VCULT 300 – “Visual Culture Theory”
University of Waterloo, FALL 2016

Following prominent visual culture theorist WJT Mitchell, this course is organized around the following three tenets; that vision is “a cultural construction, that it is learned and cultivated, not simply given by nature; that therefore it might have a history related in some yet to be determined way to the history of arts, technologies, media, and social practices of display and spectatorship; and (finally) that it is deeply involved with human societies, with the ethics and politics, aesthetics and epistemology of seeing and being seen.” (“Showing Seeing,” 166)

Guided by Mitchell’s insights as to the highly cultural construction of the visual, this course explores a variety of theories that seek to explain why acts of seeing are never neutral, but instead influence and are influenced by complex, interwoven structures of power and ideology. Together, we will work to unpack concepts central to the study of visual culture in order to understand how they relate to gender, race, ability, sexuality, capitalism, colonialism, and imperialism.

This seminar course is designed primarily as a space for group discussion and collaborative critical reflection on the assigned readings. Students will be expected to come to class having read the assigned texts and prepared to share their thoughts, questions, critiques, and criticisms with others. For each reading, they should prepare one question to pose to the class with the intention of stimulating conversation. The goal of each class will be to collaboratively craft a respectful, stimulating dialogue beyond what any individual participant could have put forth on their own.