Media Activism and Public Engagement

MDST 5002

Depending on whom you ask, media-powered activism can sound like either a silver bullet or a lost cause. It's often both at the same time and more in between. Through examining the strategies and tactics of movements, past and present, we'll discover how media can shape social change and how we can become more savvy media practitioners ourselves.

The central challenge of this course is to develop a working theory of how social change can happen and the role of media in it. When is spreading a message sufficient, and when is building institutional power necessary? How can we design media with accountability to affected people? How can we tell stories of change that invite people to take part in changing the world? Our work will consist of close reading, forming a space of mutual support, and honing our own practice in collaboration with community partners.


Nathan Schneider (he/him)
Armory 1B24 Office hours Wednesdays 3–5 pm or by appointment


  • Cultivate habits of media activism by doing it through passionate, strategic, pragmatic advocacy
  • Analyze theories and lessons from a wide range of social-change campaigns throughout history and around the world
  • Articulate a theory of change that informs media practice
  • Create a ready-to-deploy media intervention in collaboration with community partners


As a foundation, students are expected to complete the weekly reading assignments. This does not necessarily mean microscopic reading of every page, but it does mean engaging rigorously with portions of particular interest, as well as familiarizing oneself with the works as a whole and thinking critically about their interconnections. Come to class prepared with notes on specific quotations and ideas that you want to discuss.

Interventions (30%)

Most weeks, students turn in an Intervention. These Interventions are simple, informal multimedia sketches that contain a) a challenge or problem related to the week's texts and b) an outline for an original strategy that addresses it. Interventions need not be realistic for students to carry out; students may imagine themselves as representing better-resourced organizations, real or imaginary. The purpose of this assignment is to explore our own sense of agency and to exercise adventuresome thinking. Over the course of the semester, a student's Interventions may address various topics, or they can connect in a way that builds toward the final project.

Interventions may take the form of a drawing, infographic, game, video, skit, text, art installation, business plan, social media campaign, or other media, digital or otherwise. In any case, they must be submitted digitally as a new thread in the appropriate discussion topic for each week's unit. They should amount to the equivalent of one interesting page's worth of material. Each Intervention should:

  • Demonstrate a sophisticated grasp of assigned texts
  • Communicate a problem and a creative proposal by which to address it, expressed through appropriate and engaging media
  • Practice adventuresome thinking in both concept and presentation, using compelling media techniques to communicate the proposal

Students are invited to view and comment on each other's Interventions.

Class discussions (30%)

Students should be active participants and make contributions to the oral discussion that reflect strenuous engagement with the assigned texts. Come prepared to contribute original analysis, reflections, and critique.

Evaluation of discussion contributions takes place twice: at the middle of the semester and at the end. Students are expected to:

  • Engage actively and strenuously with the bulk of each unit's assigned texts, demonstrating direct quotations, evidence of close reading, and thoughtful analysis
  • Interact respectfully and critically with fellow students, demonstrating careful attention to others and presenting reasoned articulations of one's views

Participation in all sessions is an expectation for the course. Full or partial absences from class, due to circumstances beyond the student's control, should be discussed with the instructor in advance.

Before this assignment is due, you are welcome to propose the grade you think you have earned with a one-paragraph explanation. The instructor will determine final grade, taking your input into account.

Final project (40%)

Each student will complete a final project that is ready to deploy upon completion, in partnership with a relevant organization, community, or mentor. Projects might consist of any sort of media intervention appropriate to the student's social-change goals. Projects do not need to be publicly released, but they should be plausibly ready for doing so. Accountability to partners is paramount; it is natural and expected that the project will evolve through the dynamics of collaboration.

After discussing the topic with the instructor, students will turn in a proposal that explains and justifies the project's objective and medium. The proposal, as well as the final project itself, should reflect a sophisticated grasp of the themes and texts of the course. In particular, projects should convey an analysis of power and agency through which they intervene, resulting in a plausible case for making meaningful social change.

Students will constructively review complete drafts of each other's projects before submitting the final draft. A project statement must be turned in with the final project, in both the draft and final stages, which may be a revised and updated reworking of the proposal.

  • Proposal: (40%)
    • Explain and justify the media intervention in a 1,800-to-2,000-word text with scholarly citation standards and a high degree of stylistic quality
    • Describe the partner collaboration underway and the structure of accountability with the partner; articulate a clear objective for impact, reflecting an understanding of the intended audience
    • Propose an intended medium and the scope of project deliverables, including rationale for each, in the context of an explicit theory of change
    • Include strong evidence of background research, engaging relevant primary and scholarly sources, along with at least two assigned texts from the course
  • Complete draft: (10%)
    • Draft of the project that fully represents the intended scope and quality
    • Updated project statement with the same specifications as the proposal
  • Peer review: (10%)
    • Provide feedback for at least two fellow students' drafts, of at least two paragraphs each, with these suggestions in mind
  • Final draft: (40%)
    • Produce a media intervention that is polished, compelling, informed by peer review, and ready to deploy
    • Include a project statement that meets the same specifiations as the proposal
    • Demonstrate collaborative engagement with community partner, such as through testimonies or other evidence of their participation
    • Present a promising strategy for circulation, audience, and social change


Based on the stated point structure, grades will be awarded as follows: A (94-100), A- (90-93), B+ (87-89), B (83-86), B- (80-82), C+ (77-79), C (73-76), C- (70-72), D+ (67-69), D (63-66), D- (60-62), F (0-59). The minimum passing grade is 60 for undergraduates and 70 for graduate students.

Extensions under extenuating circumstances are possible by arrangement with the instructor prior to the due date; otherwise, late work is subject to a penalty of one letter grade per day.


  • We work together to foster a respectful, mature, convivial community based on mutual learning through our diverse perspectives.
  • We respect one another's privacy. Content shared in class or online will not be shared with anyone outside of the class without permission.
  • We adhere to all university policies, as well as course guidelines on academic honesty; we take responsibility for understanding them and the relevant procedures.
  • We strive to accommodate disabilities and other diverse needs, making use of our own capacities and campus resources. Please discuss any particular support you require with the instructor.

Shared texts

Throughout the course we will be reading classics in social-change theory alongside two books by leading media scholars:

1. Theories of change

2. "A networked public"

  • Prologue, introduction, and chapters 1–2 in Tufekci, Twitter and Tear Gas

3. "Making a movement"

  • Chapters 3–4 in Tufekci, Twitter and Tear Gas

4. "A protester's tools"

  • Part II in Tufekci, Twitter and Tear Gas

5. "After the protests"

  • Part III and Epilogue in Tufekci, Twitter and Tear Gas

By this time, consult with instructor on final project topic.

6. Case study

Choose an historical example of a social movement from Beautiful Trouble, Beautiful Rising, or the Global Nonviolent Action Database. Consider it in light of the book we just read. Do some additional research to examine the mediated components of it, and prepare to present an analysis in class as your Intervention.

7. Media tactics

8. "The matrix of domination"

  • Introduction and chapters 1–2 in Costanza-Chock, Design Justice

Project proposal due; no Intervention.

9. "Narratives" and "Sites"

  • Chapters 3–4 in Costanza-Chock, Design Justice

10. "Pedagogies"

  • Chapter 5 and “Directions for Future Work” in Costanza-Chock, Design Justice

11. Case study

Choose an historical example of a social movement from Beautiful Trouble, Beautiful Rising, or the Global Nonviolent Action Database. Consider it in light of the book we just read. Do some additional research to examine the mediated components of it, and prepare to present an analysis in class as your Intervention.

12. Glimpses of change

Project drafts due, and peer review feedback due by Wednesday; no Intervention.

13. Final reflections

Choose an historical example of a social movement closely related to your final project. Consider it in light of the last set of readings. Reflect on your final project in light of the case.

Final projects due; no Intervention.

[ Notes ]