MA/PGDip Gender, Sexuality and Culture

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Key Issues in Literary and Critical Theory

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


This module aims 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 feminism/queer studies. Each section will ask you to engage closely with texts that have founded a discursive field – Marx, Freud, de Beauvoir – and with recent developments in that field that connect critical theory with political preoccupations (Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, Cedric J. Robinson, Todd McGowan, Hortense Spiller, for instance).


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 sexuality, culture and writing. We will spend most of our time close reading specific passages that you may find relevant, productive, or even infuriatingly provocative.


 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;

Intellectual skills

  • 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.

Practical skills

  • ability to defend one’s intellectual position
  • close reading skills

Transferable skills and personal qualities

  • ability to work in a team
  • ability to debate/consider/compare different intellectual and theoretical approaches

Employability skills

Team work Advanced writing skills Advanced debating skills

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Written assignment (inc essay) 100%

Feedback methods

Feedback method

Formative or Summative

Written feedback


One-to-one tutorials on request during term


Recommended reading

Indicative Reading

Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, from The German Ideology (part one) ed. C.J. Arthur (London: Lawrence & Wishart, [1970] 2007). Focus on pp. 37–95 (‘Feuerbach: Opposition of the Materialist and Idealist Outlook’) and pp. 121–3 (‘Theses on Feuerbach’).

Cedric J. Robinson, Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition Foreword by Robin D.G. Kelley; With a new preface by the author (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2000).

Sigmund Freud, Introductory Lectures to Psychoanalysis, trans. by James Strachey with the collaboration of Anna Freud, assisted by Alix Strachey and Alan Tyson (London: Vintage [1963] 2001).

Todd McGowan, Capitalism and Desire: the Psychic Cost of Free Markets (New York: Columbia University Press, 2016).

Lauren Berlant, Cruel Optimism (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2011).

Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex, trans. by Constance Borde and Sheila Malovaney-Chevallier (London: Vintage, 2010).

Judith Butler, Gender Trouble, (London: Routledge, 1999 [1990]).

‘Preface’, from Bodies That Matter. On the Discursive Limits of ‘Sex’ (London: Routledge, 1993).

Hortense Spiller’s ‘Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe: An American Grammar Book’ Diacritics 17:2 (Summer 1987), 64–81.  

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 33
Independent study hours
Independent study 267

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Daniela Caselli Unit coordinator

Additional notes

This module is listed as a free choice but only after students on the below programmes have chosen their modules:

MA Modern and Contemporary Literature (Priority)

MA Gender, Sexuality and Culture

MA English Literature and American Studies

Other MAs in English



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