Skip to Content


Last modified: 22 May 2019 17:07

Course Overview

The question of the human is at the forefront of contemporary philosophical and cultural enquiry. Looking at a range of popular and literary texts, as well as recent theoretical writings, this course investigates the relation between the human and animal and the representation of human transformation and adaptation in order to study contemporary approaches to the body, language, and suffering.

Course Details

Study Type Undergraduate Level 4
Session Second Sub Session Credit Points 30 credits (15 ECTS credits)
Campus None. Sustained Study No
  • Dr Tim Baker

What courses & programmes must have been taken before this course?

  • Either English (EL) or Literature In A World Context (LW)
  • Programme Level 4
  • Any Undergraduate Programme (Studied)

What other courses must be taken with this course?


What courses cannot be taken with this course?


Are there a limited number of places available?


Course Description

The questions of what it means to be human, and of where the boundaries between the human, the animal, and the machine might lie, have grown ever more pressing in contemporary fiction. Looking at a wide range of texts and genres, including realist fiction, science fiction, crime fiction, and graphic novels, as well as at a substantial number of relevant philosophical and theoretical texts, this course will explore how the question of the human has been handled in recent literature. Themes considered will include: the relation between human and animal suffering; the role of language in shaping identity; the ethics of human transformation and improvement (clones, cyborgs, and genetic tinkering), and the relation between body and self. Authors to be studied may include Kazuo Ishiguro, Ali Smith, Michel Faber, and Patrick Ness.

Further Information & Notes

The aims of the course are:
- To enhance understanding of contemporary fiction through a focus on the question of the human
- To introduce students to a range of genres and styles in contemporary literature
- To examine the relationship between literary and popular fiction
- To consider the relation between recent theoretical and philosophical studies of the human and contemporary fiction
- To delineate the relationships between animals and humans in a variety of texts
- To compare various stylistic strategies used by contemporary writers to examine the concept of the human
- To explore the use of fiction as a means of commenting on current philosophical and scientific debates

By the end of the course, students should be able to:
- think in a sophisticated way about contemporary fiction through the study of specific texts
- demonstrate an understanding of key themes and issues relating to the human
- reflect critically on the relationship between human and animal embodiment, suffering, and transformation
- discuss critically and cogently themes of language and ethics as they are articulated in a range of contemporary texts
- write in a sophisticated way about contemporary fiction, and in particular the way it reflects wider cultural, social, philosophical, and aesthetic developments
- demonstrate a critical understanding of key issues in their contribution to discussion, in their oral presentations, and in their written work

Contact Teaching Time

Information on contact teaching time is available from the course guide.

Teaching Breakdown

More Information about Week Numbers

Details, including assessments, may be subject to change until 31 August 2023 for 1st half-session courses and 22 December 2023 for 2nd half-session courses.

Summative Assessments

1st Attempt: Essay 1 (2500 words): 35%; Essay 2 (3500 words): 45%; Presentation: 10%; Seminar participation: 10% Resit: For honours students only: candidates achieving a CAS mark of 6-8 may be awarded compensatory level 1 credit. Candidates achieving a CAS mark of less than 6 will be required to submit a new essay.

Formative Assessment

Students will be asked to keep a course journal, to be submitted at the end of the course.


Students will receive prompt oral feedback in seminars, and will receive formal written feedback on essays within three weeks of submission.

Course Learning Outcomes


Compatibility Mode

We have detected that you are have compatibility mode enabled or are using an old version of Internet Explorer. You either need to switch off compatibility mode for this site or upgrade your browser.