PhD student Khyati Tripathi, who was studying at Birkbeck on a split-site Commonwealth scholarship during 2016/17, reflects on her experience at the 2017 London Critical Theory Summer School.

One look at the list of outstanding speakers and I instantly knew that this was my window of opportunity to interact with some of the best minds in the world. The next moment, I applied to participate at Birkbeck’s London Critical Theory Summer School 2017.

Though I signed up for the programme, I was a bit scared of feeling like a square peg in a round hole as I had never attended a summer school until then and didn’t know what to expect.

I must say, it turned out to be one of the most fulfilling and enriching experiences in my year-long journey as a Commonwealth Scholar in London.

This summer school was like a prototype of the world with participants from across the world who converged on one platform and brought along their own sets of perceptions and understanding of various themes that formed a vital component of the discussions throughout the two weeks. It provided a free and encouraging space that facilitated everyone to throw in their subjectivities and curiosities for extensive, in-depth discussions. Each session felt like a window opening up to a new realm of learning and knowledge.

I am an interdisciplinary and cultural death researcher. I use psychoanalysis and social anthropological theories to understand death rituals of different cultural groups. While I was attending the summer school, I was contemporaneously conducting interviews for my PhD project. And, certain sessions at the summer school helped me immensely to bring forth a lot of unspoken dialogues in my understanding of these interviews. It helped me question and decenter in order to understand the intersubjective dynamics taking place in the interviews intricately.

Just like a thread is detangled and wrapped around a spool in a circular motion after precisely removing any knots, much the same way, the sessions helped me detangle smaller, but more complex and intellectual knots through identification first, and then spooling it up in an open dialogue. It triggered the process of critical thinking in an interdisciplinary milieu, thus enhancing the effectiveness of the arguments that lead to an efficacious absorption of different ideas.

The first week kicked off with Catherine Malabou’s fascinating introduction to symbols and was taken further ahead by Drucilla Cornell and Paul Gilroy’s sessions on African socialism and Britain’s Black political culture respectively. Costas Douzinas passionate talk on ‘Euroscepticism and the rise of the extreme right’ brought to me some very novel and stimulating arguments.

The second week saw Stephen Frosh, Slavoj Zizek, Jacqueline Rose and Esther Leslie organize some very persuasive sessions. Frosh’s outstanding session on Steve Reich’s ‘Different trains’ was an emotional journey where he effortlessly blended the intellectual with the emotional through Reich’s musical piece based on the testimonies of Holocaust survivors. Leslie, on the other hand, delivered brilliant sessions focusing on environmental humanities and Anthropocene.

To cap it all, this summer school for me was a rare chance to meet with participants and speakers of excellent calibre who did not hesitate to extend informal discussions over tea and lunch.

I really wish to return to attend to many of these intellectual exchanges at Birkbeck should the opportunity swing by.

Khyati, who is from Delhi, India, was in the third year of her PhD studies and spent one year in the Department of Psychosocial Studies at Birkbeck. Her research concerns how dead bodies are socially constructed in a culture, with a particular focus on Jewish and Hindu Death rituals. Her previous research has looked at the death rituals of three religions – Hinduism, Islam and Christianity and an ethnographic study of India’s ‘death priests’.

Listen to the Public Debate from the 2017 Summer School.

The 2018 London Critical Theory Summer School will be held from 25 June – 6 July and is now accepting applications. Full details.