Spring 2020


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.

Philosophy 290 005 (Critical Theory 200)
Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit

Andreja Novakovic
Wednesdays, 4-6 pm, Dwinelle 283
Class #: 30745

This seminar will be a close reading of parts of Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit with an emphasis on his concept of experience. As one of the richest and most influential texts in European philosophy, it addresses a vast range of topics from epistemology to social and political philosophy. In this seminar we will begin by looking at key chapters with the following questions in mind: what does Hegel mean by “experience,” what is “learned” through experience, and who is doing this learning? We will then consider how experience so conceived works in the second half of the book, in which Hegel is analyzing what he calls “shapes of spirit” or forms of social organization. This will allow us to evaluate whether this second half of the book does indeed follow the path of the first, which Hegel had initially intended to publish on its own under the title Science of the Experience of Consciousness. It will also allow us to evaluate whether Hegel’s concept of experience has a significant role to play in his account of social and political contexts, especially social and political change.

For students who would like to satisfy their CT 200 requirement by taking this course, please (1) indicate that you have taken other CT courses that involve significant course reading/work in texts of Kant and Marx (the other main CT 200 authors), or (2) indicate that you have NOT had a CT course with substantial Kant and Marx readings, in which case, we will work with you to supplement the Hegel-readings in this seminar with some texts of Kant and Marx. We will count the combination of this seminar, and the extra Kant-and-Marx readings, as a CT 200 requirement.  

English 250 003 (Critical Theory 240)
Critique of Capitalism, or Reading Marx Now

Colleen Lye
Wednesdays, 3-6 pm, 107 Mulford Hall
Class #: 30394

Since the 2008 financial crisis, there has been a marked revival of interest in Marx and his thought, one that compares to the late 60s and early 70s return to Marx. How is the present-day return to Marx a different one from that of global 1968? Today’s rereading of Capital by theorists and critics retrieves the political-economic and dialectical-historical Marx. But for so long now has Marxist cultural criticism defended itself by insisting on the relative autonomy of culture from economy—leaving us with an antinomy between liberation and transformation, art and society—that the payoff of the attention to value production is by no means self-evident. If it is telling that we should be seeing a renewed interest in Marxism among constituencies seeking feminist, antiracist, anticolonial and environmental critiques of capitalism, it’s because a value-theoretical Marxism allows us to ask fundamental questions as to how capital reproduces itself both through and beyond the wage relation—thus, how capital both makes and unmakes classes across modes of production, creates surplus and disposable populations that are racialized and gendered, and requires both unexploited and waste spaces, in its quest to produce value. The first six weeks of this course will be spent reading Capital Vol 1. Then we will acquaint ourselves with some key readings in value-form theory (e.g. Michael Heinrich, Moishe Postone, the essays in the collection edited by Neil Larsen et. al., Marxism and the Critique of Value), as a way of transitioning to three points of contemporary focus: social reproduction feminism, racial capitalism, and primitive accumulation and formal subsumption/combined and uneven development as they pertain to theories of imperialism and colonialism. This course is open to beginning and advanced readers of Marx alike. If you’ve wanted a chance to read Capital in a group setting, this is your opportunity, though note that we will be moving fairly quickly through it in order to accommodate its more recent reverberations. (If you would like to spend most of the semester slow-reading Capital, you may want to consider taking my English 177 instead or as a complement). The last three sets of readings (on gender/sexuality, race, imperialism/colonialism) will select for a mix of 20th-century thinkers who have demonstrated staying power or more recent thinkers who are opening up new pathways of approach to longstanding concerns.

Note: Please be sure to buy the Penguin edition of Marx’s Capital.

Book List: Banaji, Jairus, Theory as History; James Boggs, The American Revolution; Melinda Cooper, Family Values; W.E.B. Dubois, Black Reconstruction; Karl Marx, Capital Vol I; Moishe Postone, Time, Labor and Social Domination; Sylvia Federici, Caliban and the Witch.

Recommended: Michael Heinrich, An Introduction to the Three Volumes of Marx’s Capital.

In addition to the books listed here, there will also be essays or book chapters on bcourse by Alfred Sohn-Rethel, Mariarosa Dalla Costa and Selma James, Nancy Fraser, Roswitha Scholz, Kevin Floyd, the Endnotes Collective, Lise Vogel, Stuart Hall, Robin D.G. Kelley, Angela Davis, Kevin Anderson, Gavin Walker, Kozo Uno, Au Loong Yu and others.

This instance of English 205 003 counts towards Critical Theory DE students’ Critical Theory 240 requirement.

Elective Courses (Critical Theory 290)

The following courses satisfy Critical Theory Designated Emphasis elective requirements.

Anthropology 250X 005
Wittgenstein and Anthropology

Charles Hirschkind
Tuesdays, 2-5 pm, 219 Kroeber
Class #: 30910

In this class, we will explore some of the writings and ideas of the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein. It has often been noted that Wittgenstein’s style of philosophy, in his later writings, relies on a highly anthropological sensibility for what he calls the “grammar” of specific forms of life. What does a Wittgensteinianism sensibility contribute to our understanding of the practice and potentials of ethnographic description? What did he mean by the claim that he couldn’t “help seeing every problem from a religious point of view,” and how might this claim allow us to better grasp (practice) this sensibility? How might an engagement with the work of this philosopher afford us a unique perspective on contemporary or longstanding debates within the discipline of anthropology? We will explore these and other questions through a close reading of some sections of the Philosophical Investigations, the Remarks on Frazer, and some of the Reflections on Aesthetics and Religious Belief, as well as works by other commentators.

Anthropology 250X 004
Technological Selves and Sociotechnical Systems

Sarah E. Vaughn
Wednesdays, 1-4 pm, Barrows 192
Class #: 30909

This course considers the relationship between philosophies of technology and political narratives of history. In particular, we will consider why technology as a concept has troubled both modernist and decolonial thinking.  Readings will engage key debates across the history of science, critical theory, anthropology, philosophy of technology, and the sociology of science/technology.

Education 280B 001
Proseminar: Sociocultural Critique of Education

Zeus Leonardo
Thursdays, 1-4 pm, Berkeley Way West 4422
Class #: 32375

These interdisciplinary seminars address a series of questions. In what ways can philosophical, sociological, anthropological, historical, and psychological forms of inquiry be brought together to bear on the analysis of learning, on schooling, and on education more generally? What do we mean by critical and interpretive theories, and what are their relations with social practice? How can education come to constitute itself otherwise than in its current form?

English 203C 003
Comedy and Violence

Catherine Flynn
Tuesdays, Thursdays, 12:30-2 pm, 180 Barrows
Class #: 22746

What relation does comedy have to violence? Can humor be a gauge of political freedom? This transhistorical seminar will examine the relation between comedy and violence in Irish, English and French texts from the sixteenth to the twentieth centuries. As we read novels, plays, poems, and theoretical works, we will consider comedy as both a literary category and an aesthetic mode. Reflecting on these works with, and against, theories of humor from Aristotle through Freud to Deleuze, we will also situate them in their political and historical contexts. Over the course of the semester, we will also reflect on various styles of humor—wit, buffoonery, satire, parody, nonsense, absurdity, and humour noir—and consider their connection to force.

Book List: Beckett, Samuel: Complete Dramatic Works; Breton, André: Anthology of Black Humor; Jarry, Alfred: The Ubu Plays; Lewis, Wyndham, et al.: BLAST; O’Brien, Flann: The Poor Mouth: A Bad Story about the Hard Life; Rabelais, Francois: Gargantua and Pantagruel; Swift, Jonathan: Gulliver’s Travels; Synge, J. M.: The Playboy of the Western World; Voltaire: Candide

Ethnic Studies 201 001
History and Narrativity: Contemporary Theories and Methods

Raul Coronado, Jr.
Thursdays, 10 am-1 pm,  587 Barrows
Class #: 30885

Consent of Instructor Required for Enrollment

What is the purpose of history? Why do we need to tell stories about the past? And how should we tell or narrate history? We’ll explore these questions by turning to modern historiography. Historiography is the study of the methods and philosophy of history; it explores the rationales, the assumptions behind these questions. We will take a three-pronged approach by studying: 1) the history of the discipline of history and of historical narratives, 2) the philosophy of history in order to understand history’s ontology, and 3) the practical matter of how we should write histories. Throughout, we will explore how this concept of history has been revised to allow for different ways of understanding the past and, especially, to include the experiences of those who have long been seen as voiceless, as subaltern, as racialized, and othered.

Film 200 001
Theorizing Film and Media

Damon Young
Tuesdays, 1-4 pm, Dwinelle 226
Class #: 24405

This course offers an advanced introduction to theories of film and other audiovisual media. We will read key works of film and media theory from the early twentieth century through the post-structuralist turn, as well as examining their resonances and afterlives in more recent theoretical projects. We will situate these works in the context of the larger intellectual movements that they emerged from and helped to shape. Topics may include modernity and the culture industry (Frankfurt School), debates over realism and “ontology,” apparatus theory, psychoanalysis, feminist film theory, Marxist media theory, post-modernism, Deleuze and Deleuzean film theory, affect theory, phenomenology, queer theory, and critical race theory. We will consider how recent works of media theory displace the centrality of film as an object, and problematize our understanding of key terms from the history of film theory: the public sphere, the apparatus, and the subject. We will approach audiovisual media as technologies of representation, of cultural fantasy, of perception, and ask how their theorization has been central to the analysis of aesthetics and politics in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, to the point that a study of modernity without a theory of film and media is virtually inconceivable.

French 274 001
Traditions of Critical Thought — Literature and Anthropology

Soraya Tlatli
Wednesdays, 1-4 pm, Dwinelle 4226
Class #: 23907

The literary genre can often be considered from an anthropological point of view, whereas anthropological texts can very well be perceived through their literary mode of writing. In this seminar, we will seek to understand the blurring of distinctions between these two disciplines, that of literature and anthropology. This seminar is divided into two parts. In a first moment, we will devote our analysis to twentieth-century France, by exploring the dialog between anthropological knowledge and literary writing. This dialog is best exemplified in the works of Michel Leiris, Georges Bataille and Levy-Strauss. We will consider the meaning of notions such as sacrifice, religion, ritual, and community, through an analysis of these author’s main body of work. In the second part of the seminar, we will turn toward the analysis of the relationship between literature and anthropology in post-colonial studies. Taking as a point of departure works by Edward Said and Achille Mbembé, we will analyze in-depth conceptual terms such as exoticism, orientalism, and otherness when they relate to the understanding of colonial and post-colonial societies.

*Discussion in English, texts in French

Philosophy 290 004
Crisis and Entanglement in Science and Culture

Alva Noë
Thursdays, 2-4 pm, Moses 234
Class #: 17504

Despite work in neuroscience, cognitive psychology, artificial intelligence, linguistics, and other allied fields, the use of the methods of modern science to study human nature faces fundamental obstacles. Can there be a natural science of us? What are the broader implications of this question, for science, for philosophy, and for our broader culture? These questions give us the topic of this seminar. In the first part of the seminar, we will undertake a close reading of Husserl’s The Crisis of European Sciences (translated by David Carr, Northwestern, 1970). In the second part of the seminar, we will turn to a selection of writings from Hans Jonas, PF Strawson, Daniel Dennett, Robert Boyd, as well as some new work by Alva Noë.

A complete list of texts will be provided at the first meeting, but for background, interested participants might wish to read Phenomenology: The Basics, by Dan Zahavi, and Robert Crease’s The Workshop and the World (Norton, 2019).

Rhetoric 200 001
Classical Rhetorical Theory and Practice

James Porter
Wednesdays, 2-5 pm, Dwinelle 7415
Class #: 31354

This seminar offers an introduction to classical rhetorical theory from Homer to Augustine. Secondary readings will be drawn from scholarship in Classics (Loraux, Svenbro, M. McCabe, R. Thomas, R. Barney) and from modern philology, philosophy, and theory (Nietzsche, Heidegger, Auerbach, Jakobson, J. L. Austin, Foucault, Blumenberg). Topics will include speech and writing; rhetoric and philosophy; language and reality; persuasion, seduction, and epistemological critique; literal and figurative meaning; aesthetics, politics, and religion. More details will be made available on bCourses. The final syllabus will be determined at the first session to reflect student preferences.

No prerequisites. Open to graduate students from all departments. Classics students will be encouraged to read texts in the original.

Requirements: weekly blog post responses; one to two in-class presentations (depending on the class size); a final research paper geared towards the participants’ own fields.

Spanish 280 002

Natalia Brizuela
Wednesdays, 3-6 pm, Dwinelle 210
Class #: 30912

In this seminar we will explore the specific ways that today’s new intersectional feminisms, as they have emerged in Latin America over the past decade, offers a “practice theory.” That is, feminist practice of theory where theory is understood as a state of rebellion, and as an embodied method. This theory is the outcome of a vital engagement, a form of argumentation that emerges through the body-in-rebellion to make its claim on life. More than a shared program of demands, or strategies, these feminisms take on the demand for life, for an unbridled life, a limitless desiring life beyond the established political languages and theories—those which acknowledge the existing forms of power and diminished democracy. The demand for life is an exercise which resists the subordination of its practice to valid and legitimating theories, a practice that asserts itself as theory. Analyzed this way, these feminisms are the exercise of life and of the body through a practice that becomes theory, while refusing to be the “theorization” of any past practice or future practice, a refusal of life of any external rationalization. We will think with critics Veronica Gago, Andrea Giunta, Raquel Gutierrez Aguilar, Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui, and Suely Rolnik; follow Spinoza’s writings on life and potentia and see these categories re-emerge in late 20th century philosophy; and traverse literary and artistic work by Gabriela Cabezón Cámara, Clarice Lispector, Rosana Paulino and Teresa Margolles among others.