PSCI 432
Senior Seminar: Critical Theory Spring 2024
Division II

Class Details

This seminar focuses on the political thought of Herbert Marcuse, investigating the influences of leftist social movements of the 1960s on his critical theory. Marcuse famously supported the aims of student activism, feminism, black liberation movements and Third World anti-colonialism during that period, publicly affirming their efforts to integrate ethical idealism with concrete concerns for the economic wellbeing and political freedom of oppressed groups. Drawing on Freud, and challenged by his philosophical exchanges with Angela Davis, Marcuse came to the view that these movements were addressing not only material deprivations such as poverty and structural oppression, but also the effects of social alienation and a damaged psychic life. He saw these movements as successfully bridging the longstanding tension between the ideal elements of our humanity and the physical conditions for human existence (a tension represented in philosophy by the contrast between Kant and Marx). Yet he stopped short of identifying new social movements with the Marxist notion of a revolutionary class. Why this hesitation? Was his caution warranted? To provide a broader context for Marcuse’s critical theory, we will read a selection of his writings alongside related texts by Kant, Marx, Freud, and Davis. Looking at but also beyond his political solidarity with the emancipatory movements of the 1960s, we will then consider how Marcuse’s work can be placed in conversation with more recent critical theory, including ideas emerging from the Occupy Wall Street movement and feminist approaches to aesthetics and psychoanalytic theory.
The Class: Format: seminar
Limit: 12
Expected: 12
Class#: 3703
Grading: no pass/fail option, no fifth course option
Requirements/Evaluation: regular class participation, short (1 pg) response papers, and drafts leading up to a 15-page final essay
Prerequisites: junior or senior standing required; in addition, prior coursework in political theory, cultural theory, philosophy, or permission of instructor
Enrollment Preferences: Senior Political Science majors with concentration in Political Theory, then other Political Science majors
Distributions: Division II
Attributes: PSCI Political Theory Courses

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