BA Politics and Modern History / Course details

Year of entry: 2020

Course unit details:
Politics of Obscenity

Unit code POLI32051
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Offered by Politics
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


The course will provide advanced theoretical, empirical and methodological engagement with topics that due to their traumatic, disturbing or in any other way 'ab-normal' appearance remain unrepresented or under-theorised in political and international arena. It will be divided into three sections. The first section will discuss theoretical approaches helpful in studying 'obscene', 'excluded' or 'invisible' in political and international sphere. The second section will discuss the various material manifestations of 'obscenity; and the final section will re-introduce the obscene moment to international political sphere.


The course unit aims to:
- Introduce students to the side of politics that commonly remains unrepresented.
- Examine a variety of political, social and religious imagery to identify that which commonly remains unrepresented in international political domain.
- Engage and consider theoretical and conceptual challenges when dealing with issue that political scholarship know nothing or very little about or are for other reasons (obscenity, profanity, trauma) difficult to access.
- Present students with critical methodologies and methods for the study of international politics.
- Introduce new spaces of political analysis - such as the body, materiality, imagery - and broaden the study to disciplines such as sociology, law, philosophy and anthropology.
- Consider and analyse obscene, profane and traumatic elements in every day political situations and practices such as:
(i) war and atrocity;
(ii) sex-tourism;
(iii) commemoration and remembrance;
(iv) sacred authority/God and law;
(v) disease and contamination;
(vi) disappearance.
- Develop students' oral skills (through general discussion), team-work skills (through a seminar group work), written skills (through the assessed essay and poster), research skills (from the use and assessment of material from an array of sources), and critical and analytical skills.

Learning outcomes

On completion of this unit successful students will be able to demonstrate:
- The ability to question predominant representations of political and historical events and identify and assess the importance of that which is excluded from political representations and identify reasons for their exclusion;
- The ability to understand and critically assess processes of commemoration and remembering the past;
- The ability to evaluate and critically assess the normative arguments surrounding the obscene in politics.
- The ability to apply the arguments and approaches studied to real and hypothetical cases.
- Oral, teamwork, written, and research skills.

Teaching and learning methods

The course will be taught on the basis of ten two-hour lectures and nine one-hour seminars. The lectures will comprise a mix of traditional lecture material (focusing on the content of obscene politics as well as on ways of studying it), interactive question and answer sessions, small-group tasks: analysis of videos, photos and other media material. Seminars will be more student-led, focusing on (i) critical methodologies and methods and (ii) discussions/analysis of assigned material ranging from academic texts, literature, imagery and art. Students will be expected to have completed the required reading and to have made extensive preparatory notes (answering set questions related to specific cases and issues).

Assessment methods

The course will be assessed in three ways:
1. A 3000 word essay on Section 1 of the course (60%).
2. 2 x learning logs of 1000 words (30%)
a. learning log 1: analysis of a photo (form a list of options or take your own photo)
b. learning log 2: analysis of a movie (from a list of options)
3. Active seminar participation (10%).

Feedback methods

The School of Social Sciences is committed to providing timely and appropriate feedback to students on their academic progress and achievement, thereby enabling students to reflect on their progress and plan their academic and skills development effectively. Students are reminded that feedback is necessarily responsive: only when a student has done a certain amount of work and approaches us with it at the appropriate form is it possible for us to feed back on the student’s work. The main forms of feedback on this course are in response to the portfolio and essay. We also draw your attention to the variety of generic forms of feedback available to you on this as on all SOSS courses. These include: meeting the lecturer/tutor during their office hours; e¿mailing questions to the lecturer/tutor; asking questions from the lecturer (before and after lecture); presenting a question on the discussion board on Blackboard; and obtaining feedback from your peers during tutorials.

Recommended reading

Bosteels, Bruno Marx and Freud in Latin America (London: Verso, 2012)
Douglas, Mary Purity and Danger: an analysis of pollution and taboo (London: Routledge, 2002).
Douglas, Mary Natural Symbols: Exploration in Cosmology (London: Routledge, 2003).
Foucault, Michel Discipline and Punish: the birth of the prison (London, Penguin: 1991).
Klossowski, Pierre Sade My Neighbour (Quartet Books, 1992).
Kristeva, Julia Powers of Horrors: An essay on abjection (New York: Columbia University Press, 1982).
Minkkinen, Panu Sovereignty, Knowledge, Law (Abington: Glasshouse Press, 2009).
Santner. Eric, The Royal Remains: the people's two bodies and the endgames of sovereignty (University of Chicago Press, 2011).
Scarry, Elaine, The body in pain: the making and the unmaking of the world (Oxford Paperbacks, 1988).
Shapiro, Michael J. Studies in Trans-disciplinary Method: after the aesthetic turn (London: Routledge, 2012).
Sontag, Susan Against Interpretation and Other Essays (Penguin Classics, 2009).

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 20
Seminars 10
Independent study hours
Independent study 170

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Andreja Zevnik Unit coordinator

Additional notes

For lecture timetable see

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