Examining Normalcy

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Course TypeCourse CodeNo. Of Credits
Foundation CoreSCC2VA2034

Semester and Year Offered: Monsoon Semester

Course Coordinator and Team: Shefalee Jain

Email of course coordinator: shefalee[at]aud[dot]ac[dot]in

Pre-requisites: Open for MA and MPhil students

Aim: In keeping with the idea of encouraging critical thinking in the field of creative practice and research, this course aims to sensitize students to particular notions and perceptions of normalcy that are constantly being re shaped and strengthened around us. This subtle yet pervasive fashioning of the idea of a normal body/mind/life marks our desires and actions, our perceptions of the self, the other, our imaginations of ideas of home, family, nation, justice and equity. In short our everyday speech, representations and encounters are shaped by this yardstick/expectation of normalcy. Not surprisingly then this is also reflected in much of mainstream art, cinema and literature all of which tirelessly tries to re iterate and re establish the normal. However there is also an interesting body of work that has troubled this notion of the normal every now and again and challenged its claims to universality by revealing its historical and contingent nature.

The effort of this course will be to introduce students to particular critiques of normalcy in Disability studies, studies on Visual Culture, Subaltern Studies, Minority Studies and Critical History. Embodied with these perspectives, the students will be asked to critically engage with examples of art, advertisements, literature and film. The course also has a workshop module at the end where students will create an illustrated book, write a short story or a critical essay in the context of the critical faculties they have developed through the semester.

Course Outcomes:

  • The course will familiarize students with the discourse around concepts of normal and the normative and help them historicize it.
  • It will also equip them to bring critical analysis of normalcy as a lens to look at and analyze different forms of contemporary cultural production (film, literature, art, advertisements) that reiterate the normal as universal.
  • It will encourage students to engage with and also develop forms in art, creative writing or critical writing which interrogate the idea of the normal as universal.


Brief description of modules/ Main modules:

Introduction (Week 1,2) Unravelling the terms norm, normal and normative. Exploring modernity and its relationship to normalcy (the role of technology, natural sciences and social sciences, as well as that of nation state, and its foundational frameworks of law, citizenship, family, sexuality, gender and health) Examining normalcy in the neoliberal context.

Week 3, 4 and 5 This module examines the normatives of sanity and reason by opening out the many possible meanings of madness.

Week 6, 7 and 8 This module explores some of the ways in which the body has been thought - as object/ as identity/ as coming in to articulation. It therefore attempts to re examine our normative ways of thinking the body in terms of binaries such a nature-culture, body-mind, self-other.

Week 9 and 10 This module examines the normatives of hygiene as developed within the specific context of modernity and colonialism.

Week 11, 12, 13 and 14 Workshop: Students will create a work (art/writing) based on an exercise set to them within the context of the course.

Assessment Details with weights:

Review papers: Students write a critical review of one of the essays that they discuss in the classroom. 30%,

Classroom Participation: All texts prescribed for the course are discussed in seminar mode during class hours. Certain keywords from the text are identified, around which a discussion is generated by specific students. 30%,

Term end paper/work: Students are asked to make a creative work at the end of the semester, written or in the form of artwork. 40%

Reading List:

  • FOUCAULT, M. (1965). Madness and civilization; a history of insanity in the age of reason.
  • DOLS, M. W., & IMMISCH, D. E. (2011). Majnūn: the madman in medieval Islamic society. Oxford, Clarendon Press.
  • FOUCAULT, M. (2010). The birth of the clinic: an archaeology of medical perception. London, Routledge.
  • CARTWRIGHT, L. (2006). Screening the body: tracing medicine's visual culture. Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press.
  • KUPPERS, P. (2007). The scar of visibility medical performances and contemporary art. Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press.
  • BURKE, T. (2005). Lifebuoy men, lux women: commodification, consumption, and cleanliness in modern Zimbabwe. Durham, Duke Univ. Pr.
  • THARU, S. J., & SATYANARAYANA, K. (2011). No alphabet in sight: new Dalit writing from South India. New Delhi, Penguin Books.
  • DAVIS, L. J. (2017). The disability studies reader.;3929393.
  • Chakrabarty, D. (1992). Of Garbage, Modernity and the Citizen's Gaze. Economic and Political Weekly, 27(10/11), 541-547. Retrieved from
  • Latour, B. (2004) ‘How to Talk About the Body? the Normative Dimension of Science Studies’, Body & Society, 10(2–3), pp. 205–229. doi: 10.1177/1357034X04042943.

ADDITIONAL REFERENCE: A selection of films and artworks