Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Postgraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2011-2012 (archived)

Module MELA42330: Thinking Otherness

Department: Modern Language and Cultures

MELA42330: Thinking Otherness

Type Open Level 4 Credits 30 Availability Available in 2011/12 Module Cap None.


  • None.


  • None.

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None.


  • To introduce students, within an interdisciplinary framework, to some of the key paradigms developed for understanding/critically reflecting upon alterity.
  • To provide them with an opportunity to apply a selection of these paradigms to the analysis of a contemporary debate and to reflect critically on the process of application.
  • To equip students with the theoretical foundations that will allow them to go on to a specialised study of either a particular form of alterity (ethnic, gendered or non-human, depending on option choice) or one of the key media by which the West has sought to grasp alterity, namely photography.


  • The module will provide a comprehensive introduction to the theory of otherness. Topics to be studied will typically include:
  • The 'other' as an object of consciousness, i.e. the philosophical question of 'experiencing others'. This topic addresses, more specifically, intersubjectivity in the works of Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty and Sartre.
  • The ethical and cultural exploration of otherness. These seminars will begin by exploring classic post-colonial critiques of hegemonic constructions of otherness (e.g.: Fanon, Said, Spivak, Bakhtine, Bhabha) and then go on to examine the critiques of those critiques.
  • Otherness and psychoanalysis (Freud, Melanie Klein, Lacan).

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • By the end of the module, students will:
  • have a broad knowledge of the principal debates to have shaped Alterity Studies, as presented through the close reading of a series of seminal texts taken from philosophy, anthropology, cultural studies and psychoanalysis;
  • understand the key concepts and frameworks used to theorise alterity. These will include: cultural difference, post-colonialism, ethnicity/race, hybridity, orientalism, exoticism, négritude and gender;
  • have a broad knowledge of the history of the reception of the above concepts and the critical debates surrounding their dissemination.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • By the end of the module, students will:
  • be able to use key alterity-related concepts to analyse and critically reflect upon ongoing debates concerning otherness, including those in current affairs;
  • be able to use key alterity-related concepts to analyse the way in which otherness is represented in various media, including literature, film, art and visual culture;
  • be able to reflect critically on the relative merits of the different theoretical tools being applied;
  • be able to situate discussions of otherness, whether in the popular media or the most recent research, within a broader theoretical context and the history of the debates concerning alterity.
Key Skills:
  • Theoretical reflection and discourse analysis.
  • Independent learning.
  • Techniques of information retrieval.
  • Presentation of written work to high editorial standards.
  • Time management.

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

  • The module will be taught by means of 5 seminars in the Michaelmas Term and 5 seminars in the Epiphany Term. Students will be required to prepare specific tasks and questions in advance of each seminar, and play an active role in discussing the issues that arise. Assessment will test students’ ability to understand and analyse critically the key areas of debate.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Seminars 10 weekly 2 hours 20
Preparation and Reading 280
Total 300

Summative Assessment

Component: Portfolio Component Weighting: 100%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Portfolio 100%

Formative Assessment:

Seminar presentation; feedback on a plan and sample piece of writing relating to the summative assignment.

Attendance at all activities marked with this symbol will be monitored. Students who fail to attend these activities, or to complete the summative or formative assessment specified above, will be subject to the procedures defined in the University's General Regulation V, and may be required to leave the University