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ENGL3261: A Society of Equals?: Literature, Culture and Equality

Please ensure you check the module availability box for each module outline, as not all modules will run in each academic year. Each module description relates to the year indicated in the module availability box, and this may change from year to year, due to, for example: changing staff expertise, disciplinary developments, the requirements of external bodies and partners, and student feedback. Current modules are subject to change in light of the ongoing disruption caused by Covid-19.

Type Open
Level 3
Credits 20
Availability Available in 2023/24
Module Cap 40
Location Durham
Department English Studies


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Excluded Combinations of Modules

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  • The module will enable students to think about the long history of the currently pressing questions of equality and inequality, and in particular to see how this issue is represented and played out in literary texts from the late eighteenth century to the present. Connections to other cultural media (especially painting, photography and film) will also be encouraged.
  • By considering in detail the political and philosophical background to these issues, students will be able to make stronger links between specific literary texts and the complex intellectual and social history that has gone to shape them: students will be encouraged to do close reading on these political and philosophical texts in a manner close to that they would practice with literary texts.


  • The module will examine the treatment of equality in literary works from the end of the eighteenth century to the present in relation to the political, philosophical and economic debates about the importance (or otherwise) of equality. Authors to be considered are likely to include Blake, Wordsworth, Dickens, Whitman, George Eliot, George Orwell and Frank OHara, with a final session on contemporary writing. They will be considered alongside the work of writers on equality and inequality such as Rousseau, Burke, Tocqueville, Mill, Marx, Arnold and Piketty, including the recent debates occasioned by the financial crisis and by Wilkinson and Pickett's The Spirit Level: Why Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better (2009). A specific focus in all this material will be the relationship between the writer and the reader: what kinds of notion of equality or inequality are embedded in the way that the writer addresses the reader?

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:

  • Detailed knowledge of debates about equality and inequality and their implication in literature.
  • Appreciation of significant historical, social, political and cultural contexts.
  • Awareness of relevant critical and analytical frameworks.

Subject-specific Skills:

  • Students' analytic, interpretive, critical and persuasive skills will be developed.

Key Skills:

  • Students on this course will be expected to exhibit independent thought and judgement in their essays. Critical reasoning, an ability to offer cogent arguments, as well as word-processing, time-management, electronic data access and information organizational skills, are all required for this module.

Modes of Teaching, Learning and Assessment and how these contribute to the learning outcomes of the module

  • The module is taught through seminars, which encourage collective responsiveness through interactive discussion as well as the development of independent, individual thought.
  • The consultation session with the seminar leader before the first or second essay allows for further, guided exploration of individual ideas and arguments.
  • Assessed essays give students the opportunity for focused independent study, permitting them to explore their own ideas and insights as well as demonstrating a requisite knowledge of the subject.
  • The written feedback that is provided after the first assessed essay allows students to reflect on examiners' comments, giving students the opportunity to improve their work for the second essay.
  • Typically, directed learning may include assigning student(s) an issue, theme or topic that can be independently or collectively explored within a framework and/or with additional materials provided by the tutor. This may function as preparatory work for presenting their ideas or findings (sometimes electronically) to their peers and tutor in the context of a seminar.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Seminars10Fortnightly2 hours20 
Independent student research supervised by the Module Convenor10 
Feedback consultation session115 minutes0.25 
Preparation and reading169.75 

Summative Assessment

Component: CourseworkComponent Weighting: 100%
ElementLength / DurationElement WeightingResit Opportunity
Assessed essay 12,000 words40
Assessed essay 23,000 words60

Formative Assessment

Before the first essay, students will have an individual consultation session in which they are able to show their seminar leader a list of points relevant to the essay and receive oral comment on these points. Students will be encouraged to discuss their ideas for the second essay at this meeting.

More information

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