Comm 212 Online Cultural Codes In Communication

COMM 212 (online): Cultural Codes in Communication

Important note: Responses to content-related questions will be delivered in the Discussion/Logistic section and, in case of emergency, by email. For technical issues, please contact Technical Support (see below for contacts).


This course is designed to examine the manner in which one’s communication (e.g., one’s use of spoken and written language) creates and, in turn, is determined by, the social and cultural world(s) in which one lives. More specifically, we will be looking at what goes into the process of meaning-making, as well as what its consequences are in our everyday life. For the duration of this class, we will discuss issues such as identity formation (Where does your “identity” come from?, Do you have just one “identity”?; Precisely how do you know you are who you are?, How easy would it be for you to become someone different if you wanted to?), ritual (Why do people insist on creating rituals for themselves?, What qualifies as a ritual, as opposed to mere repetitive behavior?), perception and subjectivity (Why can two people never perceive the same thing in
the same way?, One the other hand, why do people belonging to the same “community” look at certain things in the same general way?), and culture (Does “culture” encompass everything around us or is it something more specific than that?, Can one belong to more than one “culture”?, Are all “cultures” equal?).

Many of our discussions will be traced back to an issue with which you are bound to grapple in any intercultural experiences you might have: the tension between individuality (i.e., the need to recognize and maintain the individual’s uniqueness coupled with our reluctance to blanket-label others) and group identity (i.e., the need to “belong” to one or more groups coupled with our desire to celebrate “culture” and “cultural diversity”). When is one to think (and speak) in terms of individuals and their choices (e.g., “X likes to play soccer”), and when in terms of groups and their characteristics (e.g., “Soccer is very important to Belgians")? Each option is fraught with dangers, and each might be preferable in certain situations. While this course will not provide you with a sure-fire recipe for making such difficult decisions, it will provide you with some “theoretical equipment” for getting a conceptual handle on these issues.

By the end of the course, you will hopefully have acquired a rather sophisticated understanding of:
1) the way in which everything you say and do shapes the world around you, and
2) the way in which patterns of thought and behavior established by others in other places and other times greatly influence your everyday struggle to make sense of the world around you.


1) A stable, fast internet connection for the entire duration of the course. Besides reading off this website and participating in (non-live) discussions on it, you will also have to spend some time following links included in the lectures.

2) No textbook needs to be purchased. You will be able to access the class readings online, via Ereserves. Then, type in the following password: normal (just like that, no caps, no quotation marks)]. You can save the .pdf documents on your computer, too, for subsequent offline reading. Do not be alarmed at the number of readings currently posted in our Ereserves account. A good number of those are simply recommended readings, not mandatory.


Chances are that for many students enrolled in this class this is the first online course they’ve ever taken. As such, many people might not be 100 percent aware of what an online course entails and how it is different from an in-class course. PLEASE read the following considerations carefully and take them into consideration as you prepare for this course.


With an online course, you have the luxury of not having to travel to class. You can do the class work in your pajamas, on your couch if you choose so. Also, you can choose the hour of day or night when you do the readings and complete the assignments.

Many teachers (including myself) generally rely on face-to-face interaction in order to communicate their class expectations, approval and disapproval of class performance, etc. There is something about the teacher’s physical presence (e.g., looks, frowns, smiles, laughter, seriousness, etc.) that often motivates students better than any words could. All of this is missing in an online environment. Students do not ever have to “suffer” a disapproving look, and they often find it rather easy to ignore written course guidelines. What all of this means is that an online course requires much more personal responsibility on the part of the student than an in-class course, since the instructor can hardly use his/her personality to encourage people to participate in class discussions and assignments.

The tendency to associate the Internet with fun/pleasure can also be detrimental to how seriously people take an online class. Remember at all times that this is still a UMass 3-credit course, just like any of the courses you’ve been taking during the semester. Take this course just as seriously as you would take any of the in-class semester courses.


The time you would normally spend in a classroom you will now have to spend logged onto the web site. As mentioned, you will have to log onto the site for a few hours at least every other day. There are a lot of students enrolled in this class and each will have to contribute to the class discussions. You are required to read all of these contributions and respond to some of them. The time you need to spend online (i.e., dealing with course-related material) might end up being longer than the time you would spend preparing for and participating in an in-class course! Please be aware of this fact and plan your summer schedule accordingly. [Note: Vista provides the instructor with detailed stats on how long each student was logged onto the course website, what links he/she clicked on, the exact time assignments and contributions to discussions were posted, etc.].

Important 1: One of the most frequently heard excuses in an online course runs as follows: “I couldn’t complete the assignment on time because I have been visiting my grandparents for the past three days and I had no internet connection where they live.” Since being online periodically is the equivalent of coming to class periodically, visiting your grandparents is no more of a legitimate excuse for missing an online class/deadline than it would be in an in-class course. If you do not have a guaranteed, trustworthy Internet connection at your grandparents’, you need to postpone your visit until after the course has ended.

Important 2: Another kind of frequently heard excuses is the following: “I couldn’t post my paper/response because my computer/Internet connection broke down just before the deadline.” There is no way I can verify whether your computer really crashed or not. Please turn in work BEFORE the deadline, to ensure that everything goes smoothly. Keep backup copies of all of your work (e.g., copy everything you write on a USB, to be used from a public library/internet café/friend’s computer in case of an emergency). Do not wait until the last minute to submit your work!


We have a total of 38 days for our class, between July 16 and August 22. We do have a lot to cover, and we will have to be in touch constantly. There are 12 sessions in this class, corresponding to 12 class meetings in a normal, in-class course. We will be reading about and discussing a specific topic roughly every three days. You should complete the reading by the FIRST DAY of each session (clearly demarcated in the "Schedule of Sessions") so that you can participate in discussions for the next two days.

When “going to class” really means “connecting to the Internet in the living room,” deadlines may appear less than substantial. Again, you will have to rely strictly on self-discipline to meet each deadline. What that means is that, regardless of whether you do your reading and writing during the day or the night, in your living room or in a coffee shop, you are responsible for completing the assignment on deadline. You will have two days after the beginning of each session to post your contributions to the discussions.


A class "lecture" will consist of a text posted by the instructor in our online forum. That text will contain theoretical information, links, questions, suggestions, and assignments. These “lectures” will not be very long; instead we rely mostly on the Ereserves readings and the discussions for relevant information. Both lectures (complete with links) and Ereserve materials have to be read for each session.


Please familiarize yourself with the UMass policy on academic honesty provided here. Note that, when working in an online environment, it is particularly tempting to simply snatch things off the internet and copy-paste them in your assignment. Please refrain from doing so. Credit everything you take off the internet (or, for that matter, from anywhere else). Make sure you quote texts properly (quotation marks and credits).


Medical or other legitimate emergencies should be documented. In case of emergency, you can email me (or have someone else do it). Documents can be faxed to the Communication department at (413) 545 6399.


This is a communication class. As such, quality writing is expected of you. Given the huge volume of emails and comments that we all write on a daily basis, we tend to avoid reviewing our messages before sending them off. This course, however, requires that you read carefully all of your texts BEFORE you click "Submit." Please use a clean, vivid language, and edit your texts. No "Internet language," please (e.g. "u" instead of "you," "4" instead of "for"). Every text that you post on the web site or send to the instructor qualifies as an “academic text” and should be composed with that in mind.


In the absence of face-to-face interaction, it is rather easy to shoot off a rude email. Please be aware of this phenomenon, and maintain a respectful attitude at all times. Remember that everything you post on this website qualifies as official class communication and will be treated as such. For information on what constitutes proper behavior in an online course, please go here.

(130 points possible)

1) Eight insightful contributions to discussions………40 points
2) Paper ………………………………………………….30 points
3) Three quizzes (20 points each)……………………..60 points


The maximum number of points you can accumulate in this class is 130. So, 130 points represents 100 percent. A simple math operation will similarly transform your point sum into a final percentage. That percentage is, in turn, transformed into a final grade according to the following scale:

A 100-92%, A- 91-90, B+ 89-88, B 87-82, B- 81-80, C+ 79-78, C 77-72, C- 71-70, D+ 69-68, D 67-61, F 60-0.


As mentioned above, one of the most important requirements in this class is that you participate periodically in discussions. You must post at least one comment in “Discussions,” in the “Session-specific comments” section (see below) for at least 8 of the 12 class sessions. The discussions will be asynchronous, threaded discussions. There are three main kinds of “discussions” that you will have to participate in throughout the entire length of the course:

1) Session-specific discussions: This is the most important kind of discussion that you will have to participate in, as your comments posted here will determine your “Discussions” grade (worth almost a third of the final grade). At the end of each one of the regular lectures, I will write down a few questions (having to do with the lecture and the required readings). These questions are meant to help you get started in thinking about the day’s topics. You do not have to answer them directly; you can simply comment on something that caught your attention in the lecture and/or readings and/or other people’s remarks. In all of your comments, however, you will need to prove some of the following:

a) that you have read the lecture (including any linked texts) and the assigned texts;

b) that you have understood and thought about the concepts/theories/arguments made in the lectures and readings. I encourage both analytical and critical thinking: whenever you read a text, try to analyze the author’s assumptions, expectations, peculiar use of language, etc. Comment on these things, as well as on the actual arguments made in the texts.

c) that you have read each comment that your colleagues have posted on the subject (what this means, concretely, is that you should reference what some of your colleagues have written – you can politely critique their comments, or relate them to yours in some other way).

d) that you are able to make connections between texts. Put today’s lecture/readings into a conversation, so to speak, with yesterday’s texts & comments.

I will read each comment that you post (even if I don't respond to all of them). The comments that you post for any one Session will receive a grade (from 1 to 5 points). Quantity of postings doesn't guarantee a high grade, of course. You can definitely get a full 5 points with one good, thoughtful comment. Conversely, 4 superficial comments won't get you a better grade than just one superficial comment. Like the quizzes, the discussion threads will be locked at the end of the period designated for the Session to which the discussions threads belong.. After the discussion thread has been locked, you cannot post there any more.

There are 11 class sessions which you will be able to comment on (12 sessions minus Session 1, which is not graded). You need a minimum of EIGHT decent & substantial comments in order to get a shot at the full 40 points that can be earned through contributions to discussions (which means that you can skip commenting on some topics). Should you post more than 8 substantial comments (which I encourage you to do), I will only retain the eight comments which have received the highest number of points. Important note: Do not disappear from the site for a whole month, only to post 8 comments during the last two sessions! Remember that you only get one grade per individual Session, regardless of how many comments you post for that particular session. Your contributions must be spread-out over the duration of the entire course. [All your comments, as well as log-ins, will be clearly dated and logged by Vista].

A rough description of the evaluation criteria for a comment:

## 5 points – This is an "excellent" collection of comments, not just a collection of "good" comments. The comments clearly establish familiarity with the day’s lecture and readings, as well as with the other students’ remarks. The student is able to deploy good analytical and critical skills. The student can engage the texts/comments in an interesting, insightful manner. The student can ask insightful questions and can make solid connections between theories and concepts. The student can provide proof for his/her assertions (e.g., proper citations, links to other information on the net, clear step-by-step argumentation, etc.). The comments are a good piece of text (i.e., they have good structure, no grammatical, punctuation, or spelling errors). An excellent collection of comments (i.e., worthy of 5 points) will have anywhere between 2 and 4 paragraphs. Do not expect your every comment to rate as an "excellent" comment.

## 4 points – The comments are insightful and contain solid information, good argumentation, etc. They are missing something, however – e.g., the reasoning is not followed all the way through, assertions are not fully backed up, the text has a considerable amount of grammatical, punctuation, or spelling errors, the examples/analogies provided are not properly and carefully laid out, etc. This is still a good collection of comments.

## 3 points – The comments are not really insightful, well-thought out statements, even though many points raised in it make perfect sense. The topics addressed might be merely tangential to the day’s readings/lecture, the examples/analogies might be faulty (though not completely useless), the comments might seem completely rushed or they might betray insufficient familiarity with the lecture/readings/other people’s comments. A thoroughly messy text (in terms of structure, grammar, spelling, punctuation, etc.) will do the trick, as well.

## 2 points – Some good points are raised, but the comments are lacking in pretty much every department: insufficient familiarity with the texts, insufficient deployment of analytical and critical skills, rushed writing, insufficient argumentation, limited research, etc.

## 1 point – The comments attempt to engage a text but fails in proving analytical or critical skills. Way too much quoting or paraphrasing, instead of argumentation and original writing. Drastically limited demonstration of understanding of concepts/theories.

## no points awarded – The comments might contribute to the smooth development of a conversation but do not add new argumentation. Many such comments may indeed be necessary to the discussion and they will be well-received, but they will not rate any points. “You make an excellent point, John! I hadn’t thought of this!” – this is a good, legitimate comment, but not the kind of comment that will get you points. However, “You make an excellent point, John! I hadn’t thought of this! Here’s what your comment made me think of: [etc.]” may very well earn you some or all of the 5 points.

Rude or plagiarized comments will not earn any points, and might have grade-deducting consequences.

2) Logistics discussions. This is the place where you ask for clarifications about anything related to this course: assignments, other requirements, etc. Please use this forum instead of directly emailing the instructor. This way, the entire class will benefit from your questions and the answers that I provide to them. (Also, this ensures that I’m not swamped with hundreds of emails every day – when that happens, my response rate goes down markedly, not to mention technical problems that my inbox has to deal with…). Use this forum as often as you need to. Also, be sure to check it periodically to see what clarifications have been asked for and received. As soon as you’re done reading this syllabus, ask a question or two (or five) if you are not 100 percent clear on everything I’ve written here. Note that I am not able to answer technology-related questions. See below for information in that regard.

3) Personal narratives / Interesting information. This is where you can have free, ungraded discussions about anything remotely connected to the course material (and what isn’t connected to culture and identity?). I encourage you to use this forum as much as possible, too. Post some interesting links to articles/other material on the net, comment on last night’s movie (do try to connect it to class concepts, though…), etc. At all times, however, observe the usual decency rules.

II. PAPER. This assignment will consist of a rather short essay (5 to 6 paragraphs), in which you will apply concepts and theories to concrete scenarios of your own choosing. In brief, you will be asked to analyze an experience you have had with a “culture” different that your own (e.g., an RSO meeting, a church service, a trip abroad, dinner at a friend’s house) in terms of the concepts and ideas discussed online, as well as those in the assigned readings. One question you will need to ask, by way of “cultural analysis,” is: What are the beliefs, values, norms, assumptions, expectations, and rituals that underwrite this “culture”? You will post this text in the “Discussions” section, in a separate, clearly-demarcated thread. More details to be given soon.

III. THREE QUIZZES. Even though I personally dislike quizzes as a means of student assessment, the sheer size of this class requires that I use them. Each quiz will include 20 questions. Some questions will be multiple-choice, some will be true/false, and some will be open (brief) essay. Each question is worth one point (3 quizzes X 20 questions = a maximum of 60 points for this type of assignment). Before each quiz, I will provide you with a study guide. The quizzes will, of course, be open book, but they will be timed! (Meaning that you will have a set period of time to complete the quiz once you start it – this time period will not be long enough for you to re-read everything that pertains to the quiz questions at hand). If you are not sure you know how to work the Quiz application, please contact the Vista people (see below for contacts). The quizzes are non-cumulative, but might include one or two questions which had also been included in a previous quiz and which most people got wrong (of course, I'll explain the reasoning behind the correct answer prior to the second quiz). Important: Each quiz will only be open for a limited time period (i.e., at most three days). After that, you will not be able to access it anymore – not taking the quiz in the allotted time would be the equivalent of not showing up to class for a quiz. Again, “my computer crashed” is not a valid excuse: take the quiz as soon as it is available (read: during the first day) to prevent last-minute glitches! Make-ups will be considered only in case of documented emergencies (such as being in a hospital for the whole 3 days).


Please come to this schedule before each session, as you will find information here about assignments and readings. This schedule is not etched in stone; topics might get switched around a bit during the semester, depending on the class dynamics.

Session 1 (July 16 - 18) - Introduction. Please read the whole syllabus. Before you read the Intro lecture, please introduce yourself in [Discussions; Personal Narratives; Self-intro]. Please ask logistics-related questions in [Discussions; Logistics]. Please give an answer to each of the three questions posted in [Discussions; Session-specific; Intro session]. Then please read the Intro lecture.

Session 2 (July 19 - July 21) - What is Communication? The Transmission Model vs. the Ritual Model. Please read the lecture (the "Session 1" document on the main page), and the Carey text in our Ereserves account. Please read them on July 19 so that you can then contribute to the discussions till July 21.

Session 3 (July 22 - July 25) - The Constructivist Approach. The power of Language. Please read the Session 3 lecture and the Session 3 handout. No outside reading. Please complete the exercise detailed in the handout in the [Discussions; Session-Specific; Session 3-The Power of Language] thread. Note that the thread will close after the July 25 deadline and you will not be able to post there anymore (and, as such, you won't be able to earn points for this assignment).

Session 4 (July 26 - July 28) - Categories and Institutions. Please read the Session 4 lecture and the Anderson text. Then contribute to the [Discussions; Session-Specific; Session 4 - Categories and Institutions] thread. This thread will close after July 28.

Session 5 (July 29 - July 31) - Identity and Culture. Quiz 1 (quiz opens on July 30 and closes on August 2, includes information from Sessions 1, 2, 3, and 4). Please read the Session 5 mini-lecture, the Yep and Wong texts on Ereserve, and the "Culture" text I posted on the Home Page. A new discussion thread has been opened.

Session 6 (August 2 - August 4) - Prototypes. Race, ethnicity, nationality. Please read the Session 6 lecture, both Rodriguez texts on Erserve, and the info at the site noted at the end of the lecture. Then contribute to the [Discussions; Session-Specific; Session 6 - Prototypes and Human Categories] thread. This thread will close after August 4.

Session 7 (August 5 - August 7) - Ethnography of Communication. Please read the Session 7 lecture, as well as the three Bohannan and van der Elst chapters. Then contribute to the [Discussions; Session-Specific; Session 7 - Ethnography of Communication] thread. This thread will close after August 7.

Session 8 (August 8 - August 10) - Cultural codes. Symbolic scenes. Please read the Session 8 lecture, as well as the two Philipsen texts. Then contribute to the [Discussions; Session-Specific; Session 8 - Cultural Code and Symbolic Scenes] thread. This thread will close after August 10. Quiz 2 (quiz opens on August 10 and closes on August 13 at 11:59 p.m., includes information from Sessions 5, 6, and 7).

Session 9 (August 11 - August 13) - Stereotypes. Racism. Political Correctness. Please read the Varenne text, the 3 Lassiter texts, and the Bellah text. Then contribute to the [Discussions; Session-Specific; Session 9 - Stereotypes] thread. This thread will close after August 14.

Session 10 (August 14 - August 16) - Ritual. Social drama. Short paper due on August 18. Please read the Hall and Hastings texts. Then contribute to the [Discussions; Session-Specific; Session 10 - Ritual] thread. This thread will close after August 17.

Session 11 (August 17 - August 19) - The social construction of Emotions. Please read the Wierzbicka and Potter texts. Then contribute to the [Discussions; Session-Specific; Session 11 - Emotions] thread. This thread will close after August 20.

Session 12 (August 20 - August 22) - Recapitulation. Please read the Frake and Hoffman texts. Then contribute to the [Discussions; Session-Specific; Session 12 - Recapitulation] thread. Quiz 3 (quiz opens on August 20 and closes on August 22, includes information from Sessions 8, 9, 10, and 11).


Please direct only class content-related questions to the instructor. All technical questions that deal with logging into the site, using the Vista platform, inability to use its functions, problems with posting text, glitches in the system etc, should be directed to the technical support stuff (see below), and not to the instructor who does not know any more about such things than you do.

• For 24/7 technical support, email ten.enilnossamu|troppustsrehma#ten.enilnossamu|troppustsrehma, call 1-800-569-6505, or use live text chat through the link at the bottom of the course web site.
• For information related to enrollment, add/drop, withdrawal, etc., or financial issues, please contact the Continuing and Professional Education Department, at 413-545-2414, fax: 413-577-3838, email: ude.ssamu.denitnoc|ofni#ude.ssamu.denitnoc|ofni.