MA/PGDip Gender, Sexuality and Culture

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Historicising the Contemporary: Literature and Politics 1970-2000

Course unit fact file
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
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


This module provides a brief overview of 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, 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: from postmodern theory (and its impact on literary fiction), to social movements such as feminism; from the apparent waning of class consciousness, to gay liberation and the AIDS crisis; from the legacies of imperialism to debates about migrant identities and multiculturalism.


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

Method Weight
Written assignment (inc essay) 100%

Feedback methods

Feedback method

Formative or Summative

Essay tutorial – feedback on essay plan


Written feedback on essay


Recommended reading

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

 •  Critical extracts from Alan Sinfield (Literature, Politics & Culture in Postwar Britain), Patricia Waugh (Harvest of the Sixties), David Harvey (A Brief History of Neoliberalism) and Wendy Brown (Undoing the Demos).
•  J.G. Ballard, The Atrocity Exhibition (1970)
•  Kamala Markandaya, The Nowhere Man (1972)
•  Angela Carter, The Passion of New Eve (1977)
•  Pat Barker, Union Street (1982)
•  Salman Rushdie, Shame (1983)
•  Jeanette Winterson, The Passion (1987)
•  Alan Hollinghurst, The Swimming-Pool Library (1988)
•  Hanif Kureishi, The Black Album (1995)
•  J.M. Coetzee, Disgrace (1999)
•  Zadie Smith, White Teeth (2000)

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Seminars 33
Independent study hours
Independent study 267

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Kaye Mitchell Unit coordinator

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