Topics in Critical Thought, 2018

Running from June to July 2018, this short course was designed to offer an introduction to critical thought in general and provide a series of engaging talks, discussions and activities related to topics of contemporary concern to critical theorists. Members of the Centre for Critical Thought at the University of Kent delivered all of the sessions. All seminars, except the last one, lasted two hours long and took place on a Thursday evening.


Week 1: Thursday 7 June
Critical Methods and Creativity
Iain MacKenzie

This session will situate the idea of critical thought within the Western tradition of philosophy. Following a lecture to introduce the main themes of critical thought there will ample opportunity for discussion of how we understand critical thought and what role, if any, it has today. Of particular interest will be the relationship between contemporary variants of critical thought and the idea of creativity.

No required reading.

Week 2: Thursday 14 June
Connal Parsley

In 1956, Hannah Arendt declared the “more or less dramatic breakdown of all traditional authorities”; later going even further to say that “practically as well as theoretically, we are no longer in a position to know what authority really is”. In this session, we will not try to figure that out once and for all, rather we will raise a deceptively simple question: even if parents, politicians, and the law now lack authority, does the artist have a kind of authority today? In trying to seek an alternative to the Western tradition’s confusion of authority with force, we will ask whether and how—through what terms, experiences or starting points—we might point to something like a “political authority of the artist”. Does our inability to know what authority is arise just because we have been looking for it in the wrong place (right next to political violence and force)? Or, should we try and do without thinking in terms of authority altogether?

Recommended reading: Hannah Arendt (1956) “Authority in the Twentieth Century” 18(4) The Review of Politics 403-417.

Week 3: Thursday 28 June
Connect and Connect Again: Rhizomatics
Iain MacKenzie

In this session we will discuss the (in)famous opening ‘plateau’ of Deleuze and Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus. In this text they lay out a method for thinking based on an idea of multiplying connections that they call rhizomatics. We will discuss the features of this method and how, if at all, it relates to art and politics.

Recommended reading: Deleuze and Guattari, ‘Introduction: Rhizome’, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, Vol. 2, London: Athlone Press, 1987 [1980].

Week 4: Thursday 5 July
On Justice and Technique
Maria Drakopoulou

Human experience in the West has been grounded upon a division between persons and things. We all believe that we are persons, simply because we are not things. The creator and the custodian of this division has been law.

Law, throughout its history, has clearly delimited what it means to be human. It has determined the legitimacy of political communities, the rights and duties of those who populate them and exercised its authority to set out what is just and right and what is wrong. In its function to generate normative understandings of humanity, the law has often been likened to a techné, an art, the art of the good and the ethical. Modernity in wishing to transform law into an exact rational science has seriously challenged the ethical dimension of law’s power to imagine and create the ethical norms and values by which communities abide and live. Current developments in the fields of the biosciences and technology appear to render a deadly blow in law’s received function as the custodian of the normative parameters of human life. How are we, therefore, today, in the era of Anthropocene, global capitalism, and neo-colonialism to think of the relationship between law and humanity? Between law and justice? Between law and technology?

Recommended reading: Extracts from Alain Supiot, Homo Juridicus: On the Anthropological Function of the Law, London / New York: Verso, 2005.

Week 5: Thursday 12 July
Iain MacKenzie

In this session we will discuss the ways in which we possess and are possessed by things. This is especially pertinent in the contemporary world, as certain technological things such as smart phones seem to acquire ever-greater capacity to possess us in the most fundamental sense. The topic will be introduced by returning to the theme of possession in the Western tradition and then we will explore a particularly compelling account of how we have come to be possessed by things as presented in the work of French theorists and novelist, Tristan Garcia.

Recommended reading: Tristan Garcia, ‘Introduction’, Form and Object, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2014.

Week 6: Thursday 19 July
The Changing Classroom (1.5)
Jonjo Brady

Picture this – You are working on a grey rectangular room with grey rectangular windows. The walls are largely bare except for the occasional signage depicting the ‘rules and expectations’ on your workspace. Rows of desks aligned towards your ‘leader’ frame this entirely corporal and disciplinary affair. A bell rings every 45 minutes informing you that it is time to move on to the next task. Where are you? A prison? A factory? A classroom!

The ‘Changing Classroom’ is a series of living installations, which seek to uncouple the classroom as a physical encapsulation of neoliberal instrumentalist learning through engagement with pedagogically disruptive practices. CC(1.5) aims to reverse the disruptive process and gage participants’ responses to, first, being situated in a space of play and, secondly, being taken out of that space and put back into their familiar neoliberal framework of schooling.

The installation lasts for 4 hours and requires willing and eager participants!

No required reading.