Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Undergraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2023-2024 (archived)


Department: Geography


Type Open Level 3 Credits 10 Availability Available in 2023/24 Module Cap Location Durham


  • Any Level 2 BA Geography Module


  • None

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None


  • To understand the lived experiences of neoliberal societies, with particular emphasis on the shared moods and atmospheres that characterise the UK and USA
  • To encourage critical reflection on the relationship between neoliberalism as a political-economic project/idea and transformations in people’s lived experience
  • To reflect on a range of contemporary theoretical approaches to understanding how neoliberalism feels and is experienced, with particular emphasis on theories of affect and emotion
  • To develop a grounded understanding of particular aspects of neoliberal life


  • Neoliberalism is commonly used to describe our contemporary condition. Whilst often used vaguely, the term describes how over the past 40 years state provision has been ‘rolled back’ in favour of the private sector and how everything – from Higher Education to the NHS – is now treated as a competitive market. Accompanying this extension of the market to all of life, people are now addressed as individualised ‘consumers’, or so the claim goes. Across a variety of spheres, people are called upon to make choices as individuals and to take individual responsibility for those choices. You choose between universities in a higher education market, you choose between modules … you constantly choose. Yet, recently, a series of disruptive events – from Brexit to the election of populists such as Donald Trump – have been interpreted as heralding the ‘end’ of neoliberalism, and the emergence of other ways of governing
  • The course will explore what it feels like to live in neoliberal societies in the midst of claims that neoliberalism has 'ended' and something else is emerging. What are the shared but individually felt experiences that characterise neoliberalism? How have neoliberal ideas become common-sense and why are alternative ideas of how to organise society often greeted with mockery, resignation or fatalism? How and why have experiences such as love or boredom or optimism changed, if they have? How, in short, might we explain the grip, tenacity and seduction of neoliberalism by way of understanding some of its characteristic moods, atmospheres and experiences, i.e. its affective life? The course will explore the feel of neoliberalism, concentrating on the UK and USA in the aftermath of the 2008- financial crisis and in the midst of the (re)emergence of populisms of the left and right
  • Part 1 will introduce debates about what neoliberalism is and why it matters, describe some of the transformations in lived experience it is associated with, and explore how we might conceptualise the affective or emotional basis of neoliberalism experience. Part 2 will focus on case studies of individually felt but shared moods that perhaps characterise the neoliberal present. These will be presented, discussed and evaluated through a range of sources, including music, film, policy documents, and literature.
  • Part 1: Introduction to neoliberalism, how we conceptualise it and why it matters:
  • What Kind of Thing is Neoliberalism?Neoliberal Subjects and Neoliberal Affects/Emotions
  • Part 2: Four case studies of contemporary experiences, selected from the following:
  • Precarities: Ordinary Crises and Everyday Emergencies
  • Cruel Optimism and other Hopes
  • State-Phobia
  • Freedom
  • Shock
  • Love and Intimacy

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • On successful completion of the module students will be able to:
  • Demonstrate advanced level understanding of the affective life of neoliberalism in diverse contexts and for different groups
  • Critically evaluate the political consequences of the transformations in lived experience associated with neoliberalism
  • Understand and deploy a range of concepts and theoretical perspectives for analyzing how neoliberal life is organized and felt
Subject-specific Skills:
  • On successful completion of the module students will be able to:
  • Think critically and creatively about how lived experience is organized, persists and changes
  • Describe and reflect on particular moods, atmospheres and experiences that characterize the present
  • Evaluate and think with key concepts and approaches to the study of neoliberal life
Key Skills:
  • On successful completion of the module students will be able to:
  • Demonstrate written communication skills
  • Demonstrate a capacity to reflect critically and creatively on the relations between concepts and a range of real world problems and issues
  • Demonstrate the ability to synthesize diverse information and develop an understanding of contemporary issues and problems

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

  • The first two weeks of the course (Part One) will introduce debates about what kind of thing neoliberalism is (as policy, ideology and discourse) and explore the differences thinking about affect makes to how we understand neoliberalism. These will set up the course, providing students with grounding in current debates about neoliberalism and theoretical frameworks surrounding affect for the workshops in Part Two.
  • Part Two of Neoliberal Life is organised around four three hour workshops from week 3 onwards which will allow students to collaboratively explore a range of geo-historically specific affects and consider the transformations in lived experience associated with particular neoliberalisms. The workshops will involve solo and group work and feature a range of learning techniques, including presentations and debates. Part Two will be taught through workshops, enabled by guided study packages comprising of activities in preparation for the workshops. The length of the workshops and compression over a small number of week is designed to create focused engagement, whilst giving students sufficient space between the end of content related teaching and development of the assessment.
  • Formative assessment will be through ongoing feedback during workshops, and through focused discussion on project ideas in the end of term project workshop. The gap between the end of the workshops and the project workshop is to allow time for students to reflect and consider the workshop material as they plan and develop their summative.
  • Summative assessment (essay) will require students to give a creative and critical account of the specifics of neoliberal life, focusing on two or more affects. The five page essay on ‘neoliberal life’ will integrate material from across at least two of the workshops with material (e.g. news stories, speeches, statements, advertisements, blog entries, cartoons, literature, etc.) from everyday life or contemporary media (e.g. newspapers, magazines, websites, television, radio).

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Lectures 2 Weekly 2 hours 4
Workshops 4 Weekly 3 hours 12
Project Workshop 1 2 hours 2
Reading and preparation 82
Total 100

Summative Assessment

Component: Essay Component Weighting: 100%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Essay Max 5 pages A4 100%

Formative Assessment:

Formative will be through ongoing feedback on case studies and idea in workshops (linked to guided study packages), and through focused discussion of project ideas in the end of term project workshop.

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