Society, Language and Difference

Intermediate Philosophy, Term 3: Society, Language and Difference

Tutor: Dan Taylor


Mondays,  18.00-20.00, 10 meetings

Full Fee £73 Conc: £32

Philosophy in the second half of the 20th century was faced with the demands of formulating an adequate response to the world after the second world war: the rise of different forms of totalitarianism, the horrors of the war itself and the role of technology in bringing this about became urgent issues. We will examine two forms of response to this situation. Firstly, we will examine how Critical Theory attempted to explain and move beyond the social contradictions that had been laid bare during this period. Following on from this, the question of the place of language in our relations with the world came to a central focus of attention, giving birth to the ideas of structuralism and post-structuralism. In this part of the course we will engage with the work of Lacan, Derrida, Foucault and Deleuze.

Who is this course for

This is not a course for absolute beginners to philosophy. Students joining this course would benefit from having some previous experience of studying philosophy. Graduates of other humanities or social-science disciplines, however, with experience of complex theoretical frameworks, should find it very challenging yet potentially intellectually manageable to begin their philosophical studies with this course. All students will need to have reached at least Level 2 standard (equivalent to GSCE) in the English language.

What does this course cover

This term focuses on key developments in ‘continental’ philosophy in the later part of the Twentieth Century up until today. We will examine Derrida’s development of the them e of deconstruction and assess its significance and implications for philosophy and for other branches of ‘theory’ more broadly. We will also look at Foucault’s development of the theme of power/knowledge and again assess its significance. Other sessions of the course will look at a range of other, more recent developments in what is often called ‘postmodern’ thought.

·         Explain and analyse key ideas in Derrida’s work (e.g. differance, writing, logocentrism, undecidability, etc)

·         Explains and analyse key ideas in Foucault’s work (e.g. the body, micropolitics, discipline, the thesis that power is productive before it is repressive, etc)

·         Compare contrast and evaluate other contributions to work in post-structuralist philosophy (e.g. Lacan, Deleuze, Kristeva, Irigaray, Cixous, Butler)

·         Apply the insights you have developed during the term to wider debates in philosophy

What will it be like

The course will be taught in a seminar style, and there will be lots of opportunity for discussion and debate. Optional exercise will be set as homework, to help you explore and consolidate what you have learned and discussed in class, and extracts from the writings of some of the thinkers covered will be made available as preparatory reading for some of the classes. Explanatory handouts will also be provided to help you understand some of the more difficult concepts and arguments covered.

What else do you need to buy or do

Notebook and pen, for taking notes in class. Extracts from the work of some of the thinkers we are studying will be provided as preparatory reading at home, and exercises will be set as homework for some classes. Students who undertake the reading and exercises will find that they gain more from the course. The course Moodle will also be invaluable.

What this course could lead to

Further courses in the wide range of Philosophy classes available at the Centre, or further Philosophy courses elsewhere. The subjects covered during the term would also be of interest to and useful for people considering in pursuing other courses in the Humanities and Social Sciences with an emphasis on theory and critical thinking (e.g. Psychology, Sociology, Politics, Anthropology, History, etc).