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Cultural and Critical Studies (MA)


Course Description

This interdisciplinary course offers you the rare opportunity to study contemporary critical and cultural debates across a wide range of fields. Exploring a variety of different visual, textual and spatial forms of culture, and their diverse theorisations, the course will particularly appeal to those with wide-ranging interests in the arts and humanities, as well as those interested in cutting-edge theoretical debates.

Modules are taught by expert staff from a number of different disciplines, giving you the chance to follow particular themes in the areas that most interest you. Recent work by staff in Cultural and Critical Studies includes books and articles on new media, urban theory, gender, contemporary art and aesthetics, Victorian criminality, China, visual culture, architecture, post-colonialism and critical theory.

Course content

The course consists of two main core modules, Capitalism and Culture, and Problems and Perspectives in Cultural Studies. These establish a framework for the close analysis of the locations, products and systems of culture. The dissertation of 10-12,000 words, which can be written on an appropriate topic of your choice, and the Research Methods module are also core modules. There is also an optional work placement module.

You are encouraged to attend the research seminars in the Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities, at which visiting speakers, creative practitioners and teaching staff present their current work.

Core modules

- Capitalism and Culture
Beginning with Marx's famous account of the commodity in the first chapter of Capital, this module explores a range of theoretical accounts of capitalism and examines their significance to the analysis of different cultural forms, including film, literature, and the contemporary visual arts. In doing so, you will consider changing conceptions of 'culture' itself, and its varying relations to ideas of art, modernity, production, the mass, autonomy, spectacle, and the culture industry. Key theorists you will study include Theodor Adorno, Jean Baudrillard, Walter Benjamin, Guy Debord, Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, Fredric Jameson, and Antonio Negri.

- Dissertation
This extended piece of research work is an opportunity for you to pursue a topic of individual interest, and is conducted through individual study and directed supervision. The module also includes preparation of a detailed research proposal.

- Problems and Perspectives in Cultural Studies
This module provides you with a critical introduction to contemporary cultural studies through analysis of the major approaches underlying the interdisciplinary, cross-cultural study of society. It is built around readings of the most influential theorists in the field, and key themes you will cover include: class and ethnicity in cultural studies; discourse and practice in cultural studies; gender, media and aesthetics; performance, ritual and representation in the language of culture; place, identity and voice; and shifting identities in the public spheres of multi-culturalist, transnationalist and global movements. The module concludes with an examination of the possibilities of 'decolonising' cultural studies from its traditional Eurocentric perspectives.

- Research Methods: Knowledge, Cultural Memory, Archives and Research
This introduction to research methods engages with the critical implications of knowledge in the humanities, through interdisciplinary approaches to literature, visual, material, and spatial cultures, as they are understood, interpreted, and mobilised. Highlighting questions raised by discourse on epistemology, memory, archives, and research itself, the module concentrates on the complex links between: organic and technical forms of memory; public and private cultural institutions of knowledge, memory and identity; and informationgathering, retrieval, and analysis.

Option modules

Choose four from:
- Creative Digital Technology
Taught by a leading internet artist, this module examines how digital technology is shaping new possibilities for the arts and for culture. In particular it addresses how new creative concerns and forms have emerged, how the old spaces of culture are being challenged and new spaces are arising, and how digital technology offers new ways of working with communities, audiences and participants. You will explore the critical discourse that has developed around digital technology and culture, and consider the changing role of digital technology within cultural institutions and the different forms of outputs that cultural institutions work with (eg gallery exhibitions, electronic publications, internet works).

- Interpreting Spaces
You will examine the way that various forms of space are used, and how they are represented visually, from architectural spaces, urban spaces, public and private spaces, inhabited and non-inhabited spaces to virtual spaces. Key themes include the construction and use of public space, the colonisation and political use of space, the psychogeography of public space, and art commissioning for public spaces. Theorists and artists you will study include Marc Aug?, Gaston Bachelard, Victor Burgin, Sophie Calle, Buckminster Fuller, Elizabeth Grosz, Henri Lefebvre and Doreen Massey. The module includes a range of site visits, field trips and talks by visiting artists.

- Reading Contemporary Culture
This module examines the idea of British literary culture since the 1990s. Beginning with Carlyle, the notion of literature as an 'industry' has been resisted by a strong tradition of cultural criticism in Britain. This module discusses what happened to this tradition, whether it still exists, and what may have replaced it. By focusing particularly on the relationships between writing and film, and writing and the visual arts, the module investigates the state and status of literary writing during this period. Authors studied include A. S. Byatt, Sarah Kane, Zadie Smith, Sarah Waters and Irvine Welsh.

- Reading the Nation
Through this module you will explore ways in which texts can be contextualised and discussed in terms of the concepts and practices of nationalism, and of attempts to understand the nation as a discursive practice. You will address a variety of texts and relate these to theoretical concepts such as nationalism, decolonisation, colonialism and post-colonialism. You will consider how such concepts intersect with issues concerning gender, race and social class. Authors studied include: Howard Brenton, David Hare, Kazuo Ishiguro, and Michael Ondaatje; you will also consider a range of influential theorists, including Benedict Anderson, Homi Bhabha, Michel Foucault and Edward Said.

- Representing World Cultures
This module examines changing visual representations of world cultures in a range of contexts ? specifically, leading London Museums and galleries, and their associated websites, programmes and publications. You will look at the role of curators, designers, educators and other workers, and their contributions to the way that cultures are represented. You will also consider post-colonialism and the issues surrounding the representation of non-western cultures in contemporary western institutions. Key issues explored include: artists' interventions in museums and galleries; collecting the contemporary world; presenting religions; representations of Africa and Asia in London collections; the physical museum space as a cultural document; and visitors as citizens and consumers.

- Sexuality and Narrative
Focusing on the period from the end of the 19th century to the beginning of the 21st century, you will examine a range of cultural, literary, artistic and theoretical perspectives on sexuality, in order to investigate the complex relationship between sexuality and narrative. Assessing and comparing a diverse range of theoretical writings on sexuality, the module considers the history and development of these distinct but related narratives and discourses. Key authors, artists and theorists studied include Georges Bataille, Judith Butler, Jeffrey Eugenides, Michel Foucault, Sigmund Freud, Michael Haneke, Michel Houellebecq, Adrienne Rich and Oscar Wilde.

- Urban Cultures
Using a range of theoretical, historical, literary, cinematic, visual and other cultural texts, you will explore the idea of urban culture as it has developed since the mid-19th century. The module considers a variety of different representations of the city, and the ways in which they understand the specificity of urban experience itself. You will also explore the changing global forms and interrelations of 'western' and 'non-western' urban forms. Key authors, artists and theorists studied include Walter Benjamin, Rem Koolhaas, Fritz Lang, Henri Lefebvre, Georg Simmel, Iain Sinclair, the Surrealists and Dziga Vertov.

Associated careers

The course is intended to give you sophisticated critical skills and a widely applicable knowledge of contemporary culture. This enables further study at MPhil or PhD levels, but is also particularly relevant to a range of professions in the media, creative and cultural industries.

Employability

At Westminster, we have always believed that your University experience should be designed to enhance your professional life. Today’s organisations need graduates with both good degrees and employability skills, and we are committed to enhancing your graduate employability by ensuring that career development skills are embedded in all courses.

Opportunities for part-time work, placements and work-related learning activities are widely available, and can provide you with extra cash and help you to demonstrate that you have the skills employers are looking for. In London there is a plentiful supply of part-time work – most students at the University of Westminster work part time (or full time during vacations) to help support their studies.

We continue to widen and strengthen our links with employers, involving them in curriculum design and encouraging their participation in other aspects of career education and guidance. Staff take into account the latest data on labour market trends and employers’ requirements to continually improve the service delivered to students.

Visit the Cultural and Critical Studies (MA) page on the University of Westminster website for more details!

Entry Requirements

You are normally required to have a good first degree or equivalent in a relevant subject. If your first language is not English, you will need an IELTS score of 6.5 or equivalent. The University offers pre-sessional summer programmes if you need to improve your English before starting your course.

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