90690 - Visual Studies

Course Unit Page

Academic Year 2022/2023

Learning outcomes

Students acquire the necessary knowledge of the conceptual models of visual cultural analysis for images. They know the disciplinary approaches to investigate contemporary visual experiences. They are also able to examine these methodological tools in the context of art theories. In particular, they develop the methodological tools to analyse the visual experience and recognize the main characters of the communication through various media.

Course contents

This course is designed to identify the broad issues that are shaping visual culture in the Twenty-First Century. Students will be introduced to foundational aspects of visual culture theory through a discussion on the social role of images in contemporary culture, with particular attention to the impact of prosumer technologies, the Internet and emerging forms of artificial intelligence. The course will take into account pictures produced within a diversified set of increasingly interconnected fields, including: contemporary art, mainstream media, social movements, speculative design, and visual communication.


Most of the case studies discussed elicit the dichotomy between pictures that are the expression of power systems and pictures produced as counter-discourses. The 30-hour course is divided into 15 classes of 2 hours, articulated in 5 sections of 3 classes. Each section will be devoted to an area of interest: Re-Presentation; History; Knowledge; Empowerment; Future. Each class will focus on a specific issue of contemporary visual culture, tracing its genesis with references to modern forms of visuality and contextualizing it within the current social, cultural and technological scenario.





1. Introduction: What is Visual Studies?

2. Gender and Ethnicity Revised

3. Appropriation: from DADA to Fan Cultures


4. War and Surveillance

5. History Repeated: Manipulation and Re-enactments

6. Memes, Fake News and the Illusion of Transparency in the Internet Era


7. Fictional Spaces: From Utopian Lands to Virtual Worlds

8. Big Data: New Processes of Knowledge

9. Machine Vision and A.I.


10. Sharing and Empathy

11. The Aesthetics of Social Justice

12. The Ecological Principle


13. Futures and Futurisms

14. Identity Check: Selfies and Avatars

15. Automata and Transhumanism


The bibliography consists of a selection of texts that can be downloaded as teaching material from the "Virtuale" page linked to the course’s webpage. A total of 30 essays will be provided, 2 for each class. Among the authors: James Bridle, Judith Butler, Mark Fisher, Kenneth Goldsmith, Donna Haraway, Henry Jenkins, Nicholas Mirzoeff, Timothy Morton, W.J.T. Mitchell, and Hito Steyerl.

Teaching methods

Teaching will be carried out in "traditional" teaching mode, that is, through face-to-face lectures. The course, of 30 hours in total, is subdivided into 15 lessons of 2 hours each, which are articulated into 5 units dedicated to exploring specific areas of contemporary art.

Restricted places for incoming exchange students:

Places for incoming exchange students in this teaching activity are limited and are primarily reserved to students enrolled in art related programmes at their home university. To check availability, please write to amac@unibo.it

Assessment methods

At the end of the course, the student will be assigned a grade based on a final oral exam that evaluates the methodological and critical abilities acquired. Exams will be conducted individually and structured around a set of random questions on the readings, the case studies taken into account and the topics discussed in class. Attendance is highly recommended as well as active participation in class through comments and observations. Because there is no textbook for this course, it is strongly advised to take notes in class.

Teaching tools

The case studies are documented through the projection of audiovisual material.

Office hours

See the website of Francesco Maria Spampinato