Core Courses

Critical Theory 200

A seminar in 19th century philosophy and social theory concerned with key texts undergirding critical theories in the 20th century. This seminar may include Kant, Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, and/or Weber, and will be organized around the concept of "critique" and "critical theory."

Critical Theory 205

A seminar on the Frankfurt School in conjunction with other critical trends, e.g., Adorno and Benjamin and aesthetic theory, or social theory from Bloch to Habermas.

Critical Theory 240

A seminar on contemporary critique and critical theory. This course may include critical race theory, postcontinental political theory, norms and values in critical theory, seminars on the tradition of critique and theology, comparative forms of critique, geopolitical conditions of theory-formation, critical theory and Marxism, critique and the problem of political dissent and citizenship, gender and race in relation to critical practices, psychoanalysis, and literary and art theory and criticism.


Additionally, students in the DE are required to complete two electives from a wide selection of cross-listed courses offered each year. Electives include those listed on this site, but students can also request credit for other courses taken, especially if taught by DE-affiliated faculty.

Fall 2017

Core Courses

The following courses satisfy Critical Theory Designated Emphasis core course requirements.

Comparative Literature 225
Modern Poetry and Frankfurt School Aesthetics

Robert Kaufman
Tuesdays, 2-5 pm, 4104 Dwinelle

Readings in modern, and above all modern lyric, poetry (much of it from the U.S., but also from Latin America, Europe, Asia, Africa, the Near East) in relation to major Frankfurt-School texts on aesthetics, criticism, and social theory that emphasize the significance of literature (as well as the other arts) and especially poetry. Focused concentration on the writings of Walter Benjamin and Theodor W. Adorno, and on their development of Kantian, Hegelian, and Marxian traditions of aesthetics and critical theory.  [Note: Critical Theory DE students who wish to take the course to satisfy their CT 205 “Frankfurt School”  core-course requirement are entirely welcome to do so, provided they are willing actively to study and engage with the modern poetry and poetics that will be treated as the seminar’s primary literary field, along with its primary critical-theoretical field.]  Sustained attention to how and why poetry  turns out to be so crucial to the Frankfurters’ (and, in particular, to Benjamin’s and Adorno’s) overall analyses of modernity, mechanical / technical / technological reproduction and reproducibility, and critical agency. Consideration of how Frankfurt-School concerns and legacies might engage the changed sociopolitical circumstances and artistic-aesthetic tendencies—and the changed poetry—of the last three decades; analysis in turn of how later-modernist and contemporary poets’ work may challenge Frankfurt analyses of and assumptions about poetry, aesthetic experience, and critical agency themselves. Readings of poetry throughout the course will tend to emphasize formal, stylistic, and philosophical-theoretical matters in order to highlight the question of  how—and to what degree—artistic technique, in relation to aesthetic form and aesthetic experience, may offer stimulus toward and insight into historical, sociopolitical, and ethical understanding and engagement. Some consideration of Romantic and nineteenth century poetry, and of twenty-first century poetry, but the seminar will focus primarily on twentieth-century, modernist poetry (including modernist poetry written and published during the apparently postmodern period). For a more extensive course description, go to:

This instance of Comparative Literature 225 counts towards Critical Theory DE students’ Critical Theory 205 requirement.

Education 290
Critical Theory and Education: From Paulo Freire to Postmodernism and Beyond

Zeus Leonardo
Mondays, 1-4 pm, 5527 Tolman

Critical Pedagogy arrived on the educational scene in 1970 with the publication of Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed. There were precursors to Freire, such as George Counts, Harold Rugg, and John Dewey, but Freire’s work marks the beginning of a critical theory-informed education program. In short, we might consider that Freire’s work is when education theory first becomes “critical.” It was made possible by intellectual currents from Sartre’s existentialism, Fanon and Memmi’s anti-colonialism, Fromm’s psychoanalysis, and Lukacs’ Hegelian Marxism, to name a few. As a phrase, “critical pedagogy” became popularized in the 1980s primarily through Giroux’s writings. This new innovation responded to international developments involving the role that education plays in the institutionalization of power relations but also as a way to ameliorate their effects. Several decades have since passed and Critical Pedagogy has developed from its foundations in Freirean pedagogy rooted in Brazil to include Giroux’s cultural studies, McLaren’s global anti-capitalism, Apple’s neo-Gramscian sociology, Lather’s feminist poststructuralism, bell hooks’ practice of freedom, Villenas’ decolonial Chicana feminism, and Biesta’s postmodern theory of the political subject. This course is a survey of the different iterations of Critical Pedagogy to pose the possibilities of what Giroux calls an education made political and the political made educational.

This instance of Education 290 counts towards Critical Theory DE students’ Critical Theory 240 requirement.

English 250
Paranoid States: Empire and the Rise of the Surveillance

Poulomi Saha
Wednesdays, 3-6 pm, 107 Mulford

This course examines the long, intimate relationship between technologies of surveillance and the making of British and American empires. While digital technology and state surveillance has been significant in the post-9/11 world, identifying, monitoring, and tracking populations and individuals has been central to the consolidation of state power for much longer. We will consider the development of technologies such as photography, fingerprinting, biometrics, and aerial drones in the context of their imbrication with imperial governance. Beginning in the late nineteenth century to the contemporary moment, this course will track the shifting forms that surveillance and the state take from the decline of British colonialism to the rise of American empire. It will look to South Asia, the Phillippines, North America, and the Middle East to ask how discourses of security, risk, and vulnerability have rationalized state policies of containment and scrutiny on the one hand, and justified and catalyzed the expansion of imperial power on the other.

Readings and films may include: Foucault, Discipline and Punish; Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth; LeFebvre, The Production of Space; Hardt & Negri, Empire; Orwell, 1984; Pontecorvo, Battle of Algiers; Scott, Seeing Like a State; McCoy, Policing America’s Empire; Hathaway, The Real Glory.

This instance of English 250 counts towards Critical Theory DE students’ Critical Theory 240 requirement.

French 265
I Confess: Self-Narration and Self-Representation from the Novel to New Media 

Damon Young
Fridays, 2-5 pm, 226 Dwinelle

Is the “self” of Rousseau’s Confessions the same as the self of the twenty-first century digital selfie? To what extent is subjectivity bound up in the means of its technical mediation? This course stages an encounter between histories of autobiography, theories of the subject/subjectivation, and recent developments in media theory. We will ask how the “private self” of an earlier colonial modernity was given form in the novel and the autobiography, then explore how the invention of photography and film refashioned the subject as “ideally visible,” before considering how digital media cultures generate forms of subjectivity for which the defining imperative would no longer be confession but rather circulation. We will spend some time with Foucault’s discussions of the confessional imperative that situates sexuality at the opaque foundation of the modern subject, reading them in relation to critical commentaries on the production of the “I” in literature and philosophy (works by Butler, Paige, Lucey, De Man). We will explore the interrelation of medium, subjectivity, and apparatus in theoretical works by Althusser, Deleuze, Debord, Baudrillard, Stiegler, Preciado, and others. Throughout, we will draw on specific examples of autobiography and/or self-portraiture in various media forms, from Rousseau to Proust, Varda, Godard, Sophie Calle, and contemporary vloggers. Taught in English, with texts available in French or English translation.

This instance of French 265 counts towards Critical Theory DE students’ Critical Theory 240 requirement.

Elective Courses

The following courses satisfy Critical Theory Designated Emphasis elective requirements.

Education 290
Race, Whiteness, and Education

Zeus Leonardo
Tuesdays, 1-4 pm, 2320 Tolman

Circa 1990, Peggy McIntosh’s “Unpacking the White Knapsack,” David Roediger’s Wages of Whiteness, and Ruth Frankenberg’s White Women, Race Matters arguably represent the beginnings of a focus on whiteness and white experiences. Since then, there has been a veritable explosion of critical work on whiteness across the disciplines. This course is designed to introduce graduate students to the area of Whiteness Studies, particularly how it has been taken up by education scholars. As a relatively recent innovation (quarter of a century old), Whiteness Studies has become a burgeoning literature across many disciplines and shifted race discourse from focusing on people of color to focusing on white racial experience. The course asks students to assess what this innovation within general race theory (as well as secondarily within other theories, such as class and gender analysis) produces in terms of greater knowledge and understanding of a general racial predicament. For example, what is particular about Whiteness Studies as a field, which classical race scholarship could not have explained adequately? In addition, the course asks what the conceptual and practical applications of Whiteness Studies might look like in education, but also broadly in the social sciences and humanities. Additionally, what does focusing on whiteness accomplish in the end, even if it aims to study it critically? Finally, the course asks what can be done, in the name of Whiteness Studies, to ameliorate racial disparities.

English 250
Gender, Sexuality, and Modernism

Elizabeth Abel
Thursdays, 3:30-6:30 pm, 102 Barrows

“Is queer modernism simply another name for modernism?” The question Heather Love poses in her special issue of PMLA will also guide this seminar on the crossovers between formal and sexual “deviance” in modernist literature. We will read back and forth across a century (Henry James to Colm Toibin, James Joyce to Alison Bechdel, Gertrude Stein to Monique Truong) to stage a series of encounters between the aesthetic practices  and discourses of modernism and those of contemporary queer theory and cultural production.  As we map the shifting contours of some key forms and terms, we will pause to consider (among other things) the mobile dimensions of queer time and space; the historical migration of concepts such as perversion, inversion, masquerade, transvestism, abjection, and shame; the mutual implication of race, gender, and sexuality; the formal attributes of the closet; the legibility of transgender bodies; and the composition of affective histories. To complement (and complicate) the chronological axis of this inquiry, we will also attend to the metropolitan spaces in which sexual boundaries blurred and subcultures thrived, especially the three urban sites central to modernist experimentation: London, New York, and Paris.

French 260B
Poetic Thinking: Valéry Before and After Jacques Derrida

Suzanne Guerlac
Wednesdays, 2-5 pm, 4226 Dwinelle

With the success of Charmes, Paul Valéry became the public face of poetry in twentieth century France.  He was also an influential prose writer (Monsieur Teste), a theorist of poetics, and an author of prose poems. In private, he was a wide-ranging thinker who kept Notebooks for decades, in which he addresses issues of language, science, politics, time, and images from, we could say, the perspective of a thinking poet.

It has been noted that the philosopher Jacques Derrida, who wrote a number of essays on Valéry, alludes to him frequently and often elliptically throughout his work. Some believe that Valéry anticipated Derrida on a number of important questions; others note that Valéry appears to haunt Derrida’s work.

The first part of our seminar will be devoted principally to reading a range of Valéry’s works – poems, prose pieces, critical essays and some fragments from the Notebooks, along with a few critical essays on Valéry (Adorno). One of the questions we will pose is: what does it mean to think from the vantage point of a poet?

This question will lead us to consider a few essays by Derrida on Valéry, and a few other texts by Derrida that allude only indirectly to Valery.  Does reading Derrida enrich our understanding of what is at stake in the poetics and thinking of Valéry?  Along the way we will consider how the “brand” Valéry enters into debates about literature, first in Sartre’s What is Literature?, and then in the context of the group Tel quel  which challenges Sartre from the perspective of Valéry in 1960, before going on to publish the major thinkers of “French Theory” including Jacques Derrida.

Readings will include works such as the following of Valéry: Charmes, Monsieur Teste, “L’Idée fixe,”  “Degas, Danse, Dessin,”  “Le Cours de poétique,”La Crise de l’esprit,” “La Politique de l’esprit” and selections from the Cahiers; essays  by Adorno and  Sartre (What is Literature?) and works by Derrida such as L’Autre Cap, “Qual quelle,” L’Animal que donc je suis, and Psyché: Inventions of the other.

Italian 204
From Gramsci to Agamben: Philosophy, Politics and Italian Theory

Diego Pirillo
Wednesdays, 2-5 pm, 6331 Dwinelle

Is there an Italian Theory? What are its origins and the reasons for its popularity outside of Italy? Why do most of its protagonists, regardless of their philosophical positions, share a tense and troubled relationship with political (and religious) power? The seminar will address these and other questions and introduce students to the most important figures of modern and contemporary Italian thought. Readings will include not only Antonio Gramsci and Giorgio Agamben, but a wide selection of classic authors, such as Benedetto Croce, Giovanni Gentile, Norberto Bobbio, Ernesto de Martino, Adriana Cavarero and Toni Negri. Particular attention will be given to the Italian debate on the ‘political’ (borrowing the concept from Carl Schmitt) and to the relationship between theory and politics that has marked Italian philosophy from Fascism through the Cold War to today.

The course is taught in English with readings in English.

Law 209.2
Slavery, History, Law

Christopher Tomlins,
Tuesdays 10-12:40 pm, Selznick Seminar Room

Slavery, History, and Law (SHL) is a reading and discussion seminar. It is taught under the auspices of the Jurisprudence and Social Policy (JSP) Program and is open to JSP, JD, SJD and LLM students, and to graduate students from UC Berkeley or other area institutions. It is also offered under the auspices of the Critical Theory Program and the History Department.

Slavery, History, and Law addresses the history of slavery and the law of enslavement. Our primary focus is plantation slavery in mainland North America, but we also develop a thorough comparative perspective that is empirical (Latin America, Indigenous North America, Africa, Russia) and theoretical. We examine slavery as a labor system and as a social condition, and the law that applied in both respects. We discuss slavery’s American origins, the legal and moral justifications to which it gave rise, its expansion, its politics, and its present appearances. We pay attention to new research examining the relationship between slavery and the history of capitalism, and we consider work in critical legal theory relevant to that relationship.