedule with the deadlines for completing each required reading. It is a tentative schedule, as supplemental required readings and guest lectures may be added (or deleted) throughout the term as needed.

ACADEMIC INTEGRITY: Student–teacher relationships are built on trust. For example, you must trust that I have made appropriate decisions about the structure and content of the course; and, I must trust that the assignments that you turn in are your own. Acts that violate this trust undermine the educational process. The Rensselaer Handbook of Student Rights and Responsibilities defines various forms of academic dishonesty and you should make yourself familiar with these. In this class, all assignments that you turn in for a grade must represent your own work. Submission of any assignment that is plagiarized or otherwise in violation of this policy will result in a penalty of failure of the course.

SCHEDULE:

JAN. 23 Starting Where You Are

Read Lofland pp. 9-14 and Luker pp. 1-39. Break into Groups (1, 2, 3).

Milestone 1: Autoethnography Memo due for discussion and collection.

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JAN. 27 Ethics & Human Subjects Clearance

Read Boellstorff pp. 129-158. Group 1 leads discussion.

JAN. 30 Semiotics

Read and interrogate Saussure pp. 65-70; Peirce pp. 98-119, 150-156; and another text that extends the conversation. Also, read Luker 76-98. Group 2 leads discussion.

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FEB. 3 Denotation & Connotation

Read and interrogate Barthes (1967) pp. 89-98 and another text that extends the conversation. Group 3 leads discussion.

FEB. 6 Code & Myth

Read and interrogate Barthes (1972) pp.111-131; Guiraud pp. 66-98; and another text that extends the conversation. Group 1 leads discussion.

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FEB. 10 Mode

Read and interrogate Kress pp. 79-102 and 132-158; and another text that extends the conversation. Group 2 leads discussion.

FEB. 13 Meaning

Read and interrogate Berger (1984,1999) pp. 217-229 and Berger (1991) pp. 3-31 and another text that contributes another perspective to the conversation. Milestone 2: Semiotic Analysis Memo due for discussion and collection. Be prepared to present your image.

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TUES. FEB. 18 Fieldwork Online (and Offline)

Read Boellstorff pp. 52-128. Luker pp. 51-75; 99-187; 189. Group 3 leads discussion. Optional Readings: Wax pp. 21-41; Luker pp. 40-50; Boellstorff pp. 13-28.

FEB. 20 Fieldwork in the Physical World

Read Lofland pp. 15-53. Read and critique Kovats-Bernat pp. 208-222; Thome pp. 73-88; and another text cited in one of the articles for group discussion. Group 1 leads discussion. Optional Reading: Geertz pp. 412-470

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FEB. 24 Fieldwork in the Physical World, Con’t

Read Venkatesh in its entirety for group discussion. Groups 2 leads discussion.

Group Activity: Minimizing Risks. Minimizing Fears

FEB. 27 CITI Training

Milestone 3: Deadline to submit CITI Training Completion Report

Midterm evaluation of course administered

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MARCH 3 Peer-review of IRB Proposals

Milestone 4: Draft IRB proposal due

MARCH 6 Peer-review of IRB Proposals

Milestone 4: Draft IRB proposal due. Deadline to submit final proposal to IRB for review and approval. Homework: Email instructor four articles that your group will critique for March 20, 24, 31, & April 3. There can be no duplication of articles between groups. Articles listed in the syllabus are on a first-requested-first-served basis.

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[March 10-14 Spring Break]

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MARCH 17 Data Analysis

Read Boellstorff pp. 159-181; Luker pp.198-216. Group 3 leads discussion.

MARCH 20 Semiotics & Fieldwork

Each group reads and critiques a journal article from the course bibliography and one text that it cites. You may also choose your own journal article.

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MARCH 24 Semiotics & Fieldwork

Each group reads and critiques a journal article from the course bibliography and one text that it cites. You may also choose your own journal article.

MARCH 27 No class Instructor out of town

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MARCH 31 Semiotics & Fieldwork

Each group reads and critiques a journal article from the course bibliography and one text that it cites. You may also choose your own journal article.

APRIL 3  Semiotics & Fieldwork

Each group reads and critiques a journal article from the course bibliography and one text that it cites. You may also choose your own journal article. Milestone 5: Deadline to submit approved IRB proposal

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APRIL 7 In the field

Update Google Fieldnotes document

APRIL 10 Semiotic Analysis of 2-D or 3-D Visual Data

Bring in data for analysis

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APRIL 14 In the field

Update Google Fieldnotes document

APRIL 17 Semiotic Analysis of Lived/Living Visual Data

Bring in data for analysis

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APRIL 21 In the field

Update Google Fieldnotes document

APRIL 24 Semiotic Analysis of Virtual Data

Bring in data for analysis

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APRIL 28 Individual Critiques with instructor

MAY 1 & 5: Milestone 6: Mock conference presentation due: 20 minutes each + 5 to 10 minute discussion

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