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Unit information: Art and Society in 2018/19

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Unit name Art and Society
Unit code SOCI20087
Credit points 20
Level of study I/5
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Professor. Marshall
Open unit status Not open




School/department School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies
Faculty Faculty of Social Sciences and Law


What do we mean by 'culture'? What is it for? How does a society produce and define 'art'? What is an artist? And what should they do? This unit focuses on the understandings of culture and art that are peculiar to modernity and postmodernity, together with how these ideas have been theorised within the sociology of culture and, later, the new discipline of cultural studies. The central theme of the unit is of the 'separation of art from everyday life' within modernity and the repercussions of this for both 'art' and 'everyday life'. We shall look at the understandings of 'high' and 'low' culture that emerge from these ideas and discuss postmodern developments that challenge such a separation.

The aims of this unit are:

  • To introduce students to sociological theory concerning the nature of art and culture in modern society.
  • To investigate the social currents that underlie the classification of high and low culture.
  • To discuss the purpose and role of culture in contemporary society.
  • To encourage students to understand their own cultural awareness within the context of the unit.

Intended learning outcomes

Level I:

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

  • Discuss a work of art in the context of wider sociological theory.
  • Distinguish between Romantic, modern and postmodern cultural periods.
  • Demonstrate understanding of the social nature of cultural hierarchies.
  • Recognise the different institutional organisations of popular and high culture.

Teaching details

1 two hour lecture and one 1 hour seminar per week..

Assessment Details

1500 word essay (25%)

2 hour SEEN exam (75%)

Both components assesses all learning outcomes

Reading and References

  • Theodor Adorno, 1990, The Culture Industry, London: Routledge.
  • Terry Eagleton, 2001, The Idea of Culture, Oxford: Blackwell.
  • David Harvey, 1990 The Condition of Postmodernity, Oxford: Blackwell.
  • Frederic Jameson, 1991, Postmodernism, or, the cultural logic of late capitalism, Durham: Duke.
  • Michael Lowy and Robert Sayre, 2001, Romanticism against the tide of modernity, Durham: Duke.