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7ABA0010 Culture, Dissent and the Arab Spring

Credit value: 20 credits
Module convenor: Dr Sinead Murphy
Assessment: 1 x 4,500 word essay (100%) + 1 seminar presentation (non-assessed)
Teaching pattern: One two hour seminar weekly
Pre-requisites: None

Reassessment: Students are reassessed in the failed elements of assessment and by the same methods as the first attempt.

Module description

This module addresses the events of what came to be known as the ‘Arab Spring’, examining cultural works that emerged out of this period and placing them within a much broader historical context of dissent by Arab artists. In doing so, the module seeks to equally address both the events themselves as well as what preceded them in order to reach a nuanced understanding of resistance and upheaval in the Arab world. It is also concerned with the aftermath of revolution and what emerges in this period. As well as being attentive to this notion of a broad timeframe, the module will also interrogate the relationship between cultural works produced by Arab artists and intellectuals and a European/North American reading public, thinking in particular about how perceptions of the ‘Middle East’ inform (and often distort) this relationship.

The module will focus primarily on Egyptian literature and other art forms in international circulation, with some Palestinian, Syrian and Iraqi writers also included. Throughout, the module encourages students to look back at key 20th century moments of revolution and anti-colonial activity, in order to think about how the sentiments and motivations of this earlier period are recycled and reconfigured during the ‘Arab Spring’ and beyond. Students will read works by pioneering Egyptian intellectuals, such as Latifa al-Zayyat, Sonallah Ibrahim and Naguib Mahfouz, before moving on to examine contemporary works by a new generation of writers concerned with articulating dissent. Central to the module is an interest in questions of form. Therefore, diverse genres, including diary entries, reportage, the graphic novel, graffiti and film, will be considered alongside the novels studied in order to fully explore culture’s role in expressing dissent.

All work will be studied in English or English translation. No previous knowledge of Egyptian or Arab literature or culture is required.

Educational aims and objectives

Students will gain familiarity with a range of literary and cultural production from the Arab world. They will be able to situate this work within a longer political and cultural history, focusing particularly on its relationship to different notions of revolution. They will also engage with the changing political and cultural relations between the ‘Middle East’ and the ‘West’ during the last century and at the present time.

Learning outcomes

By the end of the module, students will be able to demonstrate intellectual, transferable and practicable skills appropriate to a Level 7 module and in particular will be able to:

  • offer in-depth critical analysis of a range of texts from and about the Arab world;
  • demonstrate extensive awareness of social and historical context for this literature;
  • compare, select and apply theories relating to literature and political resistance, human rights, Orientalism, and comparative/world literature, whilst also questioning this applicability and offering qualification and additional original points for consideration;
  • communicate effective research and original thought through well-structured and engaging seminar presentations;
  • develop an original research topic (with support from the tutor) and deliver a sustained piece of writing that is both aware of its field and offers new insights into the topics discussed.

Preparatory and core reading

Ideal preparation for this module would include the following reading:

  • Gilbert Achcar, The People Want: A Radical Exploration of the Arab Uprising (London: Saqi, 2013)

Books to buy or borrow:

  • Sonallah Ibrahim, That Smell and Notes from Prison
  • Naguib Mahfouz, The Day the Leader was Killed
  • Latifa al-Zayyat, The Open Door
  • Khaled Khalifa, In Praise of Hatred
  • Magdy El Shafee, Metro (note: many online copies come from the US)
  • Basma Abdel Aziz, The Queue

Additional core reading material will be provided on KEATS.

    The modules run in each academic year are subject to change in line with staff availability and student demand so there is no guarantee every module will run. Module descriptions and information may vary depending between years.


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