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Unit information: Celebrity Culture: Icons, Industry and Aesthetics in 2020/21

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Unit name Celebrity Culture: Icons, Industry and Aesthetics
Unit code ENGL30110
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Dr. Andrew Blades
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of English
Faculty Faculty of Arts


The study of celebrity may be new, but the cultural fascination with fame and the famous is ancient. This transhistorical unit explores notions of celebrity – its bodies, images, aesthetics, texts and industries – and offers provocative interdisciplinary possibilities for thinking about issues of performance, affect, gender, race, sexuality, class, and visual and cultural representation. In the first half of the unit, lectures will introduce a wide variety of speakers, not just from English, but from disciplines such as History, Law, Film and Music; in seminars, students will encounter a wide variety of creative nonfiction, commentary, poetry and cultural theory, including works by Walter Benjamin, Susan Sontag, bell hooks, Zadie Smith and Claudia Rankine. Along the way, the unit encourages us to think about the economics of celebrity; questions of spectacle and spectatorship; the relationship between the local, national and transnational; the ways in which celebrity bodies are presented and represented as both archetypal and exceptional; the role of celebrity in constructing and critiquing gender and race; the relationships between celebrity and technologies, both historical and contemporary; the politics of fame. The second half of the unit focuses more closely on particular case studies, in preparation for the summative portfolio submission.

Intended learning outcomes

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

  1. demonstrate advanced knowledge and understanding of the cultural, theoretical, literary and political constructions of celebrity;
  2. apply thorough understanding of historical, cultural and intellectual contexts to readings of images, films, music, nonfiction prose, poetry and journalism;
  3. discriminate between and analyse different critical perspectives on celebrity;
  4. present and critically assess pertinent evidence to develop a cogent argument;
  5. demonstrate advanced skills in close analysis, argumentation, and critical interpretation using evidence from primary materials and secondary sources;
  6. contribute to group tasks and discussions and demonstrate advanced skills in oral presentation.

Teaching details

Teaching will involve asynchronous and synchronous elements, including long- and short-form lectures, group discussion, research and writing activities, and peer dialogue. Students are expected to engage with the reading and participate fully with the weekly tasks and topics. Learning will be further supported through the opportunity for individual consultation.

Assessment Details

  • 1 x group project (formative) [ILOs 1-6]
  • 1 x 2500 word portfolio (100%) [ILOs 1-5]

Reading and References

Theodor Adorno, The Culture Industry: Selected Essays on Mass Culture (Routledge, 2001)

Roland Barthes, Mythologies (1972; Vintage Classics, 2009)

John Berger, Ways of Seeing (1972; Penguin, 2008)

Susan Bordo, Twilight Zones (University of California Press, 1997)

bell hooks, Black Looks: Race and Representation (Routledge, 2014)

Susan Sontag, On Photography (1977; Penguin, 2008)