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2022/23 Undergraduate Module Catalogue

MODL3600 Material Cultures and Cultures of Consumption

20 creditsClass Size: 30

Module manager: Dr Alessio Baldini

Taught: Semesters 1 & 2 (Sep to Jun) View Timetable

Year running 2022/23

This module is approved as a discovery module

Module summary

This module explores material cultures — the arrays of things that make up people’s lives — in all their diversity across the globe, from past and present. We will examine critically the interactions between objects and people, and the background cultures that frame these interactions. We will focus on how consumer cultures differ from earlier cultures of consumption, and on how modern societies across the world have been affected by and have responded to the emergence and spread of consumerism. For we need to understand the long global history that led us here, if we want to imagine an environmentally and socially sustainable future.


This module aims at introducing students to a variety of approaches to the study of material culture and cultures of consumption. It will give students the opportunity to explore material cultures and cultures of consumption in all their diversity across time and space and help them understand how societies and social groups across the globe have been affected by and have responded to the rise of consumer culture.

Learning outcomes
On completion of this module, students should be able to:
1. Engage critically with a variety of approaches to the study of material culture
2. Assess the arguments brought forward by those who embrace and those who criticise consumer culture
3. Reflect critically on consumer culture from a historical and comparative perspective
4. Find, evaluate, and analyse a wide range of primary and secondary sources
5. Conduct independent research on a case study and communicate the research results effectively in written form


In the past few decades, globalisation has brought the market economy and consumer culture to countries that had been previously out of their reach. Today, nearly the entire world population lives in consumer societies or is being affected by their environmental, economic, and cultural impact. For most of us buying and consuming stuff to sustain one’s own livelihood and wellbeing feels natural. And yet, we understand very little of how consumer culture functions, and we know even less about how it emerged and spread across the globe.

This module will introduce students to a variety of cultures of consumption and material cultures. Our approach will be historical and comparative. The first section of the module will give students the historical backdrop against which to understand the rise of modern consumer societies. In this section, we will be looking at cultures of consumption from premodern civilizations, and at how objects circulated and what meaning they had for the people who acquired and used them.

In the second section of the module, we will examine critically the various ways in which peoples and countries across the world have responded to the transition to consumerism. We will explore and evaluate how different societies or social groups have been changed by, have resisted or adopted consumer culture. We will see how some people yearned for and embraced consumerism as a way to break with their past, whereas others criticised consumerism, or moulded consumer culture to preserve and project into the future their local histories, cultural values, and social norms. We will see how the result of this uneven process, which is rife with conflicts and contradictions, has resulted in the world’s many consumer cultures.

Throughout the module, we will be looking at case studies from different historical periods and places, from antiquity to the present, from Western as well as non-Western countries. We understand now that consumer societies face serious environmental and social challenges, from global warming to the rise of inequality. And we need to understand the long global history that led us here, if we want to envision a sustainable and more equitable future.

Teaching methods

Delivery typeNumberLength hoursStudent hours
Private study hours176.50
Total Contact hours23.50
Total hours (100hr per 10 credits)200.00

Private study

Students will need t do the preparatory readings for their weekly session (= 10 lectures) in Sem 1 and Sem 2 (= 1 tutorial) and prepare to participate actively in class discussion. At the end of Sem 1, students will need to identify a project tutor and prepare a project abstract and literate review under their guidance; the first consultation with the project tutor will be devoted to this task. This document will be the first of two assessed pieces of coursework on which students will receive a feedback and a mark.
In Sem 2, students will join a tutorial session (= 1 tutorial) with the module leader on project design, where the class will discuss how to design and plan an independent research project. In Sem 2, under the guidance of their project tutor, they will need to identify the case study for their independent project, conduct research on primary and secondary sources, design, and write their independent project report. Two consultation meetings will be devoted to this task. The discussion will be informed by the feedback received on the abstract and literature review.
Preparation for class: 3 hours x 21 = 63
Researching and working on the project abstract and literature review t: 43.5 hours
Researching and working on the independent project: 70 hours

Opportunities for Formative Feedback

Students will receive formative feedback regularly during the weekly sessions (10 lectures in Sem 1; 1 tutorial in Sem 2). Student progress will be monitored by their contribution to class discussion. Personalised formative feedback will be provided by project tutors during 3 consultations (30 minutes each). The first meeting is to be set by the end of Sem 1; the second and the third meeting are to be set in Sem 2 between Week 2-7 respectively. . Under the guidance of the module leader, students will choose their project tutor among the members of staff teaching on the module. Consultations with project tutors will devoted to (meeting 1) identify a suitable topic and write an abstract and a literature review, (meetings 2-3) how to conduct primary research and design an independent project. So, students will be given the opportunity to work on their preferred topic and be supervised by an expert in the area. This student opportunity is critical to the structure of the module, as it will allow students to work in depth on one topic of their choice — maximising flexibility and inclusivity —, while being able to contextualise their case study thanks to the wider and longer view on the subject provided by the module as a whole.

Methods of assessment

Assessment typeNotes% of formal assessment
Report3000-word independent project report65.00
Literature Review1,750-word Project: Abstract (250 words) & Literature Review (1,500 words)35.00
Total percentage (Assessment Coursework)100.00

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

Reading list

The reading list is available from the Library website

Last updated: 29/04/2022 15:25:48


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