This summer I’ve spent quite a bit of time reflecting on my undergraduate module ‘Popular Culture, Media & Society’. It’s a year-long second year module that I co-ordinate, I also do most of the teaching on it (I’m doing 15 of the 18 lectures and two of the six seminar groups). This is the sixth year that I’ve delivered the module and it has changed every year – partially to keep it fresh and improve the content, but also as a result of the nature of the subject matter. The module is an option module and it is usually quite large, with somewhere between 80-95 students each year. It’s always a challenge trying to keep-up with popular culture, but I try to put some new references to new cultural forms and stories each year (and I often add some new key readings). We actually start with the problem of keeping up with popular culture in the first seminar, I get the students to read this piece I wrote on the sociological problems associated with being uncool.
This year I’ve reshaped the module a little and I’m just working through the lectures at the moment. I’m making some changes and trying to layer in some more references to new literature and things I’ve found. I also have seminar tasks on this module that sit alongside the key readings (I don’t use a fixed textbook instead I’ve put together a series of key journal articles). I found this helps to provoke some discussion. This is the lecture outline for the module for 2013-14:
1. Popular culture, media & society: an introduction
3. Music scenes
4. The Culture Industry
5. Working in the culture industry
6. Reality TV and confessional media
7. Making pop
8. Cultural tastes
10. Popular culture, space & the body
11. Cultural objects
12. Cultural archives
13. New music cultures
16. The sociological imagination as popular culture
17. Revision lecture
18. Revision lecture
As well as the problem of keeping-up with popular culture, there are also some other difficulties that come with delivering this module. The credibility of subject matter is always a potential issue. I try to tackle this at the beginning of the opening lecture by giving examples that show how popular culture is at the forefront of a number of big social and cultural issues. This continues throughout the module, I try to link examples from popular culture in to questions of power, capitalism, divisions, ordering and the like.
In addition to this, another issue I face is the depth of knowledge about the subject that the students have. This module is fairly unusual in that the students know a great deal about popular culture before the module starts. This is mostly a good thing, but it means that module has to be delivered slightly differently. I give the students some examples in lectures, but the aim is usually to get them to use the ideas and concepts we cover to reflect on their existing knowledge and experience of popular culture. The difficulty sometimes is moving beyond students extensive knowledge of popular culture to open up some critical analysis. It also means that lectures can’t be heavy on description, because the students are often familiar with the subject matter and examples, so it forces me each year to try to flesh out the analytical questions and issues in the lecture content.