Study Abroad and Exchanges



SOC2082 : Politics of the Arts (Inactive)

Semester 1 Credit Value: 20
ECTS Credits: 10.0


This module will introduce students to social science perspectives on the arts (broadly defined to include painting, film, photography, theatre, literature, etc). It will highlight the social production of art and the extent to which the arts can reflect and contribute to social and political transformation.

Some of the cases we will discuss in greater detail will include: social documentary photography in the United States in the 1930s; the arts and the Bolshevik revolution; the contributions of Czech and German artists to the political upheaval of 1989; street art from around the globe; AIDS cultural activists in the US and Europe; the participatory arts of the El Sistema orchestra program in Venezuela; the rise of arts movements such as hip hop and Impressionism; and the way in which the arts helped bear witness to the events of 9/11.

Outline Of Syllabus

The module begins by exploring how sociologists conceive of the arts-what makes something an art form as opposed to another kind of cultural creation; how, as an example, do we differentiate between the arts and crafts; or between the visual and performing arts? It then investigates the social and political context of artistic creation: the production and distribution of art are socially produced through chains of social cooperation and social coordination and they are also embedded within particular cultural fields with their own sets of rules, norms and forms of cultural valuation. We will explore the extent to which distinct arts movements evolve over time with specific attention on oppositional arts movements that challenge existing cultural fields. The module will detail the way in which the arts are intrinsically connected to the wider market economy and how the cultural work and livelihoods of artists is shaped by material, political and moral concerns.

The last half of the module will be devoted to the question of a “transformative arts”-the extent to which the arts may be enlisted on behalf of egalitarian and emancipatory objectives. In this section, we will draw on historical case studies from the UK, USA, South Africa, South America and Europe with specific attention on the following themes: how the arts are instrumental in depicting social change and upheaval and bearing witness to social suffering; how the arts can prefigure social change by galvanizing social and political mobilization; and how wider participation in the arts may act to create a democratic culture and cultural commons.

Teaching Methods

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesLecture122:0024:00N/A
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion801:0080:00N/A
Guided Independent StudyDirected research and reading701:0070:00N/A
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesSmall group teaching81:008:00N/A
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesWorkshops72:0014:00Field trips, guest speakers, documentary films, presentations
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesDrop-in/surgery22:004:00N/A
Teaching Rationale And Relationship

The combination of lectures and seminars is suitable to offering an in-depth understanding of the topics covered in the module.

Assessment Methods

The format of resits will be determined by the Board of Examiners

Other Assessment
Description Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Essay1M251000 words
Essay1M75Independent project 3000 words
Assessment Rationale And Relationship

The essay will ask students to evaluate a specific form of the arts (a novel, work of public art, photograph) that will enable them to engage with a key debate discussed in the module.- The independent project should give students a wide ranging opportunity to broaden their critical understanding of the arts and will be very helpful training for students embarking on a dissertation the following year.

Reading Lists