Credit points


Campus offering

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Unit rationale, description and aim

Modernity – the age of experimentation, individualism, increasing social autonomy, and political self-determination – was an era of enormous novelty in Western thinking. In it, we find new conceptions of the human, the self, and political power, as well as reconceptualizations of art and beauty, civil society, and the state. These changes held much promise, shaping institutions that seemed destined to improve social conditions for rapidly increasing populations. But the politics and culture that ensued from this ‘modern’ thinking sometimes proved disastrous: the 20th Century – once thought to fulfil the promise of modernity – was the most violent in history. The grand narratives of universal history, liberalism, communism, progressivism, and conservatism all betrayed their promise. The Modernist Explosion offers a multidisciplinary exploration of these tensions and their impact on contemporary life today.

 The aim of this unit is for students to engage, through close textual readings, in a systematic comparison of our assumptions about culture and politics with those expressed in modernist works. In so doing, we will attempt to further our understanding of contemporary life and the problems requisite to our own cultural practices today. 

Learning outcomes

To successfully complete this unit you will be able to demonstrate you have achieved the learning outcomes (LO) detailed in the below table.

Each outcome is informed by a number of graduate capabilities (GC) to ensure your work in this, and every unit, is part of a larger goal of graduating from ACU with the attributes of insight, empathy, imagination and impact.

Explore the graduate capabilities.

On successful completion of this unit, students should be able to:

LO1 - Articulate an advanced, integrated, research-based knowledge of Modern thought together with the conceptual, theoretical, and/or political impacts of texts drawn from, and related to Modernist Philosophy, Theory, Art, and Literature (GA2, GA4, GA5, GA7, GA8, GA9)

LO2 - Explain the literary, social, historical, philosophical, political, aesthetic, religious, and/or ethical implications of texts drawn from, and related to Modernity (GA1, GA4, GA5, GA7, GA8, GA9)

LO3 - Critically evaluate and synthesise knowledge, concepts, and theories connected to modernity from diverse sources and communicate complex ideas and findings with sophistication and confidence to a range of audiences in diverse contexts (GA3, GA4, GA5, GA6, GA7, GA8, GA9, GA10)

LO4 - Research, develop, and apply disciplinary theories and practices to a range of bodies of knowledge drawn from key texts in Modern Western Thought (GA3, GA4, GA5, GA6, GA7, GA8, GA9, GA10)

Graduate attributes

GA1 - demonstrate respect for the dignity of each individual and for human diversity

GA2 - recognise their responsibility to the common good, the environment and society

GA3 - apply ethical perspectives in informed decision making

GA4 - think critically and reflectively 

GA5 - demonstrate values, knowledge, skills and attitudes appropriate to the discipline and/or profession 

GA6 - solve problems in a variety of settings taking local and international perspectives into account

GA7 - work both autonomously and collaboratively 

GA8 - locate, organise, analyse, synthesise and evaluate information 

GA9 - demonstrate effective communication in oral and written English language and visual media 

GA10 - utilise information and communication and other relevant technologies effectively.


Topics and/or texts may include:

  • Changing ideas of the human and human authority
  • Autonomy and the Modern Self
  • Technology and the Human
  • Changing perspectives on human responsibility toward environment and society
  • Changing conceptions of human responsibility toward the common good
  • Liberalism
  • Communism
  • Progress
  • Conservatism
  • History
  • Industrialization and Urbanization
  • Comparison of premodernity, modernity, and postmodernity as forms of Western thought
  • Study of late modern political thought, which may include the ideas of such thinkers as Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud
  • Critical reflections of modern culture and society, which may include the thinking of Baudelaire, Benjamin, Weber, and Simmel, amongst others
  • Literary expressions of modern life, which may include the works of Woolf, Mann, Joyce, Kafka, and Lawrence, amongst others
  • Visual and artistic reflections of modern culture, which may include the work of such artists as Paul Klee, Fritz Lang, Wassily Kandinsky, and Otto Dix
  • The problem of colonialism and its effect upon colonial subjects, including upon Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples.
  • The place of Indigenous Knowings within modernity as well as within modernist culture and thought, particularly in relationship to the experience of colonization.  

Learning and teaching strategy and rationale

This unit is designed and delivered in a small-group attendance mode which facilitates the use of the Socratic method. The Socratic method promotes active and receptive dialogue in which students are encouraged to think for themselves rather than passively receive information, doctrines, or positions.  Rather than ratify ideologies, received ideas, and disciplinary norms in an unquestioning manner, the Socratic method potentially opens every ideological, disciplinary, and critical assumption to question.   

In addition to the close reading of a range of texts, narratives, essays, and art objects, students will participate in writing activities, the interpretation and evaluation of texts, and critical and argumentative debates. 

This is a 10-credit point unit and has been designed to ensure that the time needed to complete the required volume of learning to the requisite standard is approximately 150 hours in total across the semester. To achieve a passing standard in this unit, students will find it helpful to engage in the full range of learning activities and assessments utilised in this unit. The learning and teaching and assessment strategies include a range of approaches to support learning such as reading, reflection, discussion.

Assessment strategy and rationale

This 600-level unit is designed to include assessment tasks that build content knowledge and higher-order research and analytic skills. 

The close-reading task requires students to demonstrate a capacity to apply considered critical responses to cultural texts in the Western canon.

The research essay requires students to produce a theoretically acute, graduate-level, interdisciplinary analysis of key texts on a topic proposed in consultation with the instructor. It is intended to develop skills in locating and evaluating sources on a cultural text, developing a sustained evidence-based argument, and active engagement with key theory debates.

The assessment tasks for this unit have been designed to contribute to high-quality student learning by both helping students learn (assessment for learning), and by measuring explicit evidence of their learning (assessment of learning). Assessments have been developed to meet the unit learning outcomes and develop graduate attributes consistent with the University’s assessment requirements. These have been designed so that they use a variety of tasks to measure the different learning outcomes at a level suitable for graduate studies in the subject area. 

Minimum Achievement Standards

The assessment tasks and their weighting for this unit are designed to demonstrate achievement of each learning outcome. In order to pass this unit, students are required to submit all assessment tasks, meet the learning outcomes of the unit and achieve a minimum overall passing grade of 50%.

Overview of assessments

Brief Description of Kind and Purpose of Assessment TasksWeightingLearning OutcomesGraduate Attributes

Assessment Task 1: Close reading: challenging disciplinary norms

This task requires students to produce analyses that challenge disciplinary norms.


LO1, LO2

GA1, GA2, GA4, GA5, GA7, GA8, GA9

Assessment Task 2: Research Essay

This task requires students to produce a theoretically acute, graduate-level, interdisciplinary analysis of key texts or authors in modern Western thought, on a topic proposed in consultation with the instructor.


LO1, LO2, LO3, LO4

GA1, GA2, GA3, GA4, GA5, GA6, GA7, GA8, GA9, GA10

Representative texts and references

Blumenberg, Hans, The Legitimacy of the Modern Age (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 1982)

Latour, Bruno, We Have Never Been Modern (Cambridge: Harvard University Press 1993)

Linett, Maren Tova,The Cambridge Companion to Modernist Women Writers. Edited by Maren Tova Linett (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010)

Maleuvre, Didier, The Legends of the Modern: A Reappraisal of Modernity from Shakespeare to the Age of Duchamp (New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2020)

Marx, Karl, Capital (London: Penguin, 1991)

Pippin, Robert, Modernism as Philosophical Problem: On The Dissatisfactions of European High Culture (London: Wiley-Blackwell, 1999)

McLean, Ian, ‘Indigenous Modernisms’, in Routledge Encyclopedia of Modernism (London: Routledge, 2016)

Mbembe, Achille, The Critique of Black Reason, trans. by Laurent Dubois (Durham: Duke University Press, 2017)

Weber, Max, The Vocation Lectures (Indianapolis: Hackett, 2004)

Woolf, Virginia, Mrs. Dalloway (New York: Vintage, 2016)

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