SOAS University of London

School of Languages, Cultures and Linguistics

Theory and techniques of Comparative Literature

Module Code:
FHEQ Level:
Taught in:
Full Year

This module is designed as the core module for the masters students majoring in Comparative Literature. It is also a compulsory supportive module for all masters students of literature programmes in the Faculty of Languages and Cultures.

It aims to develop critical understandings of the nature of comparative literature and its place in the general context of contemporary theoretical approaches to the study of literature. It is also designed to introduce and examine appropriate methods for the study of African and Asian literatures.

The module places its emphasis on the comprehension of the basics of modern theories, but also on the problematics in applying those theories to the research of Asian and African literature.

In order to secure the necessary variety in critical stance and an appropriate regional range of African and Asian literary texts for expert presentation, this module is team-taught. Its linked modules will vary somewhat from year to year, depending partly upon availability of faculty, but a similar overall pattern of presentation is maintained.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

At the end of the module students will have developed advanced skills in analysing literature in a comparative context and by means of a variety of methodological approaches.  They will have become better able to define research questions about particular literary works and determine which approaches are best suited to the work. They will also be able to place the literature of their particular interest into a broader comparative context.


A total of 20 weeks teaching with 3 hours classroom contact per week consisting of 2 hour lecture and 1 hour tutorial.

Method of assessment

A critical response/book report of 600-800 words to be submitted on day 5, week 5, term 1 (10%); an essay of 2,000 words to be submitted on day 5, week 11, term 1 (30%); a critical response/book report of 600-800 words to be submitted on day 1, week 7, term 2 (10%); an essay of 3,000 words to be submitted on day 1, week 1, term 3 (40%); an oral presentation of 10-15 minutes (10%).

Suggested reading

The texts below are useful as background reading.

  • S. Bassnett, Comparative literature: a Critical Introduction (Oxford, 1993)
  • H Saussy (2006) Comparative Literature in the Age of Globalisation. (The John Hopkins University Press). Read the introduction (provided). 3-42.
  • E. Gentzler, Contemporary Translation Theories (London, 1993)
  • E. Said, Orientalism: Western Conceptions of the Orient (Harmondsworth, 1978, 1991, 1995)
  • E. Miner, Comparative Poetics: an Intercultural Essay on Theories of Literature (Princeton, 1990)
  • E. Apter, The Translation Zone: A New Comparative Literature (Princeton, 2005)
  • E. Apter, Against World Literature (Verso, 2013)
  • G. Spivak Death of a Discipline (Columbia, 2003)
  • D. Damrosch What is World Literature (Princeton, 2003)
  • A. Loomba Colonialism/Postcolonialism (Routledge, 2005)
  • H. Bhabha Location of Culture (Routledge, 1994)
  • A. Kilito Thou Shalt Not Speak My Language (Syracuse University Press, 2008)
  • M. Bhaktin Dialogic Imagination (University of Texas, 1982)
  • S. Gikandi Maps of Englishness: Writing Identity in the Culture of Colonialism (Columbia, 1996)
  • G. Bachelard Poetics of Space (Beacon Press, 1992)
  • P. Bourdieu Rules of Art: Genesis and Structure of the Literary Field (Stanford, 1996)
  • J. Culler The Literary in Theory (Stanford, 2006)
  • T. Todorov Genres in Discourse (Cambridge, 1990)
  • J. Butler Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (Routledge, 1990)
  • M. Mukherjee Realism and Reality: The Novel and Society in India (Oxford India,  1996)
  • F. Moretti Distant Reading (Verso, 2013)
  • R. Barthes Image, Music, Text (Hill and Wang, 1978)
  • N. wa Thiong’o Decolonizing the Mind:The Politics of Language in African Literature (J. Currey, 1986)
  • A. Ahmad, In Theory: classes, nations, literature (London, 1992)
  • C. Guillén, The challenge of comparative literature (Cambridge Mass, 1993)
  • A. Jefferson & D. Robey, eds., Modern Literary Theory: a comparative introduction (London, 1982, 1986)


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules