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EN2C8/3C8 Explorations in Critical Theory and Cultural Studies

This is a Pathway Approved Option for the Theory Pathway and an optional module for the English, American and World Literature Pathways.

2022-23: Dr Nicholas Lawrence ( and Dr Myka Tucker-Abramson (

Office hours: tba

2022-23 syllabus

2021-22 syllabus


ECTCS is designed to allow sustained and intensive engagement with selected themes of classic and contemporary critical theory. In 2022-23, we will examine the way two central features of neoliberal culture – work and sex – have presented themselves as deeply interrelated. A long-standing diagnosis of the crises of work under capitalism, encompassing theories of automation, digital labour and de-industrialisation, has been augmented recently by a renewed focus on questions of social reproduction, anti-work politics and post-work futures. Meanwhile, critical theory on questions of sex has taken a dystopian turn, responding to the rise of #MeToo, trans-exclusionary feminism, homophobic backlash and misogynistic violence, and turning against both commodified forms of ‘sex positivity’ and earlier celebratory visions of sexual liberation. Our goal will be to explore ways in which the convergence of capitalist crises around work and sex sheds light on the origins and future of each, while feeding urgent projects of envisioning and mapping alternatives to the status quo. In term 1, we’ll focus primarily on theory; in term 2, we’ll read a series of novels that explore aspects of neoliberal sexual culture in tandem with recent critical works. Authors include, among others, Karl Marx, Silvia Federici, Kathi Weeks, Kodwo Eshun, José Esteban Muñoz, Octavia Butler, Michaela Coel, Torrey Peters and Amia Srinivasan.


The module will be conducted as a combination of weekly joint lectures and discussion-based seminars, with the goal of clarifying, unpacking and critically examining what can be (yes!) quite difficult material. It’s crucial that participants come prepared to share their observations, insights, confusions, etc., in the spirit of collective learning and discovery.

Set texts (see syllabus for remaining readings)

Octavia Butler, Parable of the Sower (Headline, 2019 [1993])
Sheila Heti, How Should a Person Be? (Vintage, 2014)
Torry Peters, Detransition, Baby (Penguin, 2021)
Andrea Lawlor, Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl (Picador, 2020)
Elena Ferrante, The Lost Daughter, trans. Ann Goldstein (Europa Editions, 2008)
Mieko Kawakami, Breasts and Eggs, trans. Sam Bett and David Boyd (Picador, 2020)
Han Kang, The Vegetarian, trans. Deborah Smith (Portobello Books, 2015)


Intermediate years (Level 5): 2 x 2,500-word essays (80% assessed) + a podcast review (20% assessed)
Finalists (Level 6): 2 x 3,000-word essays (80% assessed) + a video presentation (20% assessed)