2020-2021 Catalog

CTSJ 295 Topics in Critical Theory - Social Justice

This seminar will engage important topics and issues in Critical Theory and Social Justice. All CTSJ faculty will participate in order to facilitate an interdisciplinary engagement with complexities and nuances of these topics. Students from other CTSJ courses will be invited to participate in the construction of discourse around the topics. May be repeated for credit when offered with a different topic. Different topics may fulfill different Core Requirements.

Black Popular Culture // The Black Digital Age 

This class is part of a series that takes up black popular culture as a social formation structured by both the shifting conditions of antiblackness and black objection in the 20th and 21st centuries.  Rather than engage black popular culture as a representational form, the course queries the peculiarity of blackness’ cultural popularity within a society where black people remain disproportionately available to gratuitous violence and early death.  As such, the course interrogates the ways in which the mainstream US popular culture economy is sustained by a deeply contradictory fascination with black bodies, black sociality, and black repertoires of performance within an antiblack society and argues that consumption of black life and black expressions is a modality of the ways in which blackness is put to use under white supremacy.  The course is particularly concerned with how the audio-visual is a poignant site at which visual fixations on and pathologizations of blackness collide with black peoples’ expressions of objection, self-articulation, activism, and the forging of social space. In this light, this iteration of the course, queries the possibility of the “Black Digital Age” as the proliferation of black expressions within the 2010 to present moment in the audio-visual (TV, film, and videography, including Scandal, Moonlight, Insecure, Queen & Slim, Native Son, Lemonade, When I Get Home, When They See Us, Fences, Random Acts of Flyness, and countless others) and social media (Youtube, Twitter, and Instagram) realms. We ask, what political, social, and historical developments in this moment have facilitated such a proliferation of black productions within the audio-visual; what is the social, political, and historical impact of these black productions; how have black artists reconfigured black visuality as a site of desire, pleasure, restitution, and power in the face of antiblack racism as visual degregation of blackness; and how might our social criticism and genuine engagement with these texts extend the project of black life, objection, and self-articulation in the face of ongoing antiblackness? Core Requirement Met: United States Diversity.

Social Movements/Representational Forms

In this course, we will examine the competing advocacy within social movements for documentary, fiction, journalism, lyric, abstraction, and other representational forms. For each social movement or political issue that we cover, students will compare multiple modes of representation, considering why they emerged, what their strengths and weaknesses were at each specific conjuncture, and what significance they have for future struggles. We will begin with some theoretical grounding and then proceed via a set of case studies. These may include: debates about realism vs. modernism in the Frankfurt school; testimonies in Latin America; confession vs. experimentation in feminist literature; reportage vs. the essay in journalism; and slogans, songs, and posters in queer activism.

Blackness, Gender, and Sexuality

In this course, students will deconstruct, critique, and reconsider our notions of “gender” and “sexuality” by thinking deeply, creatively, and rigorously about the ways in which blackness has been both central to modern conceptions of gender and sexuality and marked as the standard of sexual and gendered deviance. Students will consider “gender” and “sexuality” as historical, socially produced, and mutable categories that are co-constituted by structures of power including race, capitalism, and chattel slavery. Importantly, the course will focus on identifying the historical conditions and structures of power that have differently gendered black bodies in the Americas. By considering the particularities of black gendering, the course will identify how notions of gendered and sexual deviance and availability to antiblack violence have been central to producing black people as a population. Through concepts such as flesh, ungendering, availability, and queerness, students be able to unpack how black bodies are gendered in terms and social relations that are in excess of a binary and are not analogous to other racialized bodies. Finally, by looking at popular and cultural objects, the class will analyze how contemporary  raced and gendered structures of power affect black people and communities. Core Requirement Met: United States Diversity.

Critical Theory and Psychopathology

This experimental interdisciplinary course considers the intersection of Critical Theory and psychopathology. The goal is to examine the ways in which central insights in Critical Theory might reorient our perspective on, and interventions against, mental disorders. By way of contemporary case studies, we will examine the directive to "care for the self" (Michel Foucault), the mandate "you must change your life" (Peter Solterdijk), the problems of death (Jacques Derrida), the work of forgiveness (Derrida), and the anguish of perversions (Georges Bataille). We will also re-read chronic pain (Friedrich Nietzsche), Generalized Anxiety Disorder (Sianne Ngai), Gender Dysphoria (Judith Butler), and Intermittent Explosive Disorder (Slavoj Zizek). We anticipate the emergence of a broader more powerful view of madness. Core Requirement Met: Global Connections.


4 units


Any 100-level CTSJ course or permission of instructor