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Elective: What is a Human? Critical Gender and Diversity Approaches


Admission requirements

This course is only available for second year students in the BA International Studies.
The number of participants is limited to 25.


The fields of gender and diversity studies have expanded their reach inside the academy by becoming potential dimensions of nearly any kind of disciplinary research. This course is concerned with those cutting edge approaches within gender and diversity studies that interrogate the concept of the Human at the heart of Culture: Indigenous and decolonial thinking, disability studies, Black philosophy, transgender and intersex studies and animal studies.

We will consider how these approaches challenge the humanist center of a foundational subject, like ‘Woman,’ or resist the posthumanist preoccupation with eliminating ‘Man’ altogether. Hence, the course will move through a series of approaches that investigate how difference between genders, sexes, races, and animal kind is produced in order to question the different genres of the human.

Animal studies, for instance, raises the question of who is this animal that calls itself human? As human animals, how might we learn from animal kin to see, read and perceive the world differently? Disability studies grapples with the norms of whose bodies are rendered capable, seeable and desirable, in turn offering ‘crip’ aesthetics by which to evaluate difference. The self in self-determination is under critical scrutiny in Indigenous theories of sovereignty as well as in de-colonial thinking that breaks with (pre-)(post-)modern assumptions about shifts in subjectivity. By what cultural means does a Native or colonialized self survive colonial settler cultural domination? Similarly in Critical Intersex- and Transgender Studies, the self is mapped out in relation to hard and soft technologies obtained through the clinic, distributed in online networks and often conjured in memoir writing. Black philosophy such as practiced by Sylvia Wynter has offered the insight that Man is but one genre of the human – what are other genres? Which kinds of texts tell of these other (human) life forms? Together we will explore the question of how these new approaches can be engaged to deepen our critical understandings of the “human” at the center of the “cultural”.

We will pursue these questions through a series of theoretical writings, primary texts, and objects selected by the instructor and students. The first session on each of the five topics will be set by the instructor, and the second session will be set by student seminar leaders who take responsibility for determining how to continue the discussion according to their own interests, and in communication with the instructor. Additional sessions will include an introduction to gender and diversity studies, a creative assignment to experiment with genre, and student presentations of their final research proposal.

Additionally, the students will work through:

  • W.C. Booth, G.G. Colomb, J.W. Williams, The Craft of Research, third edition, Chicago/London: University of Chicago Press, 2008.

Course objectives

The elective courses for International Studies are designed to teach students how to deal with state-of-the-art literature and research questions. They are chosen to enhance the students’ learning experience by building on the interdisciplinary perspectives they have developed so far, and to introduce them to the art of academic research. They are characterised by an international or comparative approach.

Students will gain knowledge of and insights into the humanistic tradition of gender and diversity studies while becoming aware of new approaches within this field; they must be able to use these new approaches in their analyses of the limits of the human and related cultural interventions; during the course the student must learn to engage with cultural differences underpinning the critique of the human; they must understand the role of genre in relation to cultural texts, types, and categories; and they will deepen their critical understandings of the cultural edge of the animal, ability, settler/colonial, colonial/postcolony, trans/cisgender, sex typicality, and racialized groups. In addition to these theoretical developments, the student will also train their skills in oral presentation, facilitation of group discussion, research-focused and creative writing.

Academic skills that are trained include:

Oral presentation skills:

1. to explain clear and substantiated research results;
2. to provide an answer to questions concerning (a subject) in the field covered by the course a. in the form of a clear and well-structured oral presentation; b. in agreement with the appropriate disciplinary criteria; c. using up-to-date presentation techniques; d. aimed at a specific audience;
3. to actively participate in a discussion following the presentation.

Collaboration skills:

1. to be socio-communicative in collaborative situations;
2. to provide and receive constructive criticism, and incorporate justified criticism by revising one’s own position;
3. adhere to agreed schedules and priorities.

Basic research skills, including heuristic skills:

1. to collect and select academic literature using traditional and digital methods and techniques;
2. to analyze and assess this literature with regard to quality and reliability;
3. to formulate on this basis a sound research question;
4. to design under supervision a research plan of limited scope, and implement it using the methods and techniques that are appropriate within the discipline involved;
5. to formulate a substantiated conclusion.

Written presentation skills:

1. to explain clear and substantiated research results;
2. to provide an answer to questions concerning (a subject) in the field covered by the course a. in the form of a clear and well-structured oral presentation; b. in agreement with the appropriate disciplinary criteria; c. using relevant illustration or multimedia techniques; d. aimed at a specific audience.


The timetable is available on the BA International Studies website.

Mode of instruction

Seminars are held every week, with the exception of the midterm exam week. This course includes supervised research.

Course Load

Total course load for this course is 10 EC (1 EC = 28 hours), this equals 280 hours, broken down by:

  • Attending lectures: 2 hours per week x 12 weeks = 24 hours

  • Time for studying the compulsory literature and completing weekly assignments (8 hours per week): 96 hours

  • Preparation for presentations: 26 hours

  • Writing the final research essay (including reading / research): 134 hours

Assessment method

Assessment & Weighing

Partial grade Weighing
In-class participation (selection of reading material/bultural object, constructive participation in classroom discussion, co-chairing a seminar session 10%
In-class presentation (final research proposal) 10%
Creative genre assignment (2000 words) 30%
Final research essay (5000 words) 50%

End grade

To successfully complete the course, please take note that the end grade of the course is established by determining the weighted average.


Students who have been active participants in class and submitted the final paper on time, but scored an overall insufficient mark, are entitled to a resit. For the resit, students are given a chance to hand in a new version of the final paper.
In case of resubmission of the final essay (insufficient grade only) the final grade for the essay will be lowered as a consequence of the longer process of completion. The deadline for resubmission is 10 working days after receiving the grade for the final essay.

Retaking a passing grade

Please consult the Course and Examination Regulations 2017 – 2018.

Exam review

How and when an exam review takes place will be determined by the examiner. This review will be within 30 days after official publication of exam results.


Blackboard will be used for tutorial groups. Students are requested to enroll on Blackboard for this course, but only after correct enrolment in uSis.

Reading list

All assigned readings will be posted on Blackboard: a combination of theoretical articles and chapters, and excerpted literary texts. Students will be asked to select and analyse a cultural object of their choice during their assigned chaired seminar meeting. This object will be discussed in combination with a text assigned in the previous week (on the same topic) to allow students to reread and deepen their understanding of the theoretical text.

  • W.C. Booth, G.G. Colomb, J.W. Williams, The Craft of Research, third edition, Chicago/London: University of Chicago Press, 2008.


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.

General information about uSis can be found here.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


Dr. E.A.Steinbock

When contacting the lecturer, please include your full name, student number and tutorial group number.


The deadline for submission of the final essay is 15 June 2018.
Passing this course is an entry requirement for the thesis and thesis seminar.