VISUAL CULTURE: An Introduction
Spring 2007
HER H400/HER R511
Monday, 1:30pm – 4:00pm, HR 147
Mario A. Caro
Herron 240
735 W. New York St
Office phone:  278-9483
Office Hours: by appointment




This is course is an introduction to visual studies, an interdisciplinary approach to the study of visual culture that emphasizes the social ramifications of the visual. It’s an approach to the analysis of visual culture that is driven by urgent issues—such as terrorism, AIDS, immigration, globalization, sovereignty, natural disasters, etc.—and that requires an interdisciplinary approach (art theory and criticism, gender studies, postcolonial studies, etc.) to visual representation. All of these issues have much to do with those aspects of our identity (class, gender, race, sexuality, religion, nationalism, etc.) that locate us as individuals and also as members of different and at times conflictual communities.


  • You will be introduced to the history of visual studies as a critical interdisciplinary approach to visual culture, an approach that goes beyond the confines of art discourses and is inclusive of popular, medical, and non-art imagery. As a result:
  • you will learn to identify current political, economic, and social issues that demand the application of the critical methodologies offered by visual studies
  • you will be able to evaluate the most proper disciplinary approach that effectively enacts the desired change
  • you will have engaged in the strategic production of critical responses in the form of written, oral and visual projects requiring the development of
    • research skills that lead to an analytical engagement with the issue under study
    • writing skills that allow for an organized and persuasive thesis and
    • the development of projects (oral, written, visual, performative) that present their research and analysis

All work in this course is intended to fulfil the University's Principles of Undergraduate Learning. The class focuses on critical, self-reflective thinking, integrates knowledge from a variety of disciplinary and sociocultural perspectives, examines social and cultural complexity, and probes the impact of knowledge on ethical, everyday decision-making.

Required Texts:
-Marita Sturken and Lisa Cartwright, Practices of Looking (Oxford UP, 2001). [PL]
-Nicholas MIrzoeff, ed., The Visual Culture Reader, second edition (New York: Routledge, 2002). [VCR]
(Please make sure that you use the second edition of the Mirzoeff text.)

The texts are available at the Jag Store at the ground level of the University Place Hotel on Michigan, which is open from 9:00am to 5:00pm. (Note: This is not the main bookstore.)

Please note: This syllabus will probably change during the course of the semester. You will be notified in class of these changes and are responsible for them.



Because often we will be dealing with controversial issues pertaining to visual culture, it is likely that you will be made uncomfortable or may even be offended by some of what is shown in class. It is not my intent to make you uncomfortable but, because of the nature of the issues we will be covering, it is impossible not to address these images.





The following is the percentage breakdown of your grades for assignments and participation.


Museum Visit  




Mid-term Examination


Annotated Bibliography & Thesis


Research Paper


Final Exam


Grading Scale:

 100-95% = A   

78 - 75% = C

 94 - 92% = A-

74 - 72% = C-

91 - 89% = B+

71 - 67% = D+

88 - 85% = B

66 - 63% = D

84 - 82% = B-

62 - 59% = D-

81 - 79% = C+

59% or below = F




Weekly Readings:


               You are required to complete the specified readings by the time our class meets. (Graduate students will read their assigned readings in addition to those required for the rest of the class.) You should be prepared to formulate questions based on your engagement with the readings. Our in-class discussion will be an opportunity for an informed investigation of the issues raised by the authors. It will also be a chance for you to critique their positions and offer alternative approaches.


               In addition to the weekly reading assignments, there are three required assignments for the course: 1) a museum visit 2) the development of an annotated bibliography and thesis statement; and 3) a research paper focused on a topic of your own choosing.


Museum Visit

               In order to compensate for not meeting on February 12th, you are asked to visit a museum and answer a few leading questions. This is meant to be an introduction to the analysis and critique of institutions. You are encouraged to do this assignment in groups. It will make your engagement with the institution more fun and dynamic. In addition to submitting your questionnaire, you should be prepared to discuss your visit in class.


Due Date: February 19


Annotated Bibliography and Thesis Statement


               As a way of defining the scope of your research you will be asked to develop an annotated bibliography with at least fifteen entries (twenty for graduate students). In addition, you will also write a thesis statement, based on your bibliography, as a first attempt to formulate the topic for your research paper. We will do a workshop in class on how to develop this assignment.


Due Date: February 26


Research Paper


               The bibliography and thesis statement assignment will prepare you to develop a research paper that will engage an issue dealing with visual culture. It will be a topic of you own choosing and will be based on original research. In addition to a bibliography, the length of the papers should be 10-15 for undergraduate students and 15-20 for graduate students. We will discuss the proper ways of citing and formatting your paper in class.


Due Date: April 23


Graduate Students


               In addition to the graduate readings and the more extensive writing assignments, you will be asked to rotate in leading seminar discussion. This means that you should come to class prepared to present your response to the readings, attempting to integrate all the readings in such a way as to open up various possibilities for inquiry. We will determine a schedule for these presentations early in the semester. These presentations will count toward the “participation” portion of your grade.




               As you can see, your participation makes up a large portion of your grade (25%). It is imperative that you attend class. Therefore, it’s better to come to class unprepared than not to come at all. Attendance at all classes is mandatory and you are responsible for all lecture material.  Three absences within the semester constitute automatic failure.  Students who repeatedly arrive late and or leave early will be counted tardy.  Three tardies equals one absence.  Missing 45 minutes of class is considered being absent.


Late paper/work policy:


               No late assignment will be accepted. All assignments are to be submitted at the beginning of class on the date due. Please note that all assignments must by typed.


Academic Misconduct


               All work in the course is conducted in accordance with the University’s academic misconduct policy. Cheating includes dishonesty of any kind with respect to exams or assignments. Plagiarism is the offering of someone else’s work as your own: this includes taking material from books, web pages, or other students, turning in the same or substantially similar work as other students, or failing to properly cite other research. Please consult the University Bulletin’s academic misconduct policy if you have any questions about what constitutes academic dishonesty.


Need Special Assistance?


               If you have learning problems that might require special accommodation for completion of class assignments, please notify me of these matters within the first two or three class periods. I’ll make every effort to make things work for you. You may wish to contact Adaptive Educational Services (AES), Cavanaugh Hall, Suite 001E , 425 University Blvd., Indianapolis, IN 46202–5140, Tel: (317) 274–3241, TDD/TTY: (317) 278–2050, Fax: (317) 278–2051, Email: Staff there can provide a range of assistance.


The Student Advocate Office


Do you have a problem you don't know how to solve? Is there information you cannot find? Do you have a question that needs an answer or a problem that is affecting your class attendance? The Student Advocate Office is here to help. It will answer your questions, direct you to the appropriate departments and people, familiarize you with university policies and procedures, and give you guidance as you look at ways to solve problems and make choices. The Student Advocate Office is located in UC002 and can be contacted by phone at 278-7594 or email at For more information, see the Student Advocate website at:




Why “Visual Culture”?



Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday  - No Class


Institutional Critique:

Museums and the Representation of Culture
  • Ann Reynolds, “Visual Stories,” 324-338. [VCR]
  • “Practices of Looking,” chapter 1, 10-44. [PL]
  • Coco Fusco, “The Other History of Intercultural Performance,” 556-564. [VCR]
  • Andrew Ross, “The Un-American Numbers Game,” 339-356. [VCR]




Visual Signs – Semiotics and Other Theoretical Approaches



  • -“Viewers Make Meaning,” chapter 2, 45-71. [PL]
  • -Louis Althusser, “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses,” 139-141. [VCR]
  • -Jacques Lacan, “What is a Picture?” 126-128. [VCR]




Technologies of the Visual: Vision and the Scientific Apparatus



  • -“Scientific Looking, Looking at Science,” chapter 8, 279-314. [PL]
  • -Geoffrey Batchen, “Spectres of Cyberspace,” 237-242. [VCR]
  • -John Fiske, “Videotech,” 383-391. [VCR]





No Class



Appropriation, Postmodernism, and Popular Culture



  • -“Postmodernism and Popular Culture,” Chapter 7, 237-278. [PL]
  • -Ella Shohat and Robert Stam, “Narrativizing Visual Culture: Toward a Polycentric Aesthetics,” 37-59. [VCR]

Assignment Due:

Museum Visit Analysis



Manufacturing Desire: Advertising and Consumerism



  • -“Consumer Culture and the Manufacturing of Desire,” Chapter 6, 189-236. [PL]
  • -Karl Marx, “The Fetishism of the Commodity,” 122-123. [VCR]
  • -Roland Barthes, “Rhetoric of the Image,” 135-138. [VCR]

Assignment Due:

Annotated Bibliography and Thesis Statement




The Representation of Race



  • -Adrian Piper, “Passing for White, Passing for Black,” 546-555. [VCR]
  • -Kobena Mercer, “Ethnicity and Internationality: New British Art and Diaspora-based Blackness,” 191-203. [VCR]
  • -W.E.B. Dubois, “Double Consciousness,” 124-125. [VCR]
  • -Frantz Fanon, “The Fact of Blackness,” 129-131. [VCR]


Spring Break


Midterm Examination



Indigeneity and Globalization



  • -“The Global Flow of Visual Culture,” chapter 9, 315-348. [PL]
  • -Néstor Garcia Canclini, “Remaking Passports: Visual Thought in the Debate on Multiculturalism,” 180-189. [VCR]



The State, Terrorism, and Surveillance



  • -“The Mass Media and the Public Sphere,” chapter 5, 151-188. [PL]
  • -Guy Debord, “The Society of the Spectacle,” 142-146. [VCR]
  • -Jean Baudrillard, “Simulacra and Simulations,” 345-146. [VCR]



Visualizing Sexuality



  • -Reina Lewis, “Looking Good: The Lesbian Gaze in Fashion and Imagery,” 654-668. [VCR]
  • -Judith Halberstam, “The Transgender Gaze in Boys Don’t Cry,” 669-673. [VCR]
  • -Thomas Waugh, “The Third Body: Patterns in the Construction of the Subject in Gay Male Narrative Film,” 636-653. [VCR]




Imperialism and Culture



  • -Anne McClintock, “Soft-Soaping Empire: Commodity Racism and Imperial Advertising,” 506-518. [VCR]
  • -Oriana Baddeley, “Engendering New Worlds: Allegories of Rape and Reconciliation,” 584-590. [VCR]
  • -Malek Alloula, “From The Colonial Harem,” 519-530. [VCR]


Screening of Battle of Algiers



The Virtual Subject



  • -Tara McPherson, “Reload: Liveness, Mobility, and the Web,” 458-470. [VCR]
  • -Lisa Nakamura, “’Where do you want to go today?’: Cybernetic Tourism, the Internet, and Transnationality,” 255-278. [VCR]
  • -Wendy Hui Kyong Chun, “Othering Space,” 243-254. [VCR]
  • -N. Katherine Hayles, “Virtual Bodies and Flickering Signifiers,” 152-157. [VCR]
  • Michael Wayne, “The Critical Practice and Dialectics of Third Cinema,” in The Third Text Reader on Art, Culture and Theory, 211-225.


Assignment Due:

Final Draft of Research Paper


Final Examination