A view of the Koura region from the Orthodox monastery in Bkeftine, Lebanon. Aaron Eldridge 2019.

Graduate Student Spotlight: Aaron Eldridge

Aaron Eldridge is an anthropologist specializing in contemporary asceticism in the Levant. His interdisciplinary research interests include Muslim-Christian entanglements in the Eastern Mediterranean, postcolonial political theologies, historical consciousness, as well as theories of destruction and form of life. His work has appeared in Exchange (2020) and Qui Parle (forthcoming).

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Designated Emphasis Application Deadline, March 18

Applications to the DE in Critical Theory are due Thursday, March 18, by 4 pm. All students enrolled in PhD programs at UC Berkeley who have not already taken the QE are eligible to apply. To learn more about the application process and access application forms, please visit the academics webpage.

Join the Program in Critical Theory faculty and students for the Designated Emphasis Virtual Open House on February 16 at 5:30 pm for a panel discussion and Q&A about the Designated Emphasis in Critical Theory. All UC Berkeley PhD students interested in applying to the DE are invited to attend.

Please direct any questions to

New Affiliated Faculty Spotlight: Sara Mameni

Sara Mameni, Assistant Professor in the Department of Ethnic Studies

Sara Mameni is an art historian specializing in contemporary transnational art and visual culture in the Arab/Muslim world with an interdisciplinary research on racial discourse, transnational gender politics, militarism, oil cultures and extractive economies in West Asia.

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New Affiliated Faculty Spotlight: Fumi Okiji

Fumi Okiji, Assistant Professor, Rhetoric

Fumi Okiji’s research looks to black expression for alternative ways to understand the inadequacies of modern and contemporary life. Okiji explores how black and Africana music, sound cultures and expression, more broadly, provide the basis of a critical theory. Okiji’s approach is thoroughly interdisciplinary, drawing from black radical thought and expression, critical theory, feminist thought, sound studies, and musicology. Okiji is an improvisor and jazz vocalist—whose research is greatly informed by this practice.

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New Affiliated Faculty Spotlight: Djordje Popović

Djordje Popović, Assistant Professor, Slavic Languages and Literatures

Djordje Popović’s research and teaching interests include 20th- and 21st-century South Slavic literature, Yugoslav modernism and state socialism, critical theory, and intellectual history. Popović’s essays on the appropriation of the dialectical tradition and on the ontologizing of alienation in the western reception of East European modernism have appeared in the journal Contradictions and in History, Imperialism, Critique: New Essays in World Literature (Routledge, 2019).

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CT faculty will be teaching thirteen spring 2021 courses that count towards the Designated Emphasis in Critical Theory. These courses reflect the interdisciplinary breadth of the Program, with core and elective options in Education, English, Film, French, Law, Philosophy, and Rhetoric.

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ICCTP Invites You to Visit Its Redesigned Website, New “The Consortium Books” Website, and Social Media Platforms

ICCTP invites you to visit the redesigned International Consortium of Critical Theory Programs website for information about its events, projects, announcements and more. Please also visit the new website for The Consortium Books for information regarding book series on critical theory from Africa and its diasporas, Latin America, the Arab world, and South Asia. Updates have also been made to the Consortium’s social media presence in order to boost the visibility of the new and various programs and projects that represent critical theory across the globe, so be sure to like/follow the ICCTP TwitterICCTP Facebook page, and Critical Times Facebook page for all the latest news!

Assistant Professor, Critical Theory, Department of Comparative Literature Applications due Oct 15

Job #JPF02679

Open August 27th, 2020 through Thursday, Oct 15, 2020 at 11:59pm (Pacific Time)

The Department of Comparative Literature at U.C. Berkeley seeks applications for an Assistant Professor in Critical Theory (tenure track) with an expected start date of July 1, 2021. The successful candidate will have a rigorous grounding in Critical Theory in relation to literary history, with a comparative component. The department welcomes applications with additional areas of specialization in, among others, critical race theory, post-colonial theory, the Global South, gender theory, area studies, film and media studies, and critical-theoretical approaches to questions of democracy and the public sphere.

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Welcome Back Message, Fall 2020

Dear friends and colleagues,

As all are aware, Berkeley’s Program in Critical Theory, like the rest of the university, enters the fall semester much as we ended the spring. With campus activity restricted and much of our work forced into virtual form, we continue to confront not only an unusual moment, but also the expanding sequence of crises that have produced it. While our seminars and other events assume new guises, however, the critical labor they reflect remains unchanged, merely sharpened by our circumstances. As we welcome everyone to a new academic year, we hope that all will remain engaged in this collective work.

As always, we invite you to add yourself to the Critical Theory mailing list, and to join us in the year’s upcoming events. And we remind you too that, especially in a moment of financial uncertainty, we are always grateful for any support that you might be able to spare.

Housed in the Critical Theory program, the International Consortium of Critical Theory Programs will be hosting during this academic year a series of discussions with artists, scholars and activists about the four research themes identified for this grant period: The Environment, Ecology and Forms of Life; Debt, Vulnerability and Forms of Care; Camps, Borders, and Hospitality; Defeat, Steadfastness, and the Future. There will also be conversations with authors and critics on recent book releases from the Critical South book series.

Dan Blanton, Natalia Brizuela, and Samera Esmeir

New Critical Theory Affiliated Faculty Members

Please help us in welcoming three new faculty, Sara Mameni (Ethnic Studies), Fumi Okiji (Rhetoric), and Djordje Popović (Slavic Languages and Literatures) who recently joined our Critical Theory interdisciplinary community. Now totaling 73 affiliated members, The Program’s diverse faculty represent twenty-five departments across the fields of social sciences, arts, humanities, education, law, and natural resources, offering courses to the nearly 100 students pursuing the Designated Emphasis. Keep an eye out for future communications about our new affiliated faculty members!


Congratulations to the Program’s most recent graduates! Now in its eleventh year, the Program in Critical Theory enrollment has grown to 96 active students with over 70 affiliated faculty. To date, 57 UC Berkeley PhD’s have earned a Designated Emphasis in Critical Theory.

Veronica Jacome (Spring 2020)
PhD in Energy & Resources
DE in Critical Theory

Simone Stirner (Summer 2020)
PhD in Comparative Literature
DE in Critical Theory
DE in Jewish Studies

Message from the Director

Dear friends and colleagues,

We hope this letter finds you healthy and safe at the end of this disrupted semester and in this fraught time. The Program in Critical Theory is a community committed to the examination of contemporary values and power relations, of social organization and practices, with the philosophical instruments of critique; this work together feels perhaps more urgent now than ever. We write to thank all of those who have supported and sustained this work through a tumultuous year, who have demonstrated in myriad ways the ongoing need for and timeliness of Critical Theory.

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The Program in Critical Theory is delighted to welcome 8 new students to the Designated Emphasis in Critical Theory. The new cohort includes graduate students from Berkeley departments in the social sciences, humanities, and professional schools. These new admits bring the total number of Critical Theory DE students to nearly 100.

  • Britt Dawson, Anthropology
  • Christopher Geary, English
  • Salvador Gutiérrez Peraza, Ethnic Studies
  • Andrew Haas, English
  • Nejat Kedir, African Diaspora Studies
  • Liza Michaeli, Comparative Literature
  • Jesse Nyiri, English
  • Jaleel Plummer, Joint PhD, Medical Anthropology

Congratulations, all!

Dissertation Awards Support Graduate Research

The Program in Critical Theory will support six Designated Emphasis students’ dissertation projects in 2020-2021. Jessica Ruffin and Elisa Russian will receive semester-long Critical Theory Dissertation Fellowships, while Phillip Campanile, Aaron Eldridge, Donna Honarpisheh, and Jaeyoon Park will receive Critical Theory Research Grants.

Support for this year’s awardees is generously provided by the Magistretti Graduate Fellowship Fund, the Dean of Arts and Humanities, and the Class of 1936 First Professor of Political Science.

Jessica Ruffin is a PhD candidate in Film & Media, with Designated Emphasis in Critical Theory. She holds an MA in German Literature and Culture from UC Berkeley (2018) as well as an MA in Humanities from University of Chicago (2008). Her interdisciplinary research brings together aesthetic philosophy, media theory, spectatorial theory, and media archaeology towards inquiry into ethical relation and aesthetic experience. Her dissertation, “A World Divided: Schopenhauer, Aesthetics, and Cinematic Experience,” draws upon the aesthetics and ethics of Arthur Schopenhauer in order to reframe the early stages of German-language media and cultural theory and to reimagine their figures of ethical relation in light of feminist and critical race theories.

Jessica has published work in Millennium Film JournalTRANSIT and Qui Parle. She has presented in panels and seminars at the Society of Cinema and Media Studies annual conference, World Picture, the Princeton-Weimar and Berkeley-Köln Summer Schools, and the University of Chicago Cinema and Media Graduate Conference. She is former editor of Millennium Film Journal (2008-2013) and Qui Parle (2018-2019) and currently serves on the board of Aubin Pictures, a nonprofit social justice media company based in New York City.

Elisa Russian is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Italian Studies. Before coming to Berkeley in 2014, she received her laurea magistrale (MA) in Modern Literature from the Università degli Studi di Siena, Italy. In her current research, she explores the intersections among literature, philosophy, and sociology in twentieth- and twenty-first-century France and Italy.

Elisa’s dissertation, titled “The Autobiographer as Social Critic,” examines French and Italian first-person narratives that broadly address the relationship between individuals and groups. Using a comparatist and interdisciplinary perspective, she investigates the ways in which autobiographical texts redefined notions of personal identity in the second half of the twentieth century. In particular, her project traces how Jean-Paul Sartre’s theoretical and literary model influenced writers such as Annie Ernaux, Luisa Passerini, Walter Siti, and Edoardo Albinati, who, in their “collective autobiographies,” critically reflect on society starting from their own experiences.

For her studies, Elisa has been awarded the Doreen B. Townsend Center Dissertation Fellowship, the Norman Jacobson Memorial Teaching Award, and travel grants from the American Comparative Literature Association and the Modern Language Association. From September 2017 to June 2018, she was a visiting scholar at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris, where she worked closely with Barbara Carnevali. Her recent publications include an interview with sociologist Eva Illouz, titled “What Is Critique?,” which appeared in the June 2019 issue of Qui Parle.

Phillip Campanile addresses the historical co-constitution of geology and political economy to demonstrate how conceptions of “earth” and “land” shape a number of contemporary imperial practices but especially – and perhaps unsuspectingly – contemporary climate change treaties. By deconstructing the underlying conceptual framework of programs such as REDD+, he seeks to demonstrate how traditional global powers look to ensure geopolitical dominance through climate change politics, not despite of them. With this in mind, he analyzes contemporary – and often problematic – calls to re-situate our thinking about the earth, whether by re-framing the earth’s history as Anthropocene or by re-mythologizing it as Gaia.

Interests include: critical theory, history of science, post-colonial theory, Romantic critique of the Enlightenment and technology, reason and myth, agrarian transition, Marxism, mimesis, landscape and representation, aesthesis, phenomenology.

Aaron Eldridge is a PhD candidate in the Department of Anthropology and the Program in Critical Theory at UC Berkeley. He holds a BA (University of Alberta) in Anthropology and a MS (University of Oxford) in Social Anthropology. His work addresses Eastern Christian traditions, focusing on their post-colonial iterations in the Mediterranean through an emphasis on temporality, poetics, and the psyche.

Supported by the Canadian Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), his dissertation focuses on the return of Orthodox monasticism in contemporary Lebanon. The endurance of monastic life—from its weakened form during the civil war (1975-1990), to its vibrant return in the post-war period, to its staging in the time of the Syrian war and Lebanon’s economic and political antagonisms—evinces a temporality that cannot be easily captured within the paradigm of the nation-state or its crisis-time. This dissertation, as an ethnography of Orthodox Christianity in a time of destruction, lingers with the monastics’ dispossessive gesture of withdrawal (askēsis). Ascetic practices insist on the ambivalence of worldly destruction and its historical dialectics, which still yields the possibility of spiritual transformation and of divine disclosure (al-tajallī).

Donna Honarpisheh is a PhD candidate in the Department of Comparative Literature with a Designated Emphasis in Critical Theory. She holds an MA in Near Eastern Studies from UC Berkeley (2016). Her interdisciplinary interests include: aesthetics, postcolonial studies, transregional modernisms, cultural studies, and visual culture. Her dissertation “Disordering Modernism: Madness and Aesthetics in 20th Century Iran,” examines late twentieth-century Iranian modernist practices in a variety of media—fiction, film, and painting—to illuminate how they express forms of psychic disorder in the face of modernity’s ordering principles. Examining artistic and literary productions between 1950-1985, her work oscillates between Iran’s particular historical-political conditions—two major revolutions, a foreign-imposed coup, colonial occupation—and aesthetic theories that draw both from local traditions and from circuits of global modernism.

Donna has published work in Symploke, Qui Parle, IranNamag Journal of Iranian Studies, Jadaliyya, and the University of London’s Journal of Shi’a Islamic Studies. She recently edited and introduced a special issue of Qui Parle published in the fall of 2019 on “Trajectories in Race and Diaspora: Entangled Histories and Affinities of Transgression.” She also edited a dossier entitled “Global Student Struggles In and Against the University” forthcoming in Critical Times.

Jaeyoon Park is a PhD candidate in Political Science with a Designated Emphasis in Critical Theory. His dissertation charts the transformation of scholarly and popular discourses on addiction in the United States over the past half century. Working with texts ranging from scientific articles and diagnostic manuals to 12-step handbooks, it explores how addiction has been reimagined as a normal feature of human experience in our time. It reads this discursive shift as a reflection of broader tendencies in contemporary U.S. political culture, and as a window into the constitution of the late-modern subject.

ICCTP Statement on Anti-Blackness in the United States

Natalia Brizuela and Samera Esmeir, UC Berkeley
Directors, ICCTP Projects
June 5, 2020

George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery—all were murdered by the police for being Black. Through their singular names, we also recall the names of all others who have been killed, or whose lives have been wrecked, by racist institutions. We stand in solidarity with Black communities, now and always, against all forms of racism and injustice.

Moved by past and present struggles against oppression and domination in different parts of the world, we acknowledge the rage and grief of Black communities in the United States. From the era of slavery to the present, institutional racism and anti-Blackness have been constant, albeit shifting, markers of the U.S. state and society. Black lives in the United States are not only ended with impunity, but are also disproportionately at risk of imprisonment, impoverishment, illness, and death. Racism permeates Black lives. And yet Black communities continue to persevere and struggle against attempts to devalue their lives. The racially heterogeneous protests of this past week have shown that the struggle against racism is the responsibility of all. These protests have also drawn attention to the connections between racism, governance through debt, economic inequality, food insecurity, defunded education, and crumbling health services, to mention only a few features of the current moment—all of which result in a devastating present and a future without horizons that affects people of color disproportionately. It is not a coincidence therefore that youth are markedly present at these protests and are leading some of them.

These protests of Black, Brown, Asian, indigenous, and queer communities echo other struggles against racism and domination in the United States and elsewhere, from Latin America to the Middle East. They have encouraged a renewed understanding of the interconnectedness and the travels of strategies of domination, and in this way they have also renewed our appreciation of the necessity of coalitions and solidarity against oppression. From within a society steeped in white supremacy and privilege, protesters are dismantling existing racist power structures while making another future possible.

As scholars and teachers committed to public education, we consider it our responsibility to condemn policing practices, to amplify calls to abolish policing, and to demand that the state reprioritizes its funding by reinvesting in free education for all. These measures can only be a partial solution to systemic racism. We must also reimagine teaching and learning based on the value of heterogeneous world views, making visible the many forms of life that constitute our shared world.

This announcement originally appeared on the International Consortium for Critical Theory Programs website.