ENG4438 – Contemporary U.S. Illness Narratives and Biopolitics

Schedule, syllabus and examination date

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Course content

  • What can illness narratives tell us about both individual experiences and broader cultural contexts in the U.S.?
  • How can critical attention to race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, class, disability, species, and environment illuminate contemporary texts that both reflect and produce various ways of thinking about illness and disability?
  • How can illness narratives, broadly conceived, be studied in relation to theories and histories of biopolitics?
  • How can terminal and chronic illnesses be linked with what might be called terminal injustice, in which oppressions related to race, class, gender, sexuality, species, and environment sometimes seem impossible to overcome?

This course will explore these questions and more in relation to theories of biopolitics, posthumanism, animality studies, disability studies, and American studies, while also focusing on key memoirs, novels, plays, films, and other cultural texts. Our primary goal will be to use readings, class discussions, and critical writing assignments to explore the cultural politics and implications of illness narratives in contemporary U.S. culture.

Learning outcome

After completing this course, you:

  • have an overview of key ways illness has been represented in U.S. literary texts, along with the significance and implications of those representations,
  • know important recent theoretical developments in the fields of biopolitics, cultural studies of illness, disability studies, and posthumanism,
  • can engage key texts with close reading, while connecting those texts to theoretical debates and issues related to race, ethnicity, class, gender, sexuality, disability, species, and environment,
  • can analyze literary texts in relation to dominant discourses and key historical and cultural contexts.


Students who are admitted to study programmes at UiO must each semester register which courses and exams they wish to sign up for in Studentweb.

Students enrolled in other Master's Degree Programmes can, on application, be admitted to the course if this is cleared by their own study programme.

If you are not already enrolled as a student at UiO, please see our information about admission requirements and procedures.

The course has a capacity of 15 students.  ILOS will not provide additional capacity if there are more applicants.


Recommended previous knowledge

Introductory knowledge of literary and cultural theory


Seminar, two hours per week for ten weeks, 20 hours in all.

You have the option of handing in a problem statement for the term paper during the semester, in order to get feedback from the teacher.

Obligatory activity:

  • Attendance is obligatory at least 8 out of 10 seminars. Additional absences must be justified by documentation. Read more about rules concerning valid excuses and how to apply for approved absences or postponements here.


The form of assessment is a term paper of 12–15 standard pages (a standard page consists of 2,300 characters). References and bibliography comes in addition. The exam paper must follow further guidelines to be distributed in class.

You will be offered individual term paper supervision.

Submit assignments in Inspera

You submit your assignment in the digital examination system Inspera. Read about how to submit assignments in Inspera.

Use of sources and citation

You should familiarize yourself with the rules that apply to the use of sources and citations. If you violate the rules, you may be suspected of cheating/attempted cheating.

Language of examination

The examination text is given in English, and you submit your response in English.

Grading scale

Grades are awarded on a scale from A to F, where A is the best grade and F is a fail. Read more about the grading system.

Explanations and appeals

Resit an examination

Withdrawal from an examination

It is possible to take the exam up to 3 times. If you withdraw from the exam after the deadline or during the exam, this will be counted as an examination attempt.

Special examination arrangements

Application form, deadline and requirements for special examination arrangements.


The course is subject to continuous evaluation. At regular intervals we also ask students to participate in a more comprehensive evaluation.

Reports from periodic evaluations (in Norwegian)

Facts about this course






Spring 2019


Spring 2019

Teaching language