Power relations and the production of culture

Module details

  • Offered to 3rd & 4th Years
  • Thursdays 16.00-18.00
  • South Kensington Campus 
  • 2 term module worth 7.5 ECTS
  • Extra Credit or Degree Credit where your department allows
Degree credit module options by departmentHow to enrol

This module examines why we see what we see – in museums, in newspapers, on billboards, on Twitter & Instagram – and asks what it tells us about society, how we perceive it, and how we identify within it. We will consider the relationship between power and knowledge and think about how power relations in society affect the production, circulation and consumption of culture. Aspects of visual culture we will examine include changing ideas of high & low culture, how signifiers of identity - including gender, class, race, sexuality - are constructed and presented, and the role of emerging technologies in patterns and redefinitions of social relations.

Module materials and themes will be explored in several ways including class visits to exhibitions and sites surrounding Imperial College, discussions on a range of writing, film, art and design works from critical thinkers who are subverting and exposing dominant practices of consumption, and workshops focused on developing creative approaches to visual culture analysis.

Information blocks

Learning outcomes

On successful completion of the module you will have: Social media icons

  • developed an understanding of the relationship between social structures, knowledge and power
  • developed a historically informed understanding of the concept of culture, and how it has been influenced by social change
  • engaged with critical discussions of representation in images
  • demonstrated your ability to critically analyse an image and discuss its use in different social and historical contexts
  • analysed and evaluated the way in which people & institutions use images to produce cultural identities
  • enhanced your ability to synthesise, evaluate critically and challenge information, arguments and assumptions from different sources
  • demonstrated your ability for self-directed research

Indicative core content

Inside the Natural History Museum

  • Models of representation: thinking about visual language
  • Framing the image: how editing and composition direct what you see and how you are meant to see it
  • The relationship between power & knowledge: ideology & discourse
  • Changing society: the rise of counter culture, the end of modernism
  • Changing culture: how ideas of culture have changed since the early twentieth century
  • Cultural producers: who or what produces culture?
  • Influences on cultural production: the role of capital, finance, personalities & politics.
  • News outlets & their images
  • Images & social media: politicians, memes and selfies
  • Museums as sites of established knowledge: the perception of museums as scholarly institutions and places of authority
  • High & low culture
  • The performance of the image: the relationship between visual culture & identity
  • The politics of the gaze – colonialism, class, race, gender, age & sexuality
  • Institutional critiques: Hans Haacke, Fred Wilson, Andrea Fraser
  • The relationship between visual culture, power and knowledge


  • Semiotic analysis exercise - 600 words (10%)
  • Analytical essay 1 – critical exhibition review - 1500 words (30%)
  • Individual presentation - 5 mins (20%)
  • Analytical essay 2 – self-selected essay title; submit as written essay, video essay or zine - 2000–2500 words (40%)

Key information

  • ECTS value: 6
  • Requirements: Students are expected to attend all classes and undertake approximately 2-3 hours of private study or reading each week in addition to the assessment
  • This module is designed as an undergraduate Level 6 module.  See Imperial Horizons level descriptors [pdf]
"Hands down the best module I've done this year. Really enjoyed the course, helped me really connect to popular culture in a way that I have wanted for a long time. Essays were interesting topics and some of the work I'm most proud of, a sign of a really stimulating course!"
"Very intellectually stimulating course, would recommend to others."
"Amazing module... It has far exceeded my expectations. It has really developed by understanding of culture, society, people, ideas, discourse... The conversations are fascinating, and on multiple occasions the two hours of the session fly by leaving me disappointed that it's over. "
"A really interesting module. It was well structured, starting by introducing semiotic analysis and ways of looking at images early on. The courseworks were good development opportunities as they helped develop a range of skills as well as knowledge (essay writing, presentation skills, group work, debating, and film making)."