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Department of Anthropology and Sociology

Approaches to the Other in Horror and Science Fiction Films

Course Code:
Course Not Running 2015/2016
Unit value:
Year of study:
Year 1 or Year 2
Taught in:
Term 1

Anthropology has concerned itself, in recent years, with two topics: the Other as the subject of our own research and as constructed by different societies; and how to come to understand the mass media in an era of globalization. T

his course attempts to bring together both these themes and adds to them an example based on one nation-state: the US, the mass medium of films and the way in which film has reflected, refracted and perhaps even reinforced specific cultural imaginings about the Other. Working from the basis of the fantastic or the possible future, science fiction and horror films actually deal with contemporary political and social dilemmas.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the course

The main aim of the course is to enable students to think about:

  • the social construction of the Other; 
  • how films can articulate a certain fear relating to Others and, thus, maintain a cultural space for discourses about Others; t
  • he pertinent example is how horror and science fiction films ‘imagine’ responses to such Others, particularly in relation to the issue of invasion;
  • how audiences are exposed to various responses to imagined invasions, but the dominant trope remains that the correct form of response is to immediately kill, attack or go to war with these invading Others;
  • the US domination in this film genre


In addition, the course asks students to consider how responses to 9/11 had already been shaped by Hollywood’s fictive representations of how to deal with invading/murdering Others.

By the end of this course students will:

  • have a good knowledge of how to analyse films, especially genre films, in terms of historical, social and political contexts; 
  • a good understanding about the ablility of texts, in this case films, to have a variety of meanings and be open to many interpretations;
  • have been exposed to a wide range of theories (feminist, Marxist, pyschological), which they will be expected to learn to use as tools of analysis;
  • have gained the transferable skills of organising and giving short, to-the-point presentations, adding to their public speaking skills; 
  • have learned to be responsible for putting together their own essay titles and organising a relevant bibliography and filmography.

Classes are held as seminar discussions, promoting the core skills of listening and learning from their fellow students.

Scope and syllabus

Lecture Programme:
  • Week 1 Halloween.
  • Week 2 Alien.
  • Week 3 Buffy the vampire slayer.
  • Week 4 Blade.
  • Week 5 Blade runner.
  • Week 6 Reading week.
  • Week 7 Terminator.
  • Week 8 Independence Day/Starship Troopers/ Men in Black/Mars Attacks (class to choose one).
  • Week 9 Galaxy Quest/Matrix (class to choose one).
  • Week 10 Dune.
  • Week 11 Course consolidation week, see Lola during office hours.

Method of assessment

Assessment will be by means of coursework and a course essay. The coursework consists of one class presentation, no longer than 15 minutes, the notes for which are worth 20% of the mark. The notes, no longer than 1,500 words, for this presentation are due by 4pm on Friday in the last week of term, but can also be handed in before this date. The course essay will count 80% towards the final result, should be between 3,500 and 4,000 words.

Suggested reading

There is a course pack for the course, but other expected readings include:
  • Adorno, J.W. 1991 The culture industry.
  • Agamben, Giorgio 1998 Homo sacer : sovereign power and bare life; translated by Daniel Heller-Roazen
    Anderson, B. 1991 Imagined communities.
  • Baudrillard, Jean 2003 The spirit of terrorism and other essays; translated by Chris Turner.
  • Bauman, Zygmunt 1997 The making and unmaking of strangers and The strangers of the consumer era in his Postmodernity and its discontents.
  • Derrida, Jacques 2002 The animal that therefore I am in Critical Inquiry, Winter, vol. 28:369-419. THIS CAN BE FOUND ON JSTOR.
  • Featherstone, M. 1990 Global culture.
  • Grixti, Joseph The Terrors of Uncertainty: Cultural Contexts of Horror Fiction. Senate House
    Harroway, Donna K. Simians, Cyborgs and women.
  • Harvey, David 1989 Time and space in postmodern cinema in his The condition of postmodernity. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.
  • Hassler, Donald M. and Clyde Wilcox (eds) Political science fiction. Senate House.
  • Jameson, Frederic 1991 Nostalgia for the present in his Postmodernism or, the cultural logic of late capitalism. London: Verso.
  • Kristeva, Julia 1982 Powers of horror : an essay on abjection; translated by Leon S. Roudiez.
  • Massumi, Brian (ed.) The Politics of Everyday Fear. Senate House.
  • Russell, Catherine Experimental Ethnography, the work of film in the age of video. Senate House and Lola has copy.
  • Said, Edward Orientalism.
  • Sontag, Susan 1979 The Imagination of Disaster in Film Theory and Criticism, Introductory Readings edited by Gerald Mast and Marshall Cohen. Oxford: OUP.
  • ... 1975 Fascinating Fascism in the New York Review of Books (February 6th). ONLINE at http://www.nybooks.com/articles/9280.
  • Todorov, Tzvetan 1973 The fantastic, a structural approach to a literary genre.
  • ... 1990 The limits of Edgar Poe in his Genres in Discourse.
  • Tropp, Martin 1989 Images of fear: how horror stories helped shape modern culture. Senate House.