Brief Description

Contemporary fiction is a growing area in literary and cultural studies, but often taught in an ad hoc fashion without necessarily responding to the availability of support materials which hampers student work and intellectual development. This project intended to review such teaching of contemporary fiction in academic English (and affiliate) departments by considering a range of issues, including exactly what literary and theoretical texts are taught and on what courses, and additionally assess the use and availability of different kinds of supplementary literary-critical support materials. This was achieved through an empirical study by conducting semi-structured interviews with academics offering such courses and also from material submitted via the web by practitioners.

Aims and Objectives

Aims:

To record and help to codify (and potentially improve through the delivery of information) the existing teaching of contemporary fiction; to spread good practice and knowledge of available support materials and resources; to facilitate networking between staff in these curriculum areas by creating a database of courses and practitioners in these fields; and, to create a source of information for publishers and others concerned with the development of critical and support materials.

Objectives:

  • To produce a cartography of the current selection of authors, critical materials offered on such courses and thereby reflect the consequent ongoing production of “new canonicity”;
  • To reflect the themes and contexts seen as appropriate to the contemporary;
  • To identify the curriculum areas in which the contemporary is taught;
  • To note the choices and contexts influencing periodising the contemporary (e.g. post-1945 or 1960s/mid-1970s onward);
  • To reflect how the concept of the contemporary is theorised;
  • To identify in curriculum terms how the contemporary relates to previous periods (post-war, modernism, between the wars and Victorian);
  • To produce an overview of available critical interpretive materials and sources
  • To suggest how the data collected might help improve the teaching of contemporary fiction

Methodology

A literature survey will be undertaken. Semi-structured interviews will be conducted with a minimum of eighteen and a maximum of twenty five university academics in English (and affiliate) departments to explore their views about teaching contemporary fiction. Interviews with major specialists in contemporary fiction will be conducted in additional depth. The universities which will be contacted will form a representative sample that reflects both the pre and post-92 sectors and all the major regions of the United Kingdom. At least one interview per region will be conducted and a balance between institution types nationally will be obtained. The primary objective of the interviews will be to encourage colleagues to articulate their conceptual understanding and actual teaching experiences of the contemporary. The methodology will be to take a standpoint approach and regard interviews as conversations. Exhibiting the standpoint that the researchers are colleagues/peers of the interviewees has the benefit of aiding the establishment of a good rapport with respondents. Care will be taken to ensure that familiarity with the perspectives of the interviewees does not inhibit insight. The interview data will be explored via intra-case, cross-case, and thematic analysis. The School of English at UCE will be asked to provide specific support for the employment of doctoral students as clerical assistants in the organisation of and analysis of the results of interviews, and any other required supplementary support.

Report

Project Leaders

Dr. Mark Addis
School of English
University of Central England in Birmingham

Dr Philip Tew
School of the Arts
University of Northampton
(Now at Brunel)

Research Period

2004 – 2006