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Frankfurt School Critical Theory, Then and Now

COL 265
Fall 2021
Section: 01  
Crosslisting: GRST 284
Course Cluster and Certificates: Social, Cultural, and Critical Theory Certificate

This course serves as an introduction to Critical Theory as first envisioned and practiced in the 1930s and 1940s by a group of European refugee scholars in New York and Los Angeles associated with the "Institute for Social Research," which later became known as the "Frankfurt School" (the city of Frankfurt being the location of its European origin and post-WW2 abode). Drawing on the German philosophical (Kant and Hegel), sociological (Weber and Simmel), psychological (Nietzsche and Freud), and Marxist (Engels, Marx, and Lukacs in particular) intellectual traditions, "Critical Theory" was intended to shed light on the genesis of capitalist class societies' inherently antagonistic and irrational makeup. Uncompromisingly interdisciplinary, the critical theorists explored phenomena such as authoritarian movements, mass media, propaganda, and the culture industry, and in doing so championed the significance of art and radical thought for the prospects of liberation from authoritarianism and alienated social relations. For the first generation of Critical Theorists (who must be distinguished from their less radical heirs, such as Habermas and Honneth), critique was not a purely academic exercise, but was pursued for the sake of radical social transformation and thus was sparked by a utopian impulse.

The first two thirds of our course will focus on getting to know and carefully analyzing canonical works of Critical Theory from the 1930s to 1970s. Our central point of reference will be Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer's "Dialectic of Enlightenment" (1944), which we will read in conjunction with essays by Walter Benjamin, Siegfried Kracauer, Herbert Marcuse, Erich Fromm, Leo Lowenthal, and Frederick Pollock. We will also consult works that informed these thinkers. In the final third of the course, we will ask about the continued relevance of Frankfurt School Critical Theory by reading a number of thinkers and critics who have carried the concerns of the first generation of critical theorists into the present, such as Nancy Fraser, Moishe Postone, Angela Davis, and Rahel Jaeggi. Finally, students will explore contemporary social, political, and cultural phenomena of their own choosing, using methods drawn from Frankfurt School Critical Theory.
Credit: 1 Gen Ed Area Dept: HA COL
Course Format: Lecture / DiscussionGrading Mode: Student Option
Level: UGRD Prerequisites: None
Fulfills a Major Requirement for: (COL)(CSCT)(GRST-MN)(GRST)
Past Enrollment Probability: 50% - 74%

Last Updated on JAN-20-2022
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