Module Catalogue 2024/25

FIN3044 : The Social Turn (Inactive)

FIN3044 : The Social Turn (Inactive)

  • Inactive for Year: 2024/25
  • Module Leader(s): Dr Harry Weeks
  • Owning School: Arts & Cultures
  • Teaching Location: Newcastle City Campus

Your programme is made up of credits, the total differs on programme to programme.

Semester 1 Credit Value: 20
ECTS Credits: 10.0
European Credit Transfer System

Modules you must have done previously to study this module

Code Title
FIN1013Art Histories I
FIN1014Art Histories II
Pre Requisite Comment

Students should have successfully completed stage 1 Art History modules and one stage 2 Art History module.


Modules you need to take at the same time

Co Requisite Comment



Art historian Claire Bishop suggested that contemporary art underwent a 'social turn' in the 1990s; a turn that comprised a privileging of participation and public engagement with and within art practice. However, although participation has certainly become a major concern of contemporary art practice and theory, it is by no means a novel concern. Indeed, Bishop has acknowledged that: ‘This idea of considering the work of art as a potential trigger for participation is hardly new - think of Happenings, Fluxus instructions, 1970s performance art and Joseph Beuys's declaration that “everyone is an artist”.’ Therefore, taking as a starting point the ‘dematerialisation’ of art proposed by Lucy Lippard and John Chandler in the late-60s, this course expands upon and elaborates this history of socially engaged art since the mid-twentieth century, contextualising contemporary participatory art within a lineage of politicised, socially engaged practice passing through Situationism, feminist performance, Institutional Critique, and community arts. The course ultimately orients itself towards the drive towards democratisation that underpins a great deal of the participatory art of the past 50 years. The concept of democracy will be analysed from both art-historical and political perspectives – particularly considering the intersections between art and politics since the mid-20th century – as well as being discussed in light of sociological analyses of the demographics of the art field. Recalling Suzanne Lacy’s ruminations on the benefits of ‘leaving art’, we will consider to what extent democratisation is possible within the field of art, and at what point art and activism might converge.

The course is designed to introduce students to the particular demands that socially engaged art and other dematerialised practices present to the art historian or theorist. Students will be encouraged to integrate sociology, political and critical theory into their research, echoing the sociological and political implications of art’s entry into the realm of the social.

Outline Of Syllabus

The course is structured thematically and semi-chronologically, beginning with discussions of conceptual art in the 1960s through the lens of dematerialisation and working towards the most recent developments in participatory art, most notably the rise of ‘useful art’ in the 2010s. The final four weeks step outside of this semi-chronology in order to examine broader issues of pertinence to socially engaged practice: documentation, institutional contexts, sociologies of art, and culminating with an analysis of the impulse towards the democratisation of art.Throughout the course we will also consider some broader issues pertinent to socially engaged practice, including their documentation, their institutionalisation, and questions of representation and inequality. We will conclude by considering socially engaged practices in the contexts of theories of democracy.

The syllabus consciously introduces the oft-overlooked Community Arts Movement into what might be seen as an emerging canon of social engagement in contemporary art, in doing so raising the spectre of class as crucial to considerations of art’s attempts at democratisation. Case studies are drawn from a broad geographical spread, however we will be attendant to the Western biases implicit within contemporary art, despite its claims to globality.

The course will be structured around the following themes:

•       Dematerialisation
•       Situation and Site
•       Audience and Presence
•       Community
•       Dialogue and Collaboration
•       Relational Aesthetics
•       Ethics and Antagonism
•       Use
•       Democratisation

Learning Outcomes

Intended Knowledge Outcomes

On completion of The Social Turn, students should have knowledge of:

•       Theories and practices relating to art’s social turn
•       Key developments in socially engaged art over the 20th and 21st centuries
•       The political and theoretical underpinnings of socially engaged practices, including feminism, Marxism and communitarianism, as well as their critiques
•       How socially engaged art relates to other developments in modern and contemporary art, including performance, minimalism and the documentary
•       Key developments in the sociology of art, and the broader social and political contexts of art’s social turn

Intended Skill Outcomes

On completion of The Social Turn, students should have developed skills in:

•       Presenting information and ideas in a clear and engaging manner
•       Researching in an independent, intelligent and sound manner
•       Interdisciplinary research and learning, and how it might benefit the practice of art history
•       Discussion in an online group context
•       Engaging critically with the social and institutional contexts of art production
•       Critically analysing artist-audience relationships
•       Critical engagement with texts
•       Dealing with works of art that resist established art-historical methods of analysis through their social, ephemeral and conceptual form

Teaching Methods

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Structured Guided LearningLecture materials111:0011:00Online lecture materials
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesLecture111:0011:00In person lectures
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion150:0050:0010 hours for Formative Assessment 40 hours for Summative Assessment
Guided Independent StudyDirected research and reading113:0033:00Lecture and seminar preparation
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesSmall group teaching111:0011:00In person seminars
Structured Guided LearningStructured non-synchronous discussion111:0011:00Online asynchronous seminar enhancement
Guided Independent StudyIndependent study173:0073:00Independent Study
Jointly Taught With
Code Title
FIN2044The Social Turn
Teaching Rationale And Relationship

The module will revolve around weekly lecture materials, delivered both in person (1-hr per week) and online (1-hr per week) via ReCAP. These will be supplemented by in-person seminars and asynchronous structured learning activities in order to foster group discussion and analysis.

Lectures: to allow definition of the scope of the syllabus, an introduction to a body of knowledge, and modelling of the level and nature of the analysis required.

Online lecture materials shared via ReCAP (including pre-recorded interviews, artist moving image work): to allow definition of the scope of the syllabus, an introduction to a body of knowledge, and modelling of the level and nature of the analysis required. These are broken down into smaller sections for ease of online digestion.

Seminars: to encourage interaction and the development of cognitive and key skills; to allow preparation and presentation of directed research on specific issues and case studies.

Asynchronous structured learning activities: to develop essay writing skills, close reading skills, visual analysis, and better encourage interaction between peers in their analysis and discussion of the course content.

Reading Lists

Assessment Methods

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

Other Assessment
Description Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Essay1A1002500 words
Formative Assessments

Formative Assessment is an assessment which develops your skills in being assessed, allows for you to receive feedback, and prepares you for being assessed. However, it does not count to your final mark.

Description Semester When Set Comment
Case study1M500-word analysis of single work/project
Assessment Rationale And Relationship

The essay affords the student the opportunity to conduct academic research into a topic relating to the course, from a selection of questions set by the course organiser. These questions will be oriented towards encouraging students to engage closely with the practices studied on the course. This assessment will be supported by discussions during seminars.

The Case Study Analysis allows the student to practice close analysis of one work or project, something often missing from art-historical treatments of socially engaged practice. This assessment is designed to encourage independent study and foster in-depth research. It is also an opportunity for the student to hone in on a case study that they feel particularly drawn to. The case study analysis offers the chance to hone writing and analytical skills in advance of the essay in a formative and less pressurised context. The formative nature of the assessment will permit fast feedback, allowing the case study analysis to really feed into the summative essay.


Past Exam Papers

General Notes


Welcome to Newcastle University Module Catalogue

This is where you will be able to find all key information about modules on your programme of study. It will help you make an informed decision on the options available to you within your programme.

You may have some queries about the modules available to you. Your school office will be able to signpost you to someone who will support you with any queries.


The information contained within the Module Catalogue relates to the 2024 academic year.

In accordance with University Terms and Conditions, the University makes all reasonable efforts to deliver the modules as described.

Modules may be amended on an annual basis to take account of changing staff expertise, developments in the discipline, the requirements of external bodies and partners, and student feedback. Module information for the 2025/26 entry will be published here in early-April 2025. Queries about information in the Module Catalogue should in the first instance be addressed to your School Office.