Communication Studies (CMNS) 385

Social Problems and Social Movements (Revision 2)

CMNS 385 course cover

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Delivery Mode: Individualized study online

Credits: 3

Area of Study: Social Science

Prerequisite: It is recommended that students have a previous course in sociology, particularly SOCI 348 Sociology of Environment and Health.

Precluded Course: CMNS 385 is a cross-listed course—available in two disciplines—with SOCI 378. (CMNS 385 may not be taken for credit by students who have obtained credit in SOCI 378.)

Faculty: Faculty of Humanities & Social Sciences

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CMNS 385 is not available for challenge.

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CMNS 385 students examine a range of social movements globally that have arisen in response to the related crises of industrial culture, economic restructuring and ecological disasters. The course focuses on current theories of social movements, the social problems that give rise to social movements and case studies of social movements in action. A special focus on media is included. Students both assess media coverage of social problems and social movements and evaluate social movement participants' use of the media in the course of their activism.


The purpose of this course is to provide a critical overview of (a) theories and (b) case studies of popular social movements. Particular attention will be paid to ethnic, gender and class relations and the international dimensions of social movement organization. Emphasis will be placed on the link between the global political economy of capitalism and the social organization of historic, contemporary and emerging social movements.

The specific learning objectives of CMNS 385 are:

  1. to critically examine the global political economy within which social movements have emerged and operate, historically and contemporarily
  2. to outline the debates concerning how and why social movements form
  3. to review selected social movements
  4. to critically engage with media coverage of social movements, and social movement participants' use of media
  5. to conduct research into specific case studies to illustrate both theory and practice.


  • Unit 1: Historical and Theoretical Perspectives on Social Problems and Social Movements
  • Unit 2: Global Political Economy and the Rise of New Ecological Social Movements
  • Unit 3: Media and Social Movements: Petrochemicals and Health in Canada
  • Unit 4: African Social Movements, Past and Present
  • Unit 5: Social Movements and the Future of Humanity


Your final grade in CMNS 385 is based on the grades you achieve on five Critical Commentaries (one per unit), five Current Events Assignments (one per unit), a Research Paper Proposal, an Annotated Bibliography for the Research Paper, and the Final Research Paper itself. To receive credit for the course, you must achieve a minimum overall course grade of "D" (50 percent).

Critical Commentaries Current events Research paper proposal Annotated bibliography Final research paper Total
25% 20% 5% 20% 30% 100%

To learn more about assignments and examinations, please refer to Athabasca University's online Calendar.

Course Materials


Turner, Terisa E., and Leigh Brownhill, The New 21st Century Land and Oil Wars, New York: International Oil Working Group, 2009.

Films (on DVD)

Wine, Shelly (director). Fury for the Sound: The Women at Clayoquot (Motion picture). Canada: TellTale Productions, 1997.

Achbar, Mark, Jennifer Abbott , and Joel Bakan (Dir.). The Corporation. Mongrel Media, 2005.

Cohen, Barry (director), Toxic Trespass: How Safe Are Your Children?, National Film Board, 2008.

Other Material

Other course materials include a study guide and reading file.

Athabasca University reserves the right to amend course outlines occasionally and without notice. Courses offered by other delivery methods may vary from their individualized-study counterparts.

Opened in Revision 2, October 26, 2010.

View previous syllabus

Updated May 10 2016 by Student & Academic Services