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Durham University

School of Modern Languages and Cultures: German Studies

Doing the Right Thing: Concepts of Justice in Literature and Film

Academic Year 2018-19 - NOT RUNNING

„There is a true law, a right reason, conformable to nature, universal, unchangeable, eternal, whose commands urge us to duty, and whose prohibitions restrain us from evil."

Although many other philosophers - like Cicero in this quote - cling to a universal and unchangeable idea of a pre-existing natural law which predefines the right thing to do, concrete concepts of justice as moral rightness vary considerably.

This course examines ideas of justice based on a selection of pertinent texts and films, with a particular focus on the period of the French Revolution, the Weimar Republic and the Nazi Regime and the phenomenon of migration in the 20th and 21st centuries. It also looks at moral philosophical treatises (such as Kant's 'Kritik der praktischen Vernunft' with the famous categorical imperative) and explores the increasingly explosive relationship between ends and means (which emerges with particular prominence in Brecht's work).

We will analyse the impact of historical events/changes on notions of just/unjust as presented in literature and films, thereby scrutinizing different modes and fields of justice, such as legitimacy and conspiracy in terms of politics, legality and criminality in terms of law, and ethics and morality.

This module not only familiarises you with canonical texts and films from different periods of German culture, but also gives you an insight into changing perceptions of justice over the course of the centuries.

Texts likely to be studied include:

  • Friedrich Schiller: Fiesco
  • Friedrich Schiller: Verbrecher aus verlorener Ehre
  • Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: Iphigenie auf Tauris
  • Heinrich von Kleist: Michael Kohlhaas
  • Fritz Lang: M. Eine Stadt sucht einen Mörder
  • Brecht: Der gute Mensch von Sezuan
  • Brecht: Der Kaukasische Kreidekreis
  • Fatih Akin: Gegen die Wand
  • Fatih Akin: Auf der anderen Seite


Professor Claudia Nitschke (, room A26, Elvet Riverside I

Further details of pre-requisites, co-requisites, aims, contact hours and assessment.