Literary and Critical theory: Theory as Pedagogic Resource

Literary & Critical theory

Theory itself (or the varieties most commonly taught in British English programmes) provides a menu of concepts most of which have profound pedagogic implications.  How can we plan activities, or create hooks that link students’ cultural, linguistic and narrative experience to the questions posed by ‘Theory’? To become aware of their own embroilment in language, culture, history? Our intellectual responsibility as teachers goes hand in hand with pedagogic responsibility.

Thus, areas whose pedagogic implications would bear further unpicking might include:

  • Dialogism
  • Feminism and all forms of gender studies
  • Power (Feminism, Marxism, postcolonial studies, Foucault)
  • Linguistic and cultural determinism: ‘Death of the Author’
  • Reader response
  • New historicism
  • Psychoanalysis

In other words, the route into a topic could sometimes lie through being sensitive to its bearings on the pedagogic situation shared by lecturers and students. Could we set up learning situations in such a way that the invisible presence of the very forces that theory seeks to chart becomes available for disciplined attention?

The experience of teaching and being taught is potentially available for reflection throughout.

In what sense is a seminar heteroglossic? Are meanings ranked hierarchically? If so, who is responsible for that status ranking? Where is authority in this class? And where resistance? Again; what is the typical pattern in teaching theory in your institution? (In our experience, it tends to be lecture + seminar.) You may have no choice – another issue of power in itself – , but it might sometimes be possible to play variations on this mode, for example by using the lecture as a large-group workshop in which students do structured preliminary work. In any case, as lecturer, you may need to ask yourself the question of how you balance exposition (which implies ‘mastery’ and invites hectic note-taking), with worked examples. Thus your practice might itself become an example of a shift from the monologic to the dialogic.