BA Art History and English Literature / Course details

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Gender, Sexuality and the Body: Theories and Histories

Course unit fact file
Unit code ENGL20481
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 2
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Available as a free choice unit? No


This course explores three analytical concepts central to our understanding of what makes us 'modern': gender, sexuality and the body. We begin by looking at the women's and gay liberation movements of the 1960s and 1970s, as well as some early twentieth-century writings by sexologists, such as Havelock Ellis and Magnus Hirschfeld. Then we move on to explore some key theorists of sexuality, including Sigmund Freud and Michel Foucault, paying close attention to the significant differences between their approaches. Alongside these historical and theoretical texts, we analyse specific examples of more recent fiction and non-fiction writing, independent feminist and queer filmmaking and photography to consider topics such as: desire, identity, trans, sexual classification, repression and liberation, racialised bodies, transgression, and normality and deviance. Throughout the course key feminist and queer theorists are introduced in relation to debates about changing understandings of the three categories in the course title.



  • To introduce students to a range of theoretical work on gender, sexuality and the body informed by, or critical of, sexology and psychoanalysis;

  • To encourage students to assess such material critically;

  • To introduce students to a number of 20th century cultural texts which - self-consciously or otherwise - foreground issues of sexuality, gender and the body;

  • To encourage students to develop strategies of reading cultural texts informed by theories of sexuality, gender and the body.


Learning outcomes

By the end of the course, the successful student will have demonstrated:

  • An understanding of some of the main issues raised by theoretical accounts of sexuality and gender;

  • A grasp of the distinctions between different schools of thought in this area;

  • An ability to analyse cultural texts in ways informed by theoretical work of sexuality, gender and the body;

  • An appreciation of the implications for cultural criticism of the distinctions between the different schools of thought in this area.


Employability skills

Analytical skills
Students taking this unit will be able to analyse and evaluate arguments and texts. Above all, committed students will emerge from this course unit with an advanced capacity to think critically, i.e. knowledgeably, rigorously, confidently and independently.
Group/team working
Students taking this unit will be able to work courteously and constructively as part of a larger group.
On this unit students are encouraged to respond imaginatively and independently to the questions and ideas raised by texts and other media.
Students on this unit must take responsibility for their learning and are encouraged not only to participate in group discussions but to do so actively and even to lead those discussions.
Project management
Students taking this unit will be able to work towards deadlines and to manage their time effectively.
Oral communication
Students taking this unit will be able to show fluency, clarity and persuasiveness in spoken communication.
Students on this unit will be required to digest, summarise and present large amounts of information. They are encouraged to enrich their responses and arguments with a wide range of further reading.
Written communication
Students on this unit will develop their ability to write in a way that is lucid, precise and compelling.

Assessment methods

Closed Reading Exercise 40%
Essay 60%


Feedback methods

Written and face-to-face (upon arrangement)

Recommended reading


Michel Foucault History of Sexuality, vol. 1.  London: Penguin, 1998

Michel Foucault, Herculine Barbin: Being the Recently Discovered Memoirs of a Nineteenth-Century French Hermaphrodite.  New York: Vintage Books, 2010

Sigmund Freud, Civilization and Its Discontents.  Trans. by David McLintock.  London: Penguin, 2002


Alan Hollinghurst, Swimming Pool Library.  London: Vintage, 2015

Audre Lorde Zami: A New Spelling of My Name. London: Penguin Modern Classics, 2018.


Orlando  (1993, dir. Sally Potter)

Looking for Langston (1989, dir. Isaac Julien)

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Assessment written exam 2
Lectures 22
Seminars 11
Independent study hours
Independent study 165

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Ben Nichols Unit coordinator
Jacqueline Stacey Unit coordinator

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