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2017/18 Undergraduate Module Catalogue

ENGL3384 ExtraOrdinary Bodies: Disability, Medicine and Normalcy in Contemporary Literatures

20 creditsClass Size: 20

For full module descriptions of our level 2 and 3 undergraduate modules (including details of preparatory reading, texts for purchase and required unassessed work) please see the Undergraduate Module Handbook in the English Organisation on the VLE.

Visiting and Exchange Students must read this information before selecting modules.

Module manager: Dr Clare Barker

Taught: Semester 2 View Timetable

Year running 2017/18

Pre-requisite qualifications

Please note: this module is restricted to Level 3 students on BA programmes with English and visiting students.

This module is mutually exclusive with

ENGL3383ExtraOrdinary Bodies Health, Medicine and Normalcy in Contem

Module replaces


This module is not approved as a discovery module


This module explores representations of the ‘extraordinary’ body in global contemporary fictions. The focus will be on physical disability but we will also consider how other bodies are perceived to be 'extraordinary'. We will interrogate the categories we use to define human identities, asking: What is ‘normal’, and where does it come from? How useful are labels such as ‘disabled’, ‘healthy’, ‘transgender’, or ‘masculine’? Is human variety a product of biology or culture? What are the connections between medical and everyday understandings of health and embodiment? How does writing attempt to capture embodied experience, and in what ways does it shape our understanding of the human body?

Over the course of the module we will consider issues such as: constructions of freakery; discrimination and stigma; biopolitics and bodily surveillance; display and performativity; medical science and bioethics. We will explore the different ‘texts’ and ‘locations’ in which the body and its health is constructed, defined and represented. All of the books on the module engage with medical narratives (textbooks, medical records, diagnostic criteria) and spaces (the hospital, clinic, examination table, laboratory, sick bed, support group, petridish). Many of them also engage critically with journalism and the transformation of ‘extraordinary’ bodies into sensational headlines (the last text on the module is itself a work of investigative journalism).

Alongside our questioning of the politics of bodily representations, there will be a close focus on literary form and aesthetics: how do genre, style, and narrative voice reinforce or disrupt medical understandings of ‘extraordinary’ bodies? How do aesthetic techniques and devices provoke understanding, empathy or stigma?

To contextualise their readings of literature, students will be encouraged to explore representations of the body in popular contemporary forms, including news media, magazine images, film, Youtube and TV. This will be supported by online resources, and relates directly to part of the module assessment.
Critical and theoretical reading will also be supplied each week on the VLE to support our textual discussions, and will involve a firm grounding in disability theory along with introductions to related fields such as medical humanities.

Learning outcomes
Learning Outcomes (by the end of the module students should be able to...):
1) Effectively analyse representations of the body in a range of contemporary literatures.
2) Critically apply knowledge of relevant theoretical concepts to the study of health and embodiment.
3) Demonstrate sensitive engagement with the identity politics of disability, gender, race and sexuality in relation to the body.
4) Relate various constructions of ‘normal’ and ‘extraordinary’ embodiment to their historical, medical and cultural contexts.
5) Effectively analyse the aesthetic dimensions of literary representations of the body.

Skills outcomes (by the end of the module students will develop skills in...):
1) Effective communication (oral and written, including IT skills).
2) Advanced critical analysis of a range of discourses, genres and texts.
3) Critical engagement with contemporary media and popular cultural forms, and the ability to transfer academic and theoretical knowledge from literary writing to ‘everyday’ texts.
4) Independent research; developing, organising and managing an individual project.
5) Negotiating and debating sensitive issues with diplomacy, empathy, and confidence.


The module will focus on representations of bodies and people perceived to be non-normative, engaging with physical disability, chronic illness and the medicalised body, intersex, and bodies 'immortalised' in the era of cell cultures and genetic research. Over the course of the module we will consider issues such as: constructions of freakery; discrimination and stigma; biopolitics and bodily surveillance; display and performativity; medical science and bioethics. We will explore the different ‘texts’ and ‘locations’ in which the body and its health is constructed, defined and represented, with a particular focus on medical authority and on popular media constructions of extraordinary bodies. Through weekly secondary reading in critical and cultural theory, students will receive a grounding in disability theory and related fields such as medical humanities.

Teaching methods

Delivery typeNumberLength hoursStudent hours
Private study hours185.00
Total Contact hours15.00
Total hours (100hr per 10 credits)200.00

Private study

Teaching will be through weekly seminars (10 x 1 hour) plus up to 5 additional hours (content to be determined by the module tutor). The 5 additional hours may include lecture, plenary sessions, film showings, or the return of unassessed/assessed essays.

Private Study: Reading, seminar preparation, essay writing.

Opportunities for Formative Feedback

- Attendance at seminars
- Feedback on 1st assessed essay.

Methods of assessment

Assessment typeNotes% of formal assessment
Essay2,750 words - on set texts anda topic of the student's choice.66.70
Essay1,700 words - cultural commentary linking the module's concepts and theoretical frameworks to an element of contemporary culture.33.30
Total percentage (Assessment Coursework)100.00

Normally resits will be assessed by the same methodology as the first attempt, unless otherwise stated

Reading list

The reading list is available from the Library website

Last updated: 26/04/2017


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