FR40400 Thinking Things

Academic Year 2021/2022

The nature and status of material things has been a central preoccupation of modern French culture and this module explores the way in which the world of objects has been described and analyzed by a number of French writers and theorists in the second half of the twentieth century. The primary materials for study are: Francis Ponge, 'Le Parti pris des choses'; Alain Robbe-Grillet, ‘Les Gommes’; Roland Barthes, 'Mythologies'; Jean Baudrillard, 'Le Système des objets'; Georges Perec, 'Les Choses'; Simone de Beauvoir, ‘Les Belles Images’. The key questions raised by these works concern the relations between people, objects and words or images: are objects simply made and used by human beings or do they have an agency and a will of their own? How can people and objects and the relationships between them be represented through words and images? Are words and images objects in their own right? Primary materials are studied in the original and a reading knowledge of French is essential. Please note that this is a level-four/Masters/MA/postgraduate module designed for students who have already completed a prior undergraduate programme (typically BA).

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Curricular information is subject to change

Learning Outcomes:

On completion of this module, students should be able to: - analyze and engage in critical discussion of the nature and status of the object in postwar French culture; - analyze and discuss the set texts in relation to their medium of expression and in relation to the problematic of the object; - relate the set texts to a broader historical and intellectual context.

Indicative Module Content:

Set Works:

Francis Ponge, Le Parti pris des choses (1942)
Alain Robbe-Grillet, Les Gommes (1953)
Roland Barthes, Mythologies (1957)
Georges Perec, Les Choses: histoire des années soixante (1965)
Simone de Beauvoir, Les Belles Images (1966)
Jean Baudrillard, Le Système des objets (1968)

Indicative General Bibliography:

Barthes, Roland, Mythologies (Paris: Seuil, 1957).
Baudrillard, Jean, Le Système des objets (Paris: Gallimard, 1968).
Bennett, Jane, Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2009).
Brown, Bill, ‘Thing Theory’, in Critical Inquiry, 28: 1 (2001), 1–22.
Connor, Steven, ‘Thinking Things’, in Textual Practice, 24: 1 (2010), 1–20.
Latour, Bruno, Nous n’avons jamais été modernes: essai d’anthropologie symétrique (Paris: La Découverte, 1991).
____________, ‘From Realpolitik to Dingpolitik, or How to Make Things Public’, in Bruno Latour and Peter Weibel (eds), Making Things Public: Atmospheres of Democracy (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2005), pp. 14–41.
____________, Petites leçons de sociologie des sciences (1993; Paris: La Découverte, 2006)
Marx, Karl, ‘The Fetishism of Commodities and the Secret Thereof’, in Robert C. Tucker (ed.), The Marx-Engels Reader (1972; New York: Norton, 1978), pp. 319–29.
Pietz, William, ‘The Problem of the Fetish I’, in Res, 9 (1985), 5–17.
______________, ‘The Problem of the Fetish II’, in Res, 13 (1987), 23–47.
______________, ‘The Problem of the Fetish IIIa’, in Res, 16 (1988), 105–23.
Ross, Kristin, Fast Cars, Clean Bodies: Decolonization and the Reordering of French Culture (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1995).
Sheringham, Michael, Everyday Life: Theories and Practices from Surrealism to the Present (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), pp. 248–91.

Student Effort Hours: 
Student Effort Type Hours


Seminar (or Webinar)


Specified Learning Activities


Autonomous Student Learning




Approaches to Teaching and Learning:
Weekly seminar work supported by lectures. Lectures will introduce key concepts and problems. Seminars will take the form of student discussion based on readings (set texts plus additional online materials) prepared in advance. Precise mode of delivery (online/blended/face-to-face) will depend on public health guidelines in operation when the module is taught. 
Requirements, Exclusions and Recommendations

Not applicable to this module.

Module Requisites and Incompatibles
FR30270 - Thinking Things

Additional Information:
Please note that this is a level-four/Masters/MA/postgraduate module designed for students who have already completed a prior undergraduate programme (typically BA).

Assessment Strategy  
Description Timing Open Book Exam Component Scale Must Pass Component % of Final Grade
Essay: Mid-term analytic essay (2500 words) Unspecified n/a Graded No


Essay: End-of-term analytic essay (2500 words). Coursework (End of Trimester) n/a Graded No


Carry forward of passed components
Resit In Terminal Exam
Spring No
Please see Student Jargon Buster for more information about remediation types and timing. 
Feedback Strategy/Strategies

• Feedback individually to students, post-assessment

How will my Feedback be Delivered?

Feedback will be provided individually to students following grading of the mid-term and end-of-term essays.

Name Role
Assoc Professor Síofra Pierse Lecturer / Co-Lecturer