Gender/Genre: New Approaches to the Human in Critical and Cultural Theory

What are the “genres of the human”? In this course we will speculate on the question of what literary (and artistic) genres might invigorate the imagination to conceive of other genres of the human beyond the version of Human modeled on White European Man. This comparative literature course uses the framework of “the law of genre” outlined by Jacques Derrida to examine how convention and social laws operate to divide texts into different genres (literary and artistic), and similarly define the human species vis-a-vis other species (genre humain). We will investigate which forms of violence, physical or epistemic, precipate the mark of genre in instances of categorization, taxonomy, and aesthetic judgment.

Broadly, this course is concerned with gender and diversity concepts developed in critical and cultural theories that challenge the humanist centering of a foundational subject, like ‘Woman’ or a ‘Black community.’ Hence, the course will move through a series of five newly combative approaches to investigating how difference between humans is produced and, relatedly, how different values accorded to (non-) European culture are produced. Together we will explore the question of how these new approaches can be engaged to deepen our critical understandings of cultural theory today and the literary category of genre.

Black philosophy such as practiced by Sylvia Wynter has offered the insight that White Man is but one genre of the human and that racial arrangements are at the core of defining some as fully human and others as less than human. The field of Animal studies raises the question of who is this animal that calls itself human, or differentiates itself from other (nonhuman) animals by killing them? The self in self-determination is under critical scrutiny in Indigenous theories of sovereignty as well as in de-colonial thinking that breaks with (pre-)(post-)modern assumptions about being fully human deriving from land ownership central to colonial/settler cultural domination. In Critical Intersex and Transgender Studies, a non-binary gendered or sexed self arrives in contradistinction to Northern, racialized assumptions perpetuated by medical discourse on the ‘wrong body’. Finally, Disability studies grapples with the norms of whose bodies are rendered capable, and desirable, in turn offering a different set of aesthetics by which to evaluate difference.

We will pursue these critical questions of genre and the human through recently published literature, poetry, theoretical writings, and cultural objects selected by the instructor, and by students. The first session on each of the five topics will be led by the instructor, and the second session will be led by student seminar leaders who take responsibility for determining how to continue the discussion according to their own interests, and in communication with the instructor. Additional sessions will include an introduction to gender and diversity studies, and student presentations of their creative assignment to experiment with genre.

Teacher: Dr. Eliza Steinbock

  • Dates: September 8 – December  8, 2020 (Tuesdays 9.15-12.00 hrs).
  • Location: the course will be taught online due to the Covid-19 measures
  • Credits: 10 ECTS (credits will only be awarded after having fulfilled all the assignments. Students not requiring any credits will receive a certificate of attendance)
  • Details: open to NOG RMA and PhD students
  • More information on content: Eliza Steinbock (
  • Registration: please email