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FRE4017 : From Surrealism to Street Art: Visions of the City in French

  • 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 role played by cultural production in the construction and experience of cities in the modern and contemporary French context. Through engagement with key theories and material practices, the module will provide students with an understanding of social, cultural and political debates on, and interventions in, cities from the early twentieth century to today. 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 invites students to question the role of textual and visual practices in constructing and deconstructing the social, cultural and spatial landscape,how such practices invest the cityscape with cultural meaning, as well as potentially challenge economic and political models for its understanding.

The module aims therefore:
1 To provide an understanding of contemporary debates around the city and their historical context;
2 To encourage students to examine the constructed nature of urban environments, and to engage critically with the commonsense notion of ‘place’.
3 To enhance students’ theoretical knowledge of important theoretical debates in French urban thought, through, through examination of discourses and counter-discourses produced by urbanists, artists, architects and inhabitants.
4 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.
5. 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

In this module, students will explore how cities have been understood, designed, experienced and contested in French culture from the early twentieth century to today. They will engage with questions of urban design and power, community and public space, global, and everyday mobilities. We will respond to these questions through encounters with a range of sources — from literature, travel writing, and architectural drawings to photography, painting, and street art. In lectures and seminars, students will deploy these literary and artistic practices — from Surrealism to Street Art — as springboards to consider how people co-exist within, remake, and re-create the cityscape, how they invest it with meaning, as well as potentially challenge normative or governmental ways of managing and producing urban places.
The opening sessions of the module, ‘Mapping’, considers how we might approach the modern city, major theoretical debates around what ‘the city’ is, and what it ought to be. The remainder of the module is organized into three two-week blocks which treat of 1) Surrealism 2) Situationism and 3) Graff and Street Art. To explore the significance of these spatial and artistic practices, we will draw on a range of primary sources, including works from a selection of the following writers, architects, and visual artists: Le Corbusier (architect); Louis Aragon (poet/writer); Raoul Vaneigem (architect); Henri Lefebvre (urban philosopher); Georges Perec (writer); Joy Sorman (novelist); JR (photograffeur); Guillaume Bresson (painter); Laurent Kronental (photographer); les féminicides (graffiti writers); and Lek & Sowat (graffiti writers).

Teaching Methods

Module leaders are revising this content in light of the Covid 19 restrictions.
Revised and approved detail information will be available by 17 August.

Assessment Methods

Module leaders are revising this content in light of the Covid 19 restrictions.
Revised and approved detail information will be available by 17 August.

Reading Lists