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Politics of Visual and Graphic Culture




Admission Requirements



Visual and graphic culture continues to gain importance and prominence in contemporary societies, and despite its traditional associations with entertainment and pleasure (and little else) understanding how visual and graphic culture integrate into social and political becomes an increasingly valuable skill. This course will introduce students to how visual and graphic forms of culture affect and are affected by notions of the political, focusing specifically on comics and animation, two popular and prominent forms of visual culture, and will engage with various questions regarding their places in visual and graphic culture. What kinds of theoretical and methodological approaches are available to study visual and graphic culture? How do animations and comics communicate meaning? How can we think about political philosophical ideas through animation and comics?

The first half of the course will cover the history of debates regarding the function and purpose of visual and graphic culture, and will present a variety of visual cultural theories covering representation, mass culture and morality. The second half will focus on how specific political and philosophical ideas are interpreted in animations and comics, and will concern domination/resistance, utopia/dystopia, alienation/solidarity and pacifism/militarism. The course will provide text-based sources, as well as animations and comics titles (including, but not limited to, Japanese ones) as reading materials to develop sophisticated reading strategies, analytical skills and academic discussion. Students are expected to participate actively in class discussion, in addition to providing group presentations which incorporate both the text and the graphic material.

Course Objectives

Students who successfully complete this class will develop:

  • Understanding of major visual cultural theories

  • Recognition of various forms and techniques used in animation and comics

  • A capacity to use visual and graphic culture to understand and explore some central themes and concepts in political theory

  • Superior levels of critical thinking

  • An application of open, interdisciplinary scholarly debate

Mode of Instruction

Mode of instruction is composed of the following elements:

  1. Seminars
    The course is taught through two-hour seminars based around a combination of guided discussions as well as group presentations based on assigned reading material. During the seminars students are expected to take part in class discussions; lead seminar discussions; present and defend their ideas within an academic setting. The role of the instructor is to ensure the efficient running of the discussion. Groups for presentations will be organized that every student gives presentations, one for each half of the course (theories of visual culture and political ideas in visual culture).

Each seminar has a ‘required reading’ list that must be read in advance of each seminar. Reading material will include traditional text-based essays and articles, as well as visual culture media in the form of comics and animations. In addition, students might read some of the items listed under ‘suggested reading’ prior to each seminar and use this extended list as a starting point in your preparation for essay writing.

Attendance: You are required to attend each seminar. If you are absent for any reason you should call on the instructor to provide an explanation (in advance if possible).

  1. Blackboard
    Additional information (PowerPoint presentations, useful websites, etc…) will also be found on blackboard over the course of the semester.

  2. Supervisory meetings
    Available by appointment only.

  3. Course Works
    See Assessment.


Assessment: In-class participation
Percentage: 20%
Deadline: Ongoing Weeks 1-7

Assessment: Group presentations
Percentage: 40%
Deadline: Weeks 1-7

Assessment: Final research essay (3000 words)
Percentage: 40%
Deadline: Week 8 (Friday, 31 May at 23:59)


There is no single textbook for the course. All the course materials will be available electronically via your course website on blackboard.

Contact Information

Carl Li
Email: c.k.li hum.leidenuniv.nl:mailto:c.k.lihum.leidenuniv.nl
Tel: 062-192-5067

Mari Nakamura
Email: m.nakamura@hum.leidenuniv.nl:mailto:m.nakamura@hum.leidenuniv.nl
Tel: 071-527-2657

Weekly Overview

Session 1: Introduction
Session 2: Theories of visual culture: Representation as Benefit
Session 3: Theories of visual culture: Representation as Problem
Session 4: Theories of visual culture: Passive Mass Culture
Session 5: Theories of visual culture: Active Mass Culture
Session 6: Theories of visual culture: Negative Morality
Session 7: No class, public holiday
Session 8: Theories of visual culture: Positive Morality
Session 9: Political ideas in visual culture: Domination & Resistance
Session 10: No class, public holiday
Session 11: Political ideas in visual culture: Utopia & Dystopia
Session 12: Political ideas in visual culture: Alienation & Solidarity
Session 13: Political ideas in visual culture: Pacifism & Militarism
Session 14: Concluding session

Preparation for first session