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VISA 3991: Cultural Theory and Images

This interdisciplinary course offers special topics in cultural theory and images for in-depth study. The course examines the ways different theories of culture inform the processes and practices of visual production, circulation and reception. It focuses on the ideas of major cultural theorists, such as Gramsci, Althusser, Foucault, Williams, Hall and Said, whose work on the intersection/interaction of power and meaning has influenced much current research on representation. Working individually or with a partner, you select issues or research problems that interest you, conduct literature research, assess sources of information, and present your findings. During this process, you are able to interact with an experienced faculty member as well as with other learners from various backgrounds. Critically engaging with and responding to, the thoughts and opinions of other participants is one of the most significant activities in this course. Theory is for thinking, and in this case, it is specifically for thinking about looking. Learning activities are interactive and designed to take advantage of the image-rich environment of the World Wide Web.

Learning outcomes

After you have completed the work in this course, you should be able to:

  • Identify and discuss major theoretical models and critical concepts in visual studies, including theories of representation, strategies of cultural production modes of interpretation, and theories of power and discourse.
  • Define and discuss many of the specialized terms that refer to representations and how they function in society, including image, ideology, truth value, interpellation, hegemony, discourse, and the Other.
  • Choose theoretical concepts and vocabulary that are appropriate and/or relevant and use them to describe and discuss images.
  • Demonstrate the ability to think critically about visual and textual materials and the relationship between them. (What makes each distinctive? How do they inform each other?)
  • Raise questions and develop arguments about cultural theories that take a variety of perspectives into account, and communicate these questions and arguments in various written forms, including web discussion and written assignments.

Course topics

VISA 3991: Cultural Theory and Images includes the following four units, further divided into topics of study:

Unit 1: Theory, Culture, and Images

  • Topic 1: Theory
  • Topic 2: Culture
  • Topic 3: Image

Unit 2: Thinking about Representation

  • Topic 1: Representation
  • Topic 2: Ideology and Truth Value

Unit 3: Viewers and Meanings

  • Topic 1: Hegemony
  • Topic 2: Interpellation
  • Topic 3: Viewing Positions and Representational Strategies

Unit 4: Power, Discourse, and the Other

  • Topic 1: Gender and the Gaze
  • Topic 2: Discourse
  • Topic 3: The Other

Required text and materials

No textbook is required for this course.

Additional requirements

You can find detailed information about the hardware, software, and computer skills requirements for your course at


To successfully complete this course, you must achieve a passing grade of 50% or higher on the overall course and 50% or higher on the mandatory Final Project. The following table illustrates how your final grade will be determined for this course.

Assignment 1 10%
Assignment 2 15%
Assignment 3 20%
Assignment 4 25%
Final Project * 30%
Total 100%

* Mandatory

Open Learning Faculty Member Information

An Open Learning Faculty Member is available to assist students. Students will receive the necessary contact information at the start of the course.

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