skip to content


Faculty of Modern and Medieval Languages and Linguistics


CS5: The Body

This paper is available for the academic year 2023-24.

The Body paper is comparative in terms of both language areas and media covered: literature, non-literary texts, film, performance, art. It aims to explore, by way of diverse theoretical and interpretative approaches, the way in which bodies and embodiment are presented in these diverse media and the stakes or wider implications of this presentation.

Material discussed in lectures and seminars mostly comes from the 19th to 21st centuries, but students are free to explore material from any period in their supervision and assessment work. Students should be aware there is no set syllabus of texts for the paper; they are free to work on material discussed on lectures and seminars and/or on their own appropriate choices. Students should also be aware that although different literary and cultural theories will be discussed, these are frameworks within which students explore materials - this is not a 'theory course' per se.

Students must be able to work in three languages (one of which can be English, or another language in English translation). This also applies to optional dissertations. Students on the History and Modern Languages Tripos or English Tripos taking this paper will need to show knowledge of three language areas, one relating to a chosen Tripos language. For HML and English students, the other two languages may either be foreign languages, both engaged with through translation, or English and one other language engaged with through translation.




The Topics, with example areas of enquiry, are:

The Queer Body - non-heteronormative sexualities; the trans* body 

The (Un)Clothed Body - nudity and nakedness; the role of clothing, costume and drag

The Body and Contagion - the role of affect; discourses and narratives of plague, illness and pain

The Body and Trauma - violence and power structures; representation of individual trauma - physical and psychical

Bodies, Race and Identity - mobility, communities and legacies of slavery/oppression; biopolitics and structures of power

The Dis/En-abled Body - ableism and physical difference; cyborgs and prosthetics




Preparatory reading: 
  • Judith Butler, Bodies that Matter 1993
  • Michel Foucault, History of Sexuality: an Introduction, 1990 (1976)
  • Sean Sweeney and Ian Hodder (eds) The Body 2002
  • Elaine Scarry, The Body in Pain, 1985
  • Susan Suleiman (ed.), The Female Body in Western Culture, 1986



Teaching and learning: 

The provision of teaching for The Body consists of:  

  • 9 lectures, Mon 10, divided between the Michaelmas and Lent Terms
  • 12 seminars, Weds 4-5, in the Michaelmas and Lent Terms (2 seminars for each of the topics). In the first of each set of seminars, either one topic convenor or both will present a paper relating to the topic. In the second seminar of each set, short papers will be given by students, relating to material in the language areas in which they specialize. All students will be expected to give at least one presentation during the year. In each case, the lecture will precede the seminars. Supervision will be arranged by the convenors of the modules, and students can expect to have 6-8 supervisions in the course of the year. 

There will be three introductory lectures, followed by the six topics. Each topic will be taught in line with the model explained above, with 1 lecture and 2 seminars per topic. Students are expected to organise 6-8 supervisions during the year, ranging across their chosen topics.


Three hour examination.

Optional Dissertation.

Course Contacts: 
Dr Stuart Davis