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SEL3390 : The Literature of Capitalism

  • Offered for Year: 2020/21
  • Module Leader(s): Dr Robbie McLaughlan
  • Teaching Assistant: Dr Sadek Kessous
  • Owning School: English Lit, Language & Linguistics
  • Teaching Location: Newcastle City Campus
Semester 1 Credit Value: 20
ECTS Credits: 10.0


The module aims to introduce students to a range of writing on the developmental history of Capitalism in a way which:

1. Investigates the relationship between Capitalism and Literature from after the Second World War to the contemporary moment;

2. Explores how Capitalism has developed in its various territorial, ideological and psychological forms;

3. Evaluates the relationship between Capitalism and the culture that it produces;

4. Situates writing on Capitalism within its socio-historical and ideological contexts;

5. Encourages a theoretical approach to the cultural output of the period.

Outline Of Syllabus

This module examines the developmental history of Capitalism and the related points of intersection between ideology, power and violence in Anglophone literature produced from the second half of the twentieth century to the contemporary moment. These three critical concerns (ideology, power and violence) underpin the module and structure the reading syllabus, with the seminar reading being clustered around each of the terms.

The module will begin by tracing the historical roots of Capitalist society, from its moment of conception, through its various revolutions, in order to understand the contemporary iteration of it as the primary organisational system in today's interconnected/globalised world. We will consider how, post-1945, Capitalism was engaged in an ideological war with Marxist political philosophy and how the collapse of the Soviet Empire signaled what Francis Fukuyama has called 'the End of History'. Furthermore, we will turn to the psychoanalytic work of Sigmund Freud, to map the subtle shift that occurs in this mid-twentieth century moment as Capitalism begins to shape the external and internal realities of citizens. Through the reading on the module, we examine how the logic of Capitalism becomes internalised within the mindset of those who live under its injunctions and we will investigate whether it is possible to live beyond its ideological reach today. We will ask who benefits with Capitalist culture as documented in culture and who suffers under it.

Primary texts may include Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1962), Joan Didion's Play It As It Lays (1970), Martin Amis' Money (1984), J.M. Coetzee's Disgrace (1999), Jhumpa Lahiri The Namesake (2003), Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche's Americanah (2012).

This module will be underpinned by the work of Wendy Brown and her book Undoing the Demos (2017), and we will read short extracts from her seminal study of late capitalism, alongside other short theoretical work concerned with the mapping of the intersection between culture, ideological and financial systems. We will also read the work of Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, David Harvey, Karl Marx, Nancy Fraser, Judith Butler, Frantz Fanon, Sigmund Freud, R.D. Laing, bell hooks, Edward Said, Fredric Jameson, Hannah Arendt, Michel Foucault, Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela, Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer, Louis Althusser and Slavoj ?i?ek.

Teaching Methods

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion140:0040:00N/A
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesLecture121:0012:00N/A
Guided Independent StudyDirected research and reading180:0080:00N/A
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesSmall group teaching122:0024:00N/A
Guided Independent StudyStudent-led group activity121:0012:00N/A
Guided Independent StudyIndependent study132:0032:00N/A
Teaching Rationale And Relationship

The lectures will introduce the key concepts and terminology of the module. The lectures will perform the role of being a 'reading' of the relevant material in line with central theoretical concerns of the module, while simultaneously providing socio-historical context. This will provide those undertaking the course with a weekly template on possible ways to frame their writing in preparation for assessment.

The module will be underpinned by the work of several key thinkers who write on the historical development of Empire. We will spend the first part of the two-hour seminar discussing set secondary material and how it relates both to the relevant text, but also to the themes of the entire module. This will provide an opportunity to fully interrogate the secondary material and to further develop a theoretical language relevant for assessment.

Student-led study groups will be used to allow further discussion and research of the ideas governing the module. Groups will be assigned a relevant topic to discuss and research, individuals will then be asked to provide a short summary of the work undertaken to the rest of the class. This will provide both a springboard to discussion but also a further opportunity to become familiarised with the concepts and terminology required for assessment.

Assessment Methods

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

Other Assessment
Description Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Reflective log1A10400 words
Essay1A903600 words
Assessment Rationale And Relationship

The end-of-module assessment will ask students to write a comparative essay on texts that feature on the course.

The reflective log will ask students to reflect and articulate the ways in which they have engaged with the central themes of the module.

Offering a mix of modes of assessments (comparative/contextual analysis and a piece of reflective writing) and ensuring good coverage of the texts on the module, the assessment will focus students upon detailed aspects of the material in terms that connect their ideas with the module’s broader thematic content.

Reading Lists