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Course Description

A major theme of contemporary communication theory is the notion of "social worlds." The idea is that we inhabit worlds produced through out ability to communicate. This course examines the forms and roles of communication that create and exist within social worlds through a consideration of the "social constructionist" approach to interpersonal communication. This approach is located within the larger context of systems theory, language-game analysis, American pragmatism, and symbolic interactionism.

The genre of science-fiction is used in this course to exemplify and analyze key components of the social constructionist position. The social constructionist view of communication sees communication as the fundamental and constitutive element in the creation of social worlds. Essentially, our social worlds are derived from the nature of the communication practices we engage in everyday. Communication processes create and continually recreate the social realities we inhabit. In this course, students explore the nature of the realities presented in science-fiction texts and analyze the nature of the communication practices that would make such a reality possible. From the social constructionist perspective, it is not simply that communication takes place in these worlds. Rather, it is communication that makes these worlds possible. By understanding this relationship within science-fiction, this course provides students with an important theoretical tool with which to understand and make sense of current communication phenomena.


After taking this course, students will:

  • Have an understanding of social constructionism, a major movement within contemporary communication studies.
  • Be able to analyze and describe the relationship between communication and the nature of social worlds, both real and imagined.
  • Be able to understand and describe the role of pertinent communication processes in modern technological and rational societies.

Class Text

Pearce, W. Barnett (1994). Interpersonal communication: Making social worlds. New York, NY: Harper Collins.

Kolak, Daniel (1998). Wittgenstein's Tractatus (Daniel Kolak, Trans.). Mountain View, CA: Mayfield.

Conversation Pieces or Papers Without Guarantees (Stuart Hall)

Conversation Pieces are short pieces that should not exceed 3 pages in length, not including title page and reference page, if any. Conversation Pieces which exceed the 3 page limit will be penalized.

Conversation Pieces are short papers in which you deal with an idea, concept, or claim made in the lectures, discussions, readings, or movies which has stimulated your interest and imagination and, in particular, how this relates to your own experience. The objective is to make connections between these texts and anything else to which you see a valid connection, in particular how you see these readings connecting to communication concerns. My goal is that, by articulating connections rather than simply describing what some technical jargon "means," you work with concepts rather than merely repeating them back.

The structure of the paper should look something like the following:

  • A pertinent quotation, idea, scene, from lectures, readings, and/or film;
  • What this selection relates to in your own experience.
  • The reason(s) why you picked these; the hidden likeness which you have discovered/created;
  • Your response to the likeness you have identified.

The motivation behind the setting of regular Conversation Piece assignments is derived from Jacob Bronowski (Science and human values. New York: Harper and Row, 1956) who writes that:

The scientist looks for order in the appearances of nature by exploring...likenesses. For order does not display itself of itself; if it can be said to be there at all, it is not there for the mere looking. There is no way of pointing a finger or a camera at it; order must be discovered and, in a deep sense, it must be created. What we see, as we see it, is mere disorder (p. 24)

and also that:

the act of creation [lies] in the discovery of a hidden likeness. The scientist or the artist takes two facts or experiences which are separate; he finds in them alikeness which had not been seen before; and he creates a unity by showing thelikeness (p. 35).

Rules for Written Work

All Conversation Pieces should be written in full and grammatical sentences and have an appropriate introduction, main body, and conclusion. Conversation Pieces should be typed, double-spaced, andhave a separate title page with the title of the paper, your name, the name of this class, the name of your professor, and the date the assignment is due by. There are no exceptions to these requirements. Handwritten reports, outlines, things ripped out of notebooks, and work without title pages, however neat they might be, are NOT acceptable andpoints will be deducted accordingly.

All written work should be turned in on the date of the deadline contained on the syllabus, not before. Any assignment turned in up to the class session after the deadline will be deducted oneletter grade for that assignment. Any assignment turned in after the 24 hour period will beassigned a D grade, regardless of its quality (except if it merits a failing grade).

You should keep a second copy of all written work that you turn in.

Student Responsibilities and Extra Credit

Classes will begin on time and students are expected to be punctual. Reading assignments, including textbook and supplemental readings, are considered required. The ability to apply these materials to written assignments comprise a significant component of the grades awarded. Due to the nature of the class, in-class activities, presentations, and discussions missed cannot be made up. Extra credit does not exist. If you must be absent from this class, it is your responsibility to notify the professor in advance (if possible).


Any evidence of plagiarism, the appropriation or imitation of the language, thoughts, or methods of another and representation of them as one's own original work, will automatically result in anF grade for the assignment and possibly an F grade for the course. All sources referred to should be properly cited.

Student Agreement

Attendance at this class signifies that the student has agreed to abide by and adhere to the policies and regulations specified above. It is understood that the instructor may adapt or change this syllabus and the assignments contained within it according to circumstances that may arise during the course of the class.


Class 1

Welcome to the class
An Introduction to the Idea of Social Construction
The Social Construction of Time, Thought, and Communication
Film: Things to Come (1936) (Dir. William Cameron Menzies) - 92 minutes

Class 2

The Transmission Model of Communication
History, Dominance, Psychological Warfare, and Persuasion
Shannon, Weaver, and Turing
Read: Pearce, Chapter One, Understanding Conversations
Film: eXistenZ (1999) (Dir. David Cronenberg ) - 97 minutes

Class 3

The Social Constructionist View of Communication
Interaction Patterns, Reflexivity, and Relationships
Film: The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) (Dir. Robert Wise) - 92 minutes

Class 4

Finding the Connections: Social Constructionism and the Worlds of Science Fiction
Read: Pearce, Chapter 2, Competence in Making Social Worlds
Film: Planet of the Apes (1967) (Dir. Franklin J. Schaffner) - 112 minutes

Class 5

Creating Social Worlds Through Conversation
Read: Pearce, Chapter 3, Speech Acts
Read: Arthur C. Clarke, The Myth of 2001
Film: 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) (Dir. Stanley Kubrick) - 148 minutes
Conversation Piece One Due

Class 6

Communication and Artificial Intelligence
Film: Colossus: The Forbin Project (1970) (Dir. Joseph Sargent) - 100 minutes

Class 7

Building Relationships Through Communication
Read: Pearce, Chapter 4, Relationships
Read: Stanley Kubrick on "A Clockwork Orange" (in reading packet)
Film: A Clockwork Orange (1971) (Dir. Stanley Kubrick) - 137 minutes

Class 8

Communication with Alien Races
Film: Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) (Dir. Steven Spielberg) - 137minutes

Class 9

Communication and Human Nature
Read: Interviews with Ridley Scott and Philip K. Dick (from reading packet)
Film: Blade Runner: The Director's Cut (1982) (Dir. Ridley Scott) - 117minutes
Conversation Piece Two Due

Class 10

Communication in the Age of Big Brother
1984 (1984) (Dir. Michael Radford) - 115 minutes

Class 11

Communication and the Construction of Social Worlds
Film: 12 Monkeys (1998) (Dir. Terry Gilliam) - 130 minutes

Class 12

Communication: Science vs Faith
Film: Contact (1997) (Dir. Robert Zemeckis) - 150 minutes
Conversation Piece Three Due

This site last updated December 26, 2010.