BA English Language and English Literature / Course details

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Culture and Marginality

Course unit fact file
Unit code ENGL35312
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Available as a free choice unit? No


What is a ‘marginal’ position? Who, or what, gets to take one up? And – in light of the emergence of mass, digital, and online modes of engagement in the past century – how might such questions shape our encounters with culture today? 

This module takes a transhistorical, interdisciplinary, and multimodal approach to tackling the question of marginality in relation to modern and contemporary cultural production. By studying a range of formally ‘marginal’ and/or conventionally ‘marginalised’ works and resources from around 1900 to today, we will look to interrogate the complex relationship between textual and other (e.g. social, political, economic, etc.) types of margin. In the process, we will consider how such questions might relate to a wider set of debates around literary and cultural authority, originality, experimentation, revision, and mediation.

Texts studied might include typographically-experimental poems by M. NourbeSe Philip and Douglas Kearney; annotated modernist manuscripts (such as T. S. Eliot’s drafts for The Waste Land); digitised back copies of modern magazines and periodicals (such as Vogue and FIRE!!); as well as those notably interactive (and putatively ‘margin-less’) virtual spaces produced by the rise of digital technologies and social media. 


• To consider the question of textual and other (e.g. social, political, economic) forms of ‘marginality’ in relation to modern and contemporary cultural production.
• To give students a range of practical and theoretical ways of thinking about dominant and peripheral conceptions of culture.
• To consider how issues including but not limited to race, class, gender and sexuality, age, religion, and dis/ability might relate to the above.  

Knowledge and understanding

By the end of this course, students will be able to:
• Think in an independent and theoretically-rigorous way about questions of centrality and marginality as they pertain to literary and cultural interpretation.
• Interrogate a range of conceptions and modes of modern and contemporary cultural production, with a focus on questions including but not limited to authority, originality, experimentation, revision, and mediation.
• Give an informed account of the relationships between a range of literary/cultural texts and categorisations from the early twentieth century to today, with a confident understanding of terms such as the avant-garde, modernism, postmodernism, and post-colonialism.

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 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 a wide range of textual forms, including literary manuscripts, experimental poems/novels, digital archives, and social media. 
• Carry out independent research in a range of settings, from the John Rylands Library to the (digitised) Modernist Journals Project. 
• Work effectively as part of a small group in order to plan and deliver a short presentation. 

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. 
Presentation: 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

Group/team working
To this end, students will be asked to reflect upon their participation in the module in small groups, and to give a short presentation (unassessed) on how the skills and knowledge they have gained might be applicable to working in a graduate role of their choosing. This will ensure that all students finish the module will a clear sense of how its Aims and Intended Learning Outcomes might play into their approach to the jobs market after leaving university.
As well as calling upon students to develop and practice the transferable skills listed above, this module will give them the opportunity to think explicitly about how such skills might feed into their employability after the undergraduate degree.

Assessment methods

Close reading essay - 40%
Research essay - 60%

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)


Oral and peer-group feedback on presentation



Recommended reading

Joachim von Braun and Franz W. Gatzweiler, ‘Marginality – An Overview and Implications for Policy’, in Marginality: Addressing the Nexus of Poverty, Exclusion and Ecology, ed. by Joachim von Braun and Franz W. Gatzweiler (London: Springer, 2014), pp. 1-23.

Joe Bray, Alison Gibbons, and Brian McHale, eds, The Routledge Companion to Experimental Literature (Abingdon: Routledge, 2012); see especially the chapters on ‘Concrete Poetry and Prose’, ‘Words in Visual Art’, ‘Multimodal Literature and Experimentation’, and ‘Digital Fiction: Networked Narratives’. 

Robert E. Park, ‘Human Migration and the Marginal Man’, American Journal of Sociology, 33.6 (1928), 881- 893.

John Carlos Rowe, ‘“To Live outside the Law, You Must Be Honest”: The Authority of the Margin in Contemporary Theory’, Cultural Critique, 2 (1985-86), 35-68.

Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, ‘Explanation and Culture: Marginalia (1979)’, in The Spivak Reader: Selected Works of Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, ed. by Donna Landry and Gerald MacLean (London: Routledge, 1996), pp. 29-52.

Hannah Sullivan, The Work of Revision (London: Harvard University Press, 2013).

Raymond Williams, ‘Dominant, Residual, and Emergent’, in Marxism and Literature (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977), pp. 121-27.

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 11
Seminars 22
Independent study hours
Independent study 167

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
John Roache Unit coordinator

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