module specification

ED7122 - Critical Theory and Education (2017/18)

Module specification Module approved to run in 2017/18
Module title Critical Theory and Education
Module level Masters (07)
Credit rating for module 20
School School of Social Professions
Total study hours 200
164 hours Guided independent study
36 hours Scheduled learning & teaching activities
Assessment components
Type Weighting Qualifying mark Description
Coursework 100%   5000 word essay
Running in 2017/18
Period Campus Day Time Module Leader
Autumn semester North Wednesday Evening

Module summary

This module is envisioned as providing the intellectual backdrop for the rest of the programme. The module aims to be responsive to the varying educational histories of any given cohort of students. As such, it provides an entry point, for a diverse range of local as well as international students, into key academic discourses and perspectives that have informed and shaped social sciences, including the study of education, in the twentieth and the twenty-first centuries. Through its broad epistemic coverage, the module will equip students with intellectual tools to critically engage with and problematize the common sense, hegemonic ways of understanding the social world and how these might get translated into educational policy and provision.

Prior learning requirements


Module aims

The module aims to:
• familiarise students with a wide range of previous academic experience and backgrounds with key moments in the Western intellectual history;
• analyse the European Enlightenment and its impact on our understanding of the world, the emergence of social sciences and the modern school;
• encourage students to develop a holistic understanding of the Scientific Revolution, the European Enlightenment, and the rise of capitalism and how these intersected with one another in creating the modern world and how these continue to shape and influence the contemporary world; 
• problematize the common sense view of language as a transparent medium that unproblematically represents the world;
• introduce students to multiple perspectives on the social world and their implications for understanding the processes of schooling and education;
• introduce the students to the so called ‘linguistic turn’ in the social sciences and its implications for understanding the social reality, including school curricula and educational processes;
• introduce students to some key theoretical perspectives like functionalism, Marxism, structuralism, poststructuralism and social constructionism and how these might be used to analyse educational processes and provision.


The module will begin by tracing the origins of Western thought in ancient Greece, focussing especially on the empiricist and idealist philosophical traditions and their influence on more recent ways of thinking about the world. These preliminary discussions will be followed by the study of the Scientific Revolution and how it acted as a catalyst for the Enlightenment thinking about the world and the place of human beings within it. These two watershed moments will be used to understand and analyse the industrial revolution, the rise of capitalism and colonial expansion. In this context, a critical discussion of evolutionary biology and the ground-breaking work of Charles Darwin will be used to understand some influential developments in social sciences, especially developmental psychology, and their impact on dominant ways of understanding children, childhood and the processes of education.

In the second half, the module will provide opportunities for students to engage with some key continental thinkers like Hegel, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels and evaluate their influence on social sciences. This will be followed by looking at ideas of some key structuralist thinkers like Ferdinand de Saussure, Roland Barthes, Claude Levi Strauss and Sigmund Freud. The students will also be introduced to some of the key ideas and thinkers of the Frankfurt school.

The final part of the module will provide opportunities to problematize common-sense ways of looking at social reality and the role of language as a straightforward and unproblematic medium for communicating information. Starting by looking at some of the key ideas of Ludwig Wittgenstein, the programme will move on to engaging with the poststructuralist perspective and the so called ‘linguistic turn’ in social sciences. The module will conclude by looking at social constructionism and the idea of discourse and how these might be used to analyse, problematize and interrogate official policies, school curricula and various discursive practices related to education.

Learning and teaching

Lectures and seminars delivered, once a week, in three hours blocks in the evenings. These contact sessions will be accompanied by some opportunities to extend understanding and analysis of key ideas and issues in the virtual learning space for the module.

Learning outcomes

On completing this module, the students will be able to:
• identify and understand the key moments in the history of Western thought;
• appreciate and articulate the impact of the Scientific Revolution, the European Enlightenment and the rise of capitalism on the modern world and how educational institutions have been conceived and operationalized in a variety of contexts;
• demonstrate understanding of some key sociological perspectives and how these might be used to engage with and analyse the social world;
• understand the complex and problematic nature of language and its relationship with social reality and use these insights to analyse aspects of the social world;
• confidently engage with a variety of theoretical perspectives and use these to analyse and critique the processes and institutions of education.

Assessment strategy

Indicative assessment tasks:
• a critical appraisal of educational policies using theoretical perspectives introduced during the course of the module;
• analysis and evaluation of the usefulness of critical theoretical perspectives in understanding the social world of education.

Formative Assessment:
• Student Presentations: During week 10, students will make a 5 to 7 minutes presentation on their chosen topic for the final coursework. The presentation will be followed by peer and tutor feedback.

Summative Assessment:
• 100% by coursework: one 5000 word essay to be submitted in week 14


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