The University of Southampton

ENGL1003 Critical Theory

Module Overview

How do we make sense of how we make sense of a text? If literature doesn’t necessarily mean what it says or say what it means, then what do we do when we analyse a text? And what does gender have to do with it? Or history? Or politics? Thinking about how we think about a text is crucial to reading and interpretation. Exploring different critical approaches to texts provides us with a greater awareness of what is at stake in the uses of theory in literary studies, and equips us with the intellectual tools necessary to shape sophisticated arguments.

Aims and Objectives

Module Aims

• To introduce you to some of the key theoretical debates and significant critical positions in English literary studies. • To give you a language for questioning what you might have easily taken for granted about literature – such as what is representation? how does language work? • To familiarise you with the most significant approaches to literary studies: these include Marxism, Feminism, Postmodernism, Postcolonialism and Poststructuralism. • To enable you to develop a more confident language for reading this critical material and understanding its terms, implications and significance.

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

Having successfully completed this module, you will be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of:

  • The significant questions of literary studies – what is an author? What is a text? In what ways is literary studies either political or philosophical? How and why do we read at all?
  • The broad theoretical and political debates that have structured literary studies and a sense of the various ‘schools’ of thought they have given rise to. You will also be equipped with a wider understanding of the political and historical context of these critical essays
  • An awareness of how such critical material has, and can, be applied to specific and individual literary texts in order to improve our understanding of them
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Apply a range of abstract questions to individual critical texts in order to evaluate and contrast their relevance and effectiveness.
  • Contribute to and organise class discussions and assist in devising specific class activities.
  • Meaningfully engage with abstract literary questions, around politics, authorship, knowledge and representation.
Subject Specific Intellectual and Research Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Engage closely with a critical essay, analysing its argument, implications and rhetorical style.
  • Evaluate and contrast a number of critical positions and their implications for literary and cultural studies.
  • Analyse a literary text, and make reference to a critical position as you do so.
  • Explicitly consider the implicit questions and assumptions that literary scholars work with.


This module aims to pose crucial questions about the production, meaning and reception of texts. These questions arise from both ‘literary’ and ‘non-literary’ texts, and we will examine some of the ways in which they have been addressed by critics and theorists selected from a range of periods, though the focus is mainly on 20th-century and recent statements. The module lays the groundwork for studying particular texts later in your undergraduate career. Its purpose is to familiarise you with some of the critical and theoretical work that has been most important in addressing these basic problems in literary study. Thinkers to be examined include: Ferdinand De Saussure, Sigmund Freud, Karl Marx, Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, Edward Said, Jean Baudrillard, and Judith Butler.

Special Features

By developing your critical and theoretical skills, as well as your skills at oral presentation, this module will enhance your employability by teaching you how to apply your skills as critics of literature in a number of other contexts. It will develop your skills at written argumentation, oral presentation, and teach you both how to lead seminar discussions and work with your peers in groups.

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching methods include • Lectures which construct historical outlines, and introduce theoretical positions, issues and problems • Seminars that include a student presentation that establishes a number of lines of inquiry • Individual discussion with tutor upon request (available twice weekly in office hours, or at other times to be arranged), especially of written work before and after it is submitted. Learning activities include • Individual reading and class preparation, of critical essays and further independent research • Seminars that include a range of activities, including individual analysis of small passages, collective group work and large class discussion • assessed collaborative seminar presentations

Completion of assessment task68
Wider reading or practice32
Preparation for scheduled sessions120
Follow-up work16
Total study time300

Resources & Reading list

Vincent B. Leitch et al (2001). Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 

Jeremy Hawthorn et al (2001). Studying Literature. 


Assessment Strategy

Summative assessments Assessments designed to provide informal, on-module feedback • discussing draft and research plan for long essay • working with small groups preparing their oral presentations • essay feedback in one-on-one tutorials Relationship between the teaching, learning and assessment methods and the planned learning outcomes The lectures provide you with a broad framework for reading specific theoretical positions, they elucidate their role in a general debates and also suggest further directions and possibilities for study. The discussion and group work in seminars provide you with an opportunity to work collectively on the problems outlined in the lecture and allow you to rehearse problems and share developments. This will allow you to develop your own ideas in a supportive environment and grow your confidence in using a new and often difficult vocabulary before you have to deploy it in your written work. The seminars will also include an explicit attention to the various forms of assessment: preparing you for your critical commentary in the first few weeks of the module and then for the two day assignment in the last.


MethodPercentage contribution
Critical commentary  (1000 words) 25%
Group presentation 25%
Written assignment 50%


MethodPercentage contribution
Critical commentary  (1000 words) 25%
Presentation 25%
Written assignment 50%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

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