PHIL 320
Topics in Critical Theory: Subjection, Power, Freedom
Last Offered Fall 2021
Division II Writing Skills Difference, Power, and Equity
This course is not offered in the current catalog

Class Details

Any critical theory presupposes an account how both individual and social subjects come into being. Some critical theorists within the Frankfurt School tradition draw from upon ideas about the constitution of the subject developed in the early 19th century German philosophy of Hegel. According to Hegel, subjects are both historically and socially constituted; they are formed through their relations with other subjects. Hence, being with others, being dependent on others, is regarded as a key structuring feature of human existence. By the early 20th century, in the works of Freud, we encounter the idea of the intra-psychic features of subjects and the importance of understanding and regulating psychic forces both within and between subjects in order to adapt to the demands of living at any given time, born as we are both dependent upon and vulnerable to others. This raises the question whether a more complete account of the emergence of subjects must address both psychic, historical and social dimensions of subjectivity, the ways in which they are intertwined, and their importance for not only psychological well-being, but also relatively well-regulated socio-political relations. In this course we take up questions such as the following: What sorts of subjects do we find in modern Western societies? What are the forces, and the dynamics between forces (i.e., economic, technological, modes of communication, techniques of social control, biological, psychological) that make certain types of subjects possible influencing both their self-understandings and their forms of life? What role do emotional, irrational or unconscious forces play? To what extent do these myriad force relations limit, enable, or deform our participation as political citizens, and our capacity to transform and improve them? In our attempts to make headway in answering such daunting questions, we investigate recent debates in critical theory concerning subjection and resistance, intersubjective recognition and redistribution, social pathologies and the idea of a political unconscious. Readings will be drawn from recent work in the Frankfurt School and poststructuralist traditions of critical theory as well as anti-racist, anti-colonial, feminist and queer theories that draw upon them.
The Class: Format: tutorial; We will schedule at least one seminar meeting during the semester. I will consult with students about the best time for this meeting.
Limit: 10
Expected: 10
Class#: 1602
Grading: no pass/fail option, no fifth course option
Requirements/Evaluation: Evaluation will be based on written work (five 6-7 page papers, and five 2-3 page commentaries on your partner's papers) as well as the quality and level of preparation and intellectual engagement in our weekly meetings.
Prerequisites: Demonstrated background in history of modern philosophy (PHIL 202), modern political theory, or critical and social theories.
Enrollment Preferences: Preference will be given to philosophy majors and prospective majors and students with demonstrated interest and background in critical or social theories.
Distributions: Division II Writing Skills Difference, Power, and Equity
WS Notes: Students will write five of 5-7 pages in length, one of which they will revise and submit at the end of the term. We will also meet in seminar once or twice during the semester. In each of the tutorial papers students will describe and evaluate arguments that appear in the assigned readings, and will develop arguments in support of their own positions. Students will receive written and oral feedback on both the content and form of their papers and contributions in meetings.
DPE Notes: In this course we address power and domination, reflect on the difference between them, and treat power relations as not only an inevitable feature of any society, but as both enabling and constraining. In addition, the course will contain readings that address race, class, gender and the legacy of colonialism.
Attributes: PHIL Contemporary Value Theory Courses

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