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Course overview

This is a truly interdisciplinary course that will give you a comprehensive introduction to the tradition of critical thinking that shapes the study of culture as well as the opportunity to explore some of the most exciting theories for getting a critical edge on contemporary social, political and cultural phenomena.

The course builds on the scholarly relation between the theoretical and applied or practical aspects of research in the humanities, thereby preparing you for theoretically informed research in the study of culture and beyond.

We explore issues of representation, identity, power, meaning and ideology, engage with British Cultural Studies, the Frankfurt School but also new materialisms, cultural geographies, ecological, post- and de-colonial research.

You will be able to draw on the expertise of the teaching team in areas such as continental philosophy, cultural studies, literary theory and aesthetics, psychoanalysis, political theory, science and technology studies.

This course will certainly appeal to you if you are a cultural studies or humanities graduate, if you have studied media, the arts, or politics and have an interest in more detailed engagement in thinking critical and constructively with theories to understand cultural events and practices.

Why choose this course?

International focus

You will benefit from our wide range of international collaborative arrangements

Active researchers

We are home to the Centre for Critical Theory, a vibrant and active research community


We are interdisciplinary and work closely with other centres and institutes

Close links

Benefit from our links with a number of cultural organisations

Course content

All full-time students complete 180 credits in a year. The taught component of the programme is worth 120 credits and consists of six 20 credit modules (60 credits of which are core and a further 60 credits are optional). 

Students also complete an independently researched 12 - 15,000-word dissertation (worth 60 credits) under the supervision of one of the members of the teaching staff. The dissertation gives students the opportunity to put what they have learned through the year to the test on a detailed research project of their own devising. It is submitted at the end of the year and is marked by both an internal and an external examiner with the possibility of a viva.


Core modules

Aesthetics and Politics

Starting with debates in and around the work of the Frankfurt School before and after World War II, you will explore the links between aesthetics and politics as they have become manifest both within particular social and cultural constellations as well as in the philosophical tradition that informs contemporary critical and cultural theory. The module will trace out: historical connections in discussions of aesthetics and politics - from the 'visual strategies' of Hobbes's Leviathan to contemporary 'shock and awe' and the society of the spectacle; conceptual affiliations and applications (such as Romanticism and the literary absolute, modernist art movements and Bergsonian philosophy, 'ethico-aesthetics' and subjectivity, kitsch and cultural capital); and specific aspects of creative practices - from montage and collage to cutting and pasting, glitch and digital aesthetics - with a view to exploring the complexities of the relationship between theory and practice.

This module is worth 20 credits.

Theory at Work: Problematising the Present

Drawing on approaches that may include - but are not limited to - media and communication studies, feminism and critical race studies, science and technology studies as well as discourse analysis and political economy, you will put ‘theory to work’ on contemporary themes such as globalization and digital cultures, new media and technology, and social movements and networked activism. Because of the emphasis on applied theory, the module is also intended to serve as preparation for the dissertation module. It includes four additional dissertation workshops covering such topics as: refining a research question, building a theoretical framework, establishing an appropriate methodology, and identifying relevant primary and secondary sources.

Critical and Cultural Theory Today

You will be introduced to theoretical approaches and debates in the overlapping fields of critical theory and cultural studies. The module has two thematic strands that students will undertake depending on which MA programmes they are registered on. One is a critical theory strand that explores recent theoretical explorations of the link between aesthetics and politics: drawing on material ranging from the Frankfurt School to Jacques Rancière, this strand will help students a) extend and refine their understanding of the Tradition of Critique and b) develop conceptual frameworks to better understand the links between aesthetic experience, forms of sensibility, and the possibilities of social and cultural change. The second strand, taken by students on the MA in Cultural Studies, focuses on cultural studies approaches to material culture and everyday life: as well as introducing students to theorists such as Georg Simmel, Walter Benjamin, and Henri Lefebvre, micrological analyses of specific artefacts will allow students to explore issues of cultural value and the politics of taste and distinction. Both strands will come together for group tutorials in preparation for essay writing and submission.

Arts in Society

We will help you to apply your arts MA across society to enhance your career and contribute to wider society.

We'll demonstrate how the arts can be used to:

  • transform society, politics and culture
  • enhance the careers of arts and humanities MA students.

You'll be able to explore, explain and then detail how your disciplinary skills can impact upon wider issues to emphasise the applicability of the arts and humanities. From the role of the scholar activist to understanding ‘knowledge transfer’ and ‘public engagement’, you'll develop professional skills in preparation for a career within academia or across a range of sectors.

You will:

  • harness the ways in which the arts and humanities enable us to think differently and to innovate
  • work on issues of research, networking, grant-writing and cultural exchange
  • learn how to engage, communicate and create.

This module is worth 20 credits.


Dissertation in Visual Culture

You will choose a dissertation topic in consultation with the MA Course Convenor and an appropriate supervisor.

Dissertation supervision will normally take the form of regular meetings with the supervisor.

This is a compulsory core module worth 60 credits.

Optional modules

Tradition of Critique I

This module introduces you to the key thinkers, themes and debates that constitute the European critical tradition. The module provides a contextual overview of primarily post-Kantian critical philosophy and critical theory mainly in the German tradition of the 19th and 20th Centuries.

It is likely to cover thinkers such as Kant, Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche and Freud as well as Heidegger, Adorno and Benjamin. Each thinker will be presented both in terms of their interlocutors and respective historical contexts, and in terms of their subsequent interpretations and uptake in a variety of disciplines and approaches.

Discussion is structured around several overarching themes that have driven critical and philosophical debate. These are likely to include:

  • the limits of reason;
  • power and knowledge;
  • history and historicity;
  • subjectivity;
  • the politics of culture.
Tradition of Critique II

This module explores the work of a range of thinkers who have interrogated the work of the philosophers who constitute the “canon” of thinkers schooled in the European critical tradition.

It follows on from and engages with the work explored in Traditions of Critique but the structure of the discussion it presents can be followed without attendance on that module.

Following in its thematic development the exploration of the limits of critique, it revisits the history and geography of critique by offering an introduction to a number of thinkers, from a range of backgrounds, including postcolonial theory, feminism, structuralism and post-structuralism, and considers the variety of ways in which such thinkers have problematised central tenets of European Enlightenment thinking.

Technology and the Transformations of Communication

This module explores the role of technology in: shaping processes of symbolic exchange; the material organisation of cultures; the growth of communication 'power' and subjective capacities for action. The module draws together research in media and communication theory, history and philosophy of technology, geography and the sociology of communication, material cultures. It considers debates about the division between technical and cultural understandings of the world, links between technology and experience, critical appraisals of ideas about network and information society, technological determinism, digital infrastructures and theories of socio-technical organisation.

This module is worth 20 credits.

The above is a sample of the typical modules we offer but is not intended to be construed and/or relied upon as a definitive list of the modules that will be available in any given year. Modules (including methods of assessment) may change or be updated, or modules may be cancelled, over the duration of the course due to a number of reasons such as curriculum developments or staffing changes. Please refer to the module catalogue for information on available modules. This content was last updated on Friday 09 October 2020.

Learning and assessment

How you will learn

  • Seminars
  • Lectures

The teaching on this course is largely seminar based. Seminars are supported by lectures that provide the philosophical background to theorists’ work.

How you will be assessed

  • Dissertation
  • Coursework

All taught modules are assessed by written work of 3,500 to 5,000 words, which is submitted towards the end of the semester in which the module is taught.

The dissertation module is assessed by a written work of 12,000 to 15,000 words – this is usually submitted in early September.

There are no examinations. All coursework and dissertations are double marked within the school as well as being examined externally.

Contact time and study hours

The minimum scheduled contact time you will have is 20 hours per module. The dissertation has a maximum of five hours one-to-one contact time.

As well as your timetabled sessions you’ll carry out extensive self-study. This will include course reading and seminar preparation. As a guide 20 credits (a typical module) is about 200 hours of work (combined teaching and self-study).

Entry requirements

All candidates are considered on an individual basis and we accept a broad range of qualifications. The entrance requirements below apply to 2021 entry.

Undergraduate degree2.1 (upper 2nd class hons degree or international equivalent)


Our step-by-step guide covers everything you need to know about applying.

How to apply


Qualification All
Home / UK To be confirmed in 2020
International To be confirmed in 2020

If you are a student from the EU, EEA or Switzerland starting your course in the 2021/22 academic year, you will pay international tuition fees.

This does not apply to Irish students, who will be charged tuition fees at the same rate as UK students. UK nationals living in the EU, EEA and Switzerland will also continue to be eligible for ‘home’ fee status at UK universities until 31 December 2027.

For further guidance, check our Brexit information for future students.

Additional costs

There are no extra compulsory fees to be paid beyond your standard tuition fees. You'll be able to access most of the books you’ll need through our libraries, though you may wish to buy your own copies of core texts. The Blackwell's bookshop on campus offers a year-round price match against any of the main retailers (i.e. Amazon, Waterstones, WH Smith). They also offer second-hand books, as students from previous years sell their copies back to the bookshop.


Midlands4Cities Nottingham Masters Studentships

These financial awards are for students wishing to pursue a full-time on-site Masters over a maximum period of one year.

Find out more

There are many ways to fund your postgraduate course, from scholarships to government loans.

The University also offers masters scholarships for international and EU students. Our step-by-step guide contains everything you need to know about funding postgraduate study.

Postgraduate funding


We offer individual careers support for all postgraduate students.

Expert staff can help you research career options and job vacancies, build your CV or résumé, develop your interview skills and meet employers.

More than 1,500 employers advertise graduate jobs and internships through our online vacancy service. We host regular careers fairs, including specialist fairs for different sectors.

Career progression

The average annual salary for postgraduates from the School of Cultures, Languages and Areas Studies was £21,855*

*HESA Graduate Outcomes 2020. The Graduate Outcomes % is derived using The Guardian University Guide methodology. The average annual salary is based on graduates working full-time within the UK.

Two masters graduates proudly holding their certificates

Related courses

The University has been awarded Gold for outstanding teaching and learning (2017/18). Our teaching is of the highest quality found in the UK.

The Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) is a national grading system, introduced by the government in England. It assesses the quality of teaching at universities and how well they ensure excellent outcomes for their students in terms of graduate-level employment or further study.

This content was last updated on Friday 09 October 2020. Every effort has been made to ensure that this information is accurate, but changes are likely to occur given the interval between the date of publishing and course start date. It is therefore very important to check this website for any updates before you apply.