Critical Theory

Program Type: Cluster and Certificate

This program proposes a thorough introduction to critical theory through a structured, interdepartmental curriculum. Critical theory is encountered frequently in the study of politics and philosophy and has become an integral part of literary theory and cultural analysis. Over the past three decades, particularly in the United States, the term “critical theory” has expanded from its original designation of a group of thinkers associated with the Frankfurt School (Horkheimer, Adorno, Habermas) to a more generally conceived approach to study rather than a self-contained discipline. It entails reflection on the premises, concepts and categories used in different disciplines such as literary studies, history, political science, and film studies, to name a few. Critical theory can therefore not be limited to a particular field or even to a specific content. It is involved wherever methods and concepts are not simply taken for granted but subjected to a critical reflection in a systematic and rigorous fashion.

Critical theory is by nature interdisciplinary. Because it is a scholarly practice more than a body of theory or method, training in critical theory assumes the form of an apprenticeship more than it does doctrinal or methodological instruction. Providing students with that apprenticeship requires exposing them to its use in a variety of disciplines. The Interdisciplinary Program in Critical Theory (IPCT) is designed to provide this kind of exposure.

An exposure to critical theory is highly recommended for students of literature, philosophy, politics, culture, the visual arts, gender and race studies, rhetoric, and society in our post-colonial, post-modern world.

In addition to close ties with disciplinary departments and programs, IPCT works closely with university research centers to develop opportunities to further graduate training in critical theory, notably the French and German Interdisciplinary Groups, the Humanities Institute, and the Center for International and Comparative Studies.

See Critical Theory Cluster and Certificate Requirements for specific courses and procedures needed to complete this program.

Programs and Events

There are many different ways for faculty and students to participate in the intellectual life of the cluster. Many cluster events, such as visiting lecturers and conferences, are open to all members of the University. Cluster seminars are open to graduate students across the University. We encourage all students, faculty and staff of Northwestern to learn more about our research and activities by participating in our public events, and by joining our critical theory group list (email Penelope Deutscher with your information to be added to this list).

Current activities include: cross disciplinary reading groups and a dissertation work-in-progress group, student-initiated research workshops, a workshop led by the annual Cornell School of Criticism and Theory graduate fellow, annual conferences, visiting speakers and workshops, and, in some years, visiting international professors who offer interdisciplinary courses which may be counted towards the graduate certificate in critical theory.

Who Should Apply?

Doctoral candidates from any field are eligible to apply to join this intellectual “home” outside their department. Past participants have come from the following programs:

  • African-American Studies
  • Art History
  • Communication Studies
  • Comparative Literary Studies
  • English
  • French and Francophone Studies
  • German Literature and Critical Thought
  • History
  • Music
  • Performance Studies
  • Philosophy
  • Political Science
  • Religion
  • Slavic Languages and Literatures
  • Sociology
  • Spanish and Portuguese
  • Theatre and Drama

How to Apply

Prospective graduate students interested in participating in this program should indicate their interest when they apply to their respective graduate programs.

Who to Contact

Please contact the program directors, listed below, with questions about this program. Or, explore the Critical Theory website for more information.

Cristina Lafont (Director)
Professor, Philosophy

Penny Deutscher (Associate Director) (on leave for 2017-2018)
Professor, Philosophy

Peter Fenves (Associate Director)
Professor, German

Anna Parkinson (Associate Director)
Associate Professor, German