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MA Gender, Sexuality and Culture / Course details

Year of entry: 2020

Course unit details:
The American Body: Race and Sexuality in the Twentieth Century

Unit code AMER60022
Credit rating 15
Unit level FHEQ level 7 – master's degree or fourth year of an integrated master's degree
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Offered by English & American Studies and Centre for New Writing
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


Through analyses of literature, film, photography, and other forms of cultural representation, the course will focus on the body as a reflection and construction of American identity.  The course examines corporeal discourse of the twentieth century mainly through narratives of passing. Through close readings and wide ranging debate and discussion, we will examine a variety of texts, including philosophical treatments of the “mind-body problem”; representations of the gay, transgendered, and queer body; memoirs and representations of illness; journalistic accounts of the racial body and economic status; and the construction and representation of the American body in film and fiction.


The course aims to explore the body as site of philosophical and cultural knowledge; a vehicle of self-expression; a subject of discourses of social control, and a figure in narratives of, gender, sexuality, race, and ethnicity.



The unit aims to:


- Interrogate the body as site of philosophical and cultural knowledge; a vehicle of self expression; a subject of discourses of social control, and a figure in narratives of, gender, sexuality, race, and ethnicity.

- Develop skills of critical thinking and close analysis through a detailed engagement with a range of literary and cultural texts as well as print, media, and archival sources.

-Hone students’ research, presentation, and writing skills as well as their capacity to construct a sustained and coherent argument of a standard appropriate to MA level work.


Teaching and learning methods

11 x 1.5 hour seminars; film screenings in addition.


Selected readings will be placed on Blackboard, which will also contain further relevant course information and links to relevant websites and secondary reading. Assignments will be submitted online, via Turnitin on Blackboard.


Knowledge and understanding

By the end of the course, students should achieve a thorough knowledge of how the body figures in the making of the American subject. They should be able to analyze a variety of forms of representation as well as texts from a range of disciplines. They should be able to understand the material body as an historical, as well as a cultural and political, phenomenon.

Intellectual skills

-Weigh up competing interpretations and arguments.

-Critically analyse a range of literary and cultural sources as well as print cultural and digital materials.

--Develop interdisciplinary arguments about narratives of corporeal and political identity and artistic and cultural production.

-Engage in close reading and refine research skills

Practical skills

- Analyze a variety of literary and cultural texts

-Assess the critical and popular reception and historical context of a variety of texts.

- Gain experience in interdisciplinary research and argumentation.

- Devise research questions and engage with existing scholarship

Transferable skills and personal qualities

-Critically analyze different kinds of texts

-Carry out independent research

-Summarize and synthesize complex arguments

-Work in groups

-Have increased confidence in communicating ideas in written and oral presentation

-Increased confidence in critical engagement with cultural texts.

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Written assignment (inc essay) 100%

Recommended reading

John Perry, Personal Identity

Althusser, from On Ideology (1977)

Toni Morrison, “Recitatif”

Film: The Watermelon Woman (Cheryl Dunye, 1996)

Nella Larsen, Passing (1929)

Judith Butler, “Passing, Queering,” Bodies That Matter (1993)

Film: Pinky (Elia Kazan, 1949)

Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, “Introduction: Axiomatic“ Epistemology of the Closet (1990)

Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, “Paranoid Reading and Reparative Reading“ (2003)

James Baldwin, Giovanni’s Room (1956)

James Baldwin, If Beale Street Could Talk (1974)

James Baldwin, “The Outing” in Going to Meet the Man (1965)

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 16.5
Independent study hours
Independent study 133.5

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Monica Pearl Unit coordinator

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