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It has come to our attention that the Philosophy Department may not be running the second year module (which third years can also take) on Theory, Literature and Society again this year. The Third year module on Gender, Film and Society would presumably be retracted as well. It would be a terrible loss for students. If you are studying/have studied philosophy as part of your course, please take a minute to read this letter we plan to hand in to Durham’s philosophy department. 


Theory, Literature and Society is a second year module run by the Philosophy Department at Durham. Students taking this module are expected to explore the concepts of freedom, reason and what it is to be a subject from the Existentialist, Psychoanalytic, Feminist and Post-modernists points of view (and any combination thereof). The central questions of this module include:

  • What is it and what is it like to be a subject?
  • How do we come to be the subjects that we are?
  • What is the role of society in the formation of the subject and subjectivity?
  • Is there something that writers thought they could express through literature but not through theory? And vice versa.

The reading list includes a variety of theoretical and literary works, like:

  • Sartre’s Existentialism is a Humanism, What is Literature? and Huis Clos (No Exit)
  • Camus’s The Myth of Sysiphus and L’Étranger (The Stranger)
  • Freud’s Five Lectures on Psycho-analysis
  • Shriver’s We Need to Talk About Kevin
  • Kristeva’s The Old Man and the Wolves
  • Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper

It has come to our attention that the department may not run this module again next year. We think that would be a huge mistake. And we would like to ask the department to revert this decision – if, indeed, it has been taken.

This is the only module where second years can access Existential and European philosophy.

We know from running the Philosophy Society that Existential Cafe is every year its most popular event. Durham philosophy students are keen to access more of this sort of philosophy, and it would be a shame if the department chose to scrap the first opportunity they have of doing just that.

TLS is especially important because it brings together several aspects of continental philosophy rather than analysing them separately. It looks at how Camus responds to Sartre, how psychoanalysis can complement existentialism, and how feminists critique all of those movements – which seemed so radical and ground-breaking at first. You may be able to integrate bits of this module into other philosophy courses. But it would be a pity to loose the one opportunity we have of comparing and contrasting all of these different thinkers, especially in the light of feminist theory.

Moreover, this is the only module that lets us explore exactly why some philosophers chose to write literature as well as theory, and what they felt they could express through the former that the latter could not encompass. Sartre, Camus and Kristeva all feel/felt that literature was an important part of their work. A module that does not include both literary and more conventional philosophical texts risks misrepresenting their intended message.

We understand that the lecturer who used to be in charge of this module left Durham at the end of last year. But Dr Richard Stopford has done a wonderful job since taking over this year. He is a great lecturer. He is also genuinely passionate about the content and central questions of this course. And he has made some useful changes to the structure of the course, such as integrating post-modernism as thematic element in the discussion of feminism.

It is in the general interest of students that the department run either this or a similar module with similar content next year.

Best wishes,

The signatories



If you think you may want to take this module next year, have already done so and loved it, and/or simply think taking TLS is a wonderful opportunity other students should have – please add your name and student number to the editable document in the link below. It will only take 2 minutes of your time. And it could make a great difference to people’s studies! If you are an alumnus, please state so instead of giving your student ID.

This is the document:!Aocg8EHvGeK7ab4GKunlCYl07-Y

Also, please leave here any comments you would like us to pass on to the department. For example – is there a section of the course you particularly enjoyed/think you will enjoy, and you would like it to be extended? And any other thoughts on the course, the reading, or on Dr Stopford’s teaching.



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