This is an interdisciplinary programme in the field of contemporary culture. It is a unique collaboration between the University of Kent and the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) in London.
The MA allows you to choose from a range of modules, each focusing on different aspects of contemporary culture. You will be taught jointly by academics and practitioners in the School of English, the School of Arts, and curators at the ICA. In addition, you will have the opportunity to enrich your academic knowledge and professional development with research trips, and a public presentation opportunity at the ICA.
The programme provides you with a deep understanding of the relationship between disciplines in the arts and an appreciation of the way in which interdisciplinary thinking makes it possible to grasp and respond to key issues in contemporary culture. The MA equips you with the skills, knowledge and professional experience to progress into areas such as artistic practice, related higher postgraduate research, arts management and policy, and a variety of other careers within the arts.
The Contemporary MA is also available with a term in Paris.
About the School of English
The School of English has a strong international reputation and global perspective, apparent both in the background of its staff and in the diversity of our teaching and research interests.
Our expertise ranges from the medieval to the postmodern, including British, American and Irish literature, postcolonial writing, 18th-century studies, Shakespeare, early modern literature and culture, Victorian studies, modern poetry, critical theory and cultural history. The international standing of the School ensures that we have a lively, confident research culture, sustained by a vibrant, ambitious intellectual community. We also count a number of distinguished creative writers among our staff, and we actively explore crossovers between critical and creative writing in all our areas of teaching and research.
The Research Excellence Framework 2014 has produced very strong results for the School of English at Kent. With 74% of our work graded as world-leading or internationally excellent, the School is ranked 10th out of 89 English departments in terms of Research Intensity (Times Higher Education). The School also received an outstanding assessment of the quality of its research environment and public impact work.
In the Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2014, research by the School of English was ranked 10th for research intensity and 15th for research power in the UK.
An impressive 100% of our research-active staff submitted to the REF and 95% of our research was judged to be of international quality. The School’s environment was judged to be conducive to supporting the development of world-leading research.
In addition to the core module (Reading the Contemporary, taught jointly by academics and practitioners in the School of English, the School of Arts, and curators at the ICA), you will be able to choose from a wide variety of modules in the areas of contemporary literature, creative writing, film, drama, and history and philosophy of art. You are invited to attend an induction at the ICA at the start of your studies to introduce you to the facilities and are encouraged to make use of the ICA’s programme of seminars and events. In addition, the MA will also involve research trips and a public presentation opportunity at the ICA.
Besides engaging with ICA curators through the core module in Reading the Contemporary, students will also participate in three research trips in the autumn, spring and summer terms, led by ICA curators and responding to contemporary artistic developments, media and platforms. Students will be encouraged to apply to vocational placements within the ICA's Creative Team for two days a week over three months, working directly with the curators of Talks, Exhibitions, Artists' Film Club, Cinema or Learning and Touring programmes. Students will enjoy unique access to the knowledge of the ICA's Creative Team while working on their final project, and will have the opportunity to present their projects publicly at the ICA at the end of the year.
You take one compulsory module (EN842 - Reading the Contemporary) plus one additional module in the autumn term and two in the spring term. You are also expected to attend the Faculty and School Research Methods Programmes. You then write the dissertation between the start of the summer term and the end of August. The following modules are indicative of those offered on this programme. This list is based on the current curriculum and may change year to year in response to new curriculum developments and innovation.
|Compulsory modules currently include||Credits|
EN842 - Reading the Contemporary
'Reading the Contemporary' is a cross-disciplinary module the aim of which is to find out what it means to read the contemporary period through its aesthetic practices. The module will be co-taught by staff from the School of English, the School of Arts and the Institute of Contemporary Arts, with seminars alternating between the Canterbury campus and the ICA (London).
The module has three main objectives. First, it will consider what it means, in a theoretical sense, to think about our contemporary moment. Second, it will address key themes and issues in contemporary culture and will consider how they bear on and are shaped by recent aesthetic forms. Third, through the seminars delivered at the ICA, which will arise directly out of the ICA's programme, students will be introduced to examples of current aesthetic practice.View full module detals
|Optional modules may include||Credits|
HA825 - Post-Conceptual Art and Visual Arts Criticism
The construct of the post-conceptual in relation to visual arts practice has two principal inflexions. Firstly, it delineates a generation of contributors typically born in the 1960s and 1970s for whom the legacies of Modernism and conceptual art are cultural givens. Secondly, it situates a range of practice (including media art and digital platforms) in relation to expanded and evolving contexts of criticism, cultural consumption and curation.
The proposed curriculum will follow recent visual arts-based critical responses to the development of particular genres and associated shifts in cultural production. For example, this will include the attention given to emerging practices of self and group curation and the rationale for the doubling or multiplying of artistic agency variously demonstrated by collectives such as SUPERFLEX, Claire Fontaine and by a range of contemporary working partnerships.
The module will explore how several recent critics have mobilised and applied ideas of the 'political' to account for distinctive thematics within recent practice. Considering some of the recent distinctions noted by the art critic Claire Bishop, the module will evaluate different forms of sculpture and installation practice (immersive, site responsive, site independent and site specific) and how these mediate changing contexts and conditions of production and spectatorship.View full module detals
HA826 - History and Theory of Curating
This module will introduce students to the history and theory of curating through a series of detailed case studies from the early modern period to the present day. These will focus on how collections have been formed and maintained, the nature of key institutions in the art world like museums and galleries, and in particular it will examine the phenomenon of the exhibition. Different approaches to curating exhibitions will be examined, and the responsibilities of the curator towards artists, collections, and towards the public will be analysed. Broad themes in the theory of curating and museology will be examined. Wherever possible the case studies chosen will draw on the resources and expertise of partner organisations, such as Canterbury Museums and the Institute for Contemporary Art.View full module detals
HA828 - Philosophical Issues in Art History and Visual Culture
This module gives students an advanced understanding of a range of philosophical issues and concepts underpinning foundational concepts in high art, and broader visual culture. It seeks to apply a broadly analytic approach in philosophy to a range of subjects in high art and popular culture, often taken to be on the periphery of analytic philosophy of art. Topics of study may include: the uncanny, wonder, , concepts of genius and creativity, disgust, cuteness, interactivity, philosophical issues around teaching art, the aesthetics of cultural forms such as automotive design, and the place and nature of kitsch in low and high culture.View full module detals
HA838 - Key Concepts and Classic Texts in History and Philosophy of Art
This module will introduce you to key concepts that are central to understand fundamental debates in history and philosophy of art as well as art criticism. Some examples of key concepts are the notion of originality, influence, race, the aesthetic, fiction, beauty, gender and taste. The key concepts discussed in the seminars are subject to change.View full module detals
EN838 - Re-visioning:Twenty-first Century Translation
This module helps you to situate and heighten awareness of your own work in relation to your own practice and to practitioners from other languages. You are not expected to know any other language! Instead, you will use cribs, literal translations, commentaries and transliterations, among other tools, to inspire and guide you in creating your own versions, as is common practice amongst translators. Seminars will focus on your work in creating new poems in English, using contemporary or classic poetry in a language of your choice. The work will be contextualised through the study of translation theories and practicesView full module detals
EN852 - Colonial and Postcolonial Discourses
This module introduces you to a wide range of colonial and postcolonial theoretical discourses. It focuses on the construction of the historical narrative of imperialism, psychology and culture of colonialism, nationalism and liberation struggles, and postcolonial theories of complicity and resistance. The module explores the benefits and problems derived from reading literature and culture by means of a postcolonial and postimperial lens. Through the study of crucial texts and events, both historical and current, the module analyses the birth of imperialist narratives and their complex consequences for the world today.View full module detals
EN858 - Contemporary Postcolonial Writing
The module aims to extend your awareness of contemporary issues in postcolonial writing, and the debates around them. The module includes a selection of important postcolonial texts (which often happen to be major contemporary writing in English) and studies their theorisations of contemporary culture and narrative practice. It focuses on issues such as the construction of historical narratives of nation, identity and gender in the aftermath of the globalisation of 'diaspora', institutional responses to these constructions, and the problems associated with creating a discourse about these texts.View full module detals
EN872 - Provocations and Invitations
This module introduces the challenges and pleasures of postmodern poetry and poetics. We will consider a range of poetic texts, and essays on poetry, that between them raise profound questions of nation, agency, language, politics and gender in the post-war period. Starting with Charles Olson's ground-breaking inquiries into 'open field poetics’, we will investigate a range of American and British poets for whom the poem has been a way of generating new modes of thought and life. In particular we will explore the ways in which poetry of the period enables us to think through the implications of globalisation. We will consider how poetry can escape the constraints of place, and how it can imagine new forms of collective identity.
Among the poets we will consider are: Charles Olson, Robert Duncan, Frank O’Hara, Denise Riley, Lyn Hejinian, J. H. Prynne, and Tony Lopez. The work of these writers will be read alongside contemporary philosophy and political theory, and will be considered in relation to other art forms, especially painting. Students on the module will benefit from the activities of the Centre for Modern Poetry, including regular readings, research seminars and the reading groups.View full module detals
EN889 - Literary Theory
On this module we conduct a broad survey of modern literary and critical theory, but in a revisionist spirit, asking what were the moments that generated certain critical turns, and examining the broad historical impetus of change, such as the Russian Revolution, the Cold War, and the revolts of 1968. In the first part of the module we look at developments in the early twentieth century which gave shape to modern literary studies; in the second part of the module we look at developments from the second half of the century to the present day. As well as reading the texts of theory, we aim to understand its historical and institutional contexts, and our overall objective is to understand and analyse some of the recent turns in critical discourse, such as transnationalism, and the turn away from theory to the archive.View full module detals
EN892 - Poetry 1
This module will prepare you for the production of your dissertation portfolio of fully realised, finished poems. You will read a wide range of exemplary, contemporary work and experiment with form and content.View full module detals
EN894 - Poetry 2
The main focus of Poetry 2 is to further develop and refine your writing with the eventual aim of producing a successful dissertation portfolio of fully realised, finished poems. Poetry 2 differs from Poetry 1 in that you are encouraged to develop a sequence or series of wholly new poems.
In this module you will develop your practice of writing poetry through both the study of a range of contemporary examples and constructive feedback on your own work. Each week, you will be exposed to a wide range of exemplary, contemporary sequences. The approach to the exemplary texts will be technical rather than historical; at every point priority is given to your own particular development as poets.
The reading list does not represent a curriculum as such, but indicates the range of works and traditions we will draw upon to stimulate new thought about your own work. Decisions about reading will be taken in response to individual interests. Likewise, you will be directed toward work which will be of particular benefit to you.View full module detals
EN897 - Advanced Critical Reading
This module is designed to extend and develop skill, enjoyment and confidence in reading critical, literary and theoretical texts. We reflect on the pleasures and challenges of the reading process, moving slowly through a single major text. We will pause over exciting, complex or important passages, taking time to follow up references and footnotes, identify important themes and ideas, consult works of art and writings that share those themes, explore how the texts touch us and how they think. The module is designed to help you come away with an in-depth knowledge of the main text and of texts and ideas surrounding it, as well as gaining deeper understanding of how you read.View full module detals
EN912 - Affect in Contemporary American Literature
This course investigates what has come to be known as the affective turn in literary criticism. This turn, acting as a response to linguistic criticisms popularized during the moment of high postmodernism in the 1970s-1980s, seeks non-linguistic, or pre-linguistic ways of understanding the world. Under this new critical regime, feelings, mood, forces, and emotions become ways of tracking, describing, and engaging with the contemporary. In both the literature and the theory, students will be tasked with investigating representations of subjectivity in the present. The contemporary sees an enmeshing of theoretical and literary texts where both become crucial tools of critical inquiry. Thus, the literary texts in the module will reflect the theoretical concerns of the theoretical texts, and vice versa.
Students will examine a range of contemporary American fiction and poetry that investigate representations of feelings, emotions, and mood. In this way the module will focus on the place of humans within a larger ecological structure, and through working with the literary and theoretical texts students will ex-amine the construction of boundaries between humans and their surroundings. Some broad questions the module seeks to explore: What is the relationship between the individual, the public, and literature? What can the study of affect add to literary criticism? Finally, are there particular aesthetic techniques that capture something as ephemeral as a mood, or a feeling?View full module detals
EN914 - Marxism: Theory and Culture
This module critically examines core concepts in Marx and Marxism. These include: materialism; alienation and human flourishing; capital and labour; classes; and ideology. The main objective of the module is to familiarize students with key ideas that distinguish Marxism as a set of theoretical propositions essential for understanding the workings of capitalism. Special emphasis will also be given to the Marxist approach in the study of culture. Here the role of intellectuals and the relationship between capitalism and culture is interrogated through theorists like Gramsci, the Frankfurt School, and Raymond Williams. The question of whether Marxism is Eurocentric is also addressed, as well as whether it has a distinct theory of nationalism and imperialism.
The first half of the module is dedicated to charting core concepts of Marxist theory, with special attention given to how these were formulated and utilized in works of classical Marxism (by Marx and Engels). The aim is to zoom in on core Marxists propositions and show how they have been mobilized to interpret the capitalist social formation. The second half introduces other aspects of Marxist theory, especially critical theory and cultural materialism, and tackles the question of Marxist approaches to nationalism and imperialism.View full module detals
|Compulsory modules currently include||Credits|
EN998 - Dissertation:GPMS
Writing a Masters dissertation provides the opportunity for you to explore a topic of interest at greater length and in more depth than any academic assignment you will have undertaken to date. As such, it can be both an exciting and daunting experience. This module addresses what is involved in writing a dissertation and helps you to plan your research and prepare your dissertation proposal. It also provides a forum to share ideas with other students and to discuss any questions you might have about the process of researching and writing an extended piece of work.View full module detals
Teaching and Assessment
Assessment is by a 5,000-word essay for each module and a 12,000 word dissertation.
This programme aims to:
- provide an excellent quality of postgraduate level education in the field of contemporary culture
- provide a cross-disciplinary, inspiring learning environment informed by high-level research and practice
- provide a pioneering educational opportunity within the UK context through which MA students will progress into careers in the fields of arts management and policy, or on to related postgraduate opportunities
- develop the following range of aptitudes and skills: high-level written communication, the capacity to present information and argument in public, information literacy, research methods, work-based teamwork skills, project planning
- promote engagement with a range of disciplines and thereby enable you to pursue careers in a range of complex organisational settings within the field of the arts
- promote an understanding of the relations between disciplines and an appreciation of the ways in which cross-disciplinary thinking within the arts makes it possible to grasp and respond to salient issues in contemporary culture
- provide a vocational training within an academic framework through internships provided by the Institute of Contemporary Arts.
Knowledge and understanding
You will gain knowledge and understanding of:
- principles and application of underlying modes of inquiry within different academic disciplines and contexts across the field of the arts
- issues shaping contemporary theory and philosophy
- the relation between artistic practice and theoretical inquiry in the contemporary period
- the varying ways in which different disciplines and practices across the arts conceptualise the contemporary
- how to use the resources of contemporary art practice to think through current issues and future challenges in modern culture
- the ways in which contemporary art practice addresses its publics, and the institutions through which it influences thought and opinion.
- how to discuss, conceptualise and mediate current work in the fields of fine art, film and literature
- a selected topic within a given discipline and the application of appropriate research methods.
You develop intellectual skills in:
- research skills: how to formulate research questions and hypotheses to address problems across a range of disciplines within the Arts
- analytical skills: how to interpret arguments, marshal information from published sources, interpret materials from archives, critically evaluate your own research and that of others
- information technology literacy: the use of appropriate technology to retrieve, analyse and present information
- presentation skills: the use of public forum to develop ability to present arguments persuasively.
You gain subject-specific skills in:
- reasoning: how to construct arguments within different intellectual contexts and disciplines across the Arts, how to formulate and address research questions and problems
- communication: how to communicate within and across Arts disciplines, how to mediate key ideas between disciplines and towards the non-academic public, how to speak and write persuasively in discursive contexts
- presentation of research: how to write essays and a dissertation in an appropriate style, in keeping with the conventions of different subject areas
- project organisation: how to conceive and execute a dissertation-length project under the guidance of academic and practice-based supervision
- employment-oriented practice: how to integrate with a gallery-based team, how to shape arts programming, how to mediate contemporary arts practices to the general public.
- careers: a recognition of career opportunities for postgraduates in the fields of contemporary arts.
You will gain the following transferable skills:
- communication: the ability to organise information clearly, present information in oral and written form, adapt presentation for different audiences
- reflection: make use of constructive informal feedback from staff and peers and assess your own progress to enhance performance and personal skills
- self-motivation and independence: time and workload management in order to meet personal targets and imposed deadlines.
- teamwork: the ability to work both independently and as part of a research group using peer support, diplomacy and collective responsibility.
Many career paths can benefit from the writing and analytical skills that you develop as a postgraduate student in the School of English. Our students have gone on to work in academia, journalism, broadcasting and media, publishing, writing and teaching; as well as more general areas such as banking, marketing analysis and project management.
The Templeman Library is well stocked with excellent research resources, as are Canterbury Cathedral Archives and Library. There are a number of special collections: the John Crow Collection of Elizabethan and other early printed texts; the Reading/Raynor Collection of theatre history (over 7,000 texts or manuscripts); ECCO (Eighteenth-Century Collections Online); the Melville manuscripts relating to popular culture in the 19th and early 20th centuries; the Pettingell Collection (over 7,500 items) of 19th-century drama; the Eliot Collection; children’s literature; and popular literature. A gift from Mrs Valerie Eliot has increased the Library’s already extensive holdings in modern poetry. The British Library in London is also within easy reach.
Besides the Templeman Library, School resources include photocopying, fax and telephone access, support for attending and organising conferences, and a dedicated postgraduate study space equipped with computer terminals and a printer.
Conferences and seminars
Our research centres organise many international conferences, symposia and workshops. The School also plays a pivotal role in the Kent Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities, of which all graduates are associate members. The Institute hosts interdisciplinary conferences, colloquia, and other events, and establishes international links for all Kent graduates through its network with other advanced institutes worldwide.
School of English postgraduate students are encouraged to organise and participate in a conference which takes place in the summer term. This provides students with the invaluable experience of presenting their work to their peers.
The School runs several series of seminars, lectures and readings throughout the academic year. Our weekly research seminars are organised collaboratively by staff and graduates in the School. Speakers range from our own postgraduate students, to members of staff, to distinguished lecturers who are at the forefront of contemporary research nationally and internationally.
The Centre for Creative Writing hosts a very popular and successful weekly reading series; guests have included poets Katherine Pierpoint, Tony Lopez, Christopher Reid and George Szirtes, and novelists Abdulrazak Gurnah, Ali Smith, Marina Warner and Will Self.
The University of Kent is now in partnership with the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA). Benefits from this affiliation include free membership for incoming students; embedded seminar opportunities at the ICA and a small number of internships for our students. The School of English also runs an interdisciplinary MA programme in the Contemporary which offers students an internship at the Institute of Contemporary Arts.
Dynamic publishing culture
Staff publish regularly and widely in journals, conference proceedings and books. They also edit several periodicals including: Angelaki: Journal of the Theoretical Humanities; The Cambridge Bibliography of English Literature: 600-1500; The Dickensian; Literature Compass; Oxford Literary Review; Theatre Notebook and Wasafiri.
Global Skills Award
All students registered for a taught Master's programme are eligible to apply for a place on our Global Skills Award Programme. The programme is designed to broaden your understanding of global issues and current affairs as well as to develop personal skills which will enhance your employability.
A first or upper-second class honours degree in a relevant subject (or equivalent).
All applicants are considered on an individual basis and additional qualifications, professional qualifications and experience will also be taken into account when considering applications.
Please see our International Student website for entry requirements by country and other relevant information for your country. Please note that international fee-paying students cannot undertake a part-time programme due to visa restrictions.
English language entry requirements
The University requires all non-native speakers of English to reach a minimum standard of proficiency in written and spoken English before beginning a postgraduate degree. Certain subjects require a higher level.
For detailed information see our English language requirements web pages.
Need help with English?
Please note that if you are required to meet an English language condition, we offer a number of pre-sessional courses in English for Academic Purposes through Kent International Pathways.
Research in the School of English comes roughly under the following areas. However, there is often a degree of overlap between groups, and individual staff have interests that range more widely.
The particular interests of the Centre for Studies in the Long Eighteenth Century converge around gender, class, nation, travel and empire, and the relationship between print and material culture. Staff in the Centre pursue cutting-edge approaches to the field and share a commitment to interdisciplinary methodologies.
The Centre regularly hosts visiting speakers as part of the School of English research seminar programme, and hosts day symposia, workshops and international conferences.
The recently established Centre for Victorian Literature and Culture provides a stimulating and distinctive research environment for staff and students through seminars, conferences and collaborative research projects. The MA in Dickens and Victorian Culture is the only MA of its kind in the UK, and both the MA and the Centre places a particular emphasis on Victorian literature and culture associated with Kent and the south-east.
Research in north American literature is conducted partly through the Faculty-based Centre for American Studies, which also facilitates co-operation with modern US historians. Staff research interests include 20th-century American literature, especially poetry, Native American writing, modernism, and cultural history.
The Centre for Creative Writing is the focus for most practice-based research in the School. Staff organise a thriving series of events and run a research seminar for postgraduate students and staff to share ideas about fiction-writing. Established writers regularly come to read and discuss their work.
Medieval and Early Modern
The Faculty-based Canterbury Centre for Medieval and Early Modern Studies has a distinctive brand of interdisciplinarity, strong links with local archives and archaeological trusts, and provides a vibrant forum for investigating the relationships between literary and non-literary modes of writing in its weekly research seminar.
The Centre for Modern Poetry is a leading centre for research and publication in its field, and participates in both critical and creative research. Staff regularly host visiting speakers and writers, participate in national and international research networks, and organise graduate research seminars and public poetry readings.
Established in 1994, the Centre for Colonial and Postcolonial Research has acquired an international reputation for excellence in research. It has an outstanding track record in publication, organises frequent international conferences, and regularly hosts leading postcolonial writers and critics. It also hosts a visiting writer from India every year in association with the Charles Wallace Trust.
Staff research interests
Full details of staff research interests can be found on the School's website.
Professor David Ayers: Professor of Modernism and Critical Theory
Anglo-American Modernism; European Avant-Garde; literature and culture of the Americas; critical theory and philosophy; Russian Revolution and the Cold War.View Profile
Dr Stella Bolaki: Senior Lecturer in American Literature
Multi-ethnic American literature (especially with a focus on migration/diaspora and transnational approaches); the Bildungsroman; gender theory; life writing and illness/disability; medical humanities.View Profile
Professor David Herd: Professor of Modern Literature
Twentieth-century poetry and poetics; American literature; the avant-garde; the politics of migration.View Profile
Dr Ben Hickman: Senior Lecturer in Modern Poetry
English and American experimental poetry of the 20th century; new American poetry; Anglo- American poetic relations; the dynamic between poetry and political action.View Profile
Dr Ariane Mildenberg: Senior Lecturer in Modernism
Modernist poetry; Wallace Stevens; Gertrude Stein; Virginia Woolf; the kinship of method and concern between phenomenology and modernist literature and art; the interaction of contemporary philosophy with theology; the relationship between modernism and postcolonial writing; translation of Scandinavian poetry.View Profile
Dr Will Norman: Reader in American Literature and Culture
Twentieth-century American literature and culture; European and American modernism; Vladimir Nabokov; models of high and low culture in the mid-20th century; critical theory; American crime fiction and transatlantic studies.View Profile
Dr Juha Virtanen: Lecturer in Contemporary Literature
Twentieth century literature and theory; contemporary literature; American and British poetry after 1945; intersections between poetry, performance, visual arts, and socio-polital discourses.View Profile
Dr Sarah Wood: Reader in English Literature and Literary Theory
Creative critical writing; 19th and 20th-century poetry and fiction, especially Robert Browning and Elizabeth Bowen; writing and visual art; literary theory; deconstruction, especially Derrida; psychoanalysis; continental philosophy.View Profile
Professor David Stirrup: Professor of American Literature and Indigenous Studies
First nations and Native American literature; 20th-century North American literature; the American and Canadian Midwest; border studies.View Profile
The 2019/20 annual tuition fees for this programme are:
|The Contemporary - MA at Canterbury:|
For students continuing on this programme fees will increase year on year by no more than RPI + 3% in each academic year of study except where regulated.* If you are uncertain about your fee status please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
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