Critical Theory

Critical Theory

Photo of  Gisèle Freund and Walter Benjamin, working at a desk in the National Library in Paris in 1937.

In spring 2005, the Mellon Strategic Working Group in Critical Theory set a goal of designing the Designated Emphasis in Critical Theory. During the semester’s meetings, the participants read from texts that would constitute the course of a future graduate curriculum: Kant, Hegel, Nietzsche, Marx, Adorno, Benjamin, Dussel, Talal Asad, and Paul Gilroy. Participants commented on this body of work and led conversations. From these discussions, the group developed three goals:

  • To establish a Designated Emphasis in the Graduate Division that will allow graduate students from a wide range of departments to specialize in Critical Theory.
  • To develop an Institute for Critical Thought focusing on contemporary social questions regarding social criticism, forms of participatory democracy, religion and politics, and the form and validity of normative judgments within social theory.
  • To help reanimate Berkeley’s Critical Studies Program in Paris.

In February 2007, the Graduate Division approved the new graduate Designated Emphasis in Critical Theory. Although Critical Theory has had a programmatic presence at UC Irvine, UCLA, and UC Davis, the Berkeley Designated Emphasis is distinct not only for its interdisciplinary faculty, but also for its concern with both the historical formation of practices of critique as well as the contemporary salience of critical theory in a global context.

In October 2007, the Critical Theory Initiative presented a day-long symposium at the Townsend Center.

Judith Butler (Rhetoric and Comparative Literature) and Martin Jay (History)
Rakesh Bhandari (Rhetoric), Wendy Brown (Political Science), Anthony Cascardi (Director, Townsend Center), Pheng Cheah (Rhetoric), T. J. Clark (Art History), Anne-Lise François (English), Shannon Jackson (Rhetoric and Theater, Dance and Performance Studies), Niklaus Largier (German), John Lie (Sociology and Dean of International and Area Studies), Saba Mahmood (Anthropology), Nelson Maldonado-Torres (Ethnic Studies), Christopher Nealon (English), José Davíd Saldívar (English and Ethnic Studies), and Hans Sluga (Philosophy)