Walter Benjamin

Photo credit: Gisèle Freund, Walter Benjamin in the Bibliothèque Nationale, 1937

The Program in Critical Theory (the Designated Emphasis, or “DE,” in Critical Theory) enables graduate students already enrolled in UC Berkeley PhD programs from across the social sciences, arts, and humanities to obtain certification of a Designated-Emphasis specialization in Critical Theory. (The DE is not an independent degree-granting program.) Students admitted to the DE who complete its requirements will receive a parenthetical notation to that effect on their doctoral degrees. The DE offers graduate fellowships, hosts international scholars, and presents lectures, seminars, and other events for the wider campus community and local public. The Critical Theory Program also maintains important collaborative relations with other critical theory institutes and programs nationally and internationally.

“Critical Theory” is often associated with the Frankfurt School, a group of intellectuals who, starting in the 1920s, developed critiques of modern capitalist society, fascism, and the new global dispensations that followed in the aftermath of World War II; in doing so, the Frankfurt School constructed modes of social theory distinct from established forms of philosophy. But key modern concepts of critique had already emerged in various forms in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in the work of Immanuel Kant, G.W.F. Hegel, Karl Marx, and others, and critique has assumed historically distinct modalities across the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

The Designated Emphasis in Critical Theory offers courses on the nineteenth-century notion of critique; on the Frankfurt School and other twentieth-century currents of critical theory and philosophy; and on contemporary forms and modes of critical theory, including critical race theory, post-colonialist theory, feminist critique, gender studies and queer theory, and the diverse approaches to critique arising with and after structuralism and poststructuralism. The Program emphasizes the centrality of theoretical critique in the examination of contemporary values, of the power relations that constrain and enable political, social, cultural and economic life, and of the modes of justification that legitimate historical and cultural inquiry and sociopolitical analysis.

Photo: Herbert Marcuse and Angela Davis, 1968