A Collaborative Syllabus

Shilpa Phadke

The Gender, Media and Culture Course was in its tenth year. Every year it evolved and the last few years I have been building the syllabus based on the interests of the students who take the class. It is a third semester optional course for MA students of Media and Cultural Studies and Women’s Studies at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai.


In the last few years I have become increasingly interested in the politics and aesthetics of syllabus creation and design. I have always been acutely aware that what one leaves out in terms of both themes and texts is just as relevant as what one includes. This time I decided to try something different and to have students be even more active collaborators in designing the syllabus. I designed the first two sessions of the course based on my current obsessions and invited students to each design half a session based on their interests and obsessions. Once students sent me a reading each, I had the not so enviable task of attempting to choose two readings which could be discussed with each other, thus creating a syllabus that everyone had contributed to. These readings became the required texts. Before each class students would send two additional readings each which we added to the syllabus. In addition, I took one or two texts I thought they should engage with in some form and discussed their main arguments and how I felt they were connected to the themes we were discussing. The result is a diverse, not always coherent but rather exciting syllabus. This three tier syllabus we created together is linked at the end of this page.

The questions about the coherence and rigour of the syllabus co-produced via such an exercise is something I have grappled with a great deal during the creation of this course. While it was exciting to see the course take shape, it was also difficult to attempt to create sessions with texts that did not always work together. Eventually, some texts spoke to each other much better than others and we were able to have discussions that brought the two together. At other times, we ended up discussing them more or less separately. In some cases I created sessions with a single presenter because there seemed to be no way to read particular texts alongside the other chosen ones. Eventually all syllabi are arbitrary in some way or the other but if there is one person, or two, designing a course, one can at least seek to impose some sense of order, however illusory. Here, one had to discard the possibility of order and embrace arbitrariness as a structural feature, a decision that was both liberating and discomfiting. I also ended up reading and thinking a fair bit outside my areas of interest, texts I might never have sought out on my own. The result reflects the interests of the class and is an eclectic mix which despite its limitations leaves me rather exhilarated.


The intention has also been to see students as creators of media rather than just as consumers. The world wide web has ensured that publishing is now something that many of us, at least those who have the privilege of access to technology and to literacy, have access to.

This blog includes all the writing students did for the course. Three kinds of texts are presented. One is an interrogation or a creation of media texts. The second is a note that engages with the texts the students choose as their contribution to the syllabus. And the third includes syllabi designed by students on themes that they chose. The three are structured under the categories: Interrogating Media, Reading Texts and Creating Syllabi.


Please find the detailed collaborative syllabus here.