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Contemporary Critical Theory

The term “critical theory” has traditionally been identified with the critiques of modernity offered by Frankfurt School theorists, especially Theodore Adorno, Max Horkheimer, and Herbert Marcuse, but also Walter Benjamin. More recently the term has been widened to encompass the ideas of a broad range of theorists who have exploded the boundaries between various established academic disciplines to produce a supradisciplinary discourse to approach the contemporary moment’s central social, political, cultural, and aesthetic questions. Combining philosophy, social theory, cultural critique, and political commitment, this body of thought has at once arisen out of the conditions of modernity (and, for some, postmodernity) while providing a critique of its central concepts and a re-visioning of its assumptions about truth, progress, representation, subjectivity, identity, rationality, meaning, language, and power. Courses in this concentration, while differing topically, forefront theory and its historical, cultural, and intellectual context. They familiarize students with the assumptions, history, and methods of several strands of contemporary critical thought, including structuralist, semiotic, poststructuralist, postmodern, postcolonial, and feminist theory.


A minimum of 20 credits is required for the concentration: Students must take at least one Core Course; two courses must be at the 300-level; and at least two disciplines must be represented in those chosen.

An intellectually coherent complement that reflects the student’s interests will be devised in consultation with the Moderation Committee. This might, for example, involve the development of the student’s expertise in the several disciplines represented in the concentration; the exploration of one or several themes across these disciplines (critical analysis of gender, postcolonial studies, political thought, etc.); or the fulfillment of the existing concentrations in philosophical studies, modern studies, or cultural studies, which offer important perspectives on the type of inquiry featured in contemporary critical theory.

Students are encouraged to consult the Bard College Catalogue for courses which are appropriate for the concentration (e.g., SST 214 Black Thought: Beyond Boundary; LIT 390 Contemporary Critical Theory), or for the complement (e.g., ANTH 302 Culture and History; LIT 218 Free Speech).

Core Courses

African American Studies 302 Critical Race Theory
Art History 309 Lacan and Visual Pleasure
BA Seminar 325 Racism, Sexism, Homophobia: The Anatomy of Prejudice
BA Seminar 399 Eros and Thanatos: A Study of Sexuality in the West
Geography 214 CP Reading the Cultural Landscape: An Introduction to Cultural Geography
Literature 321 Literary Theory
Social Science 302 The Foucault Effect
Social Science 322 Junior Proseminar
Women’s Studies 304 Doing Theory: Feminist, Postcolonial, Queer

Additional Courses

Anthropology 200 Introduction to Cultural Studies
Anthropology 202 CP Language and Culture
Art History 212 Theories of Photography
Linguistics 216m Language and Power
Linguistics 218m Language and Gender
Politics 318 Critical Legal Studies: The First Amendment
Politics 330 Rousseau and Friends
Psychology 307 Psychological Theories of Self

Recent Senior Theses

“too much [fun]: a critical inquiry into addiction”
“Approching Fluxus”
“A Fan-Fic Thesis”


Asma Abbas, Nancy Bonvillain, Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez, Chris Coggins, Brian Conolly, Joan DelPlato, Rebecca Fiske, Anne O’Dwyer, Nancy Yanoshak
Faculty Contact: Nancy Yanoshak