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Durham University

Postgraduate Module Handbook 2021/2022

Archive Module Description

This page is for the academic year 2021-22. The current handbook year is 2022-23

Department: English Studies

ENGL45330: Illness and Narrative Practices

Type Open Level 4 Credits 30 Availability Not available in 2021/22


  • Students must hold a good BA degree in English or a related subject to be eligible for entry onto the MA programmes in the Department of English Studies


  • None

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None


  • Introduce and critically contextualise the literary genre of ‘illness narrative’ and its centrality to the field of medical humanities
  • Explore how literary narratives of illness relate to other contemporary narrative practices of illness that are central to medical humanities research
  • Develop critical and close reading skills for engaging with narrative accounts of illness produced within a range of literary, aesthetic, sociological and disciplinary contexts
  • Introduce theoretical and interdisciplinary frameworks from critical medical humanities, feminist and gender studies, disability studies, mad studies and related fields prominent in the analysis of narratives of illness
  • Develop an awareness of debates surrounding the ethics of reading, and of producing, narratives of illness and recovery.


  • This module will examine contemporary narrative practices of illness from a critical medical humanities perspective. Three key sets of texts will be introduced and drawn into dialogue: (i) literary illness narratives, predominantly in the form of published memoirs of ill health or intense mental distress; (ii) foundational theoretical accounts of the production and reception of narratives of illness, including from anthropology and sociology; and (iii) examples of narrative approaches to illness by researchers and practitioners working across the medical humanities. Students will develop and advance their skills in the analysis of literary texts and particularly literary life-writing (with key texts by Stella Bolaki, Anne Boyer, Marian Coutts, Grace Cho and Hilary Mantel), while at the same time being introduced to the ways in which other disciplines describe, theorise and investigate the relationship between narrative forms, practices of narration, embodiment, suffering and the interpersonal and cultural recognition of that suffering (for example in the work of Arthur Kleinman, Arthur Frank, Cheryl Mattingly and Linda Garro). The module is designed with interdisciplinary risk-taking in mind: students will be encouraged to think critically about what constitutes a narrative of illness in intersubjective, ethical and instrumental as well as literary critical and theoretical terms.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • An extensive and detailed knowledge of contemporary literary illness narratives and their relationship to other narrative practices of illness.
  • A sophisticated awareness of the variety of ways in which narrative is conceptualised and used across the medical humanities, to achieve a range of scholarly, aesthetic, political and practical objectives.
  • An understanding of the ethical issues raised by narrative practices of illness
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Advanced critical skills in the close reading and analysis of literary and medical humanities texts;
  • An ability to offer advanced analysis of formal and aesthetic dimensions of literature;
  • An ability to demonstrate an advanced understanding of the cultural, intellectual, socio-political contexts of literature;
  • An ability to articulate an advanced knowledge and understanding of conceptual or theoretical literary material;
  • An advanced command of a broad range of vocabulary and critical literary terminology;
  • An ability to contextualise literary texts and literary approaches in broader, disciplinary and interdisciplinary debates.
Key Skills:
  • Students studying this module will develop:
  • an advanced ability to analyse critically;
  • an advanced ability to acquire complex information of diverse kinds in structured and systematic ways;
  • an advanced ability to interpret complex information of diverse kinds through the distinctive skills derived from the subject;
  • expertise in conventions of scholarly presentation and bibliographical skills;
  • an independence of thought and judgement, and ability to assess acutely the critical ideas of others;
  • sophisticated skills in critical reasoning;
  • an advanced ability to handle information and argument critically;
  • a competence in information-technology skills such as word-processing and electronic data access;
  • professional organisation and time-management skills.

Modes of Teaching, Learning and Assessment and how these contribute to the learning outcomes of the module

  • Students are encouraged to develop advanced conceptual abilities and analytical skills as well as the ability to communicate an advanced knowledge and conceptual understanding within seminars; the capacity for advanced independent study is demonstrated through the completion of two assessed pieces of work.
  • Typically, directed learning may include assigning student(s) an issue, theme or topic that can be independently or collectively explored within a framework and/or with additional materials provided by the tutor. This may function as preparatory work for presenting their ideas or findings (sometimes electronically) to their peers and tutor in the context of a seminar.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Seminars 9 fortnightly 2hrs 18
Independent student research supervised by the Module Convenor 10
Student Presentation Day 1 One-off 6hrs 6
Preparation and Reading 272
Total 300

Summative Assessment

Component: Coursework Component Weighting: 100%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Student Presentation 10 minutes 20%
Essay 5000 words 80%

Formative Assessment:

Attendance at all activities marked with this symbol will be monitored. Students who fail to attend these activities, or to complete the summative or formative assessment specified above, will be subject to the procedures defined in the University's General Regulation V, and may be required to leave the University