Course Exam—CMNS 385/SOCI 378

CMNS 385 / SOCI 378 (Rebel with a Cause: Social Movements in History and Popular Culture) is a three-credit communications studies course that explores the causes of social movements throughout history and present-day.  There are no prerequisites for CMNS 385 / SOCI 378.  However, it is recommended that students have at least one previous course in sociology, such as SOCI 348 (Sociology of Environment and Health).  This course is not available for Challenge.

Students should be aware that CMNS 385 / SOCI 378 is a cross-listed course, meaning that it is listed under both SOCI and CMNS and you can choose which way it should apply on your transcript.  CMNS 385 may not be taken for credit by students who have obtained credit for SOCI 378.

This course qualifies for a reduced learning resource fee of $130 which covers the cost of mandatory, Athabasca University-produced learning resources, library services, learning management system support, and learning design and development.  All required materials for this course, including readings and films, can be found online.

Rebel with a Cause: Social Movements in History and Popular Culture is made up of five units, and the marks comprise five critical commentaries (one per unit) worth forty percent total, a research assignment in two parts (part one is the proposal weighing ten percent and part two is the literature review which weighs twenty percent), and a final examination worth thirty percent.  The five units within this course cover topics surrounding social movements, which include fence-line activists, environmental causes, lenses on ecological social movements, social movements in history, and more.  To receive credit for CMNS 385, you must achieve a minimum grade of fifty percent on the final exam and an overall course grade of at least fifty percent.

Dr. Leigh Brownhill and Dr. Ella Haley work as a team on CMNS 385 / SOCI 378.  Dr. Brownhill is the original course author and tutor and Dr. Haley is the course coordinator.  Dr. Brownhill has worked at AU since 2009 and Dr. Haley has been with AU since 2001.

Dr. Brownhill tutored an earlier version of CMNS 385, then in 2009 Leigh took over the tutoring and revised the course.  The newest revision of the course (Rev. 3) opens on 1 May 2019.

Dr. Brownhill states, “I am academically interdisciplinary, with a B.A.  in Social Thought and Political Economy and a Minor in Women’s Studies from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.  My MA is in Sociology and International Development at the University of Guelph, and my PhD is in Adult Education and Community Development (Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto).  I have taught courses in sociology, communications studies, women’s studies, geography and environmental studies.  One of the most interesting courses I ever taught was in McGill University’s field school in Africa that included six-week field trips to Kenya and Tanzania.”

She concludes “My scholarly research has been significantly focused on international development.  In research projects in Africa and the Americas, I focused on topics ranging from oral histories with elderly rural women to agricultural development and policy engagement.  My work also takes Canadian and international perspectives on contemporary social, economic and ecological challenges and examines popular movements and initiatives that mobilize to meet those challenges.  When I am not teaching or doing research, I enjoy cooking, gardening, sewing, reading and wood block printing.”

Meanwhile, Dr. Haley states, “I am an activist researcher working in the community on environmental health issues.  My research centrally involves developing tools to help small-scale organic farmers access and protect farmland through innovative land use policies, land trusts and conservation easements.  Leigh and I worked closely with other staff to put together Revision 3 of the course, “Rebel with a Cause,” which will be launched on May 1st this year.”

Alongside CMNS 385 / SOCI 378 Dr. Leigh Brownhill also tutors SOCI 450 (Environmental Sociology).  Meanwhile, Dr. Ella Haley also teaches SOCI 384 (Sociology of Environment and Health), SOCI 331 (Environmental Influences on Development and Aging across the Life Course), and SOCI 426 (Special Projects in Sociology).  She also coordinates SOCI 316 (Sociology of Families), ENVS 305 (Environmental Impact Assessment), and SOSC 366 (Research Methods in the Social Sciences).

When asked to describe the course to students, Dr. Brownhill states “The course SOCI 378/CMNS 385, Rebel with a Cause: Social Movements in History and Popular Culture examines a range of social movements in history and in contemporary times.  It explores the causes giving rise to social movements.  These causes include both the negatives or unjust experiences that propel the emergence of social movements (e.g. war may cause the rise of peace movements), and the positives, or what we could call the worthy causes that social movement activists pursue.  By ‘worthy causes’ we mean the alternatives and answers that social movements put forward and try to enact to solve social problems and remedy injustices.”

She continues, “The title of the course is drawn from the 1955 film, Rebel Without a Cause, starring James Dean and Natalie Wood.  In fact, the film’s characters were not activists, and this is precisely what we can take from the film’s title: without a “cause,” the teenagers’ rebellion ended up being channeled to fruitless and even dangerous pursuits.  The film was released in 1955, and it was certainly a reflection of its times: the Second World War was over, but the cultural revolution of the 1960s had not yet occurred.  The characters in the film had not been witness to the tremendous popular upsurge of social movement activism all over the world in the 1960s.  This course analyses some of these historical patterns in the emergence and decline of social movements over time.”

“The course gives an overview of the origins of social movements as a distinct form of public politics that constitute an enduring feature of popular culture in democratic and democratizing societies.  Unit 1 looks deep into history, while Units 2 and 3 introduce a range of theories and methodologies used for studying social movements.  In Units 4 and 5, these frameworks and key concepts are applied in analyses and assessments of social movements in action, along with their communicative efforts, demands, outcomes, significance and more.”

Dr. Brownhill concludes, “Course readings and videos are included by scholars, activists and artists.  Documentary films cover a range of social movements and protest campaigns, including the “Battle in Seattle” (protests against the World Trade Organization in 1999), the “War in the Woods” at Clayoquot Sound, the Green Belt Movement of Kenya, as well as sociologically imaginative perspectives on the Alberta (and global) oil industry.  Key concepts, such as social movement learning, indie media, protest communication, fence-line communities, environmental justice, artivism, information ecology, and many more, are introduced to help illuminate the inner workings of the social movements that we view and read about in the course.”

When asked to describe the structure of the course, they state that “In each of the five units of the course, students are asked to write a 500 word review of the required readings and film for that unit.  These, together, are worth 40% of the course grade.”

“The other main assignment includes a proposal, worth 10% of the course grade, and a literature review, worth 20%.  Students select one or more social movements of their choice as the subject of these two related assignments.  Then, a selection of theories, methodologies and concepts covered in the course are applied to an examination of the selected social movement(s).”

They conclude, explaining that “The final examination includes four essay questions.  Students select questions from a larger set.  The basic approach in the exam is to define key concepts and assess various social movements in history and popular culture.”

As for what type of work ethic students will have to have to be successful in this course, Dr. Leigh Brownhill believes that “Time management helps.  I encourage students to allocate sufficient time to readings and viewing films in this course, as well as studying the key concepts that are defined in the unit reading notes.  In addition, it is always best to submit and get feedback on the first unit’s assignment before proceeding to submit further work, as this can help catch possible mistakes or omissions and therefore strengthen work done in subsequent units.  This is in particular the case with the proposal and literature review.”

Dr. Ella Haley provides her opinion as well, stating “Studying at a distance can be lonely.  I find it helpful to call my students to discuss the course and to enable me to learn about students’ career goals and how I can help students to achieve their goals through their academic work with me.”

Dr. Brownhill provides some advice for students who are currently enrolled or who are looking to enroll in this course, stating “While the film, Rebel without a Cause is not required viewing in this course, it might interest students to watch the film or to read about it.  This would provide one historical starting point from which students can, in the course, compare what youth activism and social movements looked like then, during the 1960s and today.”

She continues, “It is also encouraged that students read widely about current social movements that are making the news headlines today, such as the School Strike for Climate, #climatestrike, started by Greta Thunberg.  Review of this and other examples from mainstream, alternative and social media sources, can help orient students to some of the issues, debates and demands central to social movement organizing today.”

As for what they believe students will take away from this course, Dr. Brownhill states “It is hoped that students will come away from the course with a greater understanding of some of the pressing social and environmental challenges that people have faced in different parts of the world, in the past and in contemporary times.  The changing role of the media in social movements is also an important learning outcome.  Equally as important, the course seeks to impart analytical skills that deepen students’ appreciation for the histories and cultural significances of social movements, their causes and their impacts on building democracy and social, economic and environmental justice.”

She continues, “The course examines the ways that social movements seek to answer big questions facing humanity today.  At a time when activism seems to be ascendant around the world, it is hoped that students will leave this course with an orientation and facility with analytical tools to interpret and understand social movements that they may witness.  Finally, students may find surprising ways that social movements intersect with or impact their own areas of study or career paths, whether as an educator, artist, ecologist, counselor, social worker, energy sector worker, public servant, parent or other professional.”

Meanwhile, Dr. Haley “hopes too that if students like the course that they may want to take another course with Leigh (SOCI 450 Environmental Sociology), or a course looking at environmental health movements (SOCI 348 Sociology of Environment and Health, and SOCI 331 Environmental Influences on Development and Aging across the Life Course).  Senior students can also approach me about designing their own course (SOCI 426 Special Projects in Sociology).”

When it comes to the most difficult aspect of the course, Dr. Leigh Brownhill states “One aspect of the course that can be difficult is, in the written coursework, to go further than the description of social movements and their causes, to develop an analysis or explanation of movements and their causes, employing concepts and perspectives studied in the course.  While description (e.g., a social movement’s ‘who, what, where, when, why’) is an important starting point for study in this course, the assignments are designed to further encourage the analysis of social movements, which centrally involves an effort to compare cases or explain change over time (e.g., how, to what extent, under what conditions social movements advance their causes).  Analysis, more than description, helps generate new insight and understanding.  To avoid or overcome this particular difficulty, students can try, in their study of course materials and in each written assignment, to reflect on social movements through the (theoretical) lenses provided by the unit’s key concepts.”

Dr. Ella Haley provides her opinion also, stating “Some students find it difficult to stay motivated when they study.  Most of our students have busy lives.  That’s why it is critical to connect with your tutor for encouragement and feedback.”

Whether CMNS 385 / SOCI 378 is a degree or program requirement of yours or if the topics discussed above are of interest to you, this course will have you learning interesting content surrounding the causes of social movements.

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