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Art and the Political Psyche in Britain, 1979-1997 - HOA00120M

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  • Department: History of Art
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Theo Gordon
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: M
  • Academic year of delivery: 2023-24
    • See module specification for other years: 2024-25

Module summary

A detailed examination of the intersections between artistic production and reception, and feminist, ‘queer’ and postcolonial politics and thought, across the eighteen years of Conservative government in the United Kingdom 1979-1997, primarily through a psychoanalytic lens.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Semester 1 2023-24

Module aims

This module examines how art practices between 1979-1997 became a crucial site for the articulation and mediation of psychic and social conflict in Britain. These years witnessed profound economic and social change in the United Kingdom - and the wider world - as heavy manufacturing went into abject decline, financial markets were deregulated, and state welfare and nationalised industry were gradually remodelled away from the ‘postwar consensus’ of 1945. At the same time, the ongoing reverberations of women’s and gay liberation struggles of the 1970s, and the adult maturity of the first generation of British-born postcolonial citizens, clashed with the nominal Victorianism of the Thatcher governments. Artists working across a wide range of media - in the wake of the 1960s conceptual break - addressed their work to these concerns, attempting to intervene in the field of representations of sexuality, ‘race’, conflict, and latterly gender, as well as the institutional structures of the art world in the UK. We will examine how trenchant and advanced ideas concerning the political efficacy of art, and the articulation of psychic and social conflict through aesthetics, developed in this period, and the fate of those practices in contemporary art now. The primary theoretical framework will be psychoanalysis, as a discourse of the articulation of sexuality and violence in cultural forms, and an ascendent intellectual concern for artists of the period. We will work closely on the relationships between different material-conceptual practices and inscriptions of psychic life, and the question of ‘theory’ in art history more broadly. Whilst the UK is the central context of study, students will learn approaches and critical skills that apply across the global modern and contemporary. Artists may include Tina Keane, Helen Chadwick, Susan Hiller, Sharon Kivland, Mary Kelly, Sonia Boyce, Eddie Chambers, Mona Hatoum, Hamad Butt, Stuart Marshall, Sunil Gupta, Sutapa Biswas, Isaac Julien, Pratibha Parmar and Tessa Boffin.

Module learning outcomes

By the end of the module, students should have acquired:

  • A detailed, critical knowledge of work produced by artists in Britain addressing questions of feminism, and queer, Black and postcolonial politics, 1979-1997
  • Knowledge and understanding of the diversity of contemporary art practices since the advent of conceptualism
  • Ability to conceive and integrate psychoanalytic interpretations of works of art in terms of social and political conflict


Task Length % of module mark
Essay : Assessed Essay
N/A 100

Special assessment rules




Module feedback

You will receive feedback on assessed work within the timeframes set out by the University - please check the Guide to Assessment, Standards, Marking and Feedback for more information.

The purpose of feedback is to help you to improve your future work. If you do not understand your feedback or want to talk about your ideas further, you are warmly encouraged to meet your Tutor and/or Supervisor during their office hours.

Indicative reading

  • Bailey, David, Ian Baucom and Sonia Boyce, eds. Shades of Black: Assembling Black Arts in 1980s Britain. Durham, NC, Duke, 2003.
  • Cooper, Emmanuel. The Sexual Perspective, 2nd Edn. London, Routledge, 1994.
  • Mercer, Kobena. Travel and See: Black Diaspora Practices since the 1980s. Durham, NC, Duke, 2016.
  • Parker, Rozsika. Torn in Two: The Experience of Maternal Ambivalence. London: Virago, 1995.
  • Robinson, Hilary and Maria Elena Buszek, eds. A Companion to Feminist Art. Oxford, Blackwell, 2019.

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.