Module Details

CS301-6-FY-CO: Dangerous Ideas: Essays And Manifestos As Social Criticism

Year: 2017/18
Department: Interdisciplinary Studies Centre
Essex credit: 30
ECTS credit: 15
Available to Study Abroad / Exchange Students: Yes
Full Year Module Available to Study Abroad / Exchange Students for a Single Term: Yes
Outside Option: Yes
Comments: CS101 and CS201 are recommended pre-requisites. However, students choosing this module as an outside option will be accepted on the module with the permission of the Course Director.

Teaching Staff: Prof Colin Samson & a range of staff from across the university will contribute to the module.
Contact details: TBC

Module is taught during the following terms
Autumn Spring Summer

Module Description

This module examines how writing in the form of the essay and manifesto can be subversive. During the year, we will look at several essays and manifestos that challenge and often satirize dominant ideas, existing social arrangements, and provoke us to explore the many varieties of writing itself. The module seeks to reappraise the essay and follow the important role it has played in the development of the humanities and social sciences from the 16th century to the present. Today the essay is emerging as a critical tool in the examination of all aspects of human experience, both the profound and the ephemeral. Essays may mask themselves as innocent excursions but, as with Jonathan Swift's 'A Modest Proposal' or George Orwell's 'Politics and the English Language,' the essay can rapidly overturn accepted opinions and provoke the questioning of values. Likewise, manifestos like Marx and Engels' 'The Communist Manifesto' may be written specifically to mobilise opinion and overthrow existing social and working institutions, while the 'How to be Idle' manifesto proposes we abandon work itself.

The readings are primarily chosen on the basis of their historical impact, current relevance and at the same time selected as models for good writing. It is hoped that a consideration of how ideas are powerfully and succinctly communicated will encourage students to experiment, and thus, broaden the approach of those essays produced by the students who follow the module.

Learning and Teaching Methods

Weekly lecture, plus a weekly seminar that will include staff presentations, student-led intellectual discussion.


100 per cent Coursework Mark


Autumn term essay: 3000-4000 words, Spring term essay: 4000-5000 words, Reading week assignment: 1200 words on three manifestos.

Other information

Core for BA Liberal Arts students.

To prepare for this module, suggested introductory reading:

Nussbaum, Martha C. (2010) Not for profit: Why democracy needs the humanities. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press

Article from The New Yorker (June 16, 2015) A New Theory of Distraction by Joshua Rothman. Available at:


  • Michel de Montaigne, 'On the art of conversation.'
  • Jonathan Swift, [1729], 'A Modest Proposal,'
  • William Hazlitt, [1826], 'The Pleasure of Hating.'
  • Henry David Thoreau (2003), [1848], Civil Disobedience.
  • George Orwell, (1946), 'Politics and the English Language.'
  • Susan Sontag (2003) 'Regarding the Pain of Others'
  • Rebecca Solnit (2014) 'Woolf's Darkness'
  • Martha Nussbaum, (2010), Not for Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities
  • Jean-Luc Godard, "What is to be done?": Film, Ideology, and Going to the Movies.
  • Karl Marx & Friedrich Engels (2003[1848]) The Communist Manifesto
  • Albert Camus, (1951), 'The Rebel'
  • Tom Hodgkinson (2004) How to Be Idle
  • Michael Pollan, (2008), In Defense of Food

Further information