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Unit information: French Thought in 2021/22

Unit name French Thought
Unit code FREN20068
Credit points 20
Level of study I/5
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Dr. Paul Earlie
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of French
Faculty Faculty of Arts

Description including Unit Aims

The rise of ‘French Theory’ in the 1970s and 1980s has had a profound impact on disciplines as diverse as literary criticism, philosophy, history, sociology, and politics. This unit introduces students to some of the most compelling and controversial texts in twentieth-century French thought. Beginning with the birth of theory in the early twentieth century, students will look at some of the key texts of structuralism and its aftermath in deconstruction; they will explore Marxist approaches to ideology and mass culture, psychoanalytic interpretations of unconscious desire, post-colonialist theories of racism, and the continuing relevance of movements such as gender studies and queer theory.

Throughout the unit, students will be encouraged to apply the approaches studied to cultural objects of their choosing (e,g., literature, visual arts, television, film, advertising). They will learn to evaluate the merits of competing approaches and, where appropriate, to synthesise different theoretical frameworks. Particular attention will be paid to the rise of ‘theory’ as a genre of writing, and students will be provided with the tools to conduct close rhetorical analysis of the texts studied and to reflect critically on popular perceptions of French thought as ‘impenetrable’ or ‘jargonistic’. Weekly lectures provide students with a solid grasp of the main concepts by taking everyday examples to illustrate the relevance and even urgency of different critical approaches. Student-led seminars will provide ample opportunity to grapple with the form and content of each text. Use will also be made of collaborative digital tools, notably via a specially designed wiki, Key Terms in Critical Theory, where crucial notions such as ‘ideology’, ‘gender’, ‘sexuality’, and ‘repression’ will be tagged, discussed, and illustrated by students. This unit offers students a chance to reflect on the relevance of diverse theoretical approaches to their own practices of reading and writing, as well as providing invaluable theoretical grounding for their future studies.

Intended Learning Outcomes

On successful completion of this unit, students will be able to:

1. Describe key currents in twentieth-century French thought and demonstrate an ability to present this understanding orally and in writing;

2. Illustrate how the theories studied relate to broader cultural, historical, or intellectual contexts;

3. Apply the theories studied to a variety of cultural objects (broadly construed);

4. Evaluate critically the strengths and weaknesses of different methodologies and theories and, where appropriate, synthesise different approaches;

5. Analyse passages from the texts in the target language in a way that exhibits sensitivity to their rhetorical and formal structure, as appropriate to level I.

Teaching Information

Teaching will be delivered through a combination of synchronous sessions and asynchronous activities, including seminars, lectures, and collaborative as well as self-directed learning opportunities supported by tutor consultation.

Assessment Information

One 2,500-word essay (75%), testing ILOs 1-4

One commentary presentation (25%), testing ILOs 1 and 5.


If this unit has a Resource List, you will normally find a link to it in the Blackboard area for the unit. Sometimes there will be a separate link for each weekly topic.

If you are unable to access a list through Blackboard, you can also find it via the Resource Lists homepage. Search for the list by the unit name or code (e.g. FREN20068).

How much time the unit requires
Each credit equates to 10 hours of total student input. For example a 20 credit unit will take you 200 hours of study to complete. Your total learning time is made up of contact time, directed learning tasks, independent learning and assessment activity.

See the Faculty workload statement relating to this unit for more information.

The Board of Examiners will consider all cases where students have failed or not completed the assessments required for credit. The Board considers each student's outcomes across all the units which contribute to each year's programme of study. If you have self-certificated your absence from an assessment, you will normally be required to complete it the next time it runs (this is usually in the next assessment period).
The Board of Examiners will take into account any extenuating circumstances and operates within the Regulations and Code of Practice for Taught Programmes.