CMS Final Paper

CMS 350B Final Paper Project

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In this 3000-word paper (approximately 12 pages, excluding bibliography), you will critically examine a sonic medium, device, or phenomenon, applying at least five concepts from our class and using at least five sources (books, field recordings, interviews, etc.). By “critically examine,” I mean that you will use course concepts to analyze both the cultural and material nature of sound. Your analysis must be reflexive, meaning you step outside of taken-for-granted ideas to study the relations between sounds, technologies, ways of hearing and listening, practices, individuals, and institutions. The strongest projects will contain a critique of power dynamics involving class, race, gender, sexual orientation, nationalism, economics, or ideology that influences the ways people use and experience sound or music.


A successful paper will contain the following elements (but please don’t write the paper as a checklist):

1. A title that catches my interest.
2. An introduction, including an attention-grabber, thesis, and description of methods.
3. A body that constructs a strong and specific argument from a number of the following elements:
a. The object or phenomenon in its social/cultural context. Questions to help you focus: What are you analyzing and why? What are its material characteristics? What is its cultural history? Which aspects of the circuit of culture are you focusing on (production, consumption, identity, representation, regulation)?
b. The ways your object/phenomenon interacts with media technology, everyday life, the soundscape, listening, and thinking about sound. How do people use the sound you discuss? What are their goals? How does it shape everyday life and the lived environment? How does it shape the user? Or is it used to shape other people? Does its use reflect changing ideas of sound? Does it change ways of listening?
c. The power dynamics and ideologies are involved in your object/phenomenon. What is at stake in the practices you study? Do they support or fight a problematic ideology or social inequality involving race, class, gender, sexual orientation, nationalism, etc? Who is included as a user or sound maker? Who isn’t included? Who is silenced? Can you identify ideologies about “good,” “bad,” or “natural” sound? Where do those come from?
4. A conclusion, in which you summarize your findings and suggest ways that the problems you have identified could be ameliorated.


• Your paper should be at least 3000 words, excluding your bibliography.
• Cite 5 ideas from our readings and 5 books, academic articles, journalistic sources, or primary sources such as interviews, instruction manuals, legal documents, patents, participant observation, soundscape recordings, musical liner notes, sheet music, etc. Use one of the two basic documentation systems found in The Chicago Manual of Style:
o (1) notes and bibliography or
o (2) author-date.
• Papers will be submitted through Turnitin and plagiarism will be dealt with strictly by the book (according to Miami policy).
• I will evaluate your paper for the clarity and creativity of your argument, as well as your compliance with the directions and objectives listed in these instructions.


• Your success will depend upon (1) an interesting object or phenomenon, (2) a strong claim about the object/phenomenon, (3) strong evidence to support your argument, and (4) use of class concepts to help up understand the object/phenomenon and its cultural context.
• How to start: For a topic, think about a general interest of yours and then get specific: “hip hop” is too general a topic but “turntable technique” is getting better. Now start doing research to learn about that topic—see what others have written and then pick a specific moment and claim. Great topic: “The birth of hip hop turntablism in the South Bronx of NYC, late 1970s” Great claim: “I will argue that DJs such as Grand Wizzard Theodore and Grandmaster Flash used the “phonograph effect” of “manipulability” (Katz) to transform the turntable from a playback medium to a performance instrument. Through this innovative act, they were able to achieve power in a racially segregated and economically depressed environment.”
o Note that the above claim is analyzing the topic materially (technologically) and culturally (race, economics).
• Discussing the details and social context of these issues and objects texts will require research beyond Google—three of your sources should be scholarly books and articles found through library databases such as Academic Search Premier, Communication and Mass Media Complete, LexisNexis. This takes time, so start now.

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