SLL40230 Introduction to Cultural Theory

Academic Year 2023/2024

“Culture” is one of the most central, and yet one of the most contested terms in the modern world. This module will offer a critical introduction to the study of culture, incorporating both historical and contemporary perspectives from cultural theory. Taking an interdisciplinary approach, it will point to the relationship between culture and its narratives, showing how different theories of culture play a role in human self-definition. What is the relationship of the human to culture? Who “owns” culture? In examining this topic within an MA programme in continental languages, this module will pay particular attention to the critique of culture as well as to notions of counter-culture, subculture, and cross-culture in different media and in a range of contexts. Aimed at postgraduate students of modern languages, literatures and linguistics as well as welcoming students from other disciplinary backgrounds, the module will reflect on what we really mean when we talk about culture. What notion of otherness and of “the other culture” are in force? How do we know what we are speaking about when culture is presupposed as a common reference point? How do we write about the other and how do we “know” the other culture? This module will look at extracts as well as longer writings by a range of authors who have tried to criticize, define, or contest the meaning of culture.

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Curricular information is subject to change

Learning Outcomes:

Postgraduate students taking this module should develop an awareness that culture is not a given, fixed, and stable entity; This will be reflected on successful completion of the module in an ability to identify differing understanding of culture in shorter texts and longer extracts taught over the twelve weeks. Secondly, those who have completed the module successfully will demonstrate critical awareness of the subject matter in written form. The assessment essay will also reflect a developing ability to integrate existing research and to write in a suitable register and with accuracy. Continuous assessment during the semester will take the form of a presentation. For this, you will be expected to present on the material related to a given week, to show careful engagement with and analysis of the material, and your presentation should also provide questions which stimulate discussion in class. Therefore, you will have practiced good communicative skills, as well as continuing to develop independent research ability.
Varyingly during the semester, and depending on class numbers, participants will have taken turns to lead some sessions, guiding discussion by identifying key questions that emerge. Learning outcomes, overall, will centre on the ability to think critically and analytically about the subject matter; engage productively with secondary sources; show good control of argument as well as the ability to synthesise information.

Indicative Module Content:

Normally, we will focus each week on a different essay, article or extract by a different thinker. In certain weeks, the same author and/or material may be discussed over two weeks. Examples include:

- Bernhard Waldenfels, "Thresholds of Attention" - how do we encounter not just culture, but anything we perceive? How do we
'relate' to it? How do screens and other media affect this?
- Bernhard Waldenfels, "Between Cultures" . Interculturality and re-thinking the notions of 'self' and 'other'.
- J. McGregor Wise, "Home: Territory and Identity".
- Judith Butler, Extracts from: "Jewishness and the Critique of Zionism", Introduction and Chapter One.
- Sigmund Freud, "Mourning and Melancholia" (extract).
- Byung-Chul Han, "The Burnout Society" (extract), and "The Transparency Society" (extract).

Student Effort Hours: 
Student Effort Type Hours
Specified Learning Activities


Autonomous Student Learning


Seminar (or Webinar)




Approaches to Teaching and Learning:
This module follows the seminar-format; it will centre on the close reading and discussion of the texts. In order to facilitate discussion, study questions will be made available on Brightspace in advance. In some weeks, students may take it in turns to prepare the discussion by introducing the material and responding to it. In other weeks, (depending on class-size), there may be a presentation. (For further information on how this seminar-style relates to Learning Outcomes for the module, please see the 'Learning Outcomes' section.) 
Requirements, Exclusions and Recommendations

Not applicable to this module.

Module Requisites and Incompatibles
Not applicable to this module.
Assessment Strategy  
Description Timing Open Book Exam Component Scale Must Pass Component % of Final Grade
Essay: 4,000 word essay Varies over the Trimester n/a Standard conversion grade scale 40% No


Presentation: You are required to present on a text or topic corresponding to the material under discussion in a given week. Your presentation should incorporate questions that will facilitate class discussion. Varies over the Trimester n/a Standard conversion grade scale 40% No


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

• Feedback individually to students, on an activity or draft prior to summative assessment
• Feedback individually to students, post-assessment
• Self-assessment activities

How will my Feedback be Delivered?

As a trimester one module, advice on your assessment should be of help to you with further academic writing, and so you are encouraged to seek feedback advice on your work. Also, as you select an essay topic and prepare, you are welcome to discuss your ideas or any questions that may arise.

Introduction to Cultural Theory (SLL 40230) Dr Jeanne Riou

Alain Badiou, Pierre Bourdieu, Judith Butler, George Didi-Huberman, Sadri Khiari, Jacques Rancière, What is a People. Introduction by Bruno Bosteels, Conclusion by Kevin Olson, Columbia U.P.: New York, 2016.

Wendy Brown, Walled States, Waning Sovereignty, Cambridge, Zone Books: New York 2017 (= 2nd, revised edition. First published in 2010).

Judith Butler, Parting Ways. Jewishness and the Critique of Zionism, (Columbia U.P.: New York, 2012).

Sigmund Freud, The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Volume XIV (1914-1916): On the History of the Psycho-Analytic Movement, Papers on Metapsychology and Other Works, Translated by James Strachey in collaboration with Anna Freud, Hogarth Press: London 1963 (=11957). (The text we will be reading is “Mourning and Melancholia”).

David Frisby / Mike Featherstone, Simmel on Culture, Sage: London 1997.

Paul Gilroy, “The Crisis of ‘Race’ and Raciology”, in: The Cultural Studies Reader, Routledge: London, 1993.
pp. 265-280.

Byung-Chul Han, The Transparency Society, trans. by Frank Butler, Stanford University Press, Stanford 2015 (Orig. German 2012)

Kirsten Jacobsen, A developed nature: a phenomenological account
of the experience of home, in, Continental Philosophy Review, (2009) 42: 355–373
DOI 10.1007/s11007-009-9113-1

J. Macgregor Wise, (2000) “Home: Territory and Identity”, in Cultural
Studies, 14:2, 295-310
DOI: 10.1080/095023800334896

Herbert Marcuse, One dimensional Man. Studies in the ideology of advanced Industrial society, Routledge: London, 1991. First published in 1964.

Juhani Pallasmaa, “Identity, Intimacy and Domicile: Notes on the phenomenology of home”, in: N. D. Benjamin (Ed.), The Home; Words, Interpretations, Meanings and Environments, Aldershot: Avebury, 1995, pp. 131-147

Georg Simmel, The Metropolis and the Life of the Mind, (in Frisby, Featherstone: Simmel on Culture).

Georg Simmel, “Sociology of Competition“, translated by Horst. J. Helle, in: Canadian Journal of Sociology / Cahiers Canadiens de Sociologie 33 (4) 2008, pp. 945-978.

Bernhard Waldenfels, The Question of the Other, The Chinese University Press: Hong Kong, 2004.

Bernhard Waldenfels, Phenomenology of the Alien. Basic Concepts, trans. by Alexander Kozin and Tanja Stähler, Northwestern U.P.: Illinois, 2011. (Orig. German: Grundmotive einer Phänomenologie des Fremden, 2006).

Recommendations for Wider Reading:

From: Simon During (ed), The Cultural Studies Reader, Routledge: London, 1993.

Michel Foucault, “Space, Power and Knowledge”, pp. 164-172.
Paul Gilroy, “The Crisis of ‘Race’ and Raciology”, pp. 265-280.
Antonio Gramsci, “The Organisation of Education and Culture”, pp. 45-59.
Bruno Latour, “War of the Worlds”, pp. 304-314.
Edward Said, “Traveling Theory Reconsidered”, pp. 241-252.
Dick Hebdige, “The Function of Subculture”, pp. 441-450.
Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of its Technological Reproduction”, pp. 59-81.
Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer, “The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception”, pp. 405-415.

Jeanne Riou, “Haunting in Freud's 'Trauer und Melancholie' and 'Totem und Taboo''. Germanistik in Irland, 8 (2013) :43-56.
—— Anthropology of Connection. Perception and its Emotional Undertones in German Philosophical Discourse from 1880-1930, Königshausen & Neumann: Würzburg, 2014.

Jeanne Riou / Mary Gallagher (eds), Re-thinking Ressentiment – on the Limits of Criticism and the Limits of its Critics, transcript Verlag & Columbia UP: Bielefeld, New York, 2016

Name Role
Dr Siobhan Donovan Lecturer / Co-Lecturer
Timetabling information is displayed only for guidance purposes, relates to the current Academic Year only and is subject to change.
Lecture Offering 1 Week(s) - Autumn: All Weeks Fri 13:00 - 14:50