ENGL232-23S1 (C) Semester One 2023

Cultural Politics/Cultural Activism

15 points

Start Date: Monday, 20 February 2023
End Date: Sunday, 25 June 2023
Withdrawal Dates
Last Day to withdraw from this course:
  • Without financial penalty (full fee refund): Sunday, 5 March 2023
  • Without academic penalty (including no fee refund): Sunday, 14 May 2023


This course offers students a grounding in Cultural Studies theories and methods. It examines the political dynamics and historical foundations of contemporary culture, and the strategic roles that it can play as a force for change. Drawing from a wide variety of examples, it focuses on how culture - as a process, as a practice, and as the production of meaning - functions as a battleground in the assignment of and struggle for social power.

This course considers how 'culture' - as a process, as a practice, and as the production of meaning - functions as a battleground in the assignment of and struggle for social power. We will address how culture operates in terms of social control and resistance, and consider how we might ‘read’ culture, much as we would read other forms of texts. We will explore ways that subjects and subjectivities are produced, and how bodies are shaped and controlled through discourse. Throughout the course, we will consider how these ideas inform various forms of cultural activism – a blend of artistic expression and activism grounded in the need for social justice and political change.

As Cultural Studies is interdisciplinary, we will apply theoretical and practical debates to a wide range of contemporary cultural texts and modes, from films, television, museums, music, social media, satire, advertising, drag, and visual art, to everyday acts of social and political resistance like culture jamming. In the first half of the course, we will consider the history of some of these forms of cultural activism, alongside debates about culture, industry and authenticity. In the second half, we explore contemporary approaches to space, bodies, identities, taste, and power. We will pay close attention to issues such as socio-economic class, gender, sexuality, and race / ethnicity. Throughout we emphasise our context in Aotearoa New Zealand and the Pacific, for instance, by connecting calls for decolonisation in Aotearoa to other forms of resistance here and abroad. Students will be invited to apply theories and concepts to their own examples and experiences throughout the course’s classes and assessments.

This course provides an excellent grounding in key theories that underpin contemporary study in the humanities and will be of value to students from a variety of backgrounds and disciplines. We regularly hear from students across different programmes, including the BA, BCYL and BSW, that this course has offered an excellent foundational course for higher-level study.

Please note this course emphasises in-person engagement and is not designed to be taken by distance. Lectorials are interactive; they are designed to lead students through an exploration of big ideas through discussion and questioning. Assessments are structured carefully to help students develop skills throughout the course. ECHO recordings of lectures will be made available as study resources, but these are not a useful replacement for consistent in-person participation.

This course can be used towards an English major or minor. BA students who major in English would normally take at least two 100-level 15 point ENGL courses (which must include at least one of the following: ENGL117, ENGL102 or ENGL103), at least three 200-level 15 point ENGL courses, and at least two 300-level 30 point ENGL courses. This course is also co-coded CULT202 and can be used towards a Cultural Studies major or minor. Please see the BA regulations  or a student advisor for more information.

Learning Outcomes

By the end of this course, you will be able to:

1. explain how and why ‘resistance’, ‘control’, ‘identity’ and ‘authenticity’ are complex and problematic terms

2. demonstrate an understanding of some key works of critical and cultural theory by describing key concepts and applying them to a wide range of everyday cultural texts and practices

3. analyse and problematise ways that cultural forms and practices have, over time, been assigned meaning and value

4. evaluate some of the ways that subjects and subjectivities might be constructed, negotiated and contested

5. appraise the textuality and politicality of cultural forms and practices by developing thoughtful arguments about examples of your choosing, including examples from Ōtautahi Christchurch and Aotearoa New Zealand

University Graduate Attributes

This course will provide students with an opportunity to develop the Graduate Attributes specified below:

Critically competent in a core academic discipline of their award

Students know and can critically evaluate and, where applicable, apply this knowledge to topics/issues within their majoring subject.

Employable, innovative and enterprising

Students will develop key skills and attributes sought by employers that can be used in a range of applications.

Globally aware

Students will comprehend the influence of global conditions on their discipline and will be competent in engaging with global and multi-cultural contexts.


Any 15 points at 100 level from CULT or ENGL, or
any 60 points at 100 level from the Schedule V of the BA.


Equivalent Courses


Erin Harrington


Assessment Due Date Percentage  Description
Quiz 10% An online quiz that covers concepts from the first weeks of the course. This is open book but has a time limit.
Media exercise 20% A 1000 word task that asks you to apply some of the concepts from the first portion of the course to a short media text of your choice.
Case study 30% A 1500 word essay that requires you to 'read' a cultural text or artifact of your choice (includes a 5% proposal).
Final take-home test 40% Two short essays and a reflective piece on topics relating to cultural activism and the theorists covered in the second half of the course.

Please note: this course does not have a final exam.

Textbooks / Resources

All resources will be provided via Learn. This includes written work from theorists and writers, including Walter Benjamin, Judith Butler, Guy Debord, Jean Baudrillard, Mikhail Bakhtin, Michel Foucault, Gloria Anzaldúa and Michel de Certeau, alongside new media and film from artists such as filmmaker Merata Mita (Ngāti Pikiao, Ngāi Te Rangi) and Pasifika arts collective FAFSWAG.

(Image: "If graffiti changed anything it would be illegal - Banksy" by duncanc, licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0. Cropped from original.)

Course links

Library portal

Indicative Fees

Domestic fee $821.00

International fee $3,750.00

* All fees are inclusive of NZ GST or any equivalent overseas tax, and do not include any programme level discount or additional course-related expenses.

For further information see Humanities .

All ENGL232 Occurrences

  • ENGL232-23S1 (C) Semester One 2023