A Time of Renewed Political Urgency

“At a time of renewed political urgency, critical thought helps provide us with indispensable modes of analysis and resistance”

Jacqueline Rose, Co-Director of the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities, reflects on the role of critical theory in elaborating a more just future, particularly in the current time of renewed political urgency, and the upcoming London Critical Theory Summer School.

It has been my privilege to be associated with the London Critical Theory Summer School since its inception in 2010 and well before I joined the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities (BIH), which runs the Summer School, in 2015. The School has a unique resonance for me in the way it combines critical theoretical thought, at the most advanced level, with a sense of the political urgency of the times, an urgency that has so dramatically increased in this past year with the advent of Brexit and Trump, the massive global inequality to which they both attest and will exacerbate, the increasingly licensed ethno-nationalism, racism and misogyny which they sanction, the forms of historical forgetting which they appear to demand.  The key to our Summer School is that theory is engaged theory, that is, it pursues, elucidates and complicates its own genealogy and intellectual elaboration at the same time as attempting to show how theory, and the necessity of sustained reflection which it demands and enacts, can contribute to progressive, dissident thought and being in the modern world. In short, at a time when the idea of resistance has become more pressing, the role of critical theory in elaborating a more just future has never felt more necessary.

In 2017, the Summer School will run from 26 June -7 July and brings together scholars who are now familiar faces: critical legal scholar, Costas Douzinas, historian and psychoanalytic thinker, Stephen Frosh, Marxist theorist and analyst of popular culture of the school of Walter Benjamin, Esther Leslie, legal critical scholar and feminist, Drucilla Cornell. This year we are also delighted to be welcoming two new thinkers who have been so seminal in their fields: Paul Gilroy, cultural historian of the black Atlantic and diaspora, and feminist philosopher, Catherine Malabou. Each of us will be taking one moment of critical theory and asking you to join in its examination, opening up the space for discussion as to what light it can shed on these times. For example: Drucilla Cornell will be exploring African socialism and its philosophies; Stephen Frosh will be looking at the complex processes of historical memory, responsibility and reconciliation; Paul Gilroy will be examining Black political cultures in Britain from 1968 to the present; Esther Leslie will be asking how plant life has been conceived, used and abused, in relation to nature and capital; Catherine Malabou will be tracing the concept of the symbol through Claude Lévi-Strauss, Jacques Lacan and Roland Barthes, into its contemporary impact across biology and the arts; Slavoj Zizek will be asking whether the concept of assemblage is equal to the political weight that, in recent critical theory, it has been asked to bear.  I will be drawing on my recent engagement with South Africa to ask what is meant by a historic legacy following the trauma of apartheid.

We are proud of the Summer School to date, believing it offers a unique opportunity for sustained and engaged reflection over its intense two weeks.  Central to its success is the presence of the participants who we are always delighted to welcome from around the world: Australia, Brazil, Egypt, Greece, India, Iran, Mexico, Slovenia, Spain, Turkey, the United States, the UK. Always it is your disparate experiences, intellectual and political, which provide the real energy of the course.

In addition, this year’s Summer School runs on from the International Conference – ‘Feminist Emergency’  – which is being held at Birkbeck, from 22-24 June 2017. The conference emerges out of a shared sense that feminism today is confronted with a set of acute challenges to which it urgently needs to bring new resources and critical insight. The BIH is proud to be hosting this important event and we hope some of you will be able to arrive in time to attend.

As Director of the Summer School and co-organiser of Feminist Emergency, I personally look forward to welcoming you.

Jacqueline Rose
March 2017

The application deadline for the London Critical Theory Summer School is 24 March 2017. Full details and how to apply

Registration is now open for Feminist Emergency – An International Conference: Book Your Place


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