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South African Literatures: Writing Decoloniality - ENG00121M

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  • Department: English and Related Literature
  • Module co-ordinator: Prof. David Attwell
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: M
  • Academic year of delivery: 2019-20

Module summary

The term ‘decoloniality’ has been in wide usage since 2015, catalyzed by the #RhodesMustFall movements in Cape Town and Oxford. ‘Postcoloniality’ has a more settled academic status which advocates of decoloniality would seek to displace, for while postcoloniality implies half-finished, hybridized, in-between and ambiguously identified cultural positions and spaces, decoloniality signals a desire to wipe the slate clean. The module takes the view that the debate has a long history, and that in literature we can follow these investments productively because literature is about the tensions between subjects and their histories. The module is organized thematically, but each of its themed clusters is historically grounded in a particular moment and set of cultural and political challenges. Each text or pair of texts is thus embedded in a wider cultural debate that is a response to its times, a response consisting of contending voices and positions. The purpose is to build frames of reference in which informed discussions of the limits and possibilities of decoloniality can take place.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching cycle
A Autumn Term 2019-20

Module aims

The aim of the module is to provide resources and focal points for widespread (and often troubled) debates around colonial history and its consequences for cultural identity. It is grounded in South African literature not because it assumes any kind of exceptionalism for the field, but because it seeks an appropriate degree of contextualization for discussions that can easily lapse into ahistorical assertion and sloganizing. (Comparative postcolonialism is notoriously thin on context, like watching the weather forecasts of the global TV channels.) The module will provide an informed introduction to a lively, non-metropolitan literature which is strongly represented in the developing curricula of World Literature.

Module learning outcomes

On successful completion of the module, you should be able to:

  1. Through independent research, demonstrate an advanced understanding of and engagement with aspects of South African literature and its history.
  2. Demonstrate an advanced understanding of and engagement with the work of authors from diverse backgrounds.   
  3. Evaluate key debates within the relevant fields of cultural-political debate, and literary-critical fields associated with postcolonial literature.
  4. Produce independent arguments and ideas which demonstrate an advanced proficiency in critical thinking, research, and writing skills.


Task Length % of module mark
4500 word essay
N/A 100

Special assessment rules



Task Length % of module mark
4500 word essay
N/A 100

Module feedback

You will receive feedback on all assessed work within the University deadline, and will often receive it more quickly. The purpose of feedback is to inform your future work; it is designed to help you to improve your work, and the Department also offers you help in learning from your feedback. If you do not understand your feedback or want to talk about your ideas further you can discuss it with your module tutor, the MA Convenor or your supervisor, during their Open Office Hours

Indicative reading

  • Thomas Pringle, a selection of poems;
  • Olive Schreiner, The Story of an African Farm;
  • Sol Plaatjie, Mhudi;
  • Alan Paton, Cry, the Beloved Country;
  • Esk’ia Mphahlele, Down Second Avenue;
  • Bloke Modisane, Blame Me on History;
  • Stephen Biko, a selection of essays;
  • Njabulo Ndebele, a selection of short fiction;
  • Mongane Serote, a selection of poems;
  • Nadine Gordimer, July’s People;
  • J.M. Coetzee, Life & Times of Michael K;
  • Achmat Dangor, Bitter Fruit;
  • Zoë Wicomb, October.    

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.

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