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6ABLCF03 Making the Personal Political: Women and Autobiography from Analogue to Digital


Module convenor: Dr Clara Bradbury-Rance
Credits: 15
Pre-requisites: none
Teaching pattern: 10 x 2-hour seminars

Module description:

The academic study of life-writing has often privileged male narratives of the self. Diaries, letters and memoirs have become part of a gendered canon in the philosophical study of humanity and subjectivity. Paradoxically, women’s autobiographical works are routinely dismissed as too personal to be of relevance to a general audience. While autobiographical works written by men are read as important contributions to knowledge about the human, those by women are frequently read as frivolous, echoing other gendered inconsistencies in the perception of “male” and “female” genres by intellectual commentators. In tandem with primary texts, the integration of theoretical secondary readings will encourage students to consider how feminist theory has offered radical approaches to the study of the self.

This module will explore the development of women’s autobiography through different media forms over the course of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries in the UK and USA. This exploration will highlight the cultural, social and technological shifts that have enabled new avenues of creation and distribution for women whose voices have been doubly marginalised by inequalities of race, class, sexuality or gender identity. The move from analogue to digital media in the production and dissemination of autobiographical material will be understood in relation to questions of ephemerality, longevity and value. From diaries to political essays, memoirs, photographs, graphic novels, web series, films, blogs and music videos, the texts studied on this interdisciplinary module will illuminate the gendering of “seriousness” in the study of culture and the sustained relevance of the relationship between the personal and the political.

Module aims:

This module aims to:

  • Introduce students to a range of autobiographical material (such as political essays, memoirs, photographs, graphic novels, web series, films, blogs and music videos) written or produced by women from the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries
  • Encourage students to reflect on the inequalities inherent in canon formation and pay attention to under-recognised or under-valued cultural forms and subjects
  • Give students the skills to critically interrogate personal artworks in a way that is attentive to political mechanisms as well as cultural form
  • Highlight the technological, social and political questions that characterise the study of contemporary culture 

Learning outcomes:

By the end of this module, students will:              

  • Demonstrate critical engagement with and understanding of a range of autobiographical texts (such as political essays, memoirs, photographs, graphic novels, web series, films, blogs and music videos) across different media
  • Engage with theoretical material that interrogates questions of gender, autobiography, seriousness and value (personal, political or scholarly)
  • Develop skills in reading primary and secondary material attentively and thoughtfully
  • Participate effectively in group discussion
  • Communicate ideas clearly and persuasively in a sustained piece of critical writing 

Core reading: 

  • Kate Millett, Sexual Politics (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1969)
  • Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (London: Virago, 1969)
  • Alison Bechdel, Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic (London: Jonathan Cape, 2006)
  • Sadie Bening, dir. Me and Rubyfruit (video, 1989)
  • Issa Rae, The Mis-Adventures of Awkward Black Girl (web series, 2011-2013)
  • Maggie Nelson, The Argonauts (London: Melville House, 2015)
  • Sara Ahmed, Living a Feminist Life (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2017)
  • Lena Dunham, Tiny Furniture (film, 2010)
  • Beyoncé Knowles, Lemonade (visual album, 2014)
  • Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own (London: Penguin, 2004 [1928]) 



  • Weekly journal entries (Mahara), prepared in advance of seminars, that respond to readings and form the basis of class discussion


  • 1 x 4000 word essay (85%)
  • Participation mark to be based on completion of journal entries and contribution to seminar discussions (15%) 

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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