Issues in Media and Popular Culture: Knowledge and Ignorance in the Internet Age

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Course Number: 
SOCI 441 940

Reay, Mike

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Course Description: 

This course explores elements of America’s current “public epistemic culture,” i.e. the typical ways that individuals interacting with the media and other parts of the public sphere address issues of knowledge, ignorance, and learning. It considers the “post-truth” influence of political lies and conspiracy theories, the declining legitimacy of formal education and expertise, the reduction of knowledge to ranked “top ten” lists, the emotional simplification of non-fiction television, the filtering of news feeds and search engine outputs, and the reaction of people to centralized surveillance as well as to dispersed “sousveillance” via cellphones and social media. The course looks at how this culture may have arisen not just because of recent technological developments, but also because of decades of exposure to corporate advertising and free-market ideology. As a result, advances in computer technology have led not to universal enlightenment, but to a reduced understanding of the true communal nature of knowledge. This in turn may have helped turn the U.S. public sphere into a collection of polarized “echo chambers” whose occupants see democratic participation as little more than a form of angry complaining by dissatisfied consumers.

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