21L.715 | Fall 2007 | Undergraduate

Media in Cultural Context: Popular Readerships


2 Oral Reports

(20% of final grade)

These are brief (5-7 minutes), informal, and designed to introduce materials and ideas that will complement our readings. Since you will not be able to tell us everything about your topic, inform us about a “nugget” you find particularly compelling, and tell us why you think it is something worth caring about. Build into your work ideas and questions for discussion, and keep in mind that one report will be written up and handed in.

You will be assigned 2 of the following topics:

  1. Oprah’s book club choices. Identify a book that Oprah has selected for her club. It should not be one that is discussed at length in the readings. You might (but don’t have to) answer one or a few of the following questions: How does this book fit into the general Oprah “project,” such as it is? How was the book treated on the show? How was it presented to the audience and discussed, whether on television or online? Why does Oprah say she chose the book, and do you have any other ideas about why she did? Etc.
  2. Reading and social location. Describe the relationship between your own social location and your reading patterns and behaviors. You might (but don’t have to) answer one or a few of the following questions: Can you identify a correlation between some aspect of your social position (ie. class, gender, race, ethnicity, etc.) and what—or even HOW—you read? Or not? How much do your own experiences jive with what we’ve read on this question? Do they complicate some of the claims we’ve encountered?
  3. Niche romance audiences, and/or your own romance reading. You have a few options for this report.
    • Keeping in mind our readings on the subject of romance audiences, look around on the internet and identify some of the newer niche forms of mass-market romance. What non-traditional romance audiences are being appealed to by Harlequin and Mills & Boon, for example? How are these niches being appealed to? Why? You are not restricted to the major multinational firms—there are plenty of smaller publishers producing romance lines. Tell us about ONE of these niche lines and describe how its existence might complicate earlier ethnographic work on romance reading.
    • Or, read a mass-market romance novel yourself, and tell us about the experience. The challenge here will be finding something interesting and complicated to say about your reading: you should not just summarize the plot, and we all want to avoid being overly dismissive of or condescending toward readers of romance. If you like you can combine this option with the first one: make the novel you choose to read one that is marketed toward a specific niche audience.
  4. Bestsellers: Choose a bestseller from any period and attribute its success to something (or some set of factors). The burden is on you to prove that the work was in fact a bestseller, which may entail defining and redefining the term “bestseller” itself. Always consider cultural context.

Formal Write-Up of 1 Oral Report

(15% of final grade)

Transform one of your reports into a 4-5 pg. paper that has a clear argumentative thread, thesis, or narrative arc that develops, perhaps, from your original “nugget” of insight. This is due two weeks after the presentation that it grows out of and extends. Late papers lose 1% (of the course total) per working day. Papers can be brought to class on the due date, or, during working hours, left in my mailbox across from Literature headquarters.


(25% of final grade)

Success in this class requires creative thinking, independent initiative, and active engagement with the material and with your peers. Effective participation requires (beyond being present!): arriving on time; having a copy of the readings with you for their date on the schedule (and having read them and thought about them, along with any other materials designated for consideration that class); and listening to your classmates and engaging them in respectful, considered conversation. I will monitor your adherence to each of these requirements through observation, pop quizzes, and a few substantial in-class writing assignments.

Research Paper Prospectus and Research Paper

(5% and 35% of final grade, respectively)

Find a group of readers (physical or virtual) whose behavior you can analyze using the ethnographic (and quasi-ethnographic) methods of observation we encounter throughout the course. Create a set of research questions for yourself (and/or for them) and a methodology for understanding the way these readers operate. Be sure to pay attention to questions of social location: how do your readers’ social context and individual situations explain what, why, and how they read? Write a report, of at least 12 pages, making an argument that can be justified by the data you gather and by what you have learned about reading patterns and behavior. Your prospectus, in which you lay out your intentions for the paper and explain your research goals and methods, is due in Ses #19. The final paper is due on the last day of class, Ses #25, when you’ll share your findings. It can be brought to class on the due date, or, during working hours, left in my mailbox across from Literature headquarters. Late papers lose 1% (of the course total) per working day.

Course Info

As Taught In
Fall 2007
Learning Resource Types
Presentation Assignments
Written Assignments