You Say You Want A Revolution: Communication, Education, and Social Change

MSTU 5606 Readings in communication theory and social thought I

[Read student course evaluations here EvalPdfO10AYX05456]

Fall 2014
Professor David Backer
Office hours: by appointment
M: 5:10-6:50

“You Say You Want A Revolution: Communication, Education, and Social Change”

Course questions

If we think about talking differently, can we create social change? What is the difference between economics and politics, and how can language be a force for change within them both? What are the connections between capitalism, education, and language? What is the speech of capitalism? What forms of interaction are there in education (both in schools and in society at large), and can we think about these politically? Does language create society, or is it the other way around? Is there a social-political philosophy of language? If so, can this philosophy help us enact new ways of being together?


*See below. All readings will be available on PDF at the course website.

Class Blog/Twitter List


Readings and Schedule

Week 1 (9.8) Introduction to the course, syllabus.
R. McClintock, “Toward a Place for Study in a World of Instruction” (161-192)
“Fragments of Frank Moretti”

Week 2 (9.15, last add/drop day) Rereading Marx: Key Concepts I
Grundrisse: Grundrisse 1 (Introduction); Grundrisse 2 (p.155-173)
Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy: Preface

Week 3 (9.22) Rereading Marx: Key Concepts II
Capital, Vol. 1: Capital 1; Capital 2
Harvey, D. Videos for Part I.

Week 4 (9.29) Rereading Marx: Commentaries
Pick TWO of the following readings:
L. Althusser, “Contradiction and Overdetermination” (PDF version)
GA Cohen, Chapter 8, “Base and Superstructure”
R. Williams, “Base and Superstructure in Cultural Theory”
C. Harman, “Base and Superstructure” (Sections 1-3)
Gramsci (excerpts from the Prison Notebooks)

Week 5 (10.6) Philosophy of language: Some Basics
Caws, P. “The Linguistic Base I” in Structuralism. Overview of Sassure’s Course in General Linguistics. Caws PDF
Frege, G. “On Sense and Reference.”
Austin, J.L. “How To Do Things With Words.”
Nietzsche, “On Truth and Lying in a Non-moral Sense.”
[Not Required: Wittgenstein, L. Philosophical Investigations. (p.2-20)]

Week 6 (10.13) The Bakhtin Circle: Introduction
D. Nikulin, “Bakhtin Man at the Mirror” (Sec. 1)
M. Bakhtin, Dostoevsky’s Poetics (Chps. 2 & 3)
(Choose ONE of the following)
Holquist, M. Dialogism: Bakhtin and His World, p.1-13 Bahktin and his World
Brandist, C. “Early Soviet Research Projects and the Development of Bakhtinian Ideas”
Morris, P. “Introduction” in The Bakhtin Reader, p.1-25 PDF

Week 7 (10.20) V. Volosinov: Marxism and the Philosophy of Language, Book I
Week 8 (10.27) V. Volosinov: Marxism and the Philosophy of Language, Book II
Week 9 (11.3) V. Volosinov: Marxism and the Philosophy of Language, Book III [Field Trip?] Peters and Volosinov

Week 10 (11.10) A Marxist Philosophy of Language, Lecerle, J. (Chap.1-4)
Week 11 (11.17) A Marxist Philosophy of Language, Lecerle, J. (Chap. 5-Conclusion)

Week 12 (11.24) Readings in Educational Communication I: Discussion and Recitation
Dillon on Discussion PDF
Dillon, J. Using Discussion in Classrooms (selections)
Dillon, J. The Practicing of Questioning (selections)

Week 13 (12.1) Readings in Educational Communication II:Recitation
The Persistence of the Recitation
NY Times article on the grand jury’s decision on Darren Wilson

(Introduction to Conversation Analysis 14. An Introduction to Conversation Analysis Each student should select a chapter and prepare an outline or activity for the group on the chapter)

Week 14 (12.8)  Practical considerations I
Backer, D. “On Recitation, or The Second Distortion of Discussion” (Chapter Three of the full PDF, which you can download on the righthand side)

Week 15 (12.15)
Project Presentations


Short Commentaries (blogged)

Each week you will write an 800-1000 word commentary on the readings for that week. In these commentaries, you should interpret the reading–that is, to the best of your ability, make a claim about what you think the author is saying with respect to a theme, question, tension, or idea. There should be little to no reference to other texts, personal experiences, or other classes. Focus. Please post these commentaries on a personal blog (or other digital space that permits comments) Sunday night before class.

Weekly Tweets (along with blog post)

Each week, tweet a question or link inspired by the reading at someone or some group. Use the hastag #talkingrevolution, and append the tweet to your blogpost.

Final Project

At the end of course, you will complete a final project. The project could take many forms: research paper, pedagogical experiment, website, podcast, transcribed/edited discussion, etc. You will present your project on the last day. (Projects can be tailored to the number of credits you are taking.)

Discussions (read this link for a good perspective on participating in philosophy classes)

I will be very intentional about classroom discussion, and will ask that you reflect on your participation throughout the semester. Please come ready to interpret the readings, ask others questions, and listen to what the group is saying.


Throughout the semester, I will provide qualitative feedback on your blogs and discussions. I will also review your projects at the end of the semester. However, in each case, I will not provide quantitative feedback in the form of numbers of letters. Rather, you will fill out two surveys, one at the midterm point and the second at the final. In each of these surveys you will reflect on your progress in the course and propose a letter grade. I will respond to your proposal, either agreeing or disagreeing with your evaluation.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s