Skip to main content Skip to navigation

EN2B6/EN3B6 Literary and Cultural Theory

Dr Caitlin Vandertop (

Virtual office hours (on Microsoft Teams): Monday 12:00-13:00; Thursday 12:00-13:00; or by appointment

Dr Andrew Stones (

Lectures: Wednesday 10:00-11:00, H5.45 Humanities

Seminars: Thursday 10:00-11:00, 11:00-12:00

This is a Pathway Requirement for the Theory Pathway and one of the Distributional Requirements for the English Pathway. Can also be selected as an option under the remaining Pathways.


This module is intended as an introduction to the contemporary academic field of critical theory. Because the field as it is currently constituted is too large and heterogeneous to admit of a formal survey within the constraints of a two-term syllabus, the readings for the module have been clustered around certain nodal issues or debates. The aim of the module is to familiarise students with the general contours and parameters of contemporary critical theory, and to introduce students to key concepts, methods, debates, and controversies in the field.

As a domain of academic specialisation, critical theory is today relatively autonomous of literary or cultural production in the narrow sense. However, the work examined in the module will have decided applicability to literary and cultural texts. Yet this is not a module in ‘literary criticism’. Instead, it might be said to provide a basis – epistemological, methodological, institutional – for the study of cultural (and social) texts in general.


The module has been designed to create competence in the disciplinary sub-field of critical theory. ‘Competence’ in this context will take the form of an ability to situate specific ideas, methods, and schools accurately within the wider theoretical field, to discern what is at stake in specific debates, and what conceptual consequences follow from the elaboration of specific positions or arguments. The module will therefore also nurture critical reading and writing skills: specifically, emphasis will be placed on argument, counter-argument, the plausible mobilisation of evidence, rhetorical cogency and rigour, the internal consistency of exposition.


Intermediate years:
2 x 2,500-word essays
1 x 2 hour group-specific examination

2 x 3,000-word essays
1 x 2 hour group-specific examination

The assessed essays each count for 25% of the final mark (total 50%); the exam counts for the remaining 50%.

Note: The readings are to be found on the module webpage. Please purchase Foucault’s Discipline and Punish in addition to the online materials. Seminars start in week two.

Syllabus for 2018-19

Term I

Week 1: Introduction

Week 2:

Immanuel Kant, ‘What Is Enlightenment?’

Michel Foucault, ‘What Is Enlightenment?’ The Foucault Reader, ed. Paul Rabinow, trans. Catherine Porter (New York: Pantheon Books, 1984): 32-50.

Week 3:

Jürgen Habermas, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society, trans. Thomas Burger (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1993): 1-56.

Week 4:

Karl Marx, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, Vol. 1, trans. Ben Fowkes (London: Penguin, 1990): 125-87.

David Harvey, A Companion to Marx’s Capital (London: Verso, 2010): 1-53.

Week 5:

Georg Lukács, ‘The Phenomenon of Reification’, Part I of ‘Reification and the Consciousness of the Proletariat’. History and Class Consciousness: Studies in Marxist Dialectics, trans. Rodney Livingstone (London: Merlin, 1968): 83-110.

Naomi Klein, No Logo (London: Flamingo, 2000): 1-26.

Week 6: Reading Week – NO CLASS

Week 7:

Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, ‘Bourgeois and Proletarians’. Manifesto of the Communist Party.

David Harvey, Chs. 15-17 of ‘The Experience of Space and Time’, Pt. III of The Condition of Postmodernity: An Enquiry into the Origins of Cultural Change (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1989): 240-307.

Week 8:

Walter Benjamin, ‘The Work of Art in the Age of its Technical Reproducibility (Second Version)’. The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility, and Other Writings on Media, ed. Michael W. Jennings, Brigid Doherty, and Thomas Y. Levin, trans. Edmund Jephcott and Harry Zohn (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2008): 19-55.

Week 9:

Walter Benjamin, ‘On the Concept of History’. Selected Writings Vol. 4: 1938-1940, ed. Howard Eiland and Michael W. Jennings, trans. Harry Zohn (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2003): 389-400.

Week 10:

Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: the Birth of the Prison, trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: Vintage, 1979): 3-31; 135-69; 170-94; 195-228.

Term II

Week 1:
E.P. Thompson, 'Time, Work-Discipline, and Industrial Capitalism'. Past and Present 38 (1967): 56-97.

Karl Marx, 'The Working Day'. Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, Vol. 1, trans. Ben Fowkes (London: Penguin, 1990): 340-417.

Week 2:

Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno, ‘The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception.’ Dialectic of Enlightenment: Philosophical Fragments, trans. Edmund Jephcott (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2002): 94-136.

Theodor W. Adorno, ‘Free time’. The Culture Industry: Selected Essays on Mass Culture, ed. J.M. Bernstein (London: Routledge, 1991): 187-97.

Week 3:

David Graeber, Bullshit Jobs: A Theory (London: Penguin, 2018): 'Preface'; Ch. 6, 'Why Do We as a Society Not Object to the Growth of Pointless Employment?': xv-xxvii; 193-244.

Melissa Gregg, ‘Introduction’. Work’s Intimacy (Cambridge: Polity, 2011): 1-19.

Frigga Haug, ‘The Four-in-One Perspective: A Manifesto for a More Just Life’. Socialism and Democracy 23.1 (2009): 119-23.

Week 4:

Hélène Cixous, ‘Coming to Writing’. Coming to Writing and Other Essays, ed. Deborah Jenson (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1991): 1-58.

Week 5:

Fredric Jameson, ‘Culture and Finance Capital’. Critical Inquiry 24.1 (1997): 246-265.

Week 6: Reading Week – NO CLASS

Week 7:

Judith Butler, ‘Introduction: Precarious Life, Grievable Life’. Frames of War: When Is Life Grievable? (London and New York: Verso, 2009): 1-32.

Rob Nixon, ‘Introduction’. Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2011): 1-44.

Week 8:

Kate Soper, ‘Nature and Sexual Politics’. What is Nature? (Oxford: Blackwell, 1995): 119-48.

Jason W. Moore, 'Introduction: The Double Internality: History as if Nature Matters'. Capitalism in the Web of Life: Ecology and the Accumulation of Capital (London and New York: Verso, 2015): 1-30.

Week 9:

Mike Davis, 'Who Will Build the Ark?' New Left Review 61 (2010): 29-46.

Ursula K. Heise, ‘From the Blue Planet to Google Earth: Environmentalism, Ecocriticism, and the Imagination of the Global’. Sense of Place and Sense of Planet: The Environmental Imagination of the Global (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008): 17-67.

Week 10:

Wang Hui (and Shu Wei), ‘A Dialogue on The Rise of Modern Chinese Thought: Liberating the Object and an Inquiry into the Modern’, trans. Tani Barlow. Positions 20.1 (2012): 287-306.

1st assessed essay questions, 2019-20

Readings, 2018-19

Term 2

thompson, time work-discipline

marx, the working day

adorno, free time & culture industry

graeber, bullshit jobs

gregg, work's intimacy

haug, four-in-one manifesto

cixous, coming to writing

jameson, finance capital

butler, frames of war

nixon, slow violence

soper, nature and sexual politics

moore, the double internality

davis, who will build the ark

heise, sense of place

wang hui, dialogue

Term 1

kant, what is enlightenment?

foucault, what is enlightenment?

habermas, structural transformation, 1-56

marx, capital v. 1, chapters 1 & 2

harvey, companion to capital, 1-53

lukacs, history & class consciousness; klein, no logo

marx & engels, communist manifesto

harvey,condition of postmodernity, 240-307

benjamin, work of art essay

benjamin, on the concept of history

buck-morss, aesthetics and anaesthetics

Lectures, 2018-19

lecture, week 2, kant & foucault

powerpoint, week 2, kant & foucault

lecture, week 3, habermas

powerpoint, week 3, habermas

lecture, week 4, marx, capital

powerpoint, week 4, marx, capital

lecture, week 5, lukács & klein

powerpoint, week 5, lukács & klein

lecture, week 7, marx&engels

powerpoint, week 7, marx&engels

lecture, week 8, benjamin, work of art

powerpoint, week 8, benjamin, work of art

lecture, week 9, benjamin, on the concept of history

powerpoint, week 9, benjamin, on the concept of history

lecture, week 10, foucault, discipline and punish

powerpoint, week 10, foucault, discpline and punish

lecture, term 2, week 1, marx and thompson

powerpoint, term 2, week 1, marx and thompson

lecture, term 2, week 2, adorno

powerpoint, term 2, week 2, adorno

lecture, term 2, week 3, haug, gregg, graeber

powerpoint, term 2, week 3, haug, gregg, graeber

lecture, term 2, week 4, cixous

powerpoint, term 2, week 4, cixous

lecture, term 2, week 5, jameson

powerpoint, term 2, week 5, jameson

lecture, term 2, week 7, butler and nixon

powerpoint, term 2, week 7, butler and nixon

lecture, term 2, week 8, moore

powerpoint, term 2, week 8, moore

powerpoint, term 2, week 8, soper

lecture, term 2, week 9, heise and davis

powerpoint, term 2, week 9, heise and davis

lecture, term 2, week 10, wang

powerpoint, term 2, week 10, wang

Secondary readings

benjamin, secondary readings

Lectures, 2019-20

powerpoint, week 8, term 2

powerpoint, week 7, term 2

powerpoint, week 5, term 2

powerpoint, week 4, term 2