BA English Literature and American Studies

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Culture and Politics in the Contemporary British Novel 

Course unit fact file
Unit code ENGL32301
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Available as a free choice unit? No


This course asks how the contemporary British novel has engaged with, and helped to shape, a host of important cultural and political debates since around the turn of the millennium. Focusing on four key novels from the period, for two weeks at a time, the course will require students to develop a rigorous understanding of how this particular literary form has dealt with issues including: neoliberalism; debates around ‘British national identity’, devolution, and multiculturalism; new configurations of gender and sexuality; and Brexit. Students will also be expected to read widely in related critical and theoretical literature so as to develop a detailed, confident, and sophisticated approach to the question of how the British novel might enable us to better understand the contemporary intersection of cultural and political discourse.  


• to introduce students to a series of important and influential British novels and their cultural and political contexts since the turn of the millennium; 

• to consider the development of the contemporary novel as a political form; 

• to consider how the contemporary British novel engages with issues such as class, gender and sexuality, race, ethnicity, nationality, and religion; 

• to develop skills of critical thought, speech, and writing in relation to the study of contemporary literature. 


The syllabus on this course will alter from year to year, but might include texts such as Alan Hollinghurst’s The Line of Beauty, Zadie Smith’s NW, Anna Burns’s Milkman, and Ali Smith’s Spring. 

Teaching and learning methods

 • 1 x one-hour lecture per week: lectures will introduce students to key arguments, texts, and contexts. 

• 1 x two-hour seminar per week: seminars are an opportunity for students to engage with the weekly text in an open, collaborative way. Active participation is expected from all students on the module.  

• Weekly office hours: students will have a weekly opportunity to meet the module leader on a one-to-one basis. Office hours are also a chance to discuss ideas and plans for assignments, as well as any feedback pertaining to those assignments.  

• Blackboard: relevant information and reading materials will be uploaded to the module’s Blackboard shell on a regular basis.  

Knowledge and understanding

By the end of this course, students will be able to: 

• think in an independent and rigorous way about the relationship between culture and politics in the contemporary British novel; 

• draw on a range of historical, critical, and theoretical materials in forming arguments about this relationship; 

Intellectual skills

By the end of this course, students will be able to: 

• advance persuasive, well-structured, and critically-informed arguments, both orally and in writing. 

• think carefully about the relationships between contemporary British literary/cultural production, socio-political identity, economic conditions, and ideology.  

Practical skills

By the end of this course, students will be able to: 

• interpret and discuss an important contemporary literary form; 

• carry out independent research that links this form to a range of related political and historical contexts; 

• work effectively as an individual and as part of a small group; 

• write persuasively and rigorously about a set of crucial cultural and political debates.  

Transferable skills and personal qualities

• initiative: students will be expected to work on their own initiative in order to read and research texts/topics.  

• leadership: there will be opportunities for students to take the lead in seminar discussions.  

• organisation: students will need to develop methods for mapping out and managing their time in an effective way.  

• teamwork: students will be required to work effectively as part of small groups.  

• oral communication: there will opportunities for students to develop their skills of oral presentation and public speaking.   

• written communication: students will be expected to submit written work that is lucid, well-structured, and persuasive.  

• creativity/innovation: students will be encouraged to think in innovative, original ways about their approach to literary and cultural texts.  

• research: students will need to retrieve, scrutinise, sift, evaluate, summarise, and synthesise large amounts of information in preparing for classes and assignments.  

Employability skills

This course enhances student employability by giving students a range of transferable skills. These include skills of: self-organisation, research, evaluation, and analysis; written and oral communication; leadership and self-motivation; logical and critical thinking; teamwork; and creativity.

Assessment methods

Assessment task  

Weighting within unit (if summative) 

Close reading essay 


Research essay 


Feedback methods

Feedback method  

Formative or Summative 

Oral feedback during office hours (upon arrangement) 


Written feedback on close reading and research essays 


Oral feedback on essay plans and essays (upon arrangement) 


Study hours

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

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
John Roache Unit coordinator

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