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Second Assessed Essay: Analysing Culture through Genre

“Genres are essentially contracts between a writer and his readers” (Fredric Jameson)

Genres offer “a conceptual framework for the mediation (if not the ‘solution’) of intractable problems” and render “such problems intelligible” (Michael McKeon)


Both Fredric Jameson and Michael McKeon draw our attention to the cultural and material origins of genre. That is, they show us that the reason genres develop and become meaningful or popular is because they are social: they are created socially and are socially and politically important.

For this assessment, you will write an essay on genre by comparing one work from the syllabus with one of your own choosing. The two works should be from the same genre (e.g. two graphic novels, two concept albums, two plays that could be considered "theatre of the absurd," two sonnets, two photographs, two films, two videos, etc. etc.). Your essay should make an argument for the importance of the particular genre or subgenre of your chosen works. What is the significance of the (sub)generic form of the works? What social problems does it address or attempt to provide a 'solution' to and how does it mediate these problems? Why was this particular (sub)genre employed at this particular historical moment? What are the politics of this (sub)genre?

Whilst you can make a claim about a broad genre like “the novel” or “poetry” more broadly, you will likely find it easier to zoom in a bit more. For instance, through your comparative readings, you might consider why graphic novels become so popular in the 2000ss; or you might consider why a much older poetic form like the sonnet gets taken up by more contemporary poets; or you might consider what other kinds of theatre is being responded to in “theatre of the absurd” and why.

You will be able to draw on the theoretical texts from this module to help you with your argument, but you should also do some independent research to support your claims. At the minimum, we would expect to see 3-4 peer-reviewed scholarly texts not on the module.

This library moodle on how to research a genreLink opens in a new window will be useful in getting you started.

What we’re looking for are sharply perceptive, concisely written and well developed analyses that open up and illuminate the texts being read and the concepts and ideas being discussed. On what to avoid, the following are a few frequently used markers’ comments on essays and exams:

- ‘Overly descriptive’: essay is essentially a paraphrase or exposition of the text rather than an analysis

- ‘Obvious’: concludes what is already apparent or easily recognizable in a passage or question

- ‘Impressionistic’: records writer’s immediate or personal responses to a passage or question without conceptually developing these responses into a sustained analysis

- ‘Generalised’: essay stays at an abstract and macro-level throughout, often including unsupported assertions)