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DRPS : Course Catalogue : School of Social and Political Science : Social Policy

Undergraduate Course: Screening Social Policy (SCPL10042)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of Social and Political Science CollegeCollege of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 10 (Year 3 Undergraduate) AvailabilityAvailable to all students
SCQF Credits20 ECTS Credits10
SummaryThe most political decision you make is where you direct people's eyes. In that sentence, the German filmmaker Wim Wenders captures the ethos of this course. Screening Social Policy takes the visual presentation of social and political issues in narrative and documentary film as a starting point for a different form of critical reflection. The course introduces students to the relationship between film form and political thinking, offering instruction and guidance on how to watch films with an eye toward writing a research paper in which a film (or set of films) constitute(s) a vehicle for thinking critically about important concepts in social policy for example poverty, bureaucracy, memory, violence, race, labour, and national identity. Films from various countries will be explored and analysed in the course.
Course description Screening Social Policy introduces the relationship between film form and political thinking, drawing on the scholarship of Michael Shapiro, in particular his book The Cinematic Political (Routledge, 2020), which was written in large part as a pedagogical text. Through Shapiro, students will be introduced to some framing concepts associated with the work of Giles Deleuze, Jacques Ranciere, and Walter Benjamin amongst others.

The filmmaker Robert Bresson (1975) requested of viewers, do not look at film to see what you are already thinking but, rather, look at film to think about what you see and to be the first to see what you see, the way you see it. Echoing that, Ranciere (1981) called for an absolute attention for seeing and seeing again, saying and repeating. He asks us, look at these images. What do you see? What do you think about it? Show me what makes you say what you say. That is the essence of this course.

After two weeks of theoretical and conceptual framing, the next seven weeks of the course (weeks 3 to 9) will each be organised around an important topic in social policy for example poverty, borders, democracy, labour, finance, bureaucracy, identity, protest, violence. In each week, two films will be assigned as part of the core material alongside one or two core readings that address visual aspects of the topic. Further, non-core, materials will include research articles, book chapters, video essays, and additional films.

Seminar discussions will explore how our understanding of social and political issues changes if we make visual representations central to our inquiries. The course will engage with the visual as a site of power and struggle. We will consider how politics shape the images that we see and, in turn, how the act of watching films can make us question our own identity, beliefs, and position in society.

Outline content:

Weeks 1 and 2: Introductory materials and frameworks, drawing on the work of Michael Shapiro and, via him, Deleuze, Ranciere, and Benjamin amongst others.

Week 3 to Week 9: Each of these seven weeks will be structured around a key topic that will involve viewing two films and one or two core readings.

Week 10: Students will have consultations with the course convener about their analytical essay. Consultations will be based on pre-submitted abstracts and essay plans.

Week 11: Conclusion and reflections.

Learning experience:

The class will meet for two-hours each week in a seminar format. Discussion is an especially important part of this course. Students will be expected to come to class prepared to talk about the assigned films and texts carefully and thoughtfully, and to listen attentively and respond seriously to the opinions and arguments of others. Some of the issues, themes and some of the visual material itself will be sensitive, controversial, and provocative. The seminars will thus be demanding but, pursued in the right spirit, should be both fun and productive.

Performance on the course will be assessed through an analytical essay of 4000-words that will be written after teaching has concluded. That essay will form 80 per cent of the overall course assessment. The process of composing the analytical essay will formally begin at the end of week 9 when students are required to submit an abstract and essay plan (1-2 A4-pages) to the course convener. In week 10 there will be no group meeting of the class. Instead, all students will be invited for a consultation with the course convener lasting 20 minutes. This consultation will serve as a form of oral assessment, alongside the abstract and essay plan, and constitutes 20 per cent of the overall course assessment. Students will receive written feedback on their abstract and plan by the end of Week 11.
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Co-requisites
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements None
Information for Visiting Students
Pre-requisitesThis course brings critical scholarship about film/politics into dialogue with issues in social and political science. Some previous learning about either film and/or social policy issues is desirable.
High Demand Course? Yes
Course Delivery Information
Academic year 2023/24, Available to all students (SV1) Quota:  30
Course Start Semester 2
Timetable Timetable
Learning and Teaching activities (Further Info) Total Hours: 200 ( Lecture Hours 20, Dissertation/Project Supervision Hours 0.3, Programme Level Learning and Teaching Hours 4, Directed Learning and Independent Learning Hours 176 )
Assessment (Further Info) Written Exam 0 %, Coursework 100 %, Practical Exam 0 %
Additional Information (Assessment) Assessment 1: Analytical essay abstract and plan (1-2 A4 pages) and one-to-one consultation/oral assessment with course convener - 20 per cent of grade

Assessment 2: Analytical essay (4000 words) - 80 per cent of grade*

*Students must pass this component to pass the course.
Feedback At the end of Week 9 students are required to submit an abstract and essay plan to the course convener.

In Week 10 there will be no group meeting of the class. Instead, all students will be invited for a consultation with the course convener lasting 20 minutes. This consultation will serve as a form of oral assessment alongside the 1-2 page abstract and essay plan. Students with a learning adjustment that does not allow for a form of oral assessment can complete this part of the assessment solely in written form.

Students will receive written feedback on their abstract and plan by the end of Week 11 (within 10 working days of submission).

The final 4000-word analytical essay will be submitted some weeks later, around three weeks after the course formally ends (c. late April).
No Exam Information
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. Demonstrate a critical understanding of some of the key literature on film and politics.
  2. Understand films as a vehicle for engaging critically with social and political issues.
  3. Engage in reflective debate about sensitive societal topics in a way that is respectful of alternative viewpoints.
  4. Formulate a research problem autonomously.
  5. Compose analytical essays drawing on existing knowledge of social and political issues and the practice of film watching.
Reading List
Required films will be available via the library and/or on free, publicly accessible platforms.

The course will not have a textbook but a key/core text for the course will be:

M.J. Shapiro (2020) The Cinematic Political: Film Composition as Political Theory. New York: Routledge.

Other key texts:

R. Bleiker (ed.) (2018) Visual Global Politics. New York: Routledge.

S. Bruzzi (2020) Approximation: Documentary, History and the Staging of Reality. New York: Routledge.

Beyond those texts, key resources for the course will include articles from journals such as: Geopolitics; Media, War & Conflict; Theory & Event; Security Dialogue; Alternatives; Journal for Cultural Research; Millennium; and Critical Social Policy.
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills The course takes a fundamental part of everyday life (film) and engages with it critically, developing a mindset of enquiry and lifelong learning.

Engaging with representations of different communities encourages a mindset of outlook and engagement.

Seminar debates on controversial and sensitive topics will develop skills of personal effectiveness such as communication, adaptability, sensitivity and integrity.

The course assessment develops the skill of personal and intellectual autonomy
KeywordsNot entered
Course organiserDr Daniel Kenealy
Tel: (0131 6)50 4080
Course secretaryMs Alison Lazda
Tel: (0131 6)51 5572
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