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"Reading" the American Body


Key information

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Module description

The body provides an ideal “way in” (or indeed, “way out”) to thinking about the ways in which subjectivity, history, narrative, and identity, function in American culture. In this module, each week we will take as our point of departure specific cultural constructions of the body, and we will look at the ways in which these cultural texts reveal and/or obfuscate embodied experiences, and the ways in which these experiences are implicated within American culture more broadly. This module takes an interdisciplinary approach and examines a range of cultural texts, including literature, film, television, advertisements, music, and will work to contextualize each week’s text(s) in terms of cultural history, and investigate these texts using a variety of theoretical approaches.

Assessment details

1 x 1000 word commentary (15%) and 1 x 3000 word essay (85%)

Educational aims & objectives

This module will provide students with a number of methodological and theoretical approaches to understanding how the body intersects with language, identity, history, performance, narrative, and its relation to US culture and nationhood. By the end of the module, students will understand a variety of corporeal discourses, and will be able to analyses cultural depictions of the body. Students will discuss the ways the body has been imagined, represented, and theorized in contemporary culture, and will develop critical and theoretical thinking. The critical commentary will improve close reading of textual and/or visual forms; the essay will develop communication skills; the presentation will hone oral communication.

Learning outcomes


  • Articulate key issues pertaining to the body in American culture, such as race, gender, sexuality, and citizenship.
  • Examine key scholarly discussions of the body in American culture, such as performativity, biopolitics, intersectionality, and the gaze.
  • Contextualise contemporary American culture within a wider social, political and economic framework, both national and transnational.
  • Communicate reading and research effectively, through seminar presentations and discussion
  • Develop and sustain an argument, drawing on appropriate resources.
  • Analyse literary, historical, and cultural texts within an interdisciplinary framework


Teaching pattern

One 2-hour seminar, weekly

Subject areas