Kies de Nederlandse taal
Course module: 840068-B-6
Visual Culture and the Body
Course info
Course module840068-B-6
Credits (ECTS)6
CategoryBA (Bachelor)
Course typeCourse
Language of instructionEnglish
Offered byTilburg University; Tilburg School of Humanities and Digital Sciences; TSH: Liberal Arts and Sciences; Liberal Arts and Sciences;
Is part of
B Liberal Arts and Sciences
Contact personprof. dr. J. Slatman
prof. dr. A. van Lenning
Other course modules lecturer
prof. dr. J. Slatman
Other course modules lecturer
Coordinator course
prof. dr. J. Slatman
Other course modules lecturer
Academic year2018
Starting block
Course mode
RemarksThis information is not up to date. Check the Course Catalog 2019 or select the course via “Register”.
Registration openfrom 20/08/2018 09:00 up to and including 31/07/2019
This course has the following objectives:
  • To provide students with a basic understanding of semiotics and visual anthropology.
  • To provide students with an understanding of theories on spectatorship; shame; the power of the gaze, and the rhetoric of visual representations of the body in medical sciences and medical practices.
  • To provide students with an understanding of various sociological and philosophical theories on embodiment, diversity (gender, disability), disease-mongering, and post-humanism.
  • To teach students how to critically read, summarize and analyze classic and contemporary sociological, anthropological and philosophical texts.
  • To enable students to analyze and evaluate visual material, based upon the theoretical insights offered in this course.
  • To enable students to contribute to contemporary debates pertaining to gender, diversity, medicalization, consumer culture and normalization.
  • To enable students to reflect on normative aspects pertaining to body modifications and post-humanism
  • To allow students to create a visual product (drawing, picture, video etc.).


Students are required to watch the welcoming introductory lecture on blackboard, preferably before summer break. This is a distance course: all lectures, literature, instructions, visual material, assignments are available through blackboard. There is no final exam, but various rather small assignments and multiple choice exams that will accumulate (9 in sum). Students are required to schedule twice an individual Skype meeting with the lecturer (in week 40 and in week 49)

The course consists of seven modules which are interrelated. Even though bodies have always been displayed in art works and in illustrations, it is only after the onset of modern science and anatomy since the 17th century that the human body becomes subject to the scientific and medical “gaze”. We will therefore start this course with Foucault’s classical analysis of the gaze and how the gaze is related to power, normalization and shame. In this first module, students will thus gain insights into the central concepts of this course: spectatorship; gaze; power; normalization; normalcy; normativity; body-shame.
The second module will explore how the picturing of the body - in the past and in the present – is directly related to normative and moral issues. We will especially focus on how the body is pictured in medical/scientific practices, illustrations, and literature. Science and scientific knowledge is often presented as “neutral”, “objective”, and value-free, as opposed to value-laden interpretations of reality. In this module, students will learn, however, that scientific representations of the body are not so “objective” as is claimed. Some scientific illustrations, moreover, not only provide information about anatomy or pathology, but also aim to educate spectators in how to (not) behave, how to take care of their bodies. Scientific practices may thus involve moral education (and moralizing).

Next we will look at the gender and the body, mostly the position of the body in film. We will watch and analyze the movie 'The Crying Game', and then have a discussion online. We will look at the works of gender experts such as Young, De Beauvoir, and Butler on the subject. We will see the relation between language and culture, and then put the body in this perspective. We will try to answer questions such as: How can we explain gender construction through a process of repetition of the norm of ideal? Do we learn culture or are we born with it?

The fourth module is about the body in the media. We will explore several theories on the question of how mass media influences our social reality. What does research tell us about this topic? We will read several texts on this matter, among which an article by Susan Hurley on imitation, media violence, and freedom of speech in which she discusses that human beings happen to be like copy cats.

The fifth module is directed toward the topic of disorders on the border of body and mind. We will here see how unwanted changes can affect the body. The focus will be on disorders such as anorexia, and ADHD. For this module BBC documentary fragments will be made available, and we will then discuss the topics.

In the sixth module we will focus on contemporary medical interventions and technologies that can alter our bodily existence drastically: transplantation medicine (hand transplants); cosmetic surgery. Even though medical interventions primarily are driven by fixing or restoring damaged bodies, many interventions are equally used to make people better then well. They are thus used to enhance people. For this fifth module we will also look at documentaries made available on Blackboard about Orlan and Sterlac.

In the final module we will reflect further on the technological possibilities to modify bodies or to replace them by machines and robots. Make these possible interventions humans post-human? Will such a post-humanity produce better human? And what will post-humanism imply for “biologically given difference”? Will post-humanism wipe out differences in gender and ability, or, conversely, will it amplify (new) differences? To reflect on possible futures of embodied mankind, students are asked to create a visual product which portrays how “the body” might look like in the future, accompanied with a commentary which states whether this portrayal of “the body” is desirable or not.

Compulsory Reading
  1. Marita Sturken and Lisa Cartwright, Practices of Looking: An Introduction to Visual Culture. Second edition, Oxford University Press, 2009. Chapter 1, 3, 6, 7, 9 and 10 are compulsory reading for this class. Other compulsory literature will be provided through links at blackboard.
Required materials
Recommended materials
Portfolio 9 short assignments (100%)

Kies de Nederlandse taal