ISP 102

Explore Chicago: Underground Culture in Chicago

Autumn 2005


Dr. Daniel Makagon                                                              

Office: SAC 596        

Office Hours: TH 1:00-2:00 and by appointment

Phone: 773-325-7376



Course Objectives


Chicago, like other large cities, has been a magnet for artists, musicians, writers, and performers. Some of these people consider the city to be a site that will facilitate fame and fortune. Others view the city as an environment that fosters cultural production that is grounded in community building and social connection. The link between creativity and the city has been a central feature of urban political discourse in recent years, as governors, mayors, and city council members have worked to lure creative people to their states and cities. In an effort to understand better how creative cultural production is central to Chicago (spatially and symbolically), this course will focus on contemporary forms of underground (or bohemian) culture in Chicago. We will explore the ways in which various underground cultural practices function as both important sources of local identity and an opportunity to put Chicago on a larger creative map. Students will study a range of underground cultural practices in Chicago (e.g., alternative rock, punk, rap, and techno music production and night clubs), alternative media outlets (e.g., radio stations and fanzines), and public art (e.g., graffiti and murals). Additionally, we will investigate how underground cultural producers develop relationships with city officials or resist official forms of support (and in some cases, co-optation). The course will ultimately introduce students to a variety of theoretical issues about urban life, communication and culture, city politics, and community as well as the aesthetic and business practices of people who are involved with such issues vis-a-vis the production of culture in Chicago.


Required Texts


The following required book is available at the campus bookstore:


Stephen Duncombe, Notes From Underground: Zines and the Politics of Alternative Culture (New York: Verso, 1997).


Other course readings are accessible via a password protected Web site. You are required to print each day's reading and bring the article with you to class. The files are temporarily located at the following address:


Course Assignments


Class Participation (including 1 cultural sighting)                                           10%

Spirit of the Place Paper (3-5 Pages)                                                               20%

Pop quizzes                                                                                                     20%

Final Paper                                                                                                      25%

Zine Contribution and Presentation                                                                 25%




You are required to complete the reading assignments before you attend class. This will lead to more fruitful discussion.



Spirit of the Place Paper


This assignment emphasizes building an interpretation from looking and listening. Your goal is to document in 3-5 pages a place where underground culture is thriving. You will attend and assess a local underground cultural site (e.g., a punk rock show, a rave, a club featuring underground rap, a poetry slam, a local college radio station) and analyze the cultural practices that take shape in that place. In general, you should discuss what happens there, the kind of people who gather there, the level of participation among the spectators, and then read the site through the lens of our course readings. (Note: "Assess" means more than simply describing what you see. You should discuss the larger social, cultural, political, or economic implications of the event relative to cultural life in Chicago.) This paper is due October 6th. A full description of the assignment is available in the folder that contains pdfs for this class.



Zine Contribution and Presentation


For this assignment you are asked to contribute to a course e-zine. Your contribution will take the form of an essay but might also include other materials (e.g., photographs, drawings, copies of flyers, poetry, and other creative expressions). Our zine will cover contemporary (and historical) underground culture in Chicago. You can address any topic you'd like; however, you must discuss your contribution with me. A full description of this assignment is available in the folder that contains pdfs for this class.



Cultural Sighting


The goal of this assignment is to offer material examples of popular cultural practices and artifacts, allowing us to make connections between course materials on underground culture and our everyday lives. As a class we will explore debates about historical and contemporary possibilities and problems of underground culture. This assignment will hopefully allow each member in the class to share a popular culture artifact with the class that connects this broader cultural context with our everyday lives. Each class member will be responsible for one cultural sighting this semester. Examples of cultural sightings include, but are certainly not limited to, comic strips that are particularly insightful regarding generational identity; television commercials that comment on being a unique individual; or old books that highlight problematic conceptions of what it means to be a woman, how to be a rebel, or how to build media technologies. If the sighting is something you can tape to a piece of paper then write your name on the paper and attach the sighting. If the sighting is a video or a book then type up a few sentences explaining the sighting so I can give you credit. Of course you want to bring the video or the book to show the class during your presentation. Your presentation of the sighting shouldn't take more than 2-3 minutes, although class discussion about your sighting will most likely last much longer. Please note that your sighting can cover some aspect of popular music, per the theme of the class, but you are free to bring in artifacts that speak to or reflect other types of popular culture. Also note that the sighting is part of your class participation grade. If you do not present a cultural sighting to the class then you cannot earn an "A" for your participation grade.


Pop Quizzes


Quizzes will be short answer and will allow me to gauge how well you understand the arguments made in the readings. Unlike your papers and class discussion, where I am interested in your opinions about the issues and the strength of the writer's argument(s), the quizzes are designed for you to state the author's argument only. In other words, I am not striving to understand what you think about the issues; rather, I am interested in how well you understand the construction of the author's argument. If we do not understand what s/he's saying then our critique of her/his work will not be properly grounded. Possible points for each quiz question will be listed after the question (usually 10 or 20 points per question and usually 1-3 questions per quiz). Answers will be graded based on your ability to clearly summarize the author's argument(s) and use examples from the reading to support your answer(s).


Final Paper


I will provide a list of essay questions for the Final Paper. You will answer one question (3-5 pages). Papers are due November 21st by Noon. (Note: The information in this syllabus and the syllabus addendum about my expectations for writing assignments and grading criteria applies to the Final Paper as well.)


Course Policies


Attendance and Active Participation are expected and required. Excessive absences will result in a lower final grade.


Promptness is expected as a general rule. If you are consistently late to class your grade will be negatively affected.


All assignments are due on assigned days. There will be NO MAKE-UPS. Documented illness or documented emergencies are the only exception to this policy. Changes in work schedules, personal celebrations (e.g., birthdays), assignments due in other classes, etc. are NOT considered to be legitimate reasons for missing deadlines or class meetings. If you miss a quiz and have documentation for your absence then you will take the quiz on the next date you attend class. Similarly, if you have an excused absence for a class session when you would turn in a paper then you can give me the paper on the next date you attend class. (Note: If you will be missing a class because of a religious holiday, let me know in writing at least two weeks before the holiday so we can make arrangements to make up missed work.)


Students with disabilities should provide me with documentation from the Office of Students with Disabilities.


If you have a cellular phone, turn it off. If you have a pager, set it to vibrate or turn it off. Plagiarism will be discussed below but for now you should note that all cell phones must be put away during quizzes and you should not be sending or reading text messages during class sessions.


You must make sure your email address listed in Campus Connect is correct and make sure emails from me will pass through any spam blockers. I will only send email to you from


Written Assignment Requirements


All papers should be typed, double-spaced throughout the entire essay, and use a consistent style (e.g., MLA, APA, etc.). Use one-inch margins and 12-point font. Do not send me electronic copies of your work. See the syllabus addendum (available in the folder that contains pdfs for this class) for a description of my grading policies and expectations as well as further details on written assignments.


For assistance with your writing contact or visit the Writing Center: Lincoln Park at 802 W. Belden, 150 McGaw Hall, 773-325-4272 and The Loop at 25 E. Jackson, 1620 Lewis Center, 312-362-6726.




I have often found that plagiarism becomes tempting if students are feeling pressured. Remember, when in doubt quote. If you are quoting somebody directly then you need to list the information within quotation marks and cite a page number. If you are paraphrasing then you need to cite the person and a page number. Never copy and paste entire documents into your paper and do not quote others to the point where your ideas become indistinguishable from your source's ideas. There is no reason to plagiarize given the resources available to you (e.g., opportunities to meet with me; coaches in the writing center; my handout on writing for the class; and DePaul's policy on academic integrity, which can be found at If you do plagiarize, you will automatically receive a grade of "F" in this class. Moreover, the Academic Affairs office will be contacted.


Grade Scale


A 94-100         B+ 87-89         C+ 77-79         D 60-69       

A- 90-93         B 83-86           C   73-76         F 59 and below

B- 80-82          C-  70-72        




Tentative Course Schedule




9/8                   Course Introduction   


Popular Culture and The Quest for the Cool


9/13                 Malcolm Gladwell, "The Cool Hunt"


9/15                 Thomas Frank, "Alternative to What?"


Writing the Underground


9/20                 Stephen Duncombe, Notes From Underground, pp. 1-43


9/22                 Stephen Duncombe, Notes From Underground, pp. 44-65

                        Meet in Special Collections and Archives (3rd Floor of Richardson Library)                


9/27                 Stephen Duncombe, Notes From Underground, pp. 65-117


9/29                 Stephen Duncombe, Notes From Underground, pp. 117-140                       


Underground Spaces


10/4                 Ben Malbon, "The Club"


10/6                 Richard Lloyd, "Neo-Bohemia: Art and Neighborhood Redevelopment in Chicago"

                        SPIRIT OF THE PLACE ESSAY DUE


10/11               William Upski Wimsatt, Bomb the Suburbs (Excerpts on urban space)


Public Art/Guerrilla Art


10/13               Steven Heller & Karrie Jacobs, Angry Graphics (Excerpts)

                        Hoss Jooten "Taking it to the Streets"


10/18               William Upski Wimsatt, Bomb the Suburbs (Excerpts on graffiti)

                        ABSTRACTS DUE


10/20               TBA


Political Voices


10/25               Marshall Berman, "‘Justice/Just Us': Rap and Social Justice in America"

                        ZINE CONTRIBUTION OUTLINE DUE


10/27               Tricia Rose, "Prophets of Rage"


11/1                 Gil Rodman, "Race and Other Four Letter Words"


11/3                 Zine Presentations

                        FINAL ZINE CONTRIBUTIONS DUE


11/8                 Zine Presentations


11/10               Zine Presentations (continued if needed)


11/15               Review and Final Exam questions delivered to students


11/15-11/20     National Communication Association Convention in Boston


11/21               Final Papers Due by Noon