Dangerous Ideas: Essays and Manifestos as Social Criticism Capstone

The details
Interdisciplinary Studies Centre (ISC)
Colchester Campus
Full Year
Undergraduate: Level 6
Thursday 03 October 2019
Friday 26 June 2020
25 July 2019


Requisites for this module



Key module for

BA T702 American Studies (United States) (UK Study),
BA T708 American Studies (United States) (Including Year Abroad),
BA T710 American Studies (United States) (Including Foundation Year and Year Abroad),
BA T712 American Studies (United States) (UK Study) (Including Placement Year),
BA T770 American Studies (United States) (including Placement Year),
BA T7P4 American Studies (United States) with Film (Including Placement Year),
BA T7W6 American Studies (United States) with Film (Including Year Abroad),
BA T7W8 American Studies (United States) with Film (Including Foundation Year and Year Abroad),
BA MT26 Criminology and American Studies (UK Study),
BA MT27 Criminology and American Studies (Including Year Abroad),
BA MT28 Criminology and American Studies (Including Foundation Year and Year Abroad),
BA MT3R Criminology and American Studies (Including Placement Year),
BA MT62 Criminology and American Studies (UK Study) (Including Placement Year),
BA R000 European Studies (Including Year Abroad),
BA R001 European Studies,
BA R002 European Studies (Including Placement Year),
BA R008 European Studies (Including Foundation Year),
BA R9T8 European Studies and Modern Languages (Including Foundation Year),
BA R9T9 European Studies and Modern Languages,
BA R9R1 European Studies with French,
BA R9R8 European Studies with French (Including Foundation Year),
BA R9R2 European Studies with German,
BA R9R6 European Studies with German (Including Foundation Year),
BA R9R3 European Studies with Italian,
BA R9R7 European Studies with Italian (Including Foundation Year),
BA R9L2 European Studies with Politics,
BA R9L8 European Studies with Politics (Including Foundation Year),
BA R9L8JS European Studies with Politics (Including Foundation Year),
BA T711 Latin American Studies (Including Year Abroad),
BA T721 Latin American Studies (Including Placement Year),
BA T731 Latin American Studies,
BA T7N3 Latin American Studies (Including Foundation Year),
BA T7N2 Latin American Studies with Business Management,
BA T7N4 Latin American studies with Business Management (Including Foundation Year),
BA T7M8 Latin American studies with Human Rights (Including Foundation Year),
BA T7M9 Latin American Studies with Human Rights,
BA LQV0 Liberal Arts (Including Foundation Year),
BA Q900 Liberal Arts (Including Foundation Year and Year Abroad),
BA QV00 Liberal Arts (Including Year Abroad),
BA V900 Liberal Arts,
BA V901 Liberal Arts (Including Placement Year),
BA L903 Global Studies,
BA L904 Global Studies (including year abroad),
BA L905 Global Studies (Including Placement Year),
BA L908 Global Studies (Including Foundation Year and Year Abroad),
BA P525 Journalism and Liberal Arts,
BA P526 Journalism and Liberal Arts (Including Placement Year),
BA P527 Journalism and Liberal Arts (Including Year Abroad),
BA LR04 Global Studies and Modern Languages (Including Year Abroad),
BA L910 Global Studies with Politics,
BA L911 Global Studies with Politics (Including year abroad),
BA L912 Global Studies with Politics (Including Placement Year),
BA L913 Global Studies with Politics (Including Foundation Year),
BA L914 Global Studies with Human Rights,
BA L916 Global Studies with Human Rights (Including Foundation Year),
BA L917 Global Studies with Human Rights (Including Placement Year),
BA L918 Global Studies with Human Rights (Including Year Abroad)

Module description

This module examines the social criticism and subversiveness of writing in the form of the essay and the manifesto. During the year, we will look at several essays and manifestos that challenge and often satirize dominant ideas, existing social arrangements, and provoke us to explore the many varieties of writing itself. The module seeks to reappraise the essay and follow the important role it has played in the development of the humanities and social sciences from the 16th century to the present. Today the essay is emerging as a critical tool in the examination of all aspects of human experience, both the profound and the ephemeral. Essays may mask themselves as innocent excursions but, as with Jonathan Swift's 'A Modest Proposal' or George Orwell's 'Politics and the English Language,' the essay can rapidly overturn accepted opinions and provoke the questioning of values. Likewise, manifestos like Marx and Engels' 'The Communist Manifesto' may be written specifically to mobilise opinion and overthrow existing social and working institutions, while the 'How to be Idle' manifesto proposes we abandon work itself and thereby challenges the incessant demands in our society that we devote our lives to paid labour.

The readings are primarily chosen on the basis of their historical impact, current relevance and at the same time selected as models for good writing. It is hoped that a consideration of how ideas are powerfully and succinctly communicated will encourage students to experiment, and thus, broaden the approach of those essays produced by the students who follow the module.

Module aims

The aims of this module are:

To provide students with a ground in the history of the essay and the manifesto
To explore issues related to the selected essays and manifestos and to be able to relate those issues to the politics, social contexts and ideological debates of their times, and subsequently
To stimulate students to develop skills in written communication through essay and manifesto writing, and through oral communication and debate in seminars
To encourage students to think and write in both multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary ways

Module learning outcomes

By the end of this module the student should:

be able to demonstrate a familiarity with, and an understanding of the material considered on the module, specifically the history of the essay and the manifesto;
be able to draw connections between a diverse range of written forms produced in different historical periods;
be able to distinguish critically between different methodological and disciplinary approaches to the issues in question;
be able to write in an informed, critical and argumentative manner on the material covered by the module.

By the end of this module the student should also have acquired a set of transferable skills, and in particular be able to:

define the task in which they are engaged and exclude what is irrelevant;
seek and organise the most relevant discussions and sources of information;
process a large volume of diverse and sometimes conflicting arguments;
compare and evaluate different arguments and assess the limitations of their own position or procedure;
write and present verbally a succinct and precise account of positions, arguments, and their presuppositions and implications;
be sensitive to the positions of others and communicate their own views in ways that are accessible to them;
think 'laterally' and creatively (i.e., to explore interesting connections and possibilities, and to present these clearly rather than as vague hunches);
maintain intellectual flexibility and revise their own position based on feedback; think critically and constructively.

Module information

To prepare for this module, suggested introductory reading:

Orwell, George. 'Politics and the English Language' [1946]. In The Penguin Essays of George Orwell, 354-367. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1994.

Nussbaum, Martha C. (2010) Not for profit: Why democracy needs the humanities. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press

Learning and teaching methods

Weekly lecture, plus a weekly seminar that will include staff presentations, student-led intellectual discussion.


  • Leon Battista Alberti. (1999) The use and abuse of books = De commodis litterarum atque incommodis, Prospect Heights, Ill: Waveland Press.
  • Friedman, Milton; Friedman, Rose. (1980) Free to Choose, London: Penguin Books Ltd.
  • Breanne Fahs. (2008) 'The Radical Possibilities of Valerie Solanas', in Feminist Studies. vol. 34 (3, The 1970s Issue) , pp.591-617
  • Marinetti, F. T. (2009) 'Founding and manifesto of futurism 1909', in Futurist manifestos, London: Tate.
  • Haraway, Donna Jeanne. (c2003) The companion species manifesto: dogs, people, and significant otherness, Chicago: Prickly Paradigm Press. vol. 8
  • Joselit, David. (2016) '1909', in Art since 1900: modernism, antimodernism, postmodernism, London: Thames and Hudson.
  • Montaigne, Michel. (1993) 'Of the Cannibals [1588]', in Complete Essays, London: Penguin Books Ltd.
  • Wallace, David Foster. (©2014) The David Foster Wallace reader, London: Hamish Hamilton.
  • Berger, John. (1992) 'Ape theatre', in Keeping a rendezvous, London: Granta Books.
  • Kincaid, Jamaica. (2000, c1988) A small place, New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux.
  • (no date) Free to Choose: Part 1 of 10 The Power of the Market (Featuring Milton Friedman) - YouTube.
  • Otto Wagner. (1988) Modern architecture: a guidebook for his students to this field of art, Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
  • Rossi, Andrew; Delbanco, Andrew. (2014) Ivory tower, Hollywood, California: Paramount.
  • Orwell, George. (1994) 'Politics and the English language', in The Penguin essays of George Orwell, New York: Penguin. vol. Penguin twentieth-century classics
  • Oscar Wilde. (2001) 'The Soul of Man under Socialism', in Soul Of Man Under Socialism And Selected Critical Prose, London: Penguin Books Ltd., pp.125-162
  • Solanas, Valerie; Ronell, Avital. (2015) SCUM manifesto, London: Verso.
  • Tom Hodgkinson. (2005) How to be idle, London: Penguin.
  • Weeds Are Us « Michael Pollan, https://michaelpollan.com/articles-archive/weeds-are-us/
  • Aimé Césaire; Robin D. G. Kelley. (2000) Discourse on colonialism, New York: Monthly Review Press.
  • Orwell, George. (2000) 'Appendix: the principles of newspeak', in Nineteen eighty-four, London: Penguin. vol. Modern classics
  • Nussbaum, Martha Craven. (c2010) Not for profit: why democracy needs the humanities, Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press. vol. The public square book series
  • Marx, Karl; Engels, Friedrich; Stedman Jones, Gareth. (2002) The communist manifesto, London: Penguin Books. vol. Penguin classics
  • John Hayward. (1934, reprinted 1939) 'A modest proposal', in Gulliver's travels and selected writings in prose & verse, London: Random House.
  • Manifesto of the Communist Party, https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1848/communist-manifesto/

The above list is indicative of the essential reading for the course. The library makes provision for all reading list items, with digital provision where possible, and these resources are shared between students. Further reading can be obtained from this module's reading list.

Assessment items, weightings and deadlines

Coursework / exam Description Deadline Weighting
Coursework Assignment 1 (Autumn) (3500 words) 15/01/2020 40%
Coursework Reading Week Assignment (1200 words) 19/02/2020 10%
Coursework Assignment 2 (Spring) (4500 words) 22/04/2020 50%

Overall assessment

Coursework Exam
100% 0%


Coursework Exam
100% 0%
Module supervisor and teaching staff
A range of staff from across the university will contribute to the module.
Interdisciplinary Studies Centre General Office - 6.130; Email: istudies@essex.ac.uk.



External examiner

Dr Ross Wilson
University of Nottingham
Director of Liberal Arts
Available via Moodle
Of 36 hours, 35 (97.2%) hours available to students:
1 hours not recorded due to service coverage or fault;
0 hours not recorded due to opt-out by lecturer(s).


Further information

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