2017-2018 Courses

2017-2018 Course Offerings

Fall: 101, 200A, 200C, SPA 201 (200 B Equivalent)

Winter: 200A, 200C

Spring: 200A, 200B

For general catalog descriptions, click here.

For expanded course descriptions, see below.

Fall 2017

Critical Theory 101. Intro to Critical Theory      [Cross-listed with COM 141]
Stephan Hoesel-Uhlig

Tuesdays and Thursdays, 9:00-10:20A
1128 Hart Hall

CRN: 63122

Course Description: This course provides an introduction to some basic intellectual challenges of complex texts and works in other media. With Jonathan Culler’s Literary Theory as our guide, each week will feature primary works in dialogue with readings drawn from influential theorists. Students will write a set of short responses and a final project paper. Our primary examples will be drawn from the works of Marina Abramović, Samuel Beckett, Alfred Hitchock, Franz Kafka, and William Wordsworth.

Prerequisite: One upper division literature course or consent of instructor (shuhlig@ucdavis.edu).

GE credit (Old): Arts & Humanities and Writing Experience.
GE credit (New): Arts & Humanities, World Cultures and Writing Experience.

Format: Lecture/Discussion - 3 hours; Term Paper.


  • Jonathan Culler, Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction [2nd Edition]  (Oxford University Press, 2011)

Critical Theory 200A. Approaches to Critical Theory
Tobias Menley

Mondays, 12:10-3:00P
308 Voorhies Hall
CRN: 37040

Course Description: Etymologically, to theorize means to look contemplatively, to examine from a distance, to speculate. To be a theorist, for the Greeks, is to stand apart and consider, whether one is viewing the stage, the stars, or the underlying forms of things. Critique, by contrast, assumes an active and invested relation to a determinate historical situation. Modern criticism developed, Terry Eagleton suggests, in bourgeois opposition to the absolutist state. Critical theory, then, is defined by a constitutive tension between two imperatives: to contemplate, tarrying with the negative and the abstract, and to judge, as an intervention in structures of power. This seminar will survey modern critical theory, emphasizing links between foundational texts and current debates in the critical and speculative Humanities, particularly as scholars are drawing on, and reworking, canonical critical theory in response to the economic, political, and planetary crises of the twenty-first century.

In addition to weekly discussion posts, there will be one conference-length (12- to 15-page) essay due at the end of the quarter.

Prerequisite: Graduate student standing.

Format: Seminar - 3 hours; Term Paper.


  • TBA

Critical Theory 200C. History of Critical Theory
Scott Shershow

Wednesdays, 3:10-6:00P
308 Voorhies Hall
CRN: 37041

Course Description: In this course we will read a relatively small number of texts closely with particular interest in fundamental questions of political and ethical philosophy.  First we’ll follow the genealogy of the classical theory of right from Hobbes and Rousseau to the totalizing synthesis of Hegel and its critique in Marx.  In the last few weeks we’ll follow a chain of texts from Nietzsche through Heidegger and Derrida, focusing among other things on the possibility of a critical nihilism. 

Evaluation will be based on class participation, weekly ungraded response papers, and a concluding term paper, in which students can, if they wish, bring their own research interests to bear on the course readings.

Tentative reading list:

Derrida, “Ethics and Politics Today,” “Declarations of Independence.”
Hobbes, Leviathan
Rousseau, The Social Contract
Kant, Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals
Hegel, The Philosophy of Right
Marx and Engels, The German Ideology, part one, and “Theses on Feuerbach”
Nietzsche, The Gay Science
Heidegger, “The Word of Nietzsche: God is Dead.”
Derrida, “Structure Sign and Play in the Discourses of the Human Sciences”

Prerequisite: Graduate student standing.

Format: Seminar - 3 hours; Term Paper.


  • TBA

External Elective

SPA 201 Introduction to Literary Theory / Introducción a la teoría literaria (Pre-approved 200B. Equivalent)
Robert Newcomb

Thursdays, 4:10-7:00P
144 Olson
CRN: 62288

In this graduate seminar we will study important figures and problems in literary theory. In addition to providing an overview of the “big names” in international critical theory, we will highlight important peninsular and Latin American theorists who, to a large extent, have not been incorporated into the international canon of theory. This seminar has two main objectives: 1) to introduce students to literary theory as a tool for analyzing and contextualizing literary works and cultural productions; 2) to present literary theory as a body of texts that are important for their own sake, and that constitute compelling objects of study. Seminar conducted in Spanish.

Seminar themesrepresentation; the authorial function; cultural cannibalism; dehumanization; imagined communities and invented traditions; colonialism, post-colonialism, and the subaltern; the spatial organization of power; feminism and gender studies; cultural studies.

Theorists coveredBenedict Anderson; Oswald de Andrade; Gloria Anzaldúa; Erich Auerbach; Roland Barthes; Walter Benjamin; Alfredo Bosi; Judith Butler; Néstor García Canclini; Jacques Derrida; Michel Foucault; Stuart Hall; Eric Hobsbawm; José Ortega y Gasset; Ángel Rama; Roberto Fernández Retamar; Roberto Schwarz; Gayatri Spivak.

Winter 2018

Critical Theory 200A. Approaches to Critical Theory
David Simpson
Thursdays, 3:10
248 Voorhies
CRN: 48499


We will attempt a survey of some of the core texts of modern critical theory, using the Norton Anthology of Criticism and Theory supplemented by a course reader where necessary. Topics will include Writing, Psychoanalysis, Master and Slave, Ideology and the Aesthetic, Literacy, Sexualities, and Machines. Major authors will include Derrida, Freud, Lacan, Levi-Strauss, Barthes, Hegel, Marx and Engels, Schiller, Bakhtin, Foucault, Butler, Cixous, Benjamin, Haraway, Horkheimer and Adorno (this is not a complete list).

A 20pp. paper will be required, along with participation in all classes.


Critical Theory 200C. History of Critical Theory
Kriss Ravetto-Biagioli
Tuesdays, 12:10-3:00P
203 Wellman
CRN: 48501

“Political” derives from Greek (politikos, “of, or pertaining to, the polis”). Both Plato and Aristotle understood the polis to be based on a geographically specific collective brought together under common principles and agreements about authority.  What constituted the common good, justice, the reach of authority, and the citizen have been open to debate. This course will focus on the emergence and transformation of politics, particularly as it relates to the following concepts: sovereignty, the commons, and the body politic. 

Readings from:

Plato, The Republic
Aristotle, Politics
Hobbes, Leviathan
Locke, Treatise on Government
Rousseau, Social Contract
Marx, Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts
Foucault, Discipline and Punishment
Arendt, On Revolution
Scott, Weapons of the Weak
Moten, Undercommons
Spivak, A Critique of Postcolonial Reason
Moreiras, selections from Infrapolitics

External Electives

ENG 264 Queer Biospheres  (Pre-approved 200B. Equivalent)
Kathleen Frederickson
Wednesdays, 3:10-6:00P
120 Voorhies
CRN: 74430

This course will examine theory, literature, and history that tackles the interface between thinking about queer kinship, sex acts, and affect in relation to the biological theories of the late-nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The course will discuss how queer sexualities have been coproduced with changes to thinking, especially, in the overlapping fields of ecology and evolution, population-based political economy, epidemiology, and botany—biosciences that focus less on individual organisms and more on systems of interconnection and population-level thinking.

Projected readings may include:

Ecology and Evolution
Edward Carpenter Love’s Coming of Age
Charles Darwin Descent of Man
Samuel Delany Through the Valley of the Nest of Spiders
Dana Luciano How the Earth Feels
Mortimer-Sandilands and Erickson eds. Queer Ecologies
Jeanne Vaccaro “Feelings and Fractals: Woolly Ecologies of Transgender Matter”

Marx on primitive accumulation (Capital 1)
Kathi Weeks
Sunder Rajan Biocapital
Jord/ana Rosenberg “The Molecularization of Sexuality”

Population Science
Thomas Malthus Essay on the Principle of Population
Peter Kropotkin Mutual Aid,
Michel Foucault Security, Territory, Population and The History of Sexuality Volume 1

Neel Ahuja Bioinsecurities
Priscilla Wald Contagious,
Cindy Patton
Randy Shilts And the Band Played On

Anne Lise Francois “Flower Fisting”;
Georges Bataille “On the Language of Flowers”
Greta LaFleur The Natural History of Sexuality



Spring 2018

Critical Theory 200A. Approaches to Critical Theory
Omnia El Shakry

Tuesdays, 3:50-6:40P
4217 Social Sciences and Humanities Building
CRN: 57171

This course will introduce students to some of the key approaches in modern and contemporary critical theory. Rather than provide a comprehensive survey, the course will pair canonical texts with critical departures and reworkings by later theorists. We will read GWF Hegel, Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche, Sigmund Freud, Jacques Lacan, Frantz Fanon, Louis Althusser, Jacques Derrida, Luce Irigaray, Jacqueline Rose, Michel Foucault, Achille Mbembe, Hortense Spillers, Gayatri Spivak, Homi Bhabha, Slavoj Žižek, Fred Moten and Stefano Harney. Topics will include: subject formation (recognition, perception, ressentiment, the unconscious, interpellation); labor, capital, and accumulation; the transvaluation of values; ideology and the critique of ideology; the phenomenology of race; desire and sexuality; sovereignty and necropolitics; subalternity; and the undercommons. 

Critical Theory 200B. Problems in Critical Theory
Matthew Stratton

Tuesdays, 12:10-3:00P
248 Voorhies
CRN: 57172

Critical Theory 200B: “Pragmatism.”


In 1907, William James articulated the central tenet shared by a diverse set of revolutionary figures in the history of thought: “our beliefs are really rules for action.” This course will explore both the origins and the legacy of this claim: from the foundational texts written by Charles Sanders Peirce, William James, Jane Addams, and John Dewey to the various 21st-century philosophers, literary critics, intellectual historians, and political theorists who have drawn upon, responded to, and sometimes repudiated those texts. The central goal of the class will be a comprehensive survey of what we talk about when we talk about “Pragmatism,” and will necessarily include sustained attention to questions of aesthetics, feminist philosophy, race, and political theory. Depending on specific interests of seminar participants, texts may include:


Jane Addams, Democracy and Social Ethics (1902)

John Dewey, Art as Experience (1935) and The Public and Its Problems (1927)

William James, Pragmatism and The Meaning of Truth (1907 – 1910)

Eddie S. Glaude, In a Shade of Blue: Pragmatism and the Politics of Black America (2007)

Sidney Hook, The Meaning of Marx (1935)

Chad Kautzer and Eduardo Medieta, eds. Pragmatism, Nation, and Race: Community in the Age of Empire (2009)

José-Antonio Orosco, Toppling the Melting Pot: Immigration and Multiculturalism in American Pragmatism (2016)

C.S. Peirce, “The Fixation of Belief,” “How to Make Our Ideas Clear,” “The Doctrine of Chances,” “The Order of Nature,” “Deduction, Induction, and Hypothesis” (1878-1879)

Richard Rorty, Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity (1989)

Charlene Haddock Seigfried, Pragmatism and Feminism: Reweaving the Social Fabric (1996)

Erin Tarver and Shannon Sullivan, eds. Feminist Interpretations of Williams James (2015)

West, Cornel. The American Evasion of Philosophy: A Genealogy of Pragmatism (1989)




COM 210. The Frankfurt School  (Pre-Approved 200B Equivalent)
Neil Larsen
Tuesdays 2:10-5:00p
201 Wellman
CRN: 81819

This seminar will provide an intensive and focused introduction to the works of the Frankfurt School in its so-called ‘first generation’: from the appointment in 1930 of Max Horkheimer as director the University of Frankfurt-based Institut für Sozialforschung (Institute for Social Research—hereafter ‘ISF’) until the death of Adorno in 1969. These were the years during which the names most associated with the Frankfurt School: Adorno, Horkheimer, Marcuse, Benjamin and numbers of others, were at the center of the ISF’s activities and publications. (In fact the ISF only came to be identified as the Frankfurt School much later than 1930, not until after WWII.  But it evidently pleased Adorno, and, anyway, it has stuck.) These were the years, also, when the ISF and most if not all of its inner circle—excepting, tragically, Walter Benjamin-- were forced into exile by Nazism in 1933, moving first, briefly, to England and then to New York and finally Los Angeles before returning to Frankfurt after WWII.  Thanks, originally, to a 1937  essay by Horkheimer, “Traditional and Critical Theory,” the ISF also gave rise to what it called ‘Critical Theory,’ a term that, although today often broader in scope than this, has referred to the work of the ISF ever since.

The course will proceed as seminars generally do, with the full participation of all students in well-informed and well-supported discussions of the readings and other course materials. Required, in addition to timely reading of the assigned literature, will be: 1) a series of three to four short essays in response to common prompts; and 2) completion of an extensive take-home essay exam, open book, totaling approximately 4,000 words; or 3) in lieu of the former, a seminar paper, but only if approved in consultation with the instructor.

Students who wish to read any or all of the readings in the original German may, and will be encouraged to do so. Questions?  Contact Prof. Neil Larsen at nalarsen@ucdavis.edu.

May be repeated for credit.

Texts to be read in whole or in part include: Lukács, History and Class Consciousness; Horkheimer, “Traditional and Critical Theory,” (with Adorno) Dialectic of Enlightenment; Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of its Technical Reproducibility, “The Author as Producer”; Adorno, Prisms, Notes to Literature, Minima Moralia, Aesthetic Theory;,;Marcuse, “The Affirmative Character of Culture,” Eros and Civilization; Bloch, The Principle of Hope; Sohn-Rethel, Intellectual and Manual Labour; Postone, Time, Labor and Social Domination.

GER 297. Thinking in Pictures: Benjamin, Nietzsche, Wittgenstein and the Frankfurt School  (Pre-Approved 200B Equivalent Taught in English)
Andreas Kilcher
Thursdays 2:10-5:00p
109 Olson
CRN: 65453

According to a common understanding, literature and philosophy are mutually demarcated by a fundamental difference: While philosophy uses a technical language of exact terms and abstract concepts to construct systems of thought, literature tells stories and invents ingenious metaphors and ambiguous similes. Even though this typological distinction may largely hold when comparing literature with systematic and analytical philosophy, it becomes far less neat, or even tenable, when another type of philosophy is at stake. The mode of continental philosophy that we will explore in this course shares with literature an interest in tangible things and singular human stories as well as a heightened attentiveness to language and the meticulous use of words. Moreover, it constructs and makes extensive use of allegorical stories and images, understanding these to add significant value to the machinery of abstract concepts. In our exploration of this kind of philosophical thinking in images, or the construction of “Denkbilder,” as Walter Benjamin aptly characterized this hybrid form of philosophical-literary writing, our focus will be on 19th and early 20th century German philosophy. We will discuss texts by Nietzsche and Wittgenstein, and by a number of thinkers associated with the Frankfurt School, Benjamin, Bloch, and Adorno, which self-consciously strove to overcome classical systematic philosophy and to experiment with new forms of philosophical writing in what Benjamin called “forbidden poetic” (unerlaubt dichterischI ways.)

Because we will be attending closely to questions of language, some reading knowledge of German will be beneficial, but NOT required for this seminar. All the texts can be read in English, and the class discussions will be conducted in English.