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FRE4017 : From Surrealism to Street Art: Theories and Practices of the City

  • Offered for Year: 2020/21
  • Module Leader(s): Dr Gillian Jein
  • Owning School: Modern Languages
  • Teaching Location: Newcastle City Campus
Semester 1 Credit Value: 20
ECTS Credits: 10.0


In keeping with the overall aims of the degrees offered in the SML, this module aims to build on skills gained at Stages 1 and 2, and to provide students with an in-depth knowledge of the interrelationships between cities and cultural production in French. Through engagement with key theories and cultural practices, the module will provide students with an understanding of the social and cultural significance of cities from the early twentieth century to the contemporary period. The module encourages students to reflect on the agency of various actors —architects, planners, artists and residents — in processes of urban construction, deconstruction and regeneration. It deploys literary and artistic practices as a springboard, and invites students to consider how people might remake and re-create the given social, cultural and spatial landscape (cityscape), invest it with cultural meaning, as well as potentially challenge economic and political models for its understanding.

The module aims therefore:
- to provide an understanding of contemporary debates around the city and their historical context;
- to enhance students theoretical knowledge, through examination of key urban discourses and counter-discourses.
- to prepare students for postgraduate study by developing cross-disciplinary knowledge through the use of core themes that permit engagement with anthropological, ecological, historical, geo-political as well as cultural approaches to urban place.
- to develop students disciplinary and linguistic expertise in French by engaging with a range of cultural media – from travel writing, fiction, visual culture and situational art forms — that promote linguistic knowledge in the areas of urbanism and regeneration, geopolitics, ethnography, visual cultural studies and environmentalism.

Outline Of Syllabus

This module provides an interdisciplinary study of ways in which the city has been understood and culturally represented in French theory and practice. It will draw on a variety of sources — from literature, travel writing, and architectural plans to photography, painting, and street art — spanning from the early twentieth to the twenty-first century.

The initial section of the module, ‘Mapping’, introduces the broad contours of French approaches to the emergence of the modern city, major theoretical debates, and changing terminologies surrounding ideas of what the city is and what it ought to be. The remainder of the module is organised along four thematic strands, which will include a selection from the following — Mobility; Memory; the Everyday; Margins; Discipline; and Ecology. In the exploration of these themes, we will combine reading of a key theoretical text alongside study of cultural practices. These will include a selection of works from the following writers, architects, artists and photographers: Le Corbusier; Louis Aragon; Raoul Vaneigem; Henri Lefebvre; Georges Perec; Félix Guattari; Joy Sorman; JR; Guillaume Bresson; Laurent Kronental; William Gaye; Lek & Sowat; Alain Willaume; and Olivier Darné.The intention is to broaden and deepen students' understanding of urban culture and its contexts through analysis of cultural texts that engage with urgent issues in the development, accessibility and sustainability of urban lifeworlds.

Teaching Methods

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesLecture102:0020:00Students will have 2 hours of lectures per week
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesSmall group teaching112:0022:00Students will have 2 hours of seminars per week, taught in small groups
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesDrop-in/surgery31:003:00Student drop-in during scheduled hours to discuss feedback on work,future assignments &any questions
Guided Independent StudyIndependent study1155:00155:00Various activities
Teaching Rationale And Relationship

This module aims to provide students with an in-depth knowledge of issues in French urban cultures. Given its inherent complexity, study of the city invites interdisciplinary methodologies. In order to equip students with the necessary interdisciplinary skills, the module’s primary corpus is designed to meet the requisite Knowledge Outcomes (LO1–4 above) by enabling students to engage with texts from a range of fields including urban anthropology, architecture, planning policy and resistive manifestos, as well as to apply theories from these fields to analysis of a variety of urban cultural production such as buildings, urban farms, travel writing, photography, graffiti and street art.

Lectures will provide students with introductions to debates and discourses around urbanism and their historical context – including the Athens Charter (1931); Grands Ensembles; Situationism; Everyday Life; The Right to the City; Creative Geographies; Marginalisation; Urban Ecologies; Regeneration and Grand Paris (LO1) — and provide core historical and critical timelines for the contextualisation of reading to be carried out during private study. Lectures will assume knowledge of set reading. These lectures will also give students the opportunity to take notes effectively in French in lectures, from journals and secondary material (LO5), while demonstrating the use of textual and visual evidence in the support of coherent arguments (LO6).

Small group seminars will entail the discussion of the students’ prepared notes comprising their responses to weekly set reading/image that corresponds to lecture themes. Seminars will provide a space for students to share and develop their ideas through debate and peer-to-peer feedback on these notes. These seminars will be student-led to facilitate active participation in:
- Developing critical and analytical skills, learning to construct coherent arguments and to use textual and visual evidence to support them, and testing these in the supportive space of the small learning environment (LO6).

- Developing bibliographical and note taking skills, and developing review skills that will enable synthetic reflection on materials from which to construct coherent arguments (LO7).

- The teaching of theory alongside practices in urban culture will develop students’ facility for cross-reference across disciplines, and open out the range of perspectives to be considered when studying cultural production (LO8).

As seminars will require preparation and close reading of set texts/images, these sessions will enrich students’ critical and analytical skills through peer-to-peer and lecturer feedback, as well as through debate, mutual sharing of responses to texts, and testing the rigour of arguments in a supportive learning environment.

Assessment Methods

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

Description Length Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Oral Presentation151M20Presentation throughout the semester. A presentation in French to the seminar group of analysis of a set text/image.
Other Assessment
Description Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Essay1A80An essay of 3000 words in English, responding to one of a set of questions provided.
Formative Assessments
Description Semester When Set Comment
Essay1MStudents will write an essay introduction of approximately 500 words, accompanied by an overall plan of the essay.
Assessment Rationale And Relationship

The summative assessment is in two parts:
1. Oral presentation (in French) with visual aids (e.g. powerpoint and/or visual materials) (20%). Students must deliver a brief presentation (15 mins max) on a set piece of cultural production e.g. photograph, painting, street art, map, textual extract or building. The exercise is designed to test students’ oral presentation skills in French as well as their capacity to situate a cultural object in socio-historical context, to handle a variety of aesthetic and formal approaches to urban life through a detailed exploration of how the object responds to one or more of the themes covered in the course. They will be required to give feedback on each other’s presentations, and will also receive feedback from the module leader.

2. Essay of 3000 words (80%), in which students will be expected to apply theoretical models studied throughout the course to the study of set cultural objects, and in doing so to demonstrate understanding of the socio-historical context of the object’s production, theorise its response to course themes as appropriate, and engage critically with relevant academic sources.
Essay Questions will be designed to test the students' ability to respond key issues in French urban thought on the city (such as rationalism; everyday life; regeneration; memory; non-place; and marginalisation), and to demonstrate how these issues are expressed in cultural practices. They are expected to demonstrate links between their own analysis of these cultural objects and the broader concepts discussed in lectures. Students will be expected to have acquired a good knowledge of relevant scholarly writing as well as of the cultural objects themselves. This component of the assessment will also be in French and will allow students to demonstrate the ability to communicate ideas and arguments fluently and succinctly in French, and to develop the following skills: independent research, bibliographical work, planning and organizing, word-processing, footnoting and referencing.

Formative Assessment:
In addition, there will be a formative assessment. This will be set in the first half of the semester and will take the form of an extended essay introduction & essay outline. Students will have to reflect on the purpose of the introduction in setting out the hypothesis, key debates and in outlining the plan of the essay, which will be sketched in point form in the essay outline. Students will also provide feedback on a fellow classmate’s work. This exercise will help develop the following skills: critical review, developing and communicating an argument, planning and organising. Teamwork, interpersonal communication, and problem solving.

Reading Lists