module specification

DN4013 - Things (2018/19)

Module specification Module approved to run in 2018/19
Module status DELETED (This module is no longer running)
Module title Things
Module level Certificate (04)
Credit rating for module 30
School School of Art, Architecture and Design
Total study hours 300
219 hours Guided independent study
81 hours Scheduled learning & teaching activities
Assessment components
Type Weighting Qualifying mark Description
Coursework 50%   Portfolio/ journal of module assignments (1500 words)
Coursework 50%   Essay (1500 words) and research bibliography
Running in 2018/19

(Please note that module timeslots are subject to change)
No instances running in the year

Module summary

‘Things’ are objects imbued with histories and meaning. In our culture, they act as signs and symbols. We produce and consume things, arrange things in collections, categorise them according to ideas, preserve and destroy them. The destiny of things changes with society and while some things sell for millions at auctions, others decompose in landfills. But what exactly constitutes a thing? When and how do materials and objects turn into things? How are networks and collections of things organised? And how do the things we find in nature relate and correspond to the things we make?

This year-long module will adopt an ethnographic approach to examining the material nature of the world we have created around us, and how our cultural identity is informed by concrete sensory experience. The module then explores how our culture is shaped around a continually evolving cycle of making things and perceiving the things we made: from simple tools to cities and transport networks. The module will examine the writing of history and criticism as an interpretive act and examine key texts and thinkers who have sought to foreground the position of the writing subject in the production of such texts.

Following ideas in systems theory and actor-network theory, the module examines how society is organised not just around ideas and ideologies, but a network of tangible and intangible objects that form the vessels, or ‘media’, which contain and embody the abstract values that govern our lives. We will investigate how things are active agents in relationships between themselves and their makers and users.

Students will be introduced to some of the fundamental ideas in the history of how we understand matter and the building blocks of the universe, for example, from early magic thinking and animism – the idea that objects have life – to quantum physics and string theory.

This module will enable students to:
• discuss and debate the material nature of things;
• understand the reasons for and importance of discourse about things and the value and meaning of objects and images as social and cultural constructions;
• show familiarity with selected theoretical debates for the understanding of the nature of objects and images;
• describe from first-hand experience and use of archives and collections, multiple interpretations of objects;
• describe the relationship between materiality and experience, using a range of means of expression.


The module is organised around a series of lectures, discussion seminars and visits to archives, museums and science labs, punctuated by lectures, seminars and guest workshops by visiting researchers and writers. LO1,LO2,LO3,LO4,LO5,LO6

Balance of independent study and scheduled teaching activity

Scheduled teaching ensures that independent study is effective and addresses the learning outcomes and assessment tasks. Students are expected to, and have the opportunity to, continue with their studies outside of scheduled classes. There will be a range of learning strategies deployed and individual learning styles will be accommodated. The module’s learning outcomes, its contents and delivery, have been scrutinised and will be regularly reviewed to ensure an inclusive approach to pedagogic practice.

The module and course utilise the University’s blended learning platform to support and reinforce learning, to foster peer-to-peer communication and to facilitate tutorial support for students. Reflective learning is promoted through assessment items and interim formative feedback points that ask students to reflect on their progress, seek help where they identify the opportunity for improvement in learning strategies and outcomes, and make recommendations to themselves for future development. Throughout the module, students build a body of work, including reflections on progress and achievement.

The School’s programme of employability events and embedded work-related learning within the curriculum supports students’ personal development planning. Through these initiatives, students are increasingly able, as they progress from year to year, to understand the professional environment of their disciplines, the various opportunities available to them, and how to shape their learning according to their ambitions.

Learning outcomes

On successful completion of this module, students will be able to:

1. demonstrate awareness of a variety of historical and philosophical references and discourses on the nature of things and the material and visual world;
2. understand the value and meaning of objects as social and cultural construction;
3. consider the multiple ways that we may gain knowledge about things and the material and visual world, both practically and theoretically, and understand the potentials and limitations of these methods;
4. distinguish between knowledge gained from the interaction with and manipulation of things and materials; as distinct from theoretical, historical and critical analysis;
5. confidently access archives and collections as resources for research and creative work;
6. apply skills of observing and describing things within their tangible and theoretical environments; exploring empirical, poetic, and speculative modes.

Assessment strategy

Students produce for feedback and assessment a journal of short creative assignments during the course of the lecture and seminar series (1500 words)

These assignments are collected in a portfolio [60%], and submitted alongside a short essay of 1,500 words [40%] and a research bibliography in week 28.


Bennett, J. (2010) Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things, Duke University Press
Flusser, V. (2011) Vampyrotheutis Infernalis, Atropos Press
Foucault, M. (2001)The Order of Things: Archaeology of the Human Sciences, Routledge
Gross, K. (2012) On Dolls, Notting Hill Editions
Heidegger, M. (1968) What is a Thing?, Regnery
Ian Hodder,I. (2012) Entangled: An Archaeology of the Relationships Between Humans and Things, Blackwell
Hudek, A. (ed.) (2015) The Object, MIT Press
Kreienbrock, J. (2012) Malicious Objects, Anger Management, and the Question of Modern Literature, Fordham
Papapetros, S. (2016) On the Animation of the Inorganic: Art, Architecture, and the Extension of Life, University of Chicago Press
Plato (2008) Timaeus and Critias, Oxford
Riskin, J. (2016)The Restless Clock: A History of the Centuries-Long Argument Over What Makes Living Things Tick, University of Chicago Press