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MA Gender, Sexuality and Culture / Course details

Year of entry: 2020

Course unit details:
Reading the Contemporary

Unit code ENGL60081
Credit rating 30
Unit level FHEQ level 7 – master's degree or fourth year of an integrated master's degree
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Offered by English and American Studies
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


This module provides a brief overview of contemporary fiction from the 1970s to the millennium, looking in particular at the historical, political and critical contexts of that fiction’s production and reception, and examining the various historical and cultural continuities and discontinuities across the period. A central question here concerns the utility of the concepts of ‘consensus’ and ‘dissensus’ for understanding both aesthetic and political matters in the late twentieth century.


The consideration of a mixture of theoretical/critical material (by critics such as Alan Sinfield, Patricia Waugh, Wendy Brown, David Harvey, Brian McHale, David Lodge and others) alongside a range of novels published in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, seeks to bring to light the galvanizing themes and topics of each decade: the tension between realism and experimentalism in the 1970s; state and identity politics in the 1980s; Britishness, multiculturalism and history in the 1990s; and discussions of the ‘end of the book’ coincident with the advent of new digital technologies.


To develop a critical understanding of the recent history of contemporary fiction, through the analysis of a range of novels published between 1970 and 2000. To situate those novels in their appropriate historical, political and cultural contexts, thereby developing a better understanding of the functions of literature - and of 'culture' more generally - during this period.

Learning outcomes

By the end of this course students should be able to:

Knowledge and understanding
Show a developed knowledge and understanding of literature of the period 1970-2000, its formal and stylistic diversity, its critical reception, and the contexts of its production, along with some knowledge of critical/theoretical discourse of this period.

Intellectual skills
Demonstrate skills of close reading and analysis of literary texts, alongside skills of appropriate research and critical argument.

Practical skills
Locate and employ library and web-based materials in support of a developed critical argument, plan a project and meet a deadline.

Transferable skills and personal qualities
Demonstrate enhanced verbal and written communication skills, with a view to clarity, concision and reasoned argument, and work well both independently (in the preparation of the assessment) and in groups (in class-based discussion exercises).

Assessment methods

Essay 100%


Recommended reading

Essential reading (a more detailed outline will be provided to students during Welcome Week):

J.G. Ballard, The Atrocity Exhibition

Iris Murdoch, The Black Prince

Angela Carter, The Passion of New Eve

Pat Barker, Union Street

Martin Amis, Money

Alan Hollinghurst, The Swimming-Pool Library

A.S. Byatt, Possession

Hanif Kureishi, The Black Album

Mark Danielewski, House of Leaves [excerpts]

Zadie Smith, White Teeth


Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 33
Independent study hours
Independent study 267

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Kaye Mitchell Unit coordinator

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