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Literature in Society: Narrative, Fiction and Voice


Admission requirements

BA in Literary Studies or related discipline


Fictional narratives in literature and film not only reflect upon social and political issues, they also shape them, help them develop and (de)legitimize them. In that sense, literature and film are not separate from society; rather, they lie at the heart of how we understand the social and political. In this course, participants study three literary concepts (narrative, fiction, and voice) that enable them to understand the interaction between literature, film and society. More specifically, students study how concepts such as narrative, fiction and voice play a pivotal role in shaping our views on politics, identity, trauma, happiness, mobility and environment (the core concepts around which the different sessions of this course will revolve). Participants thus learn how literary strategies shape the social and political sphere in which we live.

To begin, narrative is employed well beyond the domain of literature or film, to explain and legitimize social, cultural or political institutions, events and histories. Companies like Starbucks create narratives, and so do cities when they are thinking about city branding and governments in their attempt to ‘sell’ their policy. So how can we use our literary expertise in narrative analysis to understand these phenomena? And how are these shaped by a specific (Western) understanding of narrative?

Similarly, fiction lies at the heart of some of the most pressing issues in politics, identity and medical sciences today. For example, we have no exact definition of what ‘death’ means: medical, juridical and psychological insights converge here, clashing in what can only be called a fictional construct. By being attentive to how society must employ fiction in all of its nooks and crannies, to hold the place together, we can use our expertise in literature to contribute to a critical analysis of society. Finally, other voices (or polyphony) show how literature’s ability to orchestrate and combine contradictory voices in a single text can serve as the ideal starting point for an analysis of the post-national, multicultural global societies that are currently emerging.

Course objectives

By the end of this course, participants

Can explain how literature impacts the social and political dynamics of global society today.

Can define, reflect upon and critically employ core concepts in literary theory (narrative, fiction, voice) to analyze, describe and explain one or more aspects of how literature and literary techniques impact the social and political sphere and vice versa

Can identify different approaches (trauma, happiness, cultural identity) that can help us effectively address the abovementioned issues of narrative, fiction and voice, and they can employ these different approaches in analyzing a literary work of art in a written assignment.


The timetables are available through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction

Lectures mixed with workgroup class meetings.

Assessment method


Evaluation for this course is based on the following components:

  • Participation: Weekly assignments with peer feedback and oral presentation: 30%
    Throughout the course you will read several theoretical texts, novels and films. In preparation you will receive research questions that will help you focus on the essential aspects of these texts. You will collect them in a portfolio, with your peer feedback.

  • Final Paper (70%)
    In this paper you formulate a research question based on the theoretical concepts and methods we discussed during this course (based on a novel discussed during the course). Detailed instructions will be available on Brightspace.

Research MA students will have to write an extra 3000 word paper on a topic to be decided in consultation with the tutor.


Only the paper can be re-taken.

Inspection and feedback

How and when a review of the written paper will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the results, a review of the written paper will have to be organised.

Reading list

The following novels and dvd’s will be used during the lectures and seminars:

  • Georges Perec, W or the Memory of Childhood. Vintage 2011.

  • Aminatta Forna, Happiness, Bloomsbury, 2018

  • Tom Lanoye, Fortunate Slaves, World Editions: Breda 2015 (or Dutch version, Gelukkige slaven)

  • Valeria Luiselli, Tell me How it Ends. Coffee House Press, 2017.

  • Valeria Luiselli, Lost Children Archive. Thorndike Press, 2019. 

  • Toni Morisson, Beloved, Alfred A. Knopf: New York, 1992

  • Film: Fire at Sea (dir. Gianfranco Rosi, 2016)

  • Film: The Second Mother (Brazil - dir. Muylaert, 2015)(copy of DVD in UL. Students can book cinema room for viewing at UL]


  • For substantive questions, contact the lecturer listed in the right information bar.

  • For questions about enrolment, admission, etc, contact the Student administration Arsenaal.

When registering students of the MA Literary studies take priority. The deadline for registration is August 15. All other students should contact the coordinator of studies: L.L.J.Kouters MA.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable


Coordinator of studies:L.L.J.Kouters MA


This course is also suitable as an elective for students from the other Literary Studies tracks. A detailed programme will be sent to participants to their umail address, after registration in uSis.
Maximum number of participants: 20. No new participants will be admitted after the first meeting.