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Literature and Theory: Foucault, Butler, Zizek


Admission requirements


The era of structuralism, followed by that of post-structuralism and the ´cultural turn´ has yielded a large repertoire of new critical terms and approaches. As a result, concepts such as ‘discourse’ ‘episteme,’ ‘ideology,’ and ‘performativity’ as well as methods such as ‘deconstruction’ and ‘discourse analysis’ are today common currency among academics. Unfortunately this development has also entailed a loss in critical momentum. After all, we do not always take the trouble to read the thinkers to whom we owe these concepts and methods: Michel Foucault, Judith Butler, and Slavoj Zizek. The result is that their ideas have become generally accepted, albeit in a familiarized form. To counter this tendency, we propose to go back to the authors themselves. Our first purpose in doing so will be to become acquainted with (a selection of) their original texts and breathe new life into them by reading them carefully and slowly. In addition, we will try to establish what these texts still have to offer to the humanities in general, and to literary studies in particular.

Course objectives

At the completion of the course the student:

  • has a basic understanding of the main concepts and theories developed by Derrida, Foucault, and Butler, and their impact on literary theory and cultural studies in the past decades;

  • can close-read complex theoretical texts independently and critically;

  • is able to identify, select and cite key phrases, ideas, and concepts from theoretical texts, and to integrate these citations into a coherent argument of her own;

  • can bring these theoretical ideas to bear in their own analysis of cultural texts.


Timetable on the website

Mode of instruction


The course takes the form of a discussion seminar during which we will engage in collective close readings of the texts.

Assessment method

Three papers (1500 words), each 25%; 15-minute presentation (25%)
In the case of a fail students are entitled to rewrite the paper(s).



Reading list

Required readings:

  • Michel Foucault, The Foucault Reader. An Introduction to Foucault’s Thought. 1984. Ed. Paul Rabinow. London: Penguin, 1991.

  • Readings on Blackboard


Students have to apply for this course with the registration system of the university uSis.
General information about registration with uSis you can find here in Dutch and in English
Exchange and Study Abroad students, please see the Study in Leiden website for information on how to apply.

Contact information

Media Studies student administration, P.N. van Eyckhof 4, room 102C. Tel. 071 5272144;

Coordinator of studies: Mr. J. Donkers, MA, P.N. van Eyckhof 3, room 1.01b.