VA7030 - Critical Contexts

What will I learn on this module?

This module will address the intellectual contexts for research in the visual arts, media and design. You will examine the wider conceptual and theoretical frameworks that inform and impact upon your specific research project. In doing so you will assess how these frameworks reflect and inform a variety of historical, visual, performative and literary texts and practices (in the fields of fine art, film and television, performance, cultural and media studies, and history of art and contemporary design and design history), and are interrelated with broader cultural, social and political developments.
You will analyse how writers, critics, historians and practitioners think about knowledge and how they pursue their disciplines from epistemological and theoretical perspectives. In this way you will develop a structured overview of the ways in which key critical writing has changed over time, and how theory and conceptual thinking has influenced those working within disciplinary and cross-disciplinary fields.
On completion of the module, you will have developed original and critical responses to key theoretical questions raised via the analysis of sources, ideas, and other bodies of work, and be able to:
Locate your research within wider relevant disciplinary debates; demonstrate an enhanced knowledge of selected theories, concepts and critical literatures, and how to employ them in regard to your own research; interrogate and problematise theories and concepts; demonstrate how curiosity and dynamic debate underpin academic enquiry; communicate complex ideas, and their relevance to your research project, in open discussion and formal written, visual and verbal forms in a clear and credible way.

How will I learn on this module?

The module is based around 11 seminars, beginning with a short series of generic sessions in which interdisciplinary approaches to arts, media and design disciplines will be introduced. The individual focus and content of subsequent seminar sessions will be specifically tailored to reflect the explicit concerns, projects and strategies of your particular cohort. This enables you to shape the format and subject of discussion most relevant to your research (individually and collectively), and facilitates dynamic dialogue and active cross pollination of experiences, approaches and ideas between practice-based and text-based researchers. Seminar structure is provided by module tutors and guest researchers (from within the Faculty as well as invited external practitioners), who will draw upon their own experience and exemplary case studies to demonstrate how theories, concepts and literary contexts shape the thinking and approaches of advanced level research and practice.
These subject specialist seminars will enable you and subject staff to fine-tune key issues and approaches in your particular subject. However it is also expected that you will draw upon extensive self-directed study, individual or group visits to relevant arts, media and design organisations, and the wide range of guest lectures, additional postgraduate seminars and debates provided within the Faculty’s research community to enhance your conceptual thinking and understanding of different theoretical viewpoints. To complete the module you will submit an extensive review of up to five texts which are central to your research, demonstrating the ability to review scholarly literature and evaluate complex concepts and theories.

How will I be supported academically on this module?

Your research project will be supported by a supervisory team of two academic staff (a principle and second supervisor), drawn from across the faculty to ensure relevance to your specific research topic. It is expected that you will meet for an individual tutorial with your principle supervisor on a four-weekly basis to support the progress of your research and shape general or subject-specific training into a form which is directly useful for your own project. You will meet with both supervisors in the second half of your MRes.
In addition to the tailored library tour at the beginning of your MRes programme, you have access to a wide range of guest lectures, additional postgraduate seminars and debates provided within the Department’s research community, and individual or group visits to relevant arts and media organisations. To ensure smooth progress through the module there is an assessment point approximately one third into the module, for which you submit a critical review of a text, exhibition, performance or other work relevant to your research field for summative assessment. Written feedback will be provided within 20 working days of submission to guide you towards the second summative assessment at the conclusion of the module. In addition, you will be invited to give a (formatively assessed) presentation in the final seminar session, to demonstrate your ability to contextualise your research within wider theoretical frameworks and developments, in preparation for the EL 7028 MRes Dissertation module.

What will I be expected to read on this module?

All modules at Northumbria include a range of reading materials that students are expected to engage with. The reading list for this module can be found at:
(Reading List service online guide for academic staff this containing contact details for the Reading List team –

What will I be expected to achieve?

Knowledge & Understanding:

1. you will be able to locate your research within relevant disciplinary debates and scholarly practices.

2. you will understand and be able to employ a range of advanced conceptual and critical approaches.

3. you will be able to exhibit knowledge and understanding to a level appropriate to Master’s study, in regard to a specific research field.

Intellectual / Professional skills & abilities:

1. you will be able to communicate complex ideas effectively to an audience, using enhanced written, visual and verbal skills.

Personal Values Attributes:

1. you will appreciate the value or curiosity, collaboration, and academic integrity as keystones of learning and the creation of new knowledge.

How will I be assessed?

Written summative assessment is in two parts, and text- based researchers and practice-based researchers submit the assessment assignments in the same format. However you are also required to present your progress and ideas to the seminar group for formative assessment and feedback in weeks 10 and 11.

Assignment One (20%)
A 1000 word Critical Review essay of an artwork, text, exhibition, performance, film or piece of design that relates to a theory, concept or contextual theme directly relevant to your chosen field of enquiry. This is intended to familiarise you further with the principles of reviewing and critical writing and to engage confidently with concepts and theories underlying particular works.

Assignment Two (80%)
A 5000 word review essay analysing up to five texts which are central to your research project. This is intended to hone skills and principles of reviewing scholarly literature, and enable you to subject the ideas, concepts and theories that underpin your research project to deep and sophisticated critical analysis.

The above essays may receive formative feedback in draft form via individual tutorial and feedback will be provided in writing within 20 working days for all summative assessments, and verbally for the presentation.





Module abstract

Please find details of this module in the other sections provided.

Course info

Credits 30

Level of Study Postgraduate

Mode of Study 1 year full-time
1 other options available

Department Northumbria School of Design

Location City Campus, Northumbria University

City Newcastle

Start September 2024

Fee Information

Module Information

All information is accurate at the time of sharing. 

Full time Courses are primarily delivered via on-campus face to face learning but could include elements of online learning. Most courses run as planned and as promoted on our website and via our marketing materials, but if there are any substantial changes (as determined by the Competition and Markets Authority) to a course or there is the potential that course may be withdrawn, we will notify all affected applicants as soon as possible with advice and guidance regarding their options. It is also important to be aware that optional modules listed on course pages may be subject to change depending on uptake numbers each year.  

Contact time is subject to increase or decrease in line with possible restrictions imposed by the government or the University in the interest of maintaining the health and safety and wellbeing of students, staff, and visitors if this is deemed necessary in future.


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