EASM171 - Expanding Queerness: Critical Debates in Theory, Literature, Film and Television

2020/1 Module description

StaffDr Benedict Morrison - Convenor
Professor Jana Funke - Convenor
Credit Value30
ECTS Value15
NQF Level7
Duration of Module Term 1: 9 weeks;

Module description

Over the last 30 years, queer scholars have offered some of the most exciting, innovative and disorientating ways of conceptualising sexuality and gender. This module explores recent theoretical and political developments in queer studies. We will examine how approaches drawn from queer studies resonate with cultural constructions of homo-, hetero- and bisexualities as well as cis, trans and non-binary forms of gender expression. The overall goal of the module is to challenge and expand our understanding of queerness by responding to and participating in theoretical, conceptual and political debates in queer studies through an engagement with works of literature, film and television.

This interdisciplinary module is suitable for all students. You will have the chance to engage closely with theoretical texts.

Module aims

This module engages with different debates in queer studies and explores a range of filmic, televisual and literary depictions of various sexualities and gender expressions to examine three intersecting themes.

  • Queerness and Normativity

We will begin by reconsidering how queer studies has tended to define queerness against the norm. What is at stake in designating some sexualities and gender expressions as queer and others as normal or normative? We will question whether we need to rethink the assumed link between homosexuality and queerness at a time in which gay marriage and ‘normative’ models of the family have become an option for at least some lesbian, gay and bisexual subjects. We will also investigate what it means to expand definitions of queerness, considering what is at stake to try and think about heterosexual or homosexual marriage or reproduction as queer. Which other sexual practices or (cis, trans or non-binary) gender expressions need to be considered within a queer framework? What role do categories like gender, class, race or disability play in shaping understandings of queerness and normativity? What is at stake in seeking to represent queer identities or experiences in literature, film or television? What aesthetic strategies have artists and writers employed to do so? Is the diegetic representation of queer identities or experiences required for a text to be identified as queer?

  • Queer Failure and Negativity

Whereas some branches of LGBTQ+ politics have sought to affirm diverse sexual and gender identities, queer studies and queer forms of activism have often been preoccupied with seeking to destabilise and challenge the very concept of identity. This block will ask what is to be gained and lost by pushing against the very idea of identity. How do we account for subjects (in the past or across the globe) who are not able or do not wish to claim a legible sexual identity? What is the queer potential inherent in allegedly negative emotions, including failure, shame or guilt? How does this map onto moments of aesthetic ‘failure’ or the breakdown of generic or stylistic conventions in literature, television or film? How do we deal with the various intersecting histories of oppression and violence that structure queer archives? What queer pleasures or sensations can be found in embracing the breakdown of social order, familiar relational models and identities?

  • Queer Kinship

One of the foundational promises of queer studies is to allow us to think and experience new forms of being, desire and connection in the world. The final block of this module will explore how we can use queer concepts and tools as well as literature, film and television to work towards this goal. We will ask what relationship models or forms of kinship (e.g. beyond the couple) have queer potential. For instance, what is the queer potential inherent in close bonds between humans and animals or other attachments that are not immediately legible as sexual or even erotic? Do queer bonds connect us with other subjects outside our immediate communities, in the past or across the globe? How do attempts to map new forms of queer relationality drive aesthetic innovation in television, film and literature? And how have the concerns of queer activists found expression in literary, filmic and televisual texts?

ILO: Module-specific skills

  • 1. Demonstrate an advanced critical understanding of key debates in queer studies and an ability to read these in relation to literary, filmic and television texts
  • 2. Analyse and critique at an advanced level the varied ways in which sexualities and gender expressions are represented in literature, film and television
  • 3. Demonstrate an advanced critical understanding of a range of relevant contexts for these representations, e.g. political, historical, cultural, economic, intellectual, social

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

  • 4. Demonstrate an advanced ability to analyse literary, filmic, television texts and relate their concerns and modes of expression to e.g. theoretical, cultural and political contexts
  • 5. Demonstrate an advanced ability to understand, analyse and evaluate relevant theoretical ideas, and to apply these ideas to a wide range of texts.
  • 6. Devise, research and execute a sustained independent research project.

ILO: Personal and key skills

  • 7. Through essay-writing, demonstrate appropriate research and bibliographic skills, an advanced capacity to construct a coherent, substantiated argument, and a capacity to write clear, correct and persuasive prose
  • 8. Demonstrate an advanced capacity to make critical use of secondary material in research.
  • 9. Demonstrate practical research skills and an advanced capacity to use diverse and multiple sources in constructing a coherent and substantiated argument.
  • 10. Demonstrate advanced proficiency in information retrieval and analysis as well as personal organisation and time-management through written assessments and assignments as well as preparation for seminars (or similar).

Syllabus plan

Whilst the content may vary from year to year, it is envisioned that it will cover some or all of the following topics:

  • Queerness and Normativity
  • Queer Failure and Negativity
  • Queer Kinship 

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning and Teaching22Seminars (or similar)
Scheduled Learning and Teaching20Screenings
Guided Independent Study90Reading and preparation for e.g. seminars (or similar)
Guided Independent Study168Research and essay preparation

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay plan2000 words1-10Feedback sheet with opportunity for tutorial follow-up

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Object Analysis 252500 words1-10Feedback sheet with opportunity for tutorial follow-up
Research essay755000 words1-10Feedback sheet with opportunity for tutorial follow-up

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Object analysisObject analysis1-10Referral/deferral period
Research essayResearch essay1-10Referral/deferral period

Re-assessment notes

Deferral – if you miss an assessment for certificated reasons judged acceptable by the Mitigation Committee, you will normally be either deferred in the assessment or an extension may be granted. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of deferral will not be capped and will be treated as it would be if it were your first attempt at the assessment.

Referral – if you have failed the module overall (i.e. a final overall module mark of less than 50%) you will be required to submit a further assessment as necessary. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of referral will be capped at 50%.

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Indicative theoretical reading:

  • Robyn Wiegman and Elizabeth Wilson, “Antinormativity’s Queer Conventions”
  • José Esteban Muñoz, Disidentifications (extracts)
  • Heather Love, Feeling Backwards (extracts)
  • Jack Halberstam, The Queer Art of Failure (extracts)

Indicative literary texts:

  • Travis Alabanza, Burgerz (2018)
  • Rebecca Brown, The Gifts of the Body (1984)
  • E.M. Forster, “Albergo Empedocle” (1903)
  • Han Kang, The Vegetarian (2015)

Indicative film and television texts:

  • Desiree Akhavan, The Bisexual (2018)
  • Cheryl Dunye, The Watermelon Woman (1996)
  • Derek Jarman, Blue (1993)
  • Isaac Julien, Looking for Langston (1989)

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Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

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Key words search

Queer theory, literature, film, normativity, failure, negativity, kinship, gender, sexuality