Critical Theory Reading Group
Critical theory is a way of working, thinking, reading, and knowing at the intersection of more traditional education disciplines stemming largely from the humanities and social sciences. Drawing on its history anchored in literary and philosophical practices, critical theory functions today as a means of applying social, political, and cultural knowledge in order to reflectively examine, assess, and critique current circumstances of society and culture.
While not a rigid discipline in the traditional sense, critical theory is a structured form of constant engagement with the world around us. Critical theory involves the direct participation of the ideas, thoughts, products, and mechanisms of others. Contrary to what its name suggests, critical theory is not merely a deconstructive mechanism for applying a critique or criticism to a static thing or object, rather it is a fluid and dynamic way of examining, understanding, and interrogating the structures and modes of existence. While Critical Theory has no end unto itself and can therefore not be said to be pursuing a particular agenda or predetermined political outcome, the practice of critical theory itself is an overtly political action insofar is it involves the co-disciplinary, co-operative, and co-mmunicative engagement of multiple bodies.
As its primary mode of operation, critical theory seeks to understand its object of interest through close intimate engagement and critical attentions (see Fawaz How to Read and Watch). As our primary mechanism for engagement we will undertake weekly examinations of what Fawaz calls works of culture which can range in their form from literary texts (theory, manifestos, fiction, poetry, new articles, &c..) to film and photodocuments, to art objects (plastic and performance based). Depending on the direction and desires of the cohort the weekly selection of the works of culture might center around a central or over-arching theme or we may choose to re-examine a same or similar object from a series of differing vantage points or applied disciplines. In all instances the readings and/or viewings along with all supplemental and supporting materials will be announced and made available on the Friday preceding the Wednesday morning meeting time. As we expand and grow we look forward to providing a space where, more and more, the particular insights and interests of the cohort help to determine the selection of future materials. If at some future point, due to growing interest or fluctuating schedules, it becomes necessary for the reading group to alter or expand their meeting days/times/frequency we will, of course, be fluid and flexible in terms of accommodating the desires and needs of the group. While a bit more relaxed and free-form in it's expression, the group will follow a socratic seminar structure and each session will have a clear and pre-determined flâneur, however this person should change from week to week as the center and focus of the work shifts.
As part of its central mission, Human Sciences proposes to "explore what it means to be human through alternative pedagogy, seasonal workshops, and community events." It seems perhaps appropriate given the nature and scope of Human Sciences that we begin our first meeting with an examination of the dominant and prevailing form of education and a proposal for an alternative structure. In his seminal text on critical pedagogy, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Paulo Friere takes as his central object the relationship that exists between teacher and student. His argument pivots around a critical examination of the historical context and byproduct of the student-teacher relationship, ultimately calling for a productive restructuring that would view the student as a co-creator of knowledge. We will be reading closely within Chapter 2 (p. 71 - 86) of the text looking at what Friere calls the "banking concept of education."