Understanding the Contemporary - LART3320

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Module delivery information

This module is not currently running in 2024 to 2025.


A key element of a Liberal Arts education is the ability to critically understand and respond to current affairs. 'Understanding the Contemporary' will enable students to think critically about their own period, and analyse the forces and events shaping contemporary culture and society. Students will consider texts from a range of disciplines and will be selectively introduced to key ideas in contemporary theory and philosophy. They will apply insights drawn from their readings and discussions within analyses of contemporary situations. The focus of the module will be on the period since 2000, though where necessary it will reach back before that date to contextualise current issues. Students will be required to think critically about the ways different disciplines are formulating representations of the contemporary period, and to discuss themes and ideas that cross those disciplines. Seminars and lectures will address topics that define the present period and it is in the nature of the module that its study topics will vary from year to year.


Contact hours

Contact hours: 20
Private Study Hours: 130
Total Study Hours: 150


BA (Hons) Liberal Arts
BA (Hons) Liberal Arts with Year Abroad
Available as an elective module

Method of assessment

Reading journal (30%)
Essay, 2,500 words (70%)

Reassessment methods: 100% coursework reassessment

Indicative reading

Reading list (Indicative list, current at time of publication. Reading lists will be published annually)

Agamben, G. (2009). 'What is the Contemporary', in What Is An Apparatus Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Harvey, D. (2007). A Brief History of Neoliberalism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Lorey. I. (2015). State of Insecurity: Government of the Precarious. London: Verso.

Mavelli, L. (2017). 'Governing populations through the humanitarian government of refugees: Biopolitical care and racism in the European refugee crisis,' Review of International Studies, Vol 43, No. 5: 809-832.

Muggia, M. (2016), 'Affective computing: how 'emotional machines' are about to take over our lives,' The Times, January 15, 2016.

Popper, K. (2002). 'The Conspiracy Theory of Society,' in Conjunctures and Refutations. London: Routledge.

See the library reading list for this module (Canterbury)

Learning outcomes

The intended subject specific learning outcomes. On successfully completing the module students will be able to:

8.1 Identify and describe key forces and events shaping contemporary thought and behaviour.

8.2 Identify and describe key ideas informing representations and critiques of the contemporary period.

8.3 Summarise key aspects of the varying ways in which different disciplines conceptualise the contemporary period and its concerns.

8.4 Respond to, and comment on, the problems and challenges shaping contemporary culture and society.

The intended generic learning outcomes. On successfully completing the module students will be able to:

9.1. Interpret arguments, evidence and data; to marshal information from published sources; to critically evaluate their own research and that of others

9.2. Use technology to retrieve, analyse and present information

9.3. Construct arguments within different intellectual contexts and disciplines

9.4. Communicate across disciplines, to mediate key ideas between disciplines, to write persuasively.

9.5. Work independently to manage time and workloads in order to meet personal targets and imposed deadlines


  1. ECTS credits are recognised throughout the EU and allow you to transfer credit easily from one university to another.
  2. The named convenor is the convenor for the current academic session.
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