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The University of Southampton

ENGL1090 Theory & Criticism

Module Overview

The module asks big questions. What do we do when we interpret literature and culture, and how can we analyse our practices of interpretation? Can anything be a text, and if so what do we understand by ‘literature’? How does literature shape our identity, and does our identity shape how we read literature? Thinking about how we think about a text is dizzying but exhilarating, and crucial to the art and practice of reading and criticism. This module will introduce you to a range of thinkers who are fascinated by these questions, and encourage you to develop answers of your own. You will encounter a variety of theoretical approaches, and consider their insights and limitations. By doing so, you will develop the intellectual tools necessary to make sophisticated arguments, and discover the pleasure of becoming a self-reflexive reader and writer and a theoretically-engaged critical thinker.

Aims and Objectives

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

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

  • • The history and ideological contexts of various literary and critical approaches
  • • The key theoretical and analytical issues raised by the study of text
  • • The ways in which literary and critical theories can be applied to other disciplines and fields
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • • Evaluate and contrast critical positions and their implications for literary and cultural studies;
  • • Engage closely with a critical essay, analysing its argument, implications, and rhetorical style
  • • Articulate your critical understanding of complex ideas


This module poses crucial questions about the production, meaning and reception of literature. These questions arise from both ‘literary’ and ‘non-literary’ texts, and the syllabus will examine some of the ways in which they have been addressed by critics and theorists from a diverse range of intellectual traditions. The essays you will read will lay the groundwork for studying texts throughout your degree. Through reading these essays closely and with care, you will familiarise yourself with the critical and conceptual work that has been most important in addressing these basic questions of literary study. Topics and questions for this module might include: What is an author? What is a book? Do we mean what we say? Can texts mean anything we want them to mean? What is the relationship between texts and the ‘real world’? Seminar discussion will prompt wider questions, such as: Who is a human? What is an animal? What are feelings? What is art? Do we have agency over our lives? Topics you might study to answer them may include: class, history, the body, the psyche, race, postcolonialism, sexuality, desire, the commodity, and value.

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 presentations, close readings, and writing exercises; • Individual meetings with a tutor upon request (available twice weekly in office hours, or at other times to be arranged), especially to discuss written work before and after it is submitted. Learning activities include: • Individual reading of critical essays and further independent research; • Seminars that include short presentations, group work, and collaborative discussions; • Formative written analyses of theoretical texts, and the writing of essays. This module includes a Learning Support Hour. This is a flexible weekly contact hour, designed to support and respond to the particular cohort taking the module from year to year. This hour will include (but not be limited to) activities such as language, theory and research skills classes; group work supervisions; assignment preparation and essay writing guidance; assignment consultations; feedback and feed-forward sessions.

Preparation for scheduled sessions50
Wider reading or practice18
Completion of assessment task50
Follow-up work10
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

The Norton Anthology of Theory & Criticism. 



Reading task


MethodPercentage contribution
Critical commentary  (1000 words) 40%
Essay  (2000 words) 60%


MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (2000 words) 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External


Costs associated with this module

Students are responsible for meeting the cost of essential textbooks, and of producing such essays, assignments, laboratory reports and dissertations as are required to fulfil the academic requirements for each programme of study.

In addition to this, students registered for this module typically also have to pay for:

Books and Stationery equipment

Costs for this module will not exceed £50

Please also ensure you read the section on additional costs in the University’s Fees, Charges and Expenses Regulations in the University Calendar available at

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