Master of Arts Interdisciplinary Studies (MAIS) 752

Special Topics Graduate Seminar—Cultural Politics of Crisis in a Time of Pandemic and Climate Change (Revision 6)


Delivery Mode: Grouped study

Credits: 3

Area of Study: Interdisciplinary Studies

Focus Areas: Cultural Studies; Global Change; Equity Studies; Canada, the North, and the Globe

Prerequisite: None

Faculty: Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences

Program: Master of Arts Interdisciplinary Studies

Challenge for Credit: MAIS 752 is not available for challenge.


We are currently experiencing what many would call “crisis-time.” The most recent and urgently unfolding crisis began in December 2019 with the advent of COVID-19 and the subsequent declaration of global pandemic in early 2020. Experts tell us we are yet in the midst of this crisis. Arguably, however, a second, slower-moving crisis—that of climate change—has been pressing upon societies with the urgency of wildfires, heat waves, drought, and floods for several decades. Intertwined with these crises are the current structures of privilege and oppression built on centuries of systemic and often viral racism. Indeed, 2020 is becoming known in popular culture feeds as the “year of the breath” to signal the uncanny concatenation of: 1) COVID’s respiratory impacts, especially upon our elders and the vulnerable; 2) choking climate change-fueled wildfires (in Australia, the Amazon, and the Pacific Northwest of the US); and 3) the horrific withholding of life-giving air from George Floyd by the police. Amidst these interconnected concerns, we will collectively grapple with how to move through these crises with the insights of thought, feeling, and experience, drawing selectively from the fields of cultural studies and affect theory.

This course invites participants to situate themselves in this moment, individually and collectively. A cultural studies perspective suggests:

  1. this moment, the “conjunctural now,” carries histories that must be reckoned with and, as such,
  2. critique of the status quo is necessary, but also with a view for
  3. transformative futures. Arundhati Roy has insisted that we see the “pandemic as a portal,” presenting us with an opportunity to see how these moments offer a potential break from the way things are, as we collectively imagine worlds otherwise.

We will collectively engage with the following questions:

  • To what degree are you/we experiencing these “crises”?
  • What is gained and what is lost by naming these crises?
  • To what degree is each of these crises novel, and to what degree has each been experienced before (think of aspects of each that have been experienced before by other communities/societies)?
  • What might be gained by thinking of multiple crises simultaneously?
  • What intergenerational stories exist that give individuals and communities traction for thinking of human- and societal-level responses?
  • How do stories and metaphors offer ways of narrating through both the sensational urgency and the mundane lived experiences of “crisis time”?
  • What is the value/role of humour in such serious times?
  • How can we collectively “monger care” at a time when fear and divisions are ever apparent?

Learning Outcomes

By the end of the course, students will be able to:

  • Situate themselves in the “conjunctural now” as cultural theorists and practitioners who are parts of systems and their transformations.
  • Communicate the pros and cons of the discourse of “crisis” as a particular set of practices that accompanies the emergence of the global pandemic and, to a lesser extent, climate change and viral racism.
  • Articulate the importance of temporality (pace, novelty, & histories) in how these crises play out.
  • Analyze emerging sites of culture(s) (memes, media feeds, etc.) through a cultural studies lens of power (hegemony) in which we are embedded in the everyday.
  • Apply the insights of cultural theories, including affect theory, to consider how we collectively think, feel, and act our way through pandemic, climate change, and viral racism.

Student Evaluation

To receive credit for MAIS 752, you must complete and submit all of the assignments and achieve a minimum grade of C− (60 percent) for the course.

You will be evaluated on your understanding of the concepts presented in the course and on your ability to apply those concepts. Your final grade in the course will be based on the marks achieved for the following activities.

Activity Weighting
Weekly Discussion Forum Participation 30%
Discussion Moderation 10%
Reflexive Cultural Studies Autobiography of 2020–21 20%
Outline of Final Paper/Creative Project 10%
Final Paper/Creative Project 30%
Total 100%


Ghosh, Amitav. 2016. The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable. University of Chicago Press.

All other materials will be available online.

The previous offering of the MAIS 752 Graduate Seminar can be viewed here.

For more information about upcoming offerings, please contact the MA-IS Office.

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.