Fall 2024 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.

Core Courses

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

Education 280A: Socio-cultural Critique of Education

Critical Theory requirement: 240 (core)
Zeus Leonardo
10 AM -1 PM, Tuesday, Berkeley Way West 4244
Class #30108

This graduate-level course is designed to introduce students to a social and cultural critique of education and society by reading and analyzing classical and contemporary social theories. As a survey course, it examines both the theoretical and practical nature of a critical social theory of education. The concept or process of “critique” as well as discerning what it means to be “critical” will be central to the course. Some of the theoretical frameworks for study include Marxism, feminism, antiracism and anticolonialism, and poststructuralism and postcolonialism. Additionally, the nature of power will be examined and the way that social groups position themselves in such relations. This understanding will be instructive for our ability to confront the structural contours of inequality and the everyday effects of privilege in education and society.

Education 281: Critical Race Theory, Education, & Society

Zeus Leonardo
10 AM -1 PM, Monday, Berkeley Way West 4244
Class #30134

This graduate level course is designed to introduce students to the area of Critical Race Theory (CRT) and its applications in educational settings and broader study of society. It will begin by engaging readings that launched the U.S.-based movement of CRT, which came primarily from legal studies and argued the centrality of both race and racism in U.S. nation creation. It will also link these developments with certain critical theories of race found in disciplines outside of legal studies, in settings not necessarily based in U.S. contexts. In this sense, the course includes engagements of both the “school of thought” known as CRT as well as critical race theories broadly speaking. The course will examine the impact of CRT and critical race theories on the discipline of education since CRT was imported into education in the mid-1990s as an explanatory framework for studying racial inequality and subordination in schools.

Geography 255: Topics in Political Geography: Marx, Colonialism, Planetarity

Critical Theory requirement: 240
Sharad Chari
2 - 5 PM, Thursday, McCone 575

Class #33036

Research seminar on selected topics in political geography.

German 265 and Film 240: Technics

Critical Theory requirement: 240
Nick Baer
1-4 PM, Wednesday, 282 Dwinelle
Class #32665

Contemporary developments such as algorithmic media and generative AI are lending renewed urgency to the "question concerning technology (Technik)." In this seminar, we will reexamine the ideas of thinkers who have shaped, challenged, and extended our understandings of technics, including Walter Benjamin, Martin Heidegger, Ursula Le Guin, Bernhard Siegert, Gilbert Simondon, Bernard Stiegler, and Sylvia Wynter. Moreover, we will consider cutting-edge theoretical, historiographical, and methodological reflections on media technologies in the digital age, engaging with the latest work in fields such as film and media studies, digital humanities, science and technology studies, and the philosophy of technology. 

German 256: Problems of Literary Theory: "Problems of Literary Theory"

Critical Theory requirement: 200
Karen Feldman
1 - 4 PM, Monday, Dwinelle 282
Class #32802

This course will focus on the themes of epistemology, aesthetics, dialectics, and philosophy of history, centering on readings of Kant and Hegel. We will begin with excerpts of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason and then turn to his aesthetic theories in Critique of Judgment. Our study of Hegel begins with his criticisms of Kant’s moral philosophy, which we will look at briefly, and with a comparison of their reflections on universal history. We will then move on to Hegel’s formulations of how philosophy works and we will spend several weeks studying selected sections of the Phenomenology of Spirit and Elements of the Philosophy of Right. Most weekly assignments will include short commentaries, aphorisms and criticisms from other prominent authors in the history of critical theory, most notably Marx, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Adorno, and Arendt. The goal is for students to understand not only some of the basic concepts and gestures in Kant and Hegel, but also to place those within the context of 19th- and 20th-century Critical Theory.

Rhetoric 240 & Rhetoric 200: Classical Rhetorical Theory and Practice: Foucault and his Sources

Critical Theory requirement: 240
James Porter and Ramona Naddaff
3 - 6 PM, Wednesday, Dwinelle 7415
Class #24966

Foucault’s thought is richest and most generative at the intersection of four themes—subject-formation, truth, freedom, and the political—but nowhere more so than when he is in dialogue with prior thinkers. This seminar will examine Foucault’s evolving conceptions of these themes, from some of his earliest essays on Kant, Rousseau, Bataille, and Blanchot, to later essays (“Truth and Juridical Form,” “What is Critique?”, his interview with Trombadori, Lives of Infamous Men, "Political Spirituality”), and his final lectures on antiquity. Additional readings will be drawn from Bataille (Inner Experience) and Blanchot (The Unavowable Community, Thomas the Obscure) and from Plato, the Greek sophists, the Cynics, early Christian authors, and Kant (“An Answer to the Question: What Is Enlightenment?,” Metaphysics of the Groundworks of Morals, sel.), in addition to the new scholarship on Foucault, including by a number of invited seminar guests. Students from all disciplines are welcome.

Elective Courses

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

Critical Theory 290: Law and Foundation

Critical Theory requirement: 290
Christopher Tomlins
2:10 - 5 PM, Monday, JSP Seminar Room/2240 Pied 102
Class #19184
Instruction begins August 19 for Berkeley Law

Critical Theory electives are taught by core and affiliated faculty in the Critical Theory program and offer important treatments of theoretical materials significant to the intellectual traditions of the program's course of study in nineteenth-century social theory and philosophy, Frankfurt School and related currents in theory and criticism, and contemporary critical theory. In a typical Critical Theory elective, theoretical materials are presented in dialogue with an anthropological, artistic/aesthetic, economic, educational, historical, philosophical, political, rhetorical, sociological, or other disciplinary matrix that constitutes the course's primary materials for study and inquiry.

Comparative Literature 202B: Approaches to Genre: Lyric Poetry: César Vallejo & His Legacies in 20th-21st Century Poetry, Poetics, & Critique: Form, Commitment (Engagement, Compromiso), & Critical Aesthetic Autonomy

Critical Theory requirement: 290
Robert Kaufman
2 - 5 PM, Wednesday, Dwinelle 4104
Class #25479

The Peruvian César Vallejo (1892-1938) is one of international modernism’s greatest and—at least posthumously—most influential poets, known for twinned radical commitments: to artistic-aesthetic experimentation with lyric form; and to progressive and Left politics (a political commitment that eventuated in Vallejo’s intense, complex involvement during the last 15 years of his life with marxian theory, along with his connected activism in three "fraternally aligned" communist parties: those of France, Spain, and—albeit from the distance of his exile in Europe—his homeland, Perú). He's known too as a fascinating, important instance of tensions—seen by some as generative, by others, as worrisome or problematic—between theories of "committed art" on one hand, and the art itself actually made by some of the very artists apparently advocating those theories of "commitment." The clearly-evident tensions between Vallejo's partisan writing as a journalist-critic (often arguing in favor of "commitment" theory), and his own poetry—a poetry that, while manifesting profound sociopolitical motivations, involvements, materials, and so forth, nonetheless almost constantly exceeds or even shreds the established concepts or tenets that comprise "commitment theory"—have made his art, criticism, and life stand out as being among the richest and most generative in longstanding debates and criss-crossed lines of art and influence in 20th and 21-st century poetry, poetics, politics (not least, precisely when it comes to the historical and still ongoing "aesthetics and politics" or "culture and politics" debates).

English 203: Reading Capital

Critical Theory requirement: 290
Colleen Lye
5 - 6:30 PM, Tuesday and Thursday, Social Sciences Building 126
Class #33137

This English 203 is for graduate students who are interested in attending my undergraduate course on Capital Vol 1 for credit. (See course description for English 177.) Though the course will run largely as a lecture, there will also be some time set aside each week for discussion and on those occasions you’d be expected to participate equally. If you take this course for a letter grade, you’ll also be expected to produce an end of the term paper or some project equivalent, to be discussed with me. Instructor approval required to enroll.

French 274: The Ends of Man

Critical Theory requirement: 290
William Burton
2-5 PM, Friday, 4226 Dwinelle
Class #31381

This seminar will offer an historical and interdisciplinary introduction to classic works of “French theory” and “French feminism.” Readings will constellate around the notion of antihumanism or the end of the subject and will include some key concepts (antihumanism, the death of the author, différance, discourse, écriture, interpellation, intertextuality, text). We will track the notion’s migration across different disciplinary sectors (anthropology, psychoanalysis, psychiatry, philosophy, literary criticism, and literature). We will set these developments against the backdrop of the transatlantic exchange that gave rise to the corpora of “French theory” and “French feminism,” as well as critiques of their claims and validity.

German 205 & Comparative Literature 258: Studies in Medieval Literature: "Mysticism and Modernity"

Critical Theory requirement: 290

Niklaus Largier
4 - 7 PM, Monday, Dwinelle 4114
Class #31189

So-called ‘mystical’ forms of thought and experience have played a major role in the history of modern philosophy and literature from Hegel, Kierkegaard, and Schopenhauer to Lukàcs, Heidegger, Bataille, Benjamin, Derrida, and Fred Moten; and from Novalis to Musil, Kafka, Celan, Bachmann, Klossowski, and Cage (to name just a few). In this seminar we will read and discuss key texts written by some significant medieval figures in this tradition. We will focus on forms and styles of writing; problems of negative and affirmative theology; and configurations of speculative, affective, and sensual moments. During a second phase of the seminar we will turn our attention to baroque mysticism (Angelus Silesius and Jacob Böhme). Based on the class discussion and on individual student interests, we will then explore the ways how these texts have been read by 19th and 20th century authors and how they allow us to think about the formation and transformation of modern concepts of the sacred, subjectivity, affect, critique, and agency.

Depending on student interests, we will decide on a final version of the syllabus at the first meeting of class. All texts will be available in original languages and in English translation.

Italian 235: Seminar in 20th Century Literature and Culture: Entangled Pasts at the Border: Aesthetics, Race and Migration

Critical Theory requirement: 290

Debarati Sanyal and Rhiannon Welch
2 - 5 PM, Thursday, Dwinelle 6331
Class #33128

This team-taught seminar (cross-listed with Italian Studies and Critical Theory) examines histories of racialized violence —slavery, colonialism, the Nazi genocide — and their convergence at select border sites. Our primary works are mostly drawn from Francophone and Italian geographies. We turn to literature, visual media and multidisciplinary studies to sound out the reverberations of violent histories at contemporary borders such as Lampedusa, Gaza, Melilla or Calais. How do contemporary border technologies and policies reanimate histories of extraction, racism and empire? How are borders felt and sensed by migrants who seek to cross them? How do literature and film, in conjunction with theory, help us better understand race and racialization and to question dominant discourses of humanity, human rights and humanitarianism? How do testimonies by migrants and their aesthetic representations resist border violence, historicize the refugee “crisis,” and convey new modes of becoming or belonging? How do we understand poiesis —  making, self-fashioning, world-building — as lived practices as well as aesthetic representations that show us the power of life to endure and escape the border’s power over life? We will consider theories of biopolitics, necropolitics, anti-Blackness, postcoloniality, and migration, paying particular attention to the critical and creative resources of postcolonial and Black radical thought.

Rhetoric 240G: Rhetorical Theory and Criticism: Rhetorical Theory: Law and Humanities

Critical Theory requirement: 290
Marianne Constable
2 - 5 PM, Thursday, Dwinelle 7415
Class #26546

During recent decades, “law and humanities” has emerged as a sub-field of sorts. What does scholarship in this area consist in and engage with? What characterizes “interdisciplinary” study of this sort? In this seminar, we will explore various approaches to the language of law with an eye to understanding what is at stake in doing so and, depending on student interest, will consider how such approaches can be extrapolated to other kinds of work. We will approach language as speech act, dialogue, and performance. We will consider issues of law as text, rule practice and, of course, “discourse.” Drawing on texts of philosophy, history, and law, we will focus on critiques of legal knowledge and judgement. Students will be asked to share knowledge across their disciplines. (At least one session will be a quick-and-dirty introduction to the U.S. legal system – students with background in law will be expected to contribute to familiarizing others with it.) Essays and short pieces will supplement or illustrate readings from the following texts:

Nietzsche, Friedrich, Twilight of the Idols
Parker, Kunal, The Turn to Process: American Legal, Political and Economic Thinking 1870-1970 (2023)
Daston, Lorraine, Rules: A Short History of What We Live By (2023)
Hosle, Vittorio, (trans. Rendall) The Philosophical Dialogue (2013)
Heidegger, Country Path Conversations (U of Indiana 2016)

Austin, How to Do Things with Words
Foucault, Discipline and Punish
Hart, The Concept of Law