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2024/25 Undergraduate Module Catalogue

ARTF2047 Image, Music, Text: Reading Roland Barthes

20 creditsClass Size: 30

Module manager: Dr Eric Prenowitz

Taught: Semester 2 (Jan to Jun) View Timetable

Year running 2024/25

Pre-requisite qualifications

Students are expected to come equipped with research and essay writing skills appropriate to Level Two undergraduate study

This module is not approved as a discovery module

Module summary

This module offers a detailed encounter with the work of Roland Barthes, and provides, more generally, an introduction to structural linguistics, critical semiology, and its poststructuralist afterlife. Taking its cue from Barthes’ extreme attentiveness to language in the broadest sense of the word, the module explores important philosophical questions of thought, meaning, art, culture and human relations. At the same time, critical thinking and cultural analysis are for Barthes very clearly political, or proto-political gestures: if it’s true that culture is routinely passed off in our societies as nature, then being an able ‘mythologist’ is a prerequisite for anything approaching freedom or autonomy. The module follows the arc of Barthes’ work, from the rigour of his structuralist phase, with its eye-opening revolutionary insights into the structure of language and cultural systems, to his more personal and open-ended later writing, which both extends and critiques the strictly semiological approaches. Barthes’ work is in important ways inseparable from his life – notwithstanding his famous ‘death of the author’. Indeed this intellectual trajectory, through structuralism and beyond, as well as his unusual openness, both to the many paradigm-changing critical developments taking place across the Humanities in his day and to an extraordinary range of cultural phenomena, make him a model for critical cultural studies today.


This module provides students with an introduction to Saussurian linguistics and the extension of these insights, by Roland Barthes, to a general semiology taking in visual sign systems and other forms of cultural activity or expression as well as language. On completion of the module, students will be able use critical semiology in their own work as a powerful tool for the analysis of a broad spectrum of cultural artefacts. They will be able to discuss the range of Roland Barthes’ output, from his early semiology, with its implications for cultural critique, to his later poststructuralist and autobiographical works. Students will be familiar with Barthes’ influence on cultural studies, broadly conceived, as well as the historical and intellectual context within which he worked

Learning outcomes
1. Students will gain a knowledge of the basics of structural linguistics and critical semiology.
2. Students will gain a familiarity with Roland Barthes’ output and his significance as a theorist and critic in the middle of the 20th century, notably as one of the founders of critical cultural studies.
3. Students will learn about the importance and historical context of the emergence of semiology, and a number of ways it has been employed in cultural studies by and after Barthes.
4. Students will be able to use such Barthesian terms as: sign, signifier, signified, first- and second-order semiological systems, myth, text, signifiance, studium, punctum.
5. Students will gain proficiency in using the tools of semiological analysis to interpret cultural artefacts in their work.
6.Students will be able to situate semiology historically and demonstrate its utility within critical cultural studies.
7. Students will gain skills and practice in creative critical thinking, notably in regard to the close analysis of texts and cultural artefacts and the identification of cultural dimensions of naturalised phenomena.


The first part of the module will follow a roughly chronological path through Barthes’ early work, reading closely a selection of his writings (which themselves invariably involve critical close readings), and considering their implications for cultural studies. The second part of the module will explore the ways Barthes uses his theory of textuality to open readings of a series of cultural forms, such as music and photography, or the rituals of the university itself. The syllabus will include readings such as: excerpts from Saussure’s Cours, and from Barthes: Mythologies, the collection Image-Music-Text, and Camera Lucida.

Teaching methods

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

Private study

Private study time will be dedicated to the module readings, engagement with cultural artefacts, essay and poster preparation and writing.

Opportunities for Formative Feedback

Attendance monitoring and seminar discussion will ensure that students follow the module and keep up with the readings. Students receive feedback on:
Poster exercise (pass/fail: no written feedback)
Mid-term Mythology exercise (short essay: written feedback)
Final essay (written feedback)

Methods of assessment

Assessment typeNotes% of formal assessment
Essay2000 - 3000 words60.00
Essay1000 - 1200 words ('Mythology' exercise)40.00
Total percentage (Assessment Coursework)100.00

The ‘poster’ is pass/fail, but required to pass the module.

Reading list

There is no reading list for this module

Last updated: 29/04/2024 16:10:27


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