Rhodes>JMS>Curriculum 2022>Postgraduate electives

Postgraduate electives

Afrofuturism and the anthropocene – Prof Anthea Garman and Dr Alette Schoon

This course will explore representations of nature, technology and the future. It will allow students to raise fundamental questions in terms of what it means to be human and a resident of the earth; and how we conceive of the future and our place in it. The course starts with an exploration of the Anthropocene and a genealogy of how we’ve conceptualised nature, while simultaneously de- centring the human experience by exploring animal and cyborg consciousnesses. It then looks at the present reality of living in a high-tech ecologically damaged world. It’s a world of exported e-waste and global big data cooled by megatons of water, slums and smart cities struggling with climate change, where oppressive regimes are powered by intelligent surveillance. We trace the roots of the crisis back to the myth of progress fuelled by colonialism, where colonised people were fed broken promises of a prosperous future if they assimilated into Western modernity, and settler societies were justified as custodians of nature and scientific and technological advancement. We then turn to imagining different futures for our continent, possible transmodernities that challenge neo-colonial power. Finally, to explore the power of speculative thinking for new worlds in which science and technology serve social justice and sustainability, we turn to the artists and dreamers of the Afrofuturist tradition.


Chronicles of the media and its history in South Africa – Ms Taryn Isaacs de Vega

The study of the media and its history allows scholars to travel through time, to revisit stories untold and events long forgotten. By documenting and interpreting history, scholars are encouraged to rethink the past, recontextualise the present and reimagine the future that is to come. Informed by the multiple perspectives and approaches to the study of the media, the course begins by analysing the international scholarly debates on the development of the media and its consequences for society. Turning our focus to the local and the national, we investigate the South African media, and the intersections between its history and social change in the country. Responding to the call for the historiography of underrepresented audiences and communities, the course explores archives which have remained under documented and offers students access to local artefacts via digital archives, physical archives in Cory Library, and field visits to historical sites of media production in the Eastern Cape. The course concludes with the writing of a long-paper in which student scholars reflect on the evolution of a particular media product in its social and cultural contexts. 


Comics and the re-imaging of Africa – Mr Brian Garman

The superhero genre emerged from the United States in the late 1930s as an escapist fantasy that helped readers cope with the misery of the Depression and the anxiety brought about by the rise of fascism in Europe. Today, superheroes are no longer only white men, nor are they confined to America, or even the pages of comic books. Such diversity is necessary given the superhero’s increasingly important role as an “escapist fantasy, cross-generational icon, and aspirational figure” (Burke, 2016). Several short-lived black superheroes emerged between the mid 1940s and mid 1960s, but the first American black superhero that has enjoyed any longevity was the Black Panther who appeared in Marvel’s 1966 Fantastic Four. Since then he and his fictional home country, Wakanda, have become symbolic of the possibilities of a newly imagined Africa. In Southern Africa we have recently seen the emergence of our own African superheroes. Characters such as Razorman from Zimbabwe and South Africa’s first superhero Kwezi are beginning to offer readers alternatives to the standard American superhero fare. But are they that different? In this course, we will look at the latest volume of Black Panther and Kwezi through the lens of Afro-futurism and coloniality/decoloniality to unpick what a re-imagined Africa might look like.


Digital inequalities in Africa – Prof Lorenzo Dalvit

The current COVID-19 pandemic has brought into sharp focus long-standing inequalities, including digital ones. Scholarly interest on the issue of digital inequalities peaked at the turn of the century, when terms such as "digital divide" gained currency. The initial distinction between ICT haves and have-nots has gradually been replaced by a recognition of a continuum of experiences and the recognition of multiple and intersecting "divides" which transcend geographical boundaries. The Global South, in this case with reference to the digital domain, does not refer to a particular location but to a condition of marginalisation in terms of access, skills and ability to benefit from digital technology. While multiple classifications exist, these three correspond to the established levels of the "divide" in the literature. Consistent with the critical and decolonial approach informing our programme, we will also focus on the negative side. Most scholarly research on ICT in Africa, informed by a technologically determinist orientation, tends to frame ICT problems in terms of deficit (of access, skills or ability). We will explore concerns around privacy, security, dependency, cultural alienation etc, which thus far have been taken into account almost exclusively in Western contexts. The module starts with extensive engagement with a recent and relevant book edited by Mutsvairo and Ragnedda Mapping the Digital Divide in Africa. Students will then be required to contribute with an in-depth exploration of digital inequalities across domains (education, political participation, economic activity, etc) and different dimensions (gender, race, (dis)ability, etc). Particularly in the latter part, there will be ample opportunities for students to shape the course according to their own personal interests.


Economics journalism – Mr Ryan Hancocks

Economics journalism introduces topics and questions present in today’s society that deal with the role of financial markets, development, equality and policy. The course will provide a basic understanding of the importance journalism plays in the economic sphere of a developing ‘global’ South Africa. Over the weeks the module will look at specific topics such as:

  • introduction to economics and the role of media
  • companies, markets, and banking regulation
  • globalisation, development, and the economics of inequality
  • economics, financial, and business news writing


Students will be taken through the key theories that govern global economies and encounter the variety of systems that governments can put into place to deal with the ever-present fight between growth, inflation, and unemployment. Through seminars, we will examine some of the central arguments present in South Africa around wealth and capital accumulation and look to develop a more informed understanding of market complexities in a global era. Specific time will be given to developing an African context of global and local economic forces while developing the student's ability to produce work that is critical and informed. Students can feel assured that the content and work will be of a practical nature and novice or expert alike, as long as they possess a keen interest in the real forces that govern our daily lives will find benefit from the instruction provided in the module. Be you an aspiring business reporter, future economic analyst, or just a passionate public sphere economic blogger, the tools and theories to better represent yourself and your reader's interests will be provided.


The gangster film in South Africa – Dr Priscilla Boshoff

This introductory film course is informed by critical cultural and postcolonial studies and film theory. Central to this approach is a concern with identity and the politics of representation across class, race, gender and geographical lines.

Students will be introduced to the formal and stylistic features of film analysis to enable them to read and critically discuss film, specifically the gangster genre. This genre has notably engaged with the themes of class stratification and economic inequities, alongside gender relations, since its inception in Hollywood cinema in the mid twentieth century. The course focus will primarily be on South African films within this genre before and after the political transition – from Mapantsula, to Tsotsi, The Numbers Gang, Hijack Stories and Jerusalema. The intention is to probe the changing social contexts which give rise to these narratives. By studying different films as cultural constructs we are able to consider how they narrate for the audience the fault lines of social inclusion and exclusion in the context of coloniality, and to examine and how shifts in the nature of representation have occurred over recent times. The seminars will be accompanied by a screening programme of two movies a week.


Navigating the post-truth world, mapping propaganda, lies, and conspiracy theories and making sense of evidence in the digital era – Prof Anthea Garman and Dr Alette Schoon

Those who hold power get to tell the stories that come to be believed and written down as ‘history’. An African proverb says that the story of the hunt would be very different if the lion (instead of the hunter) had the historian to recount the experience. We are accustomed to considering facts as non-negotiable, proven and dependable, but all knowledge, all facts, emanate from knowledge systems and from what Foucault called “regimes of truth”. We know that belief systems and knowledge systems have close relationships, that they are deeply imbedded in cultures, that the oppressed tell very different stories from the powerful, and that the average human is very capable of all sorts of cognitive dissonance – we can hold scientific beliefs and religious beliefs in tandem even though we know that these two world views have fundamental collisions with each other.


But such cognitive dissonance has in the digital era reached a point of such extremes that we are now living in a time where people have lost faith in the mainstream media, experts and institutions. The stock in trade of media workers – the facts – have become plastic, mutable, uncertain. We now find ourselves in a social media world where sinister forces use bots to spread conspiracy theories and where trolls and influencers have become more important than facts and evidence. Or is this a totally wrong exaggeration? In this course we look at the ‘post truth’ and its features from both a media and a theoretical perspective. We will help you unpack messages and assess them for yourself. You will do so in terms of theories of epistemology grounded in the philosophical approaches of modernism, post-modernism and critical realism, You then apply these to understand journalistic methods of verification, unpack what we mean by propaganda in the digital age, and consider the spread of conspiracy theories on social media and the psychology that underpins these. We look particularly at the global rise of alt-right media and how it co-opted internet prankster culture of gamers and hackers, how global right wing movements are increasingly aligned with anti-science movements like the anti-vax movement, and finally focus on the conspiracy theories that have emerged around the corona virus pandemic. We conclude by exploring how we understand the notion of truth in visual representations such as memes, photography and documentary film.


The new information superpowers: are Google and Facebook taking over the world? – Ms Kayla Roux

This course serves as an introduction to a number of key debates in critical digital and social media studies. From informational algorithms and social media surveillance to a new breed of fast-growing multinational corporations, digital and social media have completely revolutionized the way we organize our lives and access information. More specifically, they have introduced formidable and complex new paradigms of power, influence, and control in our lives.

Students will examine the relationship between digital technologies and society, interrogating the power relations that characterise digital capitalism, the ways social struggles play out online, and the political economy of new informational superpowers. Students will apply theoretical concepts drawn from critical digital media studies to contemporary case studies such as the free digital labour performed by millions of Facebook users on a daily basis, or the powerful surveillance technology that makes Google products so efficient and effective.


Nollywood and the essay film – Dr Priscilla Boshoff and Dr Alette Schoon

What can we study to understand zombie capitalism in Africa? What can we study to critique neoliberalism and the rise of occult economies? Where might we look to consider hyper-individualism and whether it is compatible with polygamy? Where can we find examples of how people struggle with the perpetuation of the divides between citizen and subject? Where can we see how pentecostalism in Africa becomes a pathway between traditional and modern African subjectivities? Where are the most interesting representations of corruption and the politics of the belly?

The answer to these questions is a Nollywood film! In this course we explore Nollywood film as a contemporary African film genre. We learn some of the classical ways of analysing film and apply these methods to Nollywood examples, in order to understand Nollywood as a form of popular culture that casts a spotlight on the key issues and debates that emerge out of African everyday life. We will be focusing on Nollywood films about resourceful women, some more “badass” than others. Your analysis of Nollywood films will therefore explore how the theoretical lenses of genre and gender enable a critique of specific representations of femininity and society in these films. You will have the opportunity to also explore a new approach to presenting research material in the form of an “essay film”. This means that the course also covers basic video editing skills and an introduction to the essay film as a new genre of knowledge production.


Platform power, communicative capitalism and the future of media and journalism: a Southern perspective – Prof Lorenzo Dalvit

Rapid advances in artificial intelligence and social media surveillance by large multinational corporations such as Google, Facebook, Samsung and Apple, pose substantial theoretical and empirical challenges to contemporary media scholarship. The growing popularity of social media is transforming the ways that some people feel and exert agency and connect and socialize in the world, empowering some while simultaneously excluding others from these digital exchanges and affordances.

Students will examine various approaches to understanding this current era of ‘communicative capitalism’ and the relationship between digital technologies and society, and will interrogate the power relations that underpin digital capitalism and the ways social struggles play out online and in society more generally. Students will apply theoretical concepts drawn from critical digital media studies to contemporary case studies such as the free digital labour performed by millions of Facebook users on a daily basis. Other theoretical perspectives, including New Institutional Economics, Evolutionary economics and Behavioral economics will also be explored.


The pirate’s guide to the internet – Dr Alette Schoon

This course will help you understand the various elements that underpin the internet across the globe, particularly the material infrastructure that makes notions such as “the cloud” actually work, such as cables, routers and network protocols. Understanding such material infrastructure will provide a precise conceptual vocabulary for revisiting some of the classical literature around the notion of the digital divide. In contrast to the digital divide’s passive construct of the disconnected, the literature on pirate infrastructure considers how various digital platforms for copyright infringement become disruptive spaces for digital access for those living in marginalised postcolonial spaces. We will investigate the history of piracy on the internet, considering platforms such as Napster, torrents, etc. We will also explore how the global open source software movement and the copyleft movement have challenged notions of fair use, access and intellectual property on the internet. Finally we will explore the mobile internet and access for the less-connected. These debates will enable you to understand radical critiques around access to the internet, information and media. This will allow you to produce research around notions of digital inequality and be able to compare different notions of what is meant by “the internet” in different social spaces.


Self-representation and mobile culture – Dr Priscilla Boshoff

Contemporary culture is in many ways shaped by our mobile phones: what they mean to us, how we integrate them into our everyday routines, and how we use them in a range of ways to communicate with each other - and ourselves. This course looks at the ways we use the mobile phone to represent ourselves online, and what these self-representations mean, both for ourselves and others. I have conceptualised this course as a "service learning" course that looks at self- representation in relation to mobile culture in the local Makhanda setting. This means that we partner with older learners from GADRA and Nombulelo High School to conduct research that has mutual benefits for you and the learners involved. You learn how to conduct a piece of research through engaging with young people about their mobile practices, and they are given the opportunity to develop insights into their own self-representation practices in relation to the demands of contemporary mobile culture.


Self representation, power and identity – Dr Priscilla Boshoff

Images and other kinds of self-representation have become a ubiquitous social phenomenon, enabled by the rapid uptake of mobile phones and social media. Self-representation is nothing new, but contemporary digital methods of self- representation are distinguished from earlier forms by the ease of creation and the ability of the resulting texts to be endlessly replicated, distributed and curated. Like other forms of self-representation, we can understand these practices and texts as ‘techniques of self’ that produce particular forms of identity within a specific social and historical context. This course approaches the practice of self-representation on social media from a critical perspective. Using a post-structuralist and Foucauldian frame, the course examines the ways in which self-representations tie us to particular forms of subjectivity within our specific social and historical locale. In so doing we can critique how self- representations participate in producing – or resisting – the power-relations that characterise digital sociality, and the implications these have for lived social relations within our current milieu.


Sociolinguistics of the African Media – Dr Kealeboga Aiseng

Language is a very emotive issue in the African continent. Language debates taking place in the education sector, legal fraternity, and corporate world are not unique only to those settings. The media is also affected by language issues. In today’s world, as it was during colonial times, the media is still dominated by the so-called global languages: English, German, Spanish, French. It is rare to see media in indigenous African languages at the global stages, African indigenous languages are only used in the regional media. In this course we introduce and discuss key debates that affect the issue of language in the media. The course approaches languages not just as a communicative tool but as a social, political and economic tool that shape our being. In this course we appeal to anyone with an interest in African popular culture, sociology, politics, decolonization and African studies. The course examines ways in which decisions regarding language usage in the media affect the status of indigenous languages. What makes a certain media house to use English or isiXhosa or Setswana? What makes English the dominant language in African media? What is the role of media in preserving indigenous languages? These are some of the questions we will grapple with in this course.


Queering the Internet – Dr Nyx McLean

This course brings a queer intersectional feminist lens to the internet, digital technologies, and digital rights. We will look at how marginalised groups, such as the LGBTIAQ+ community and social justice activists make use of digital technologies to organise, to connect, to build community, and to create spaces of safety. This includes how these groups make use of digital tools as resistance, and how they navigate potential risks they may face such as government surveillance, trolls, and hacks. The works and examples we will study will be situated in the Global South. The course will also feature guest lectures from academics and activists who work in this field and are able to share their experiences of queering the internet.


Youth and mobile culture: a service-learning course – Dr Priscilla Boshoff

Contemporary culture is in many ways shaped by our mobile phones: what they mean to us, how we integrate them into our everyday routines, and the ways we use them to communicate with each other - and ourselves. This course looks at the ways that young people use the mobile phone to represent themselves online, and what these self-representations mean, both for the producers of the images and for those who receive them. I have conceptualised this course as a "service learning" course that looks at self- representation in relation to mobile culture in the local Makhanda setting. This means that we partner with older learners from local schools to conduct research that has mutual benefits for you and the learners involved. You learn how to conduct a piece of research through engaging with young people about their mobile practises. The young people who join in this project have the opportunity to work with self-representations while they reflect on the relationship between their own self-representation practises and the demands of contemporary mobile culture.


Last Modified: Fri, 25 Feb 2022 11:19:13 SAST