Critical and Cultural Theory MA

Year of entry

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Start date
September 2024
Delivery type
On campus
12 months full time
24 months part time
Entry requirements
A bachelor degree with a 2:1 (hons) in a humanities or social science subject
Full entry requirements
English language requirements
IELTS 6.5 overall, with no less than 6.0 in any component
UK fees
£11,500 (Total)
International fees
£24,500 (Total)

Course overview

Students talking and reading in the Brotherton library.

This postgraduate degree takes a philosophical and historical approach to critical and cultural theory, offering an in-depth study of major paradigms of cultural analysis, which focus on themes of commodification, language, and subjectivity. The degree is necessarily interdisciplinary and leads to a wide spectrum of applications and opportunities.

We draw upon the major traditions of cultural theory, including semiology, feminism and gender theory, psychoanalysis, deconstruction, and Frankfurt School theories of the aesthetic, the media and technology. Other important critical references are postcolonial and critical race theory, as well as posthumanism and ecocriticism.

Alongside this exposure to a range of critical paradigms, you will develop your skills in close analysis: your ability to identify and unpack the key elements of a critical work or cultural artefact. This attention to the ‘textuality’ of these various texts, broadly defined, constitutes a crucial link between theory and practice, such that the line between critical and creative cultural practice is no longer determinative.

Our diverse and dynamic approach

Cultural studies emerged as a discipline in the mid-20th century as a critical, scholarly response to the social movements of the time – anti-colonial struggles, the civil rights movement and feminism – and as a rigorous study of the relations between culture and class.

This course began in 1987, when an interdisciplinary MA in Cultural Studies was founded at Leeds. From the outset, the course emphasised the theoretical, philosophical and historical aspects of cultural studies. The name was changed to better reflect this approach, and it continues to draw students from across the humanities who are thinking about and working with a broad range of objects and genres including literature, film, visual arts, performance, music and philosophy.

The School of Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies has an ambitious interdisciplinary purpose, an active fine art community, a critically and politically engaged social history of art degree and a dynamic museum studies course. While this rich context is one of its defining characteristics, this degree is not limited to a consideration of art and aesthetics. Our approach is also informed by other cultural forms, such as text, music and popular culture and critical traditions – from literary criticism and semiology to sound studies and new thinking on technology, gender, and the posthuman.

The School houses parallax, published by Taylor & Francis, an internationally distributed journal of cultural theory and analysis.

Specialist facilities

Housed within a single central campus location, the School offers a modern and well-equipped learning environment with several exhibition spaces.

The University library is one of the major academic research libraries in the UK, holding a variety of manuscript, archive and early printed material in its Special Collections - valuable assets for your independent research.

Course details

During the course you'll study compulsory and optional modules.

The first compulsory module, Cultural Theory, offers an introduction to key paradigms, focusing on theories of the commodity, language, discourse, subjectivity and sexuality.

The second compulsory module, Cultural History, explores the genealogies of contemporary theory in relation to a longer tradition of cultural criticism that emerged, with modernity itself, in the 18th century. Emphasis is given to the practices of close reading, the question of textuality and the case study.

Through your study on these modules, you'll develop a fundamental grasp of the major paradigms in critical and cultural theory and a detailed sense of the co-ordinates that map research and analysis in the field of cultural studies. You will have a shared conceptual vocabulary that will serve as the basis on which to develop your own individual research project.

In each semester, you will also have the opportunity to specialise when you choose from a range of optional modules in areas such as aesthetics, deconstruction, and feminist studies.

You’ll have the chance to use the skills you’ve developed, combined with the specialist knowledge built through your optional modules, in your dissertation - an independent and self-devised research project, which you will undertake with the guidance of your supervisor.

If you choose to study part-time, you'll study over four semesters rather than two. It is expected that you will be timetabled for around between three to five contact hours per week. In your first semester you will enroll in the first core module, Cultural Theory. In the second and third semesters you will enroll in optional modules. In your fourth and final semester you will enroll in the second core, Cultural History.

Course structure

The list shown below represents typical modules/components studied and may change from time to time. Read more in our terms and conditions.

Compulsory Modules

Cultural Theory (30 credits) - This module will unfold in three sections. We will develop a detailed discussion of the concepts of the 'commodity' and 'commodity fetish' which have been central to cultural studies in its examination of contemporary consumer cultures, establishing a sense of the historical development of cultural theory in its relation to political economy and philosophy. Then we will explore the 'linguistic paradigm' in cultural theory, and the critiques generated through the concepts of sign and discourse. Finally, we will work through a series of theoretical texts on the subject, with commentaries indicating the continuing work of interpretation within the psychoanalytical tradition. Students will develop a fundamental grasp of major paradigms in critical cultural analysis, and a shared conceptual vocabulary that will serve as the basis on which to develop research projects.

Cultural History (30 credits) - The module develops chronologically from Enlightenment considerations of the origins of society and of inequality and of the nature of the human, and proceeds to postcolonial and post-psychoanalytic discussions of history as a particular representation of a Western episteme. The course will engage students in the analysis of a range of theoretical texts and cultural artefacts that grapple with problems of how history can be told. The module will draw upon filmic and fictional texts which will be set against theoretical considerations of historical origins and historical consciousness to understand the urgency of historical narrative in western culture and that narrative's dependence upon a non-western other.

Dissertation for MA Critical and Cultural Theory (60 credits) - The dissertation enables students to make an original and valuable contribution to Critical and Cultural Theory. Students choose a topic in consultation with a course tutor. The dissertation workshops and individual supervisions will support the development of independent research and critical and conceptual thinking. A specific area of research will be developed by the student with the support of their supervisor, drawing from approaches developed throughout the MA programme.

Optional Modules

Choose two optional modules – these vary year on year but may include:

Derrida and Deconstruction (30 credits) - This module offers an introduction to deconstruction through a close consideration of a series of texts (interviews and essays) by French philosopher and cultural critic Jacques Derrida, covering a broad range of his work. It will explore deconstructive approaches to the analysis of cultural forms, institutions and artefacts, beginning with Derrida’s critique of Western metaphysics, and focussing on a number of deconstructive ‘figures’. While the module will insist, above all, on reading – reading Derrida’s extraordinary texts, and deconstruction itself as a way of reading – we will be concerned throughout with the ethical and political ramifications of such reading and thinking. At the same time, deconstruction will be situated in a historical and intellectual context that it simultaneously analyses and transforms.

Reading Sexual Difference (30 credits) - The module traces the ‘sexual difference’ tradition in academic (and political) thought on feminism, sexuality and gender, from Freud to Butler and beyond. We will read important texts by such writers as: Freud, Mulvey, Irigaray, Cixous, Derrida, Rubin, Butler, Lacan. Thus the module covers what is arguably the critical theoretical prehistory of all the rethinking, renaming and re-living of sex, sexuality and gender today.

Unfinished Business: Trauma, Cultural Memory and the Holocaust (30 credits) - This module considers the continuing significance of the events known as the Holocaust or Shoah as they enter representation. The module will consider testimony and oral archives of survivors' witness, current moves to create Holocaust museums, artistic projects of memorialisation and counter-memory, autobiographical narratives and films, psychotherapeutic work with the generations of survivors' children. Cinematic attempts to respond to the Holocaust will also be studied. These voices, words and images pose the question of what it is that is struggling into or out of representation and what is means for everyone living in the shadow of this major event in western modernity.

Movies, Migrants and Diasporas (30 credits) - This module is dedicated to migration and diaspora in Europe as reflected in the cinema. It introduces students to the work of filmmakers with, for example, German Turkish, Black or Asian British, Maghrebi French, Roma or Jewish backgrounds, productions made by transnational Eastern European practitioners and films about migration and diaspora created by non-migrant/diasporic writers and directors. The module situates film analysis in the wider field of postcolonial/critical migration studies, diaspora criticism, The guided engagement with a selection of theoretical texts and relevant films enables students to recognise and discuss analytically the relationship between the (popular) representation of migrant and diasporic experiences and the socio-political discourses of ethnicity, 'race', immigration, national identity and cultural diversity.

Aesthetics and Politics (30 credits) - There has been a long tradition of treating ‘aesthetics’ as a ‘high’, ‘pure’ and ‘autonomous’ field of experience. Although dominant for a long stretch of modern history, this approach (sometimes called ‘aesthetic ideology’ by its critics) has been repeatedly and increasingly challenged. In this module, we focus on this counter tradition and explore the bases of its arguments. What is it to understand aesthetics ‘politically’? As ‘committed’? As ‘socially engaged’? Or even simply as ‘social’? How ‘are we to understand concepts such as ‘form’ and ‘poetics’ through this alternative lens?

Postcolonial Feminisms (30 credits) - This is a module in feminist theory and politics as these have developed in the context of the period of decolonization and its wake. Emphasis will fall on theoretical formulations concerning sexual difference and the social division of gender as these have been produced by women writing to or from former European colonies. Attention will also be given to questions posed by and for feminism within postcolonial metropoles, including the question of theory as such. This module will provide students with a context in which to read and discuss many of the crucial (theoretically rich, historically significant) texts in feminist theory as they engage the postcolonial condition both in Europe and outside, today and in the past.

Anthropology, Art and Representation (30 credits) - This module avoids the common view that the anthropology of art is only concerned with tribal or ethnographic art. Rather it uses anthropological and cultural theory to introduce students to a comparative perspective on cultural representation. Students will be introduced to a number of case studies ranging from post-colonial cinema to audience perspectives on African masquerades, via the global marketing of world music. The anthropology of art has long been a fertile and vital area of contention around cultural value and cross-cultural relationships. Specific objects and “texts” are highlighted and their interpretation linked to larger questions concerning gender, embodiment, technology and representation.

Humanity, Animality and Globality (30 credits) - Crucial for thinking what and how “we” are and could become as a “humanity”, is the thinking of “our” difference and similarities with other life forms. This module therefore engages with theories and practices of animality so as to interrogate the category of The Human. A wide range of material- literary and philosophical texts, films, paintings and installation projects- will be considered that reflect how our notion of “species” is subject to ongoing change.

Learning and teaching

To help you benefit from the expertise of our tutors, you will be taught using a range of teaching and learning methods. These include seminars, film screenings, lectures, online learning and tutorials.

Independent study is also a crucial component, allowing you to form your own ideas and develop your research and critical skills. The University Library offers free classes and resources on topics such as academic integrity and plagiarism, public speaking, searching for information and structuring essays.

Leeds University Library is a world-class resource and holds a wide variety of archive and early printed material in its Special Collections which are available for use in your independent research.

On this course you’ll be taught by our expert academics, from lecturers through to professors. You may also be taught by industry professionals with years of experience, as well as trained postgraduate researchers, connecting you to some of the brightest minds on campus.


Assessment methods will vary depending on the modules you choose. However, among others they may include essays, in-course assessment, group and individual presentations, poster presentations and portfolio or e-portfolio work.


Entry requirements

You’ll need a bachelor degree with a 2:1 (hons) or equivalent qualification in a humanities or social science subject, such as History, Literature, Languages, Art History, Philosophy, Sociology, or Media or in a practice-based Arts subject where your degree included a significant proportion of historical and theoretical studies.

Applying from China

Due to the large numbers of applications we receive, we’re only able to offer places to applicants who have attended selected Chinese institutions. With regret, any applications we receive from applicants awarded a qualification in China from an institution that isn’t on this list will be rejected.


Our admissions team are experienced in considering a wide range of international qualifications. If you wish to discuss whether your qualifications will meet the necessary entry criteria, contact the School’s admissions team.

You can also check the accepted qualifications for your country or region.

English language requirements

IELTS 6.5 overall, with no less than 6.0 in any component. For other English qualifications, read English language equivalent qualifications.

Improve your English

International students who do not meet the English language requirements for this programme may be able to study our postgraduate pre-sessional English course, to help improve your English language level.

This pre-sessional course is designed with a progression route to your degree programme and you’ll learn academic English in the context of your subject area. To find out more, read Language for Arts and Humanities (6 weeks) and Language for Social Science and Arts: Arts and Humanities (10 weeks).

We also offer online pre-sessionals alongside our on-campus pre-sessionals. Find out more about our six week online pre-sessional.

You can also study pre-sessionals for longer periods – read about our postgraduate pre-sessional English courses.

How to apply

Please see our How to Apply page for information about application deadlines.

The ‘Apply’ link at the top of this page takes you to information on applying for taught programmes and to the University's online application system.

If you're unsure about the application process, contact the admissions team for help.

Documents and information you need

  • Your degree certificate and transcripts, or a partial transcript if you’re still studying.

  • Two academic references.

  • Evidence of your English language qualifications if English is not your first subject.

  • You may also choose to submit a CV.

  • A personal statement in response to the following questions (maximum word count: 800 words)

    • Please explain your reasons for applying to the MA in Critical and Cultural Theory at University of Leeds.

    • In what ways have you encountered critical and cultural theory in your studies thus far? Please provide details of what you've studied, what most interested you and why.

    • What particular challenges and opportunities do you think postgraduate study will offer compared to undergraduate study?

The Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Cultures receives very large numbers of high-quality applications and regrets that it cannot make offers to all of its applicants. Some particularly popular schools may have to reject many that hold the necessary academic qualifications.

Read about visas, immigration and other information in International students. We recommend that international students apply as early as possible to ensure that they have time to apply for their visa.

Admissions policy

University of Leeds Admissions Policy 2025

This course is taught by

School of Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies

Contact us

Taught Postgraduate Team



UK: £11,500 (Total)

International: £24,500 (Total)

For fees information for international taught postgraduate students, read Masters fees.

Read more about paying fees and charges.

Part-time fees
Fees for part-time courses are normally calculated based on the number of credits you study in a year compared to the equivalent full-time course. For example, if you study half the course credits in a year, you will pay half the full-time course fees for that year.

Additional cost information

There may be additional costs related to your course or programme of study, or related to being a student at the University of Leeds. Read more on our living costs and budgeting page.

Scholarships and financial support

If you have the talent and drive, we want you to be able to study with us, whatever your financial circumstances. There may be help for students in the form of loans, scholarships and non-repayable grants from the University and from the government.

The School offers a Head of School Excellence Scholarship (International) for international applicants. Find out about awards and scholarships.

Career opportunities

You'll develop your critical and cultural awareness and expand your subject knowledge in theories and histories of culture. In addition, you will graduate with sophisticated research, analytical, critical and communication skills that will put you in a good position to succeed in a variety of careers.

Many of our graduates have also continued with their research at PhD level and secured external funding to support them – including AHRC scholarships. A significant number of our former research students are also now developing academic careers in the UK, Europe, Asia, USA and Australia.

In addition to those pursuing careers in academia, our graduates have careers across a broad range of critical and creative domains, including journalism, publishing, the creative industries and arts marketing, public relations, university administration and teaching, as well as working as curators and education staff in museums and galleries.

Reach your potential

Hear more about the School and Faculty support you can access from our employability lead, Anna Douglas.

Careers support

We encourage you to prepare for your career from day one. That’s one of the reasons Leeds graduates are so sought after by employers.

The Careers Centre and staff in your faculty provide a range of help and advice to help you plan your career and make well-informed decisions along the way, even after you graduate. Find out more about Careers support.

Student profile: Shreeja Mandal

The faculty and staff within my School were always willing to help and support students, and there was a real sense of camaraderie among the students on my course.
Shreeja Mandal, MA Critical and Cultural Theory
Find out more about Shreeja Mandal's time at Leeds