Symbiosis International University Symbiosis School for Liberal Arts

Critical Ideas of the 20th Century


In the field of Literary and Cultural Studies, critical ideas occupy a central place. If “practice” is what defines a human activity, we often need a set of ideas that help us understand such practices. Such a set of ideas can be understood (of course only in a generalized manner) as Theory. The last century saw a phenomenal rise of academic institutions that were defined in terms of their theoretical outlooks. Theory pervaded every imaginable discipline and helped define their contours. This course is a journey through such myriad ways, which shape the ways we understand the world.

In this course, the students will be exposed to a variety of theoretical approaches that arose in the latter half of the 20th century. Students will gain a conceptual grasp over extremely critical debates that have informed our understanding of the world. In that we will take an informed look at Structuralism, Post-Structuralism, Psychoanalysis (Lacan), Postmodernism and its aftermath, Postcolonial criticism and the late 20th century ideas in Marxism and Feminism. 

 Course Objectives 

  • To introduce students to basic concepts in theory across disciplines.
  • To help students recognize the importance of dealing with abstract concepts and prepare them with critical skills to engage with difficult texts in academics.
  • To form a knowledge base which can be useful across disciplines.
  • To help them produce theoretical arguments at an abstract level to explain the concrete/empirical reality.
  • To introduce students to a multi-disciplinary approach as in order to synthesize various strands of contemporary theoretical approaches.  

 Teaching Methodology 

  • The students will be expected to read the material distributed in the class and critically contribute to the ideas discussed in the class.
  • Emphasis will be on a close reading of certain texts in the classroom.
  • Classes will be held in the “Discussion mode” and students will be encouraged to bring in their experiences with aesthetic, cultural, social and political outlooks.



 Course Outline 

Sr. No Topics Hours
1 Unit 1: Structuralism
1.     What is structuralism?
2.     Saussure, Levi Strauss, Barthes, Althusser
2 Unit 2: Psychoanalysis
1.     What is Psychoanalysis?
2.     The Freudian Momentand the Lacanian Response
3.     The Mirror Stage
4.     Slavoj Zizek
3. Unit 3: Post Structuralism
1.     The rise of Post Structuralism
2.     Derrida, Barthes, Foucault
3.     The Death of the Author
4.     Judith Butler and Feminism
4. Unit 4: Post Modernism
1. Lyotard's Death of the Grand Narrative
2. Jameson and Consumer Culture
5. Unit 5: Post Colonial Theory
1. Colonialism and History
2. Indian Debates: Subaltern History