Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Postgraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2012-2013 (archived)

Module MELA42530: Negotiating the Human

Department: Modern Language and Cultures

MELA42530: Negotiating the Human

Type Open Level 4 Credits 30 Availability Available in 2012/13 Module Cap None.


  • None.


  • None.

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None.


  • To present key debates, past and present, about the relations between humans and non-humans, among them animals, cyborgs and imaginary beings.
  • To explore the issues thrown up by these debates within the broader context of humanist and post-humanist thinking about the limits of the human.
  • To explore how non-human others (animals, cyborgs and imaginary beings) have been represented in film, literature and/or the media/popular culture.


  • The module will provide and an in-depth exploration of non-human alterity and will typically cover the following topics:
  • Conceptions of and attitudes towards animality, and how thinkers have addressed the question of what, if anything, differentiates animals from humans. This may include, for example, the study of ‘classic’ conceptions of the animal, including those of Descartes (animal as machine), Condillac (animal understanding) and Rousseau (‘natural man’) as well as contemporary philosophical and anthropological views, such as Deleuze’s conception of animality and the recent questioning of the validity of the human/animal divide (cf Ingold, 2000; Viveros-de-Castro 2002; Shaeffer, 2007).
  • The othering of humans themselves through the invention of human-machine hybrids and through the creation of technologically enhanced/modified humans, including cyborgs in science fiction and in modern medicine. Other areas of study for this topic may include debates surrounding genetic engineering, and other medical advances which have opened up the prospect of the creation of a 'post-human' human. Theoretical approaches covered may include, for example, Kristeva on abjection and the automated human, Donna Haraway, ‘A cyborg manifesto’ and others.
  • The place in cultural and artistic creation of various kinds of imaginary beings, such as ghosts, phantoms, zombies, mummies, supernatural beings, monsters and fictional characters. This topic will be concerned with the role played by these fantastical/imaginary non-human others in the constitution of human identity. A range of theoretical paradigms will be applied that draw on a selection of texts from an open list including Freud, Umberto Eco, Oliver Sachs and Antonio Damasio.
  • Each of the seminars will require the student, first, to engage in a critical reflection on a selection of theoretical texts and, second, to apply the theoretical knowledge acquired to the analysis of a literary work, a film, or a current debate in the press or audiovisual media (as appropriate).

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • By the end of the module students will:
  • have a broad knowledge of a range of theories, developed from the 17th century to the modern day, regarding the relations between humans and non-human others;
  • understand how these theories have been used to construct or deconstruct narratives about what it means to be human;
  • be able to apply the above knowledge/understanding to the analysis of various representations of non-humans either in a selection of literary and cinematic/visual works or in the media/popular culture today.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • The student will have developed the ability, first, to critically appraise the relative merits of relevant theoretical paradigms and, second, to apply these paradigms to the analysis of various media (see above).
Key Skills:
  • Essay writing, theoretical reflection and discourse analysis.
  • Independent learning.
  • Techniques of information retrieval.
  • Presentation of written work to professional 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 10 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: Summative essay Component Weighting: 100%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Summative essay or portfolio 5000 words 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