Communication Studies (CMNS) 385

Rebel with a Cause: Social Movements in History and Popular Culture (Revision 3)

CMNS 385 course cover

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Delivery Mode: Individualized study online

Credits: 3

Area of Study: Social Science

Prerequisite: There are no prerequisites for Communications Studies 385. However, it is recommended that students have at least one previous course in sociology, such as 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 explores the causes of social movements. These causes include both the negatives—that is, the pressing social, economic, and environmental (and other) injustices that have caused social movements over history to protest—and the positives—those being the “worthy” causes—or the alternatives and answers that social movements posit to correct these injustices. Course readings, resources, and assignments give attention to a range of social movement causes in history and in contemporary times, in theory and in practice, and in relation to developments in popular culture.

The course begins with an overview of the origins of social movements as a distinct form of public politics. Rooted deep in history, social movements have evolved over time to constitute an enduring feature of popular culture in democratic and democratizing societies. We learn about a range of theories and methodologies for studying social movements and apply these toward explaining how movements have changed over time and ways that they have contributed to positive social change directly or, more broadly, through creation of contexts and social relations that facilitate democratization of cultures, governance, and economic activities that, in fact, impact everyone’s lives.

Course readings consist of articles written by scholars, activists, and artists, along with videos by documentary film makers and musicians. The readings and course activities examine specific cases of social movement activism and explain, with reference to a range of cases and concepts, how and why activists mobilize, campaign, communicate demands, and impact learning and change at different levels, including in policy and popular culture. The course is premised on the recognition of social movements as important contributors to democratization, both in theory and in practice, in history and today. As such, we focus on the development of social movements as they seek to make change using peaceful (though not always quiet) means.


CMNS 385 is presented in five units:

  • Unit 1: Social Movements in History and Popular Culture
  • Unit 2: Lenses on Ecological Social Movements
  • Unit 3: Fenceline Activists and Environmental Causes
  • Unit 4: Gender, Race, Class, and Food Justice Social Movements
  • Unit 5: Social Movements and Social Change


Your final grade in CMNS 385 is based on the grades you achieve on the following graded elements: five critical commentaries (one per unit), a research proposal, a literature review, and a final examination. To receive credit for the course, you must achieve a minimum grade of D (50 percent) on the final examination and a minimum overall course grade of D (50 percent).

Activity Weighting
Critical Commentaries 40%
Research Assignment Part 1: Proposal 10%
Research Assignment Part 2: Literature Review 20%
Final Examination 30%
Total 100%

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

Course Materials

All required materials for this course, including readings and films, can be found online.

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 3, April 9, 2019.

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