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Critical Theory - POL00017M

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  • Department: Politics and International Relations
  • Module co-ordinator: Prof. Matthew Festenstein
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: M
  • Academic year of delivery: 2023-24

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Semester 2 2023-24

Module aims

In this module we will discuss texts by some key thinkers in the tradition of critical theory. While critical theory has come to have a broad meaning, here we’ll look at the type of social and political philosophy started in Frankfurt in the 1930s which sought to bring together philosophical reflection, social scientific inquiry, and human emancipation. Developed in circumstances where it was compelled to address the irrationalist authoritarianism of fascism, what resources does it have to diagnose contemporary crises? Themes to be addressed include the critique of instrumental reason, ideology critique, immanent critique, social ontology, critique of capitalism, progress and the postcolonial, and the politics of critical theory. Module readings will encompass classic and contemporary contributions to critical theory, its interlocutors and critics, and an indicative list includes Max Horkheimer, Theodor Adorno, Jürgen Habermas, Herbert Marcuse, Michel Foucault, Nancy Fraser, Rahel Jaeggi, Amy Allen.

Module learning outcomes

  • To understand some of the central themes in modern European critical political theory.
  • To develop interpretative, analytical, and argumentative abilities, through seminar discussion and a study of key texts.


Task Length % of module mark
4000 word essay
N/A 100

Special assessment rules



Task Length % of module mark
4000 word essay
N/A 100

Module feedback

Students will receive written timely feedback on their formative assessment. They will also have the opportunity to discuss their feedback during the module tutor’s feedback and guidance hours.

Indicative reading

Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer, Dialectic of Enlightenment

Michael Foucault, Discipline and Punish

Judith Butler, Gender Trouble

Walter Benjamin, ‘Theses on the Philosophy of History’

Angela Davis, Are Prisons Obsolete?

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.