English 567: Literary History

Cultural Theory: An Introduction

Imre Szeman


The primary aim of this course is to give graduate students in English and Film Studies an opportunity to focus on the complex relationships that exist between forms of power, the constitution of knowledge, and the activity of contemporary criticism. By working through the ideas and concepts deployed in a number of influential essays in cultural theory, the goal is to enhance students’ critical vocabularies and to challenge the ‘commonsense’ of contemporary theory in an effort to help students develop new insights into their own projects and fields of interests. With respect to the study of culture, what can we do with the theoretical concepts and approaches we have inherited? What relevance do these have to contemporary circumstances and situations?  What are the connections that we have identified between knowledge and power? And how do we imagine that criticism intervenes in this relationship to interrupt regimes of knowledge/power in order to create new ways of thinking, knowing, acting, and feeling? These are the kinds of macro-questions that will guide us as we work through key concepts in cultural theory across seven areas: culture, power, ideology, scale and space, time and history, subjectivity and collectivity.


Primary text:

Imre Szeman and Tim Kaposy, eds. Cultural Theory: An Anthology (Wiley-Blackwell, 2010). Print.

Other materials will be made available throughout the course


1. Sept 9 - Intro

2. Sept 16 – Culture (Arnold, Veblen, Williams, Hall)   

3. Sept 23 – Culture (Marcuse, Horkheimer & Adorno, Jameson, Bourdieu)

4. Sept 30 – Power (Marx, Schmitt, Foucault)

5. Oct 7 – Power (Foucault, Deleuze, Hardt & Negri)

6. Oct 14 – Ideology (Marx, Lukacs, Gramsci)

7. Oct 21 – Ideology (Althusser, Hall, Zizek)

8. Oct 28 – Space & Scale (de Certeau, Appaduria, Massey, Harvey)

9. Nov 4 – Temporality (Foucault, Williams, Braudel, Guha)

10. Nov 18 – Subjectivity (Fanon, Gilroy, Lacan, Irigaray)

11. Nov 25 – Subjectivity (Haraway, Butler, Sedgwick)

12. Dec 2 – Collectivity (Nancy, Agamben, Blanchot)