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2022/23 Taught Postgraduate Module Catalogue

ARTF5003M Reading Sexual Difference

30 creditsClass Size: 10

Module manager: Dr Eric Prenowitz

Taught: Semester 2 (Jan to Jun) View Timetable

Year running 2022/23

Pre-requisite qualifications

A Good BA Hons degree

This module is not approved as an Elective

Module summary

The module begins with Freud, who inaugurated the serious study of sexuality and gender. It then moves through a number of classic texts by thinkers such as Butler, Cixous, Derrida, Irigaray, Lacan, Rubin, who return to or depart from Freud’s work in ways that profoundly transform and extend the field of interrogation. The module focusses on a strand within what’s often called ‘second wave’ feminism that’s concerned with the question of ‘sexual difference’, paying careful attention to psychoanalysis and poststructuralist thought. Thus the module covers some of the foundations or the premises, the prerequisites, the backstory, the theoretical prehistory of all the various reflection about sex, sexuality and gender today, from the intersect to the intersex, queer, trans-, fluid, +, etc. But at the same time, it argues for the (theoretical, political) radicality of an intellectual tradition that isn’t superseded or subsumed in any simple way by more recent work. The questions raised here are profoundly, urgently political (a massive feminist critique of the whole structure and history of civilisation, basically), yet their immediate target is not primarily socio-political concerns, but also ‘the political’ itself: how might our thinking, our bodies, our lives and relations already be predetermined by cultural, political biases, etc., even before we are confronted with this or that political decision or urgency? In other words, there’s a highly theoretical or philosophical bent to the texts we read: the module is thus very much a module in thinking, as if the question of sex or sexual difference were a challenge to stretch one’s thinking right up to, perhaps beyond, the limits of thinking itself. It’s therefore also a module about ‘reading’ as if the question of interpretation – at once inventive and committed to meticulous close analysis – were a privileged one for any interrogation of sexual difference.


The module offers an in-depth introduction to a complex and influential intellectual tradition within more than a century of intense work on the question of sexuality in the broadest sense: the heterogeneous tradition of critical thinkers concerned with questions of sexual difference in a context informed by psychoanalysis and poststructuralist insights. Paying close attention to a number of radical feminist analyses and propositions, the module explores questions of difference and identity, nature and nurture, history, historicity and social change, signification and the body, sex, gender and performativity, as well as rational or philosophical discourse itself. One of the key links between the texts studied on the module is a strong commitment to close reading: as a goal, but also as a means to this goal, the module aims to develop students’ skills and originality in close critical analysis.

Learning outcomes
1. Students will gain an in-depth understanding of the terms, stakes and critical implications of the on-going debates around sexuality, gender and sexual difference.
2. Students will develop a knowledge of key critical concepts developed since the end of the 19th century to explore and account for the effects of sexual difference in human culture in the broadest sense.
3. Students will be familiar with the major theoretical interventions in this field of such thinkers as Freud, Cixous, Rubin, Butler and Irigaray.
4. Students will be able to think critically on the topic of sexual difference, and to take the problematics of sexual difference into account in analysing literary texts and other cultural artefacts and forms of creative expression.
5. Students will be able to provide an account of the history of modern thought on sexual difference.
6. Students will be able to read and discuss key works of major thinker-writers on the subject, such as Freud, Lacan, Cixous, Butler, Irigaray and Derrida.
7. Students will develop interpretative and close-reading skills, both in the analysis of the effects and inscriptions of sexual difference in culture and cultural manifestations, and more broadly in the analysis, informed by these debates, of cultural forms, institutions and artefacts.

Skills outcomes
Skills necessary to undertake higher research degree and/or for employment in a higher capacity in an area of professional practice.
Evaluating own achievement and that of others.
Self-direction and effective decision-making.
Independent learning.
Use of methodologies and theoretical resources.


The module traces the ‘sexual difference’ tradition in academic (and political) thought on feminism, sexuality and gender, from Freud to Butler and beyond. We will read important texts by such writers as: Freud, Mulvey, Irigaray, Cixous, Derrida, Rubin, Butler, Lacan.

Teaching methods

Delivery typeNumberLength hoursStudent hours
Private study hours270.00
Total Contact hours30.00
Total hours (100hr per 10 credits)300.00

Private study

Seminar preparation 55 hours
Reading 135 hours
Assignment preparation and completion 83 hours

Opportunities for Formative Feedback

Students receive written feedback on both essays (1 x 1500 word and 1 x 4500 word).
Discussion sessions in the third hour will also contribute to formative feedback.

Methods of assessment

Assessment typeNotes% of formal assessment
Essay4,000 - 4,500 words70.00
Essay1,000 - 1,500 words30.00
Total percentage (Assessment Coursework)100.00

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

Reading list

There is no reading list for this module

Last updated: 29/04/2022 15:22:38


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