Participation (fundamental)

This course is student-driven and project-focused, therefore everyone’s full engagement with the material within and in extension of the classroom is prerequisite to its success.

Blog Contributions 25%

In advance of each class, please contribute thoughts and response to the week’s materials on the course website. Students are not expected to demonstrate a mastery over the material in their entries, but rather to meaningfully engage with the issues in the readings, with urban research sites (see below), or with any and all aspects in the news. There are no artificially imposed length or format requirements for blog contributions; they may include questions, speculations, critique and incorporate images, video, and other media. Students are expected to read the posts of their classmates, and encouraged to engage them in dialogue online and in the classroom.

Urban Research: Site Map/Catalogue 25%

Students will contribute on a weekly basis to a collective catalogue of sites (built and imagined landscapes, practices, projects) that relate to the course material over the semester. Contributions should take the form of a brief, but thick description, or tag, that provides a window into the given site. A tag can incorporate text, image, or video, and it can include links to other places. The point of a tag is to share something interesting about a site, not present an encyclopedic entry about it. Tags can incorporate the news, art, policy, politics. They can pull from the present or the past, ‘high’ culture or ‘low’, the library or the street.

Over the first half of the semester, specific sites or directives for site investigations will be listed on the course schedule after required course readings. Over the course of the second half of the semester, students are asked to continue their urban research more independently, in a direction of their choosing. Students may decide to develop a specific focus around a topical issue (e.g., asthma in low income communities), a place or series of places (Fresh Kills, or street trash cans in Midtown), a time or times of day (garbage pickup in Park Slope), or any number of other possible options. The urban research must be continued in an independent fashion, and students do have the option to link it up to their developing case study research if they choose to do so; however it must also stand on its own as a separate component of their coursework.

Case Study (Presentation + Final Form) 50%

[Note: Please refer to the Case Studies section for conceptual, structural, and formatting guidelines]

After the Spring Break, all classes will be focused around specific case studies of what are commonly referred to as “waste streams.” A waste stream is the flow of waste from generation to collection to disposal. When people refer to different waste “streams”, they are typically referring to a category of separated waste that is all of the same type. While there are many different kinds of waste streams, we will use the New York City Department of Sanitation’s classifications of residential waste streams as a starting point for case study research and projects this semester. Drawing directly or indirectly from these categories, each case study will focus upon a single waste stream, but approach it in a radically interdisciplinary way, bringing media studies to bear on both the content and the form of the research.

The NYC Department of Sanitation’s Bureau of Waste Prevention Reuse and Recycling lists “four types of residential waste-streams that the Department of Sanitation is responsible for collecting (

  • Refuse: the contents of the trash bags and cans (and bulk refuse items) that NYC residents set out for collection
  • Paper Recycling: the contents of the paper recycling bags and bins that NYC residents put out for collection
  • Metals/Glass/Plastic/Beverage Cartons (MGP) Recycling: the contents of the MGP recycling bags and bins (and bulk metal items) that NYC residents put out for collection
  • Street Basket Waste (Refuse): the contents of the litter baskets located on NYC street corners for pedestrian use (Note: street basket waste was not studied during the Preliminary WCS)”

There are a total of five case studies in this class. Four derive directly from the waste streams listed above, and a fifth – Electronic Waste – has been added to account for what The New York Times called in 2007 “the fastest growing piece of the nation’s municipal waste stream” (“Time to Deal with E-Waste” 9 Dec 2007).

Case studies are to be developed and presented by small groups of 2-3 students. They are detailed and multifaceted inquiries, exploratory and descriptive collections of materials that work together to communicate an in-depth account of a specific subject. As a starting point, groups can explore the preliminary resources listed on the course schedule for each case, but all are encouraged to expand from there. Groups will determine the approach and format of each case study, but all final case studies must include an introduction, evidence of primary research, a strong New York City-specific component, a visual catalogue of examples, a bibliography of references, and an individual contribution from each member of the group. Individual contributions can be interpreted in terms of content (i.e., each individual contributes a written or visual essay), in terms of role or function (i.e., someone is photographer, someone is designer, someone is editor), or in several other ways. Note that individual contributions are to supplement the collaboratively produced case study, not to stand in its place. Note: Individual Contributions 20% of Final Case Study Grade

Presentation (beginning March 23 as per course schedule)

Each group will use a class period as a creative and critical platform for the presentation of their case study, which will be submitted in final form at the end of the semester. Presentation format and style are to be determined by each group. It is understood that case studies presented will be works-in-process, and students are encouraged to use the class time as an opportunity for critical response and feedback from their peers, or even as an instrument that contributes in some way to the final case study itself. If presentations are to involve A/V equipment, please be sure to inform me of your intentions in advance, and to arrive early to set-up.

Final Form (due May 16 at noon)

More information forthcoming.

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