Dangerous Ideas: Manifestos as Social Criticism

The details
Interdisciplinary Studies Centre (ISC)
Colchester Campus
Undergraduate: Level 6
Monday 13 January 2020
Friday 20 March 2020
25 July 2019


Requisites for this module



Key module for

BA T700 American Studies (United States),
BA T7P3 American Studies (United States) with Film,
BA MT2R Criminology and American Studies

Module description

This module examines the social criticism and subversiveness of writing in the form of the manifesto. Although its antecedents can be traced back to the sixteenth century, the manifesto crystallised as a genre in the nineteenth century. Since then manifestos have been issued by all manner of organisations, from political parties, to artistic movements and rock bands. Manifestos typically denounce dominant trends and/ or accepted conventions, question the grounds of prevailing, ideas, behaviours and practices, and involve a call and/or a programme for action. But as you will see from the selected texts, there is a tremendous variation in the forms and styles of manifestos. Some follow the canonical form embodied in Marx and Engels' 'Communist Manifesto'. Some carry the title manifesto, but more closely resemble essays; others are not explicitly framed as manifestos, but have operated as such once they started to circulate.

Manifestos often share with many Enlightenment projects the idea that we need to make a radical break and start afresh in order to build a better world, and a confidence that human action can bring about far-reaching change. Yet beyond this utopian grounding, as we will see, the relationship with Enlightenment ideas and principles is complex and varied. Some texts denounce the incompleteness of the Revolution led by the rationalist values of the Enlightenment, explore its contradictions and black holes, and call for a more radical leap. Some texts challenge Enlightenment legacies while others call for a return to what they imagine those values to be.
The readings examined on the module 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 manifesto
To explore issues related to the selected 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 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 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:

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 Reading Week Assignment (1200 words) 19/02/2020 15%
Coursework Assignment 1 (Spring) (4500 words) 22/04/2020 85%

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 18 hours, 18 (100%) hours available to students:
0 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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