Issues in 21c Critical Theory

Below is the course I’ll be offering in the Liberal Studies Masters program at the New School for Social Research this semester. There’s links below to (most of) the blog posts that will serve as lecture notes.

GLIB 5555 | LCST 4458 | Issues in 21 Century Critical Theory |

How might twentieth century texts in critical theory be of use in thinking about twenty-first century issues and problems? Do we need to read the accepted classics differently? Are there neglected works that might be more relevant to today’s concerns. We shall cover a wide range of theory topics, including the political, technology, culture and media. All with an eye to getting a grounding in a world where technology has gone digital, where power and influence has shifted away from ‘the west’, and where the Anthropocene scrambles our accepted notions of culture and nature. The course provides a platform for articulating forward-looking reach questions to established literatures.


Our ambitious goal is to read a book a week, makes notes from it, and organize our notes in digital form. And so 50% of assessment is turning in weekly notes. Notes on each book are due the day that book is discussed. Notes much always contain a full citation of the text somewhere and page numbers for any quotes. They should be your attempt to make sense of the text, not your opinions on it. They need not be discursive. Try to find the key concepts and quotable lines. Note any important texts the book refers to. I have included my notes on Gilroy in the course dropbox as an example. I think being able to gut and fillet a book quickly is an essential skill, so I will be reading your notes every week so we make progress on this.

It is also important to know how to discuss what one reads. Classes will partly be in lecture format, and partly seminar. Bring your thoughts and questions to class. This is also a time to start connecting our authors together. They cross several disciplinary fields, but we can ask to what extent that address in different ways the same issues, or rely on the same assumptions. And of course always come to class – you owe that to your classmates. 25%

Finally, choose two authors and write about them I relation to each other, starting from your notes. Bonus points for choosing unlikely pairings, or for reading ahead and using people we have not covered before the due date. The paper should be about 4000 words. Concentrate on being able to explain the concepts, show how they work on relevant examples. 25%, due 7th December. Note: paper is due early so I can get them back to you before the end of semester.


My ambition for you is that (1) you will have a working familiarity with some influential contemporary theory in media, culture, and politics. You will know some of the things people who do intellectual work in the humanities, the arts and the qualitative social sciences are preoccupied with. (2) you will be able to select from that work authors, concepts and problems of interest to you and begin to work with them. (3) you will have improved your ability to read, annotate and notate work quickly and effectively, and have built a small library of notes for future use. Intellectual work is just that: work. But you have to know the steps of the labor process and practice them to do it effectively.

Weekly readings.

The links are to blog posts I wrote on each of these, which I will use as lecture notes. You don’t have to read them, but if you are having trouble reading a book on your own, my notes might help. (You can ignore my editorializing).

31st August Isabelle Stengers, In Catastrophic Times


7th September Donna Haraway, Manifestly Haraway


14th September Timothy Morton, Hyperobjects


21st September Paul Gilroy, Against Race, ch. 4, 6, 9


28th September Chantal Mouffe, The Democratic Paradox


5th October Judith Butler, Notes Towards a Performative Theory of Assembly


12th October Yom Kippur no class

19th October Wendy Brown, Undoing the Demos

(Brown event 20th Oct)


26th October Anna Tsing, Friction


2nd November Achille Mbembe, On the Postcolon


9th November Gerald Raunig, Dividuum

lecture TK

16th November Paolo Virno, A Grammar of the Multitude


22rd November (class meets on Tuesday) Béatriz Preciado, Testo Junkie


30th November November Chris Kraus, I Love Dick

(Kraus event 1st Dec)

7th December Chiara Bottici, Imaginal Politics


14th December Benjamin Bratton, The Stack, ch. 1-3; 75-77

The Stack to Come

McKenzie Wark

  • Thanasis

    Thank you for sharing this.

    We just published a first version of a protocol and an application (http://project.cowaboo.net) that is quite close to what you expect to achieve during your courses: collaborative note taking, concept re-documentation and collective awareness scenarios.

    The idea is that you create observatories, spaces where groups can work together using a simple markdown editor and search in existing curation communities like Diigo, Zotero and Wikipedia. These observatories can be public, private and have more complex rules (FAQ: http://project.cowaboo.net/observatory/CoWaBoo/QmVF6g2vNS1qAtm4oZeN2g5fwFSrbjJzby1YYbLsT299ve)

    The “funny” thing is that there is no database behind but a protocol (a process: http://project.cowaboo.net/about) wanting to experiment beyond existing, extremely standardized applications.

    Anyway, we are surfing somewhere between media theory and applied solutions and have already experimented on this. We will be using this year (2016 – 2017) in introductory IT classes in the University of Applied Sciences Western Switzerland (HES-SO, https://www.hesge.ch/heg/en).

    Take care


    • mckenziewark

      sounds interesting — thanks for the links.

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