BASS Social Anthropology and Sociology

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Identity, Power & Modernity

Course unit fact file
Unit code SOCY30171
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


1. Introduction
2. Capitalism and Modernity: Karl Marx
3. Power/Knowledge and Discipline: Michel Foucault
4. Biopower and Sexuality: Michel Foucault
5. Media and Perception: Marshall McLuhan
6. 'Race' and the Black Atlantic: Paul Gilroy
7. Brands and Commodity Culture: Naomi Klein
8. Sensation and the City: Georg Simmel and Walter Benjamin
9. Markets and the Neoliberal Individual: Wendy Brown
10. Empire and Multitude: Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri


This course examines identity and power in contemporary culture, focusing on themes of technology, sexuality, the city, the commodity, neoliberalism, and racialisation. The first part of the course explores the understanding of modernity developed by Marx and Foucault, an experience that Marx describes as one of continuous change, where 'all that is solid melts into air'. The course then turns to consider a series of substantive themes in the analysis of contemporary culture (listed below), exploring each through the work of one prominent social theorist: Marshall McLuhan, Walter Benjamin, Georg Simmel, Naomi Klein, Paul Gilroy, Wendy Brown, and Antonio Negri.

Learning outcomes

On completion of the course students will:
- be familiar with contemporary debates in identity and power
- have developed advanced skills in reading primary texts
- be familiar with advanced critical thought on the nature of modernity

Teaching and learning methods

Lecture-style material will be delivered weekly through a mix of up to one hour pre-recorded (i.e. asynchronous) content and one hour live (i.e. synchronous) lecturer-led classes. Additionally, weekly one hour small-group tutorials will be delivered on-campus as long as government guidelines allow, otherwise they will be delivered online.

Assessment methods

Non-assessed portfolio of reading notes.

Assessed - Written end-of-semester coursework (2500 words, 100%)

Feedback methods


All sociology courses include both formative feedback – which lets you know how you’re getting on and what you could do to improve – and summative feedback – which gives you a mark for your assessed work.

Recommended reading

These texts are indications of the reading undertaken on the course:
Foucault, M. (1980) 'Right of Death and Power over Life', in The History of Sexuality, Volume I: An Introduction, London: Penguin.
Benjamin, W. (1978) 'Naples', in Reflections, New York: Schocken Books.
Gilroy, P. (1993) 'One Nation Under a Groove', in Small Acts: Thoughts on the Politics of Black Cultures, London: Serpent's Tale.

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Assessment written exam 2
Lectures 30
Independent study hours
Independent study 168

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Nicholas Thoburn Unit coordinator

Additional notes

2015/16 timetable

Tuesday 14:00 - 17:00

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