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Critical Theory: From Karl Marx to Angela Davis

COL 264
Spring 2019 not offered
Crosslisting: GRST 254
Certificates: Social, Cultural, and Critical Theory, Social, Cultural, and Critical Theory
Course Cluster: Animal Studies

According to the Frankfurt School philosopher Max Horkheimer's 1937 essay "Traditional and Critical Theory," Critical Theory aims at dislodging traditional theory's reliance on the assumption that to theorize means to categorize and explain facts from a trans-historically fixed position. Instead, Critical Theory wants to uncover the formative socio-economic processes of exploitation, struggle, and domination that underpin both the objective appearance of reality and our subjective ability to become conscious of them. In doing so, it not only wants to critique the very foundations of society and subjectivity but also wants to ignite a utopian imagination. Although Critical Theory draws on the concepts of the Western philosophical tradition (in particular on Kant and Hegel), it views them as being tainted by the "irrational totality" of bourgeois society that structurally blocks the realization of genuine freedom, equality, and liberation from fear. Hence, Critical Theory is concerned not only with the critique of specific social ills but also with the abolition of their systemic causal conditions. For this reason, it is by design a practical and activist mode of theory, as exemplified by an insight Herbert Marcuse attributes to Angela Davis: "the philosophical idea, unless it was a lie, must be translated into reality."

In this seminar, we will do three things: 1) Retrace the genesis of Critical Theory from Marx's appropriation of Hegel's dialectical method to Lukács's theory of reification; 2) Explore the Frankfurt School's ambition to establish Critical Theory as an encompassing, multi-disciplinary research program addressing the pathologies of capitalism from the interlocking perspectives of social and economic theory, psychoanalysis, empirical social research, aesthetics, and ethics; 3) Examine how contemporary heirs to the tradition of Critical Theory such as Angela Davis, Sianne Ngai, or Rei Terada have challenged and advanced the concerns of the earlier theory in light of our current neoliberal and authoritarian predicament.
Credit: 1 Gen Ed Area Dept: HA GRST, SBS GRST
Course Format: Lecture / DiscussionGrading Mode: Student Option
Level: UGRD Prerequisites: None
Fulfills a Major Requirement for: (COL)(GRST-MN)(GRST)

Last Updated on APR-20-2019
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