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MA Gender, Sexuality and Culture / Course details

Year of entry: 2020

Course unit details:
Key Issues in Twentieth-Century Cultural Theory and Literary Criticism

Unit code ENGL70032
Credit rating 30
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 and American Studies
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


This module is tailored to students on the MA Programme in Modern and Contemporary Literature but is open to all MA students interested in literary and critical theory.


Its aim is to equip students with advanced theoretical and critical understanding of some key texts that have shaped contemporary debates in literary and critical theory. The course is divided into three sections that address three broad categories: Marxism; psychoanalysis and deconstruction; and feminism. Each section will ask you to engage closely with both texts that have founded a discursive field – Marx, Freud, Derrida, de Beauvoir – and with recent developments and interpretation of that field that openly link theory and politics (for instance, contemporary feminist manifestos).


We will be thinking about historical developments and genealogies of thought, but the main aim of the course it to offer students a ‘hands on’ approach to theory. We will engage closely with texts in order to understand how they pose larger questions about the relationship between idealism and materialism, definitions of truth and knowledge, and the interconnections between nature, culture and writing. We will spend most of our time close reading specific passages that you may find relevant, productive, or even infuriatingly provocative. In this way, we hope to encourage you to develop your own critical practice, engaging with classic as well as new theoretical texts and reflecting on your own positions as critics.


Essay titles will be circulated in week 5 of Semester 2, but you are free, if you so wish, to devise your own title in consultation with your course tutor (Prof. Caselli). It is essential that you attend ALL seminars, even once you have decided what to focus on: without putting in the work needed to understand ALL texts studied on this module you will not be able to meet its objectives. Independent titles will have to be finalised before week 11 and you will be asked to consult your tutor during office hours in advance of this date. There are no set literary texts on this course, but you can develop an essay project with a literary component if you wish to do so.




Learning outcomes

On completion of this unit successful students should be able to:

  • Demonstrate a sound knowledge of some key issues in modern cultural and critical theory and literary criticism covered on the course, as well as the manifold correlations between ‘theory’, ‘literature’, ‘culture’, and ‘politics’;
  • Utilise this knowledge in intellectually rigorous ways;
  • Demonstrate an ability to reconsider literary, cinematic, cultural and other texts in the light of the theories studied, and vice versa;
  • Demonstrate an ability to engage with, evaluate and discuss sources in an academically sound manner;
  • Critically evaluate the complex historical and ideological relationships between the texts studied on this course.


Assessment methods

Essay 100%


Feedback methods

On this course formative feedback will be given on students’ essay plans. Extensive summative feedback will be given on the essay. 

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 33
Independent study hours
Independent study 267

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Honor Gavin Unit coordinator
Daniela Caselli Unit coordinator

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