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2021/22 Undergraduate Module Catalogue

FREN3094 The Kaleidoscope: Cultural Perspectives on Contemporary France

20 creditsClass Size: 24

Module manager: Professor David Platten

Taught: Semester 1 (Sep to Jan) View Timetable

Year running 2021/22

Pre-requisite qualifications

Successful completion of Level 2 French or equivalent level of French, at discretion of the module leader.

Module replaces

FREN3480 Twentieth Century Literature & the Visual ArtsFREN3585 Camera LucidaFREN3840 The Sublime & the Abject in French LiteratureFREN3860 French Popular CultureFREN3835 Surrealism to Slam

This module is not approved as a discovery module

Module summary

This module explores the extent to which the creative arts have illuminated the social and political climate of contemporary France. Students are introduced to some of the most exciting works of recent times from the worlds of contemporary art (Sophie Calle, Histoires vraies, 1984-2018), the bande dessinée (Julie Maroh, Le bleu est une couleur chaude, 2010), the polemical novel (Leila Slimani, Chanson douce, 2016), rap music (Dante by Abd Al Malik, 2009) and television drama (Les Revenants, 2012).These works are studied firstly as outstanding artistic achievements in their own right, and secondly in terms of the insights they provide into the social and political turbulence of the contemporary era. We examine how they engage with interlocking, topical issues relating to secularism and religious freedoms, social and economic inequalities, terror and crime, and shifting attitudes towards sexuality and gender. Moreover we assess the challenge they pose to established notions of identity and selfhood. Common to each of these case studies is the overarching question of the extent to which the creative arts reflect, promote or effect social change.


The premise for this module is an exploration of contemporary French and Francophone society via various forms or modes of cultural expression: contemporary art; rap music, television drama; graphic texts or comics; and literary fiction. These are the objectives:
1. To undertake rigorous, research-driven analysis of different forms of cultural expression thereby acquiring a sure sense of the aesthetic qualities germane to each mode or genre;
2. To gauge the impact of these cultural products on contemporary French society through investigation of the contexts in which they were produced and consumed;
3. To demonstrate how the properties or characteristics of distinct genres or modes may shed light on hitherto undisclosed aspects of contemporary France thereby creating kaleidoscopic effects;
4. To demonstrate how ambitious creative endeavours can address both topical and universal questions pertaining to the human condition;
5. To raise awareness of the importance of the cultural sector in leading political, social and philosophical debate in contemporary France;
6. To provide students with opportunities to organise and lead discussion in accordance with what they determine to be key priorities.

Learning outcomes
1. Students will have engaged with dynamic works of art that challenge commonplace assumptions with regard to: citizenship and human rights; the place of religion in a secular society; sexual and gender identities; social inequality; postcolonial France; and the interface between art and reality.
2. Students will have been equipped with tools tailored to each genre or mode of expression, allowing them to critique the text or performance and explore connections with social and political phenomena, while at the same time affording them with sufficiently mature critical acumen to discuss and evaluate alternative, possibly conflicting interpretations of the material.
3. Students will have acquired confidence in developing critical readings sometimes with little recourse to directly related secondary material, using paradigms or theories that may be harvested from other academic fields;
4. Students will have acquired confidence in debating complex issues in the target language thereby enhancing their own linguistic resources;
5. Students will have had opportunities to design and deliver their own participatory seminars with guidance from their tutors;
6. Students will have acquired a panoramic, or ‘kaleidoscopic’ perspective on the cultural landscape of contemporary France, knowledge that will have helped them to build a deeper understanding of the relationship between culture and society in an advanced western democracy.

Skills outcomes
Intercultural Skills
Research Skills
Analytical Skills
Employability Skills


Given the breadth of the module, the teaching team have identified a corpus of primary material which will give it a solid foundation and ensure that the content is consistent year on year. The suitability of these exemplary works will be reviewed at the end of the first year the module runs, in the light of student feedback. However, unless there are clear and demonstrable issues with the material, it is not anticipated that there will be changes to the syllabus for at least three to five years. The primary material reflects the module objectives and learning outcomes; care has also been taken to select works that, from the perspective of gender, ethnicity, class and age, comprise a diverse yet inclusive syllabus. These set texts are exemplary works that range across different forms of cultural expression, They are likely to include:

- Sophie Calle, Histoires vraies (1984-2018) - an engagement with self-prtraiture, selfie culture and storytelling;
- Julie Maroh, Le bleu est une couleur chaude (2010) - a graphic novel giving an exquisite portrait of sexual awakening in adolescence which is the narrative template for La vie d'Adèle (dir Abdelatif Kechiche, 2013), a film adaptation which was awarded the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival;
- Leila Slimani, Chanson douce (2016), a prize-winning novel based on a true story which, in the guise of an existential thriller, offers a critical perspective on aspects of gender and social class in contemporary urban society;
- Abd al Malik, Dante (2009) - a rap album of lyrical depth and musical inventiveness performed by an artist of French-Congolese heritage who has also published hybrid literary texts treating the role of Islam in secular France, social exclusion in the suburbs and the influence of Albert Camus on contemporary thought;
- Les Revenants Series 1 (2012) - a long-form television drama that updates the zombie horror genre to create a hypnotic narrative meditation on the themes of death, mourning, faith and the supernatural.

PLEASE NOTE - the material summarised above is an indicative list of set texts. The definitive module content will be published on the module document issued to students at the start of teaching.

Teaching methods

Delivery typeNumberLength hoursStudent hours
Private study hours180.00
Total Contact hours20.00
Total hours (100hr per 10 credits)200.00

Private study

Reading lists, which will be divided into ‘primary’ and ‘secondary’, will be issued to students prior to the start of the module. Students will be expected to read/watch the primary material designated for each work before that work is covered in class (approx. 40 hours). They will also be expected to read some starred secondary material, which will be provided in electronic form, in preparation for seminars (5 hours for each contact hour = 100 hours). Further independent study will be required in preparation for the student-led seminars (10 hours), for the short formative essay (15 hours) and for the summative assessment (15 hours).

Opportunities for Formative Feedback

Each student will be required in pairs to design and deliver an interactive seminar, at some point during the course of the module. Briefing and debriefing sessions will be held with the tutor before and after the session. Students will also be required to submit a formative essay (1000-1500 words) - the titles will be issued at the mid-point of the course – on which they will receive detailed written feedback. They will also be offered one-to-one, academic consultations towards the end of the module.

Methods of assessment

Exam typeExam duration% of formal assessment
Online Time-Limited assessment48 hr 00 mins100.00
Total percentage (Assessment Exams)100.00

End of Semester 1 - 7 days take-away exam, with strict guidance on word count for each answer and maximum number of references. 100% of formal assessment and August resit available.

Reading list

The reading list is available from the Library website

Last updated: 01/07/2021


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