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What is Culture?




Admissions requirements

No prerequisites


Culture is everywhere, there isn’t an aspect of daily live that is not fully embedded in cultural constructions and traditions. And yet (or because of this) it is difficult to define and clearly demarcate. What is culture exactly? Where does nature end and culture begin? What is the importance of cultural practices to human life and how does it distinguish humans from other life forms?

The aim of our course is not to answer these questions, nor is it to provide you with a history of the development of culture. Rather, the course will start from the notion that culture creates meaning and allows us to understand ourselves, others and the world in specific, constructed ways. What may seem natural to us, might in fact just be cultural convention, imprinted on us from such an early age that we have come to understand it as natural. In this course we will look at how traditional cultural views on the world, concerning the uses of language, processes of othering, gender etc., have been studied, taken apart and criticized over the last few decades. In doing so, we will deal with several of the major theorists concerned with this process of deconstruction.

Since there is so much to say on the topic, we will necessarily be dealing with a limited selection of perspectives and objects. From the many methods of studying culture (anthropological, archaeological, biological, art historical, sociological etc.) I have selected the framework of Cultural Studies, a relatively recent field of study within Humanities, for this course. Furthermore, in order to focus our discussions, we will take the novel Foe by J.M.Coetzee as our starting point. This short novel will be read during the course of our meetings, along with additional articles, and will allow us a starting point in discussing some of the following topics, each tightly linked to major theories in studies on culture and each functioning as a context for the analysis of cultural phenomena:

  • language as construction

  • knowledge/power

  • the death of the author

  • intertextuality

  • Postcolonialism

  • stereotyping

  • processes of ‘othering’

  • gender trouble

The topics will be introduced in lectures and will subsequently be discussed using additional reading material (available on Blackboard) and the context of Coetzee’s Foe. In doing so, we will gain insight into the importance and pervasiveness of cultural practice.

Course objectives

Upon completion of the course, students will have:

  • knowledge of the concept of culture and its various forms and expressions

  • an awareness of the importance of cultural practice in other domains such as politics

  • enhanced critical reading skills with respect to both literature and theory


Once available, timetables will be published here.

Mode of instruction

The course will be taught through lectures and seminars, combining introductions on all topics and reading material by the lecturer with group discussions and student presentations on case studies and individual research.


  • 15% participation in group discussions (including web posts)

  • 25% midterm exam, following and covering the lectures on the themes and texts (written examination with short questions)

  • 20% group presentation

  • 40% essay (1500 words)


There will be a Blackboard site available for this course. Students will be enrolled at least one week before the start of classes.

Reading list

J.M. Coetzee, Foe, 1986 London.
Make sure to buy the English edition, preferably in paper edition, as opposed to digital edition. Students are advised to read the book before the start of the course (make sure to read a summary of Daniel Defoe’s Robin Crusoe if you are not familiar with that book, since Coetzee’s novel relies heavily on Defoe’s famous story).

Additional texts will be made available through Blackboard.


This course is open to LUC students and LUC exchange students. Registration is coordinated by the Curriculum Coordinator. Interested non-LUC students should contact


Dr. Laura Bertens