Welcome from the Directors, Fall 2017

We’re back, and not wasting any time.

This fall we’ll soon be debating post- and non-humanism with Marta Segarra and Christopher Peterson, before diagnosing leaderless social movements with Michael Hardt in October. November will take us to Brazil for The Ends of Democracy, the second conference in the ICCTP cycle. The monthly Critical Theory Working Group, Collaborations, Co-operatives, Coaltion-Building, will be our bridge from fall to spring, when ICCTP will take us to Johannesburg. On campus we’ll engage with Jacques Rancière, Saskia Sassen, and ICCTP visiting scholar Zaynep Gambetti in February and March. Along the way Maeve Cooke from UCD will give us a talk, and towards the end we’ll recruit a new cohort of Designated Emphasis students and reward promising projects with dissertation fellowships. Throughout the year we’ll be teaching, mentoring the next generation of Critical Theory scholars.

If you’re not already involved, please add yourself to our mailing list. If you are, and are feeling generous, we’d welcome any change you can spare.

Suzanne Guerlac and Dan Blanton
Co-Directors, The Program in Critical Theory

Announcing the 2017-2018 Critical Theory Working Group: Collaborations, Co-operatives, Coalition-Building

The 2017-2018 Critical Theory Working Group will be led by Designated Emphasis student and Theater, Dance & Performance Studies PhD candidate Megan Hoetger.

Drawing from several disciplines and connecting campus scholarship to extramural engagement, Collaborations, Co-operatives, Coalition-Building will ask “how can we imagine differently” in response to recent global developments.

The Program thanks Megan for her leadership in this effort, and values the time and hard work of its participants.

Below is the Working Group’s motivating rationale and initial schedule of meetings.

Composer, historian, and civil rights activist Dr. Bernice Johnson Reagon once asserted, “if you’re in a coalition and you’re comfortable, you know it’s not a broad enough coalition.” Echoing Reagon’s sentiment, Judith Butler asserted in a recent public discussion at the BAMPFA that we do not have to have breakfast together, but we must try to find common interests across our divisionary lines. Taking Reagon’s and Butler’s words as a starting point, “Collaborations, Co-Operatives, and Coalition-Building,” seeks to offer a sustained engagement with the question: where do we go from here? If we are indeed living in a time of crises—crises of democracy, of communication, of critical media literacy—how can we imagine differently?

From this starting point the working group will develop over seven meetings, or “units,” which take up different, though certainly overlapping, keywords and frameworks that condition, contour, and constrain, our possibilities for imagining. Each working group has two invited co-facilitators (from both on and off the campus) who will assign readings, give informal introductions to the topics of the meetings, and, most importantly, bring different voices, perspectives, and stakes into the room. Alongside the working group organizer, Megan Hoetger, the co-facilitators will create a triangulated field of interests and investments for the working to engage with, rather than promoting a single voice that leads the conversation.


All working group meetings will be held on Wednesdays 5:30 – 7:30 PM in the BCNM Commons (340 Moffitt Library).

Collaboration Thinking
September 13, 2017

Questions of State
October 18, 2017

Global Networks
November 15, 2017

Life/Style after ’68
January 24, 2017

Public Spheres
February 21, 2018

Co-operative Models
March 21, 2018

Coalition Histories
April 18, 2018

Co-sponsored by the Arts Research Center, the Department of Theater, Dance, and Performance Studies, the Berkeley Center for New Media, and the Maxine Elliot Chair of Comparative Literature.

Dissertation Awards Support Promising Projects

The Program in Critical Theory will support four Designated Emphasis students’ dissertation projects in 2017-2018. William Callison and Stephen McIsaac will receive semester-long Critical Theory Dissertation Fellowships, while Lawrence Yang and Tasha Hauff have won, respectively, a summer grant and a travel award.

Fellowships are awarded to Critical Theory Designated Emphasis students with records of achievement and promising dissertation projects. Support for this year’s fellows is generously provided by the Magistretti Graduate Fellowship Fund, through the UC Berkeley College of Letters and Sciences, Division of Arts and Humanities.

William Callison is a Ph.D. candidate in Political Science with a Designated Emphasis in Critical Theory. His dissertation “The Irrational Rationality of Neoliberalism: Weberian Legacies in Critical Theory and Political Economy” examines approaches to critique and scientificity that evolved out of Marxian, Weberian and related theoretical paradigms from the inter- and postwar eras. The dissertation traces how pre-Cold War discourses of rationality and rationalization became central to both the critique and justification of capitalism and socialism as “ideal typical” orders of market exchange and state planning. Callison offers a critical account of ascendent governmental practices and “forms of rationality” in relation to the descriptive and prescriptive categories of neoliberal political economy and Frankfurt School critical theory—both of which, he suggests, participated in conceptual and material displacements of politics (narrowly understood as techne) consistent with a postwar technocratic imaginary. In turning to the present, the dissertation draws on Foucault and other theorists to redress the political deficit in critical theory and to theorize political rationality in and beyond neoliberalism.

Stephen McIsaac is a Ph.D. candidate in Anthropology with a Designated Emphasis in Critical Theory. His dissertation, “Impasse of Legibility: Violence, Psychiatry, and Generation in South Africa,” explores how the effects of postcolonial violence are rendered intelligible across different fields of inquiry, forms of life, and generations in contemporary South Africa. Taking psychiatric practice in one of the largest townships in South Africa as his primary field, he explores how violence becomes known as an object and a practice between and within psychiatric and ordinary worlds, considering how different forms of knowledge structure the demands, limits, and possibilities violence places on people and collectives. Drawing on a year and half of fieldwork, he examines how the shifting terrains of the therapist, the parent, and the child clash, creating an impasse in the legibility of violence and its effects, and ultimately puts in question when violence demands a response, and what form that response should take.

Because of a generous contribution to Critical Theory, the Program is also able to support Lawrence Yang and Tasha Hauff’s projects with, respectively, a summer grant and a travel award.

Lawrence Zi-Qiao Yang is a Ph.D. candidate in East Asian Languages and Cultures with a Designated Emphasis in Critical Theory. Tentatively titled “Speculative Statecraft: Logistical Media and the Transnational Chinese Cold War,” his dissertation retraces the propaganda media technologies and genres in Maoist China, Nationalist Taiwan, and Colonial Hong Kong from the 1940s to the 1970s. With a focus on the media aesthetics mobilized for state-formation through the representations of technical objects, built environment, and the organizational designs of logistics, his project is at once a media archaeology and a critical genealogy of the neoliberalism of the Sinophone sovereignties before the 1970s.

Tasha Hauff is a Ph.D. candidate in Ethnic Studies with a Designated Emphasis in Critical Theory. Her dissertation, entitled “Lakȟótiyapi kiŋ uŋglúkinipi (We revitalize our Lakota Language): Indigenous Language Revitalization at Standing Rock,” examines the ways Lakota language activists who live on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation work within Euro-American language, epistemologies, and institutions to revitalize Lakota language, epistemology, and institutions. Using data from participant observation and in-depth interviews, her dissertation maintains that both the translatability and untranslatability of indigenous languages into English can have significant implications for how indigenous people understand their own identities, histories, and interactions with colonialism. Furthermore, it sustains that an examination of the indigenous language revitalization translations must account for the ways indigenous groups work to revitalize their languages within the settler colonial entities that once sought to eradicate those indigenous languages.

Congratulations to William, Stephen, Lawrence and Tasha!

The Program in Critical Theory Welcomes Sixteen New Designated Emphasis Students

In the fall of 2017 sixteen UC Berkeley graduate students from ten departments across the social sciences and humanities will join the Designated Emphasis (DE) in Critical Theory. The students, and their respective home departments, are:

Spencer Adams, Rhetoric
Bruno Anaya Ortiz, Rhetoric
Beth Bird, Film and Media
Nate Cohan, English
Brent Eng, Anthropology
Jesús Gutierrez, Anthropology
Paul Hoehn, German
Veronica Jacome, Energy and Resources Group
Riad Kherdeen, History of Art
Jaeyoon Park, Political Science
Kyle Ralston, Comparative Literature
Maia Rodriguez, English
Miranda Smith, Sociology
Kevin Stone, Comparative Literature
Jonas Teupert, German
Adrian Wilson, Anthropology

Critical Theory faculty and students are excited to work with the new cohort, and look forward to their future contributions to the program.

The DE in Critical Theory promotes the interdisciplinary study of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century notions of critique; of the Frankfurt School and other twentieth-century currents of critical theory and philosophy; and of contemporary forms and modes of critical theory. It enables graduate students already enrolled in UC Berkeley Ph.D. programs from across the social sciences, arts, and humanities to obtain certification of a Designated-Emphasis specialization in Critical Theory. Students admitted to the DE who complete its requirements will receive a parenthetical notation to that effect on their doctoral degrees. The Critical Theory Program offers graduate fellowships, hosts international scholars, and presents lectures, seminars, and other events for the wider campus community and local public. It also maintains important collaborative relations with other critical theory institutes and programs nationally and internationally.

UC Berkeley Launches the International Consortium of Critical Theory Programs

In December 2016, UC Berkeley received a three-and-a-half year, $1.5 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to establish the International Consortium of Critical Theory Programs (ICCTP). The task of this international consortium is to document, connect, and support the new and varied forms that critical theory has assumed in light of contemporary global challenges, including challenges to the university as an institution charged with the task of safeguarding and promoting critical thought. The Consortium is co-directed by Professor Judith Butler (UC Berkeley) and Professor Penelope Deutscher (Northwestern University).

Located in the Program in Critical Theory at UC Berkeley, the Consortium maintains a multi-lingual website that provides information on critical theory programs and initiatives throughout the world, seeking to connect programs and projects that have for too long remained unknown to one another. The Consortium will also publish a book series, Critical South, with Polity Press and an online journal called Critical Times, and will convene biannual conferences focused on contemporary critical issues of global concern such as violence, memory, democracy, and the critical tasks of the university. As well, the Consortium will expand the Critical Theory Archive at the UC Irvine to more fully represent the global scope of the field. The Consortium also invites international scholars to engage with faculty and students on the UC Berkeley campus. Under the direction of Northwestern University, a curricular initiative of the Consortium, Critical Theory in the Global South, will develop new teaching curricula reflective of critical theory’s global reach in conjunction with an associated program of international graduate student exchange.

With all of these initiatives, the Consortium seeks to establish the new global contours of Critical Theory today, supporting critical thought both inside and outside the university, and seeking collaborative ways to become more responsive to pressing global challenges. The Consortium seeks both to preserve and to galvanize the study of critical theory in its myriad global forms, underscoring the crucial place of critical thought in the university and in its various public lives. The Consortium aims to incite new forms of collaborative research among a wide range of regions and languages, connecting the disconnected and foregrounding the periphery in an effort to respond critically to contemporary challenges to critical thinking, including neoliberal metrics and forms of normalization that suppress or devalue the critical and transformative potential of thought itself.

For more information, please contact

Announcing Critical Theory in Times of Crisis | 2016-2017 Working Group Series

The term critique derives from the Greek krísis, whose semantic range includes “turning point,” a “decision or judgment,” and the act of separating or distinguishing, underscoring both the evental character of critique and its diagnostic function. Critical Theory itself evinces this relation: Frankfurt School thought emerged as a response to historical crisis. Likewise, contemporary forms of critical theory from critical race theory to eco-criticism respond to crises but also produce an undoing of the status quo. Today it seems we are living in a time of multiplying catastrophes: the refugee, economic, and environmental crises, and an emerging threat of neo-nationalist or neo-fascist movements. Against this backdrop, Critical Theory in Times of Crisis is interested in exploring the relations of crisis and critique: How can we define the liaison between the world-historical and critical practices? How does critical theory both respond to crises and grow away from them? What forms does it recuperate or invent? What is the temporality of critique? Is critique always retrospective and belated, or can it be simultaneous or even anticipatory? How can critique inform or produce action—be it aesthetic or political? These questions will allow us to think about the relational existence of crisis and critique in its various spatial, temporal, and historical moments.

To register and receive readings, please contact

Organized by Critical Theory D.E. student Christopher P. Scott through the Program in Critical Theory.

Critical Theory’s 2016-2017 Season

Now in its eighth year, Critical Theory’s program of public lectures and events brings scholars from the United States and abroad to Berkeley to present new writing and scholarship. This season features lectures on Walter Benjamin’s idiosyncratic conception of “revolution,” the emergence of “whistleblowers” as a new political subject, and the politics of memory in a time of neoliberalism, among other topics. This fall’s Critical Vitalisms Working Group, organized by Patrick Lyons and Matthew Evans, explores genealogies of the concept of life and how a critical rethinking of ‘life’ may inform our contemporary politics, science, philosophy, and possibilities of interdisciplinarity. (more… )

Announcing Critical Vitalisms | 2016-17 Working Group Series

At present, there’s really no shortage of critical attention to “life.” Or, restated, attention around life, studies built upon life, taking a concept of life somewhat as given, more or less common, and workable. Perhaps, in our era of biopolitics, bare and precarious lives, we’re far enough along with life to be due for a critical refresher: what is this “life” of which we speak?  Given the premises of the last two Critical Theory working groups, moving from biopolitics to animal futures, we propose to examine genealogies of the concept of life itself, that which underpins both bios and anima. We believe this may allow us to trace what critical potential or problems a rethinking of life may hold for the present moment in politics, science, and philosophy, and also a framework to engage across disciplinary boundaries with a concept that seemingly knows none.

In recent works, Frédéric Worms (ENS Paris) has sought to reconsider the occulted lineage of vitalist thought, deserted in the shadows of the Second World War due to its volatile inclusion within Nazi ideology. Worms calls for a revisionist “Critical Vitalism,” which would trace the source of “life” through a confluence of relations and tensions, rather than in a transcendental arche or all-pervasive energy. Our three events will begin with a discussion with Worms of this Critical Vitalism, followed by a cross-disciplinary meeting on concepts of emergence and milieu between UC Berkeley Professors Terrence Deacon and Suzanne Guerlac, and closing with a consideration of forthcoming work on life and the war on terror by Berkeley’s Keith Feldman. Papers by each speaker will be circulated in the weeks preceding each event.

To register and receive readings, please contact

Organized by Critical Theory D.E. students Patrick Lyons and Mathew Evans through the Critical Theory Program.

Critical Theory DE Writing Group 2016-17 Meetings Commence

Critical Theory’s Writing Group is a student-led effort that brings the Designated Emphasis (DE) community together to support all aspects of the writing process. Now in its fourth year, the group creates a space for Critical Theory DEs to discuss aspects and challenges of the writing experience in a cross-disciplinary context. DE students at all stages of the research and dissertation-writing process are invited to attend and contribute. The first meeting of the semester is Friday, September 09, 12-2 pm, 340 Moffitt Library. Meetings continue on a bi-weekly basis throughout the semester.

Designated Emphasis Students Paul Martorelli and Milad Odabaei Receive Critical Theory Dissertation Fellowships

The Program in Critical Theory is pleased to announce the selection of UC Berkeley graduate students Paul Martorelli and Milad Odabaei for its 2016-2017 Dissertation Fellowships. The fellowship is awarded to Critical Theory Designated Emphasis (DE) graduate students with a record of achievement and promising dissertation projects. This year’s awardees will receive a semester of support, generously provided by the Magistretti Graduate Fellowship Fund, through the UC Berkeley College of Letters and Sciences, Division of Arts and Humanities.

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Eighteen UC Berkeley Graduate Students Accepted into Critical Theory’s Designated Emphasis Program

The Program in Critical Theory welcomes eighteen new graduate students to the Designated Emphasis (DE) in Critical Theory. The incoming cohort includes students from ten different departments across campus, whose work in critical theory will add to the depth and range of the Program’s interdisciplinary approaches and conversations. We’re delighted that these individuals are joining our community of nearly 100 students and 60 faculty; we look forward to their participation in and contributions to the Program’s coursework and activities.

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Critical Theory Welcomes New Co-Directors Suzanne Guerlac and Dan Blanton

We are pleased to announce that starting in July, long time Critical Theory faculty members Suzanne Guerlac and Dan Blanton will assume the co-directorship of the Program in Critical Theory’s academic and public programs. Suzanne Guerlac is Professor of French; her principal areas of research have involved nineteenth and twentieth-century literature and philosophy, including the examination of cultural ideologies, visual culture (photography) and questions of critical vitalism. Dan Blanton is Associate Professor of English; his work has centered on the relations among critical theory, nineteenth-century British poetry, and twentieth-century British literature across the genres.

Announcing Critical Theory Dissertation Fellowship | Applications Due March 31

The Critical Theory Dissertation Fellowship is awarded to Critical Theory Designated Emphasis (DE) graduate students with records of achievement and promising dissertation projects. The fellowship supports students writing their dissertations with up to $36,000 toward fees and stipend. Depending on the applicant pool, the funds might be offered to two candidates as a single semester of support, at $18,000.

Applications for the 2016-2017 Critical Theory Dissertation Fellowship are due Thursday, March 31, 2016. Eligible students must be enrolled in the Critical Theory DE and not receive significant (non-teaching) financial support from their Departments during the period of the award. Applicants must have completed their Qualifying Exams and have an approved dissertation prospectus.

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