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The Critical Theory Institute

The Critical Theory Institute provides a locus for the conduct and support of collaborative, interdisciplinary research focused on the theoretical underpinnings of such fields as history, literature, philosophy, art and politics. The Institute's principal function is to provide a forum for debate among competing movements in contemporary critical theory so that existing theoretical models can be challenged and refined. The Institute's research consists not only of the application of theory to date but also of self-reflexive investigation of theoretical presuppositions in order to produce alternative theoretical constructs and strategies. The Institute organizes colloquia, lectures, seminars, and workshops in which leading theorists from the United States and abroad participate in its research projects. It also sponsors the annual Wellek Library Lectures in which a leading theorist gives a series of lectures on a topic of importance in critical theory.

The Critical Theory Institute Wellek Library Lectures


Critical Theory Institute Books

  1. The Aims of Representation: Subject, Text, History. Edited and with an Introduction by Murray Krieger. New York: Columbia University Press, 1987.

    Reprinted in 1993 by Stanford University Press.
    Murray Krieger: "Introduction: The Literary, the Textual, the Social":1-22.
    1. Jean-François Lyotard: "Judiciousness in Dispute, or Kant After Marx":23-67.
    2. David Carroll: "Narrative, Heterogeneity, and the Question of the Political: Bakhtin and Lyotard":69-106.
    3. Mark Poster: "Foucault, Post-Structuralism, and the Mode of Information":107-130.
    4. John Carlos Rowe: "Surplus Economies: Deconstruction, Ideology and the Humanities":131-158.
    5. Anthony Giddens: "Action, Subjectivity, and the Construction of Meaning":159-174.
    6. Robert Weimann: "History, Appropriation, and the Uses of Representation in Modern Narrative":175-215.
    7. Wofgang Iser: "Representation: A Performative Act":217-232.
      Essays After the Essays
    8. Dominick LaCapra: "Criticism Today":235-255.
    9. Stephen Greenblatt: "Capitalist Culture and the Circulatory System": 257-273.

  2. The States of 'Theory': History, Art, and Critical Discourse. Edited and with an Introduction by David Carroll. New York: Columbia University Press, 1990.
    David Carroll: "Introduction: The States of 'Theory' and the Future of History and Art":1-23.
    The Question of History

    1. Carolyn Porter: "Are We Being Historical Yet?":27-62.
    2. Jacques Derrida: "Some Statements and Truisms about Neo-Logisms, Newisms, Postisms, Parasitisms, and Other Small Seismisms":63-94.
    3. Lynn Hunt: "History Beyond Social Theory":95-111.
    4. Claude Lefort: "Machiavelli: History, Politics, Discourse":113-124.
    5. Fredric Jameson: "Spatial Equivalents: Postmodern Architecture and the World System":125-148.
    6. Jean-Luc Nancy: "Finite History":149-172.
      The Question of Aesthetics
    7. Rosalind E. Krauss: "The Blink of an Eye":173-199.
    8. Wolfgang Iser: "The Aesthetic and the Imaginary":201-220.
    9. Murray Krieger: "The Semiotic Desire for the Natural Sign: Poetic Uses and Political Abuses":221-253.
    10. Juan Villegas: "Toward a Model for the History of Theater":255-279.
    11. J. Hillis Miller: "Face to Face: Plato's Protagoras as a Model for Collective Research in the Humanities":282-295.
    12. Jean-François Lyotard: "After the Sublime: The State of Aesthetics":297-304.

  3. Politics, Theory, and Contemporary Culture. Edited and with an Introduction by Mark Poster. New York: Columbia University Press, 1993.

  4. `Culture' and the Problem of the Disciplines. Edited and with an Introduction by John Carlos Rowe. New York: Columbia University Press, 1998.

    1. John Carlos Rowe: "Introduction":1-13.
    2. David Lloyd: "Foundations of Diversity: Thinking the University in a Time of Multiculturalism":15-43.
    3. J. Hillis Miller: "Literary and Cultural Studies in the Transnational University":45-67.
    4. Sacvan Bercovitch: "The Function of the Literary in a Time of Cultural Studies":69-86.
    5. Linda Williams: "Discipline and Distraction: Psyche, Visual Culture, amd Postmodern Cinema":87-120.
    6. Leslie Rabine: "Fashion and the Racial Construction of Gender":121-140.
    7. James A Boon: "Accenting Hybridity: Postcolonial Cultural Studies, a Boasian Anthropologist, and I":141-169.
    8. Suzanne Gearhart: "Colonialism, Psychoanalysis, and Cultural Criticism: The Problem of Interiorization in the Work of Albert Memmi":171-197.
    9. Mark Poster: "Textual Agents: History at 'The End of History':199-227.

  5. The Forces of Globalization. Edited and with an Introduction by Gabriele Schwab. New York: Columbia University Press, 2002 (forthcoming.)

    1. Etienne Balibar: "A Global Culture?"
    2. Chakrabarty, Dipesh: “"Towards a Political Economy of Belonging: Historical Difference and the Logic of Capital"”
    3. Chambers, Iain: "A Torn Map, a Fold in Time, an Interruption"”
    4. Comaroff, Jean: “"Alien-Nation: Zombies, Immigrants and Millennial Capitalism"”
    5. Conley, Verena: "Globalism and Environment: Ecological Territories"”
    6. Ferguson, James: "Transnational Topographies of Power: Beyond ‘the State’ and ‘Civil Society’ in the Study of African Politics"”
    7. Grosz, Elizabeth: “"The Global, the Virtual and a Politics of the Future"”
    8. Miller, J. Hillis: "Will Literary Study Survive the Globalization of the University and the New Regime of Telecommunications?"”
    9. Miyoshi, Masao: "Empty Museum"”
    10. Ning, Wang: "Postmodernity, Globalization and the Chinese Cultural and Intellectual Strategy"
    11. Poster, Mark: "Nations, Identies and Global Technologies"”
    12. Rabine, Leslie: "Globalization from the Margins: The Case of African Fashion"”

    Research Project: "Futures of Property & Personhood" (1999-2003)

    In the 1999-2000 academic year the Critical Theory Institute at the University of California, Irvine began its new three-year research project, “The Futures of Property and Personhood.” In its focus on property, the topic explores the challenges to social and cultural theory posed by privatization and its broader political, cultural and institutional effects. It considers, too, the manifold changes in the status of personhood brought about by the forces of privatization and globalization, as well as the new technologies that facilitate the remaking of human bodies and determine the politics of reproduction. The most pervasive effects of privatization include a general weakening of liberalism’s hold on the social imaginary, a trend that profoundly affects state practices, socio-cultural reproduction, and the institutional production of knowledge. By exploring the synergy and dissonance between conceptions of the private as marketable and the private as inalienable, the CTI poses the question of how critical theory can productively engage with the contemporary transformations and futures of notions such as property, personhood, and related concepts of citizenship, state, culture, and knowledge.

    Since the Enlightenment, definitions of property have entailed corresponding configurations of the person who owned, and/or was subjected to, property. In the past three decades, critical theories have devised and debated new models to respond to historical changes in the relation between property and personhood. Most of these theories challenge the classical paradigms of liberalism, Marxism, and psychoanalysis, expanding their focus to include issues such as symbolic economies, regimes of power and knowledge, or the superimposition of commodity and sexual fetishism. Many of these theories rethink the legacy of Nietzsche, Marx and Freud from the vantage point of the new economies of a global corporate media culture and its continually changing impact on relations between property and personhood. Today, new forms of privatization demand that we rethink the range of available models of subjectivity in relation to late capitalist, global and corporate economies and their effects on personhood. We need to ask whether contemporary critiques of the subject are adequate to challenge narratives of the triumph of the market and the privatization of knowledges, persons, and life itself.

    Privatization, as we understand it, refers to a complex array of interconnected processes and relationships through which political rights, social membership, knowledge production, and the related spheres that constitute personhood are increasingly brought within the ambit of the capitalist marketplace. We are currently living through a profound acceleration of such processes of privatization and their far-reaching effects on the social and cultural imaginary. Among such effects we may count the economic, political, and epistemological reworking of notions of citizenship, the re-definition of the nation-state in relation to a transnational economy and its global markets, and the privatization of services formerly under state management. Similarly, privatization deeply affects social and cultural identities, subjectivities, and cosmologies of personhood. Niche marketing and demographic “indicators” of consumer preference, for example, are rendered as self-identity. Moreover, identity itself is increasingly framed through acquisitive individualism. Self-identity becomes a product to be worked on, invested in, and competitively performed and deployed as a social currency. In a similar vein, identitarian forms of social protest are increasingly recoded as consumptive and private. We witness a pervasive expansion and transformation of property, accompanied by concomitant changes in the self-as-proprietor and the self-as-investor. Newly expanded property constructs and laws extend from rights in potential and future ideas, to rights in cells, organs, and genetic material.

    These complicated economic, legal, and social changes are also transforming the very category of culture. As the concept itself comes under scrutiny in the anthropological and literary circles that made it their hallmark for the greater part of the century, culture is now increasingly recoded in proprietary terms. Collectivities and corporations battle over knowledges and practices newly configured as potentially alienable and commodifiable cultural properties. Individuals protect cultural works through the apparatus of patent and copyright. Opponents of a neo-liberal stance often frame their project in terms of claiming collective properties, re-imagining the commons, and reinvigorating the community. But what is the status of commonality and community when culture itself — in Marilyn Strathern’s phrase — has been “enterprized up?” What happens if culture can be both chosen and selected from a seemingly infinite array of patented goods for consumption? What are the consequences when culture is deemed intrinsic to identity and becomes the object of collective property rights?

    These processes are transforming not only the world at large, but also the immediate environment of our intellectual activity. Everyday practices of privatization in the academy include the university’s use of market models to guide curricular changes and the privatization of knowledge — from information technologies and copyright restrictions impacting the classroom, to modes of knowing and new categories of the known.These practices are radically transforming the most fundamental relations concerning the conceptions of person, knowledge, and property on which intellectual production has long rested. The consequences of such transformations have yet to be fully anticipated and explored.

    The proposed project identifies three rubrics within which to focus its analysis of how privatization and the related reconfiguration of the social imaginary pose a challenge for contemporary debates in critical theory:


    citizenship and personhood

    the posthuman

    Challenges to Property

    Liberal nation-states in the post-War era claimed to serve the public good through social services and economic redistribution, with the promise of full “social” as well as political citizenship for all. Today, deregulated markets and international trade and finance, together with the increasing importance of international organizations, have produced a world in which such promises are explicitly disavowed, even as an ideal. But if the welfare state is dying, the interventionist ways of the nation-state are alive and well. States today subsidize and enforce markets through tax policies, enterprise zones, interest rates and central banking, as well as through property regimes and the promise of violence should they be breached. At the inter-governmental level, states attempt to harmonize their protocols both for the use of force to guarantee property, and for the construction of proprietary entities. Labor emerges as the only commodity that does not enjoy freedom of movement.

    We are thus witnessing less the decline of state regulation than the expansion of the domain of property itself. The state gives over some of its traditional functions to private enterprise and to the voluntary sector, resulting in increased competition that also means increased risk. New property regimes demand new forms of securitization, resulting in the creation of fungible, negotiable proprietary interests in any thing or entity. Financial entities tie property so closely to risk that it threatens to collapse into risk itself. We witness the emergence of actuarial properties, persons rendered as risk-profiles, contracts specifying corporate relationships to “potential” properties. What are the implications for critical theory of a change in the very meaning of property? What new theories of capitalism, labor, and value are called for in response to such reconfigurations? How can critical theory recognize, and provide insight into, both the new forms of oppression or exploitation as well as the new possibilities for liberation and resistance that such transformations may open up?

    Critical theorists have successfully demonstrated the bankruptcy of narratives of linear development and progress. But we have not yet thought through the consequences of this bankruptcy for the production of knowledge and for the logic and justification of our own knowledge practices. Critical theory traditionally saw itself in opposition to nationalism and liberalism alike. But how can critical theory remain “critical” at a time when the fundamental principles of liberalism are themselves being called into question, less by theoretical critique than by socio-economic transformation?

    Today, even the knowledge produced in the university is being privatized. In the absence of an over-arching state commitment to social citizenship, and in a property regime that restricts dissemination and use of knowledge, what becomes of the traditional function of the university, and its project of imparting “universal” knowledge to the citizens of the nation? If we reject both the liberal assertion of knowledge as universal enlightenment and the “privatized” notion of knowledge as a commodity for sale in the market, then how do we understand the place and efficacy of our own knowledge production? And how can we re-imagine the university in a way that enables a critique of the logic of privatization without reaffirming notions of liberal enlightenment or an unsituated, universal knowledge?

    Citizenship and Personhood

    In classical liberalism, the private sphere entailed the domain of home, religion, family, personal relationships and affiliations through which individuals created and realized themselves. It was also the domain where individuals came to know their interests — personal, and economic — and to go about fulfilling them. The public existed above and between various “private spheres,” providing a space in which everyone was supposedly allowed to pursue his or her private interests and affiliations without threat of force or fraud. How are private and public being rerouted and redefined in the present? How are new proprietarian logics challenging the vision of personhood at the heart of liberal conceptions of the public (the world of the citizen, equal to all others) and the private (the world of the individual, unique among all others)?

    In much of the world today, social citizenship is no longer a central goal of the state. In rolling back the contract between state, capital, and labor, abandoning social welfare policies to private and voluntary enterprises, and replacing social citizenship with consumer citizenship, the state seems uninterested in its traditional civic obligations. Who “belongs” in a world of consumer citizenship where one participates in the nation by virtue of one’s investment in the national productive-consumptive product? What are the boundaries of rights and obligations, given the extensive commodification of citizen identity? And, what are the limits of protest, given the commodification of dissent and the sale of a politics of lifestyle choice or gut-level preference?

    In addition to a change in relation between citizen and state, the expansion of privatization brings in its wake new exclusions within and between states. Suprastate organizations like the WTO, MAI and GATT reconfigure sovereignty and political liberalism even as strong states dictate foreign policy through the language and mechanisms of the “market.” Working less in terms of “national interests” than in terms of free market-principles, states have not so much abandoned their powers as transformed the field in which they operate. Privatization thus has a direct effect on concepts and practices of “security” both within and between states. In much of the world, public police are increasingly supplanted by private security corporations; public prisons by corrections management facilities; and state armies by private mercenary forces. The privatization of security means both new forms of “war” and new forms of “peace.” It thus gives new meaning to the “rule of law,” dismembering liberalism’s promise of rules of law over rules of men, of public over private interest. How can critical theory address these challenges to citizenship without falling into nostalgia for the citizen-subject of liberalism, the rule of law as guarantor of rights and freedoms, and modern notions of belonging and identity that continue to animate conflict and community?

    The Posthuman

    What futures hold for the category of the human when the self-as-proprietor explodes into a dispersed network of corporate interests? Whither social protest when the privatization of identity recodes interests as fungible preferences? How can critical theory map this post-humanist, or as some prefer to call it, posthuman landscape? How can we provide a theoretical grip on the new subjects and objects of a hyper-commodified world? Can we find theoretical means or grounds for a critique of the privatized human body that does not fall back into a humanist nostalgia?

    Across disciplines and theoretical orientations, the very boundaries of the human are in the process of being redefined. The challenges to personhood have vast implications and ramifications beyond the material, political, economic, social and cultural spheres. They affect the social and cultural imaginary, the psychosocial formation of persons or subjects, as well as possible philosophical, ethical and epistemological conceptions of the subject, of personhood, and of agency more generally. A wide range of recent theories on the posthuman and the posthuman body (Deleuze/Guattari, Halberstam/ Livingston, Squier, Hayles, Haraway) as well as the inhuman (Lyotard) have been engaged in theorizing, analyzing, and conceptualizing these profound changes in the status of personhood. A whole body of current theoretical work on the politics of reproduction is equally concerned with issues of privatization and related challenges to property and personhood. Reproductive politics, one of the most controversial and hotly debated issues in critical theory today, concerns sexual and gender politics, bioethics, communal politics, subject constitution, human and civil rights, as well as modes of information characteristic of a technological media culture.

    Many current debates, ranging from genetic engineering and the Human Genome project to the “sustainability” of our planet, focus on the relationship between property, privatization and reproduction. Current changes in the politics of reproduction challenge fundamental theoretical concepts across disciplines and force us to rethink the relationships among, and the erosion of boundaries of, traditional categories such as nature and culture, the subject, the human, civil rights, property, the body, etc. Moreover, economic reproduction is itself linked to the “politics of reproduction” more generally, particularly in light of the reconfiguration of the human body to serve industrial production and of its submission to a regime of discipline and punishment. As Susan Squier argues in Reproducing the Posthuman Body, discourses about reproduction and reproductive representations “help to consolidate the global power of multinational late capitalism,” defining and distributing difference “within and across a variety of temporally and geographically overlapping power grids,” including civil society, institutional science, medicine and industrial capitalism (p. 115f.).

    Finally, the changing relationship between the public and the private, and the challenges posed by privatization and new property constructs, similarly determine the politics of cultural reproduction, pertaining to the renegotiation— if not obliteration—of the boundaries between nature and culture, human and nonhuman, inhuman or posthuman. According to Halberstam and Livingston, “the posthuman does not necessitate the obsolescence of the human; it does not represent an evolution or devolution of the human. Rather it participates in re-distributions of difference and identity” (10). Such profound redefinitions of personhood, and of the boundaries of the human more generally, pertain to global culture and global flows of capital, information, discourses, and bodies. In the social imaginary, they engender a particular “postmodern gothic,” a “gothicization of the body” (Halberstam/Livingston) afloat with phantasms of the “body without organs” (Deleuze/Guattari; Beckett) or even of the “grotesque clone" (Baudrillard). If this posthuman body is, as Halberstam and Livingston argue, only the “seismograph and epicenter” of epistemic changes, the concomitant revaluation of cultural values affects all politics, transcoding the spheres of economy, technology, law, biology, culture, and psychology. Theories that trace the effects of globalization in the cultural imaginary—such as those of Appadurai, Jameson, Deleuze and Guattari, Haraway, among others—prepare the futures of theoretical models that make such transcodings part of their basic presuppositions.

    Such transformations are, of course, often partial and even contradictory. Even while the very categories of the human, the subject, and personhood are under revision, the “human” is enjoying a remarkable renaissance in global discursive fields centered on “human rights.” Human rights are precisely not a universal standard applied irrespective of place, not a bulwark against the processes of privatization or the reconfiguration of personhood. On the contrary, the very notion of human rights circulates within the circuits of governmentality structuring and structured by a privatized, neoliberal global economy. For example, the World Bank and IMF attach “human rights conditionality” to countries receiving “assistance” in “structural adjustment.” Human rights become a device of governmentality and commodification when deployed as an index of “liberalization” (of markets) and “democratization” (of non-Western political orders). Thus, discourses of the human, human rights and humanitarianism need to be critically explored under these changed conditions.

    The trends and developments outlined herein should make it clear that the anticipated futures of property and personhood fundamentally affect the most central parameters of the debates in critical theory as they have developed in the past decades. They, in fact, reach far beyond the now familiar critique of the categories and values of the tradition of humanism and enlightenment. The gradual refashioning of fundamental theoretical concepts and binaries such as nature/culture, body/mind, self/other, human/inhuman, life/death, man/woman, subject/object has begun to converge in a pervasive epistemological change. At stake is nothing less than the sustainability of theoretical concepts in a global ecology in which transcoded social, cultural, economic, political, somatic and psychic energies and flows have transcended even the familiar signatures of the postmodern.

    Works Cited:

    Posthumann Bodies. Eds. Judith Halberstam and Ira Livingston. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1995.

    Squier, Susan Merrill. Babies in Bottles: Twentieth Century Visions of Reproductive Technology. New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 1994.

    Research Project: "The Forces of Globalization" (1995-1998)

    "In the Fall of 1995, the Critical Theory Institute at the University of California, Irvine begins a new three-year project devoted to the general topic of "globalization" and a critical analysis of just what forces constitute "globalization" as the term and its related concepts are used today. Like other idioms of the intellectual community, such as "culture" in our previous research project ("'Culture' and the Problem of the Disciplines," CTI Project, 1992-1995), "globalization" is used with great frequency to describe complex processes and yet these uses are often uncritical of their ideological and methodological assumptions. In the tradition of our previous projects, we intend to read critically the multiple assumptions behind the term, in order better to theorize the range of meanings associated with "globalization" today.

    We understand "globalization" in terms of communications' models, which we terms "networks" to distinguish these signifying practices from those governed by more narrowly conceived linguistic and semiotic models, which were developed before the advent of the technologies partially responsible for the new globalization. One of the subtexts of this project is an investigation of similarities and differences between "modern internationalism" and "postmodern globalization." By the same token, the "networks" we hope to analyze are not utterly distinct from the older semiotic models; each network suggests a coherent discursive community, not unlike the unified field model of some semiotic systems, that transcends specific national and regional boundaries. Implicit in many of these new discursive communities are new theories of social organization that follow from the communications' protocols of these networks. In many cases, these social organizations include reconceptualizations of traditional categories of social division and identification, such as race, ethnicity, class, gender, and sexual identity.

    Although the four networks of globalization we propose to study critically are intended to provide an approximate mapping or topography of the new transnational terrain, they are not indended to constitute the total scheme of cultural expressions and social behaviors in what some have termed the "new global order." Just what this expression means cannot be answered even by a manifold project such as this one, but will in large part be determined by historical events. Academic research projects like this one should not attempt to predict or anticipate those events; instead, such research can read critically what is already operative within the several different networks of transnational practice.

    During our planning year, 1994-1995, we have analyzed the forces of globalization into four dominant networks, each of which is immediately recognizable by a term or concept used today as one conventional sign for the new "global" situation. These networks are:
    1. Corporate

    2. Cultural

    3. Technological

    4. Environmental

    These networks of globalization intersect in many crucial ways, and we have analyzed their respective predicates in approximately analogous terms. It should be noted, however, that the analogies between the subdivisions of these different networks do not presume homologies that we expect to "find" in our research. We are merely trying to organize the different areas investigated in ways that will make productive comparisons and contrasts more likely.

    In order to foreground possible overlaps between different global networks and thus articulate better what we mean at this stage by "global forces," we intend to apply three different methodological criteria to each of our four transnational networks. We shall ask to what extent each of these global networks contributes to: decentering or recentering of the customary modes of scientific knowledge; new hierarchies and process of hierarchization, such as class, gender, race, and such formulations as "first," "second," and "third world"; diasporac, nationalism, local, and regionalism as metaphors for new social organizations.

    Corporate Network

    Transnational corporate networks will be investigated in terms of their control over new forms of world-wide cultural dissemination, language circulation, consumerism, labor organization and finance. The way in which global economic and financial institutions have made national governments obsolete and exercise unchecked powers over peoples' lives of a magnitude unequalled in the past will provide a focus. We will also examine the paradoxes involved in the practices of these economic giants. How have they created hyperorganization on some levels of social and ecological life while producing unprecedented chaos on other levels? How has their supra-national power rendered obsolete traditional notions of social contract while leading to intensified claims of citizenship? How have they destablized traditional boundaries of class, ethnicity, gender, generation, and authority while creating new hierarchies and intensifying the polarizations between haves and have-nots on a world-wide scale? We will explore the contribution that critical theories can make on the one hand to understanding the role of institutions like the World bank and the IMF and on the other hand to the experiences of migrant workers. We will ask what kinds of theories can help us envision the as-yet-undiscovered political and social forms that would redistribute social power away from corporate control into more democratic relations?

    Cultural Network

    The unstable, contested concept of culture looms large in many of the key debates that seek to define the present moment, both within the academy and outside it. As an analytical concept, "culture" has undergone major transformations in recent years, transformations that may most readily be identified as hybridization, creolization, multiculturalism, transnationalism, globalization. Further, such transformations at the level of the disciplines and media open up new, hitherto unmarked, links with political and social discourses throughout the world.

    In dealing with this problematic we want to differentiate, first of all, two conceptions of culture, one allied to cultural studies and the other to anthropology: on the one hand, a cultural studies (or "aesthetic") approach is oriented primarily to cultural products and expressive forms; on the other, the anthropological understanding of "culture" is directed to the lifeworlds of people, to symbolic and cosmological systems. We are interested in exploring the increasingly important intersections between these two conceptions, and notably the ways in which such intersections are being determined through processes of globalization.

    As we approach the last years of the twentieth century, it is to be expected that many of the struggles over culture and globalization, purity and creolization, will take on new urgency. Practices of taxonomy and dissemination become determining in altogether new ways in areas like pedagogy, work and leisure, art and media, belief and ritual. Our aim is to be attentive both to the symbolic and political dimension of this process and thus to foreground ethical stakes that are implicit in the kinds of transformations we have outlined in the conceptualization of culture.

    Technological Network

    Both of the previous areas of investigation depend upon our study of how various technologies have contributed to the globalization of economies and cultures. Of technologies, we are especially interested in communications' technologies, such as e-mail, video, fax, hypertext, internet, satellite, and film. We are especially interested in the ways new technologies have resulted in new modes of commodification, both in terms of "objects of consumption" and the more general "object-relations" through which human subjects in part socially construct themselves. If the "commodity" is, for example, no longer defined primarily through its materiality but rather through its discursive (or semiotic) functionality, then its mobility across national and other territorial borders is likely to be greater. In a related area, the "the image" (lacking a better term at this stage of our project) takes the place of both the humanly constructed "object" and the linguistic "sign." What is the phenomenology of the "image" in a global framework, and to what extent does the "image" function within or beyond the parameters of specific languages? In this latter regard, does "image production" depend upon criteria of valuation, such as performative and communicative efficiency, that differ from the criteria governing a "useful" object or "meaningful" statement in language? More complex structures incorporating "images" into narratives, such as "virtual realities," will have to be examined similarly according to their implicit criteria for valuation.

    Environmental Network

    New forces of globalization suggest variously coordinated transnational efforts in ecological awareness and environmental protection. These same forces suggest, however, technological transformations of "Nature," such as in genetic engineering and the human genome project, that constitute yet another force of globalization: the thorough incorporation or subordination of Nature to social and economic domains. In this conext, we would be particularly interested in studying assumptions of political responses to the globalization of environmental issues, ranging from specific political movements (Earth First!, the Green Party and its international offshoots, various eco-feminisms) to the recent valorization of the local over the international,, as well as just how such neo-regionalisms are configured in terms of a postmodern cosmopolitanism. Certain health issues are also relevant in this network, as they they are in the cultural network (above), especially as epidemics and pandemics (such as AIDS) and environmental crises and disasters (such as damage to the ozone layer) shape transnational policies and thus contribute to what is understood in the phrase, forces of globalization.


    Insofar as "transnational," "post-national," "global," or other terms designate a research "area," it remains one that is still at its earliest formulation in terms of the diferent disciplines appropriate to its description and analysis. Scholars in the Humanities are particularly in need of research examples and models, because of the frequency with which they use these terms in uncritical or conventional ways. In many discussions among humanists, the idea of "multinational capital," for example, is assumed to have a very specific reference, but in fact merely designates the historian's, literary critic's, or philosopher's vague sense that economic processes are no longer tied to distinct nation-states.

    Our new research project depends crucially on contributions by anthropologists, economists, sociologists, and political scientists, in addition to the scholars in the traditionally defined humanities. The extraordinary interdisciplinarity required to investigate our four global networks will thus be a particular challenge to the scholars involved in this project, both the permanent members of the Critical Theory Institute and those scholars outside Irvine invited to contribute to our research.

    Our research project is, then, one that will encourage inter-disciplinarity across not just the often compatible disciplines of the Humanities but across the often more unbridgeable divisions of the natural and physical sciences, social sciences, and fine arts, and humanities. In our own modest way, we hope to encourage new research that encompasses the complexity of social, national, and transnational formations better than more humanities-specific projects in cultural studies have done to date."



    Gabriele Schwab -- English & Comparative Literature, Director of the Critical Theory Institute

    Lindon Barrett -- English & Comparative Literature
    Chungmoo Choi -- East Asian Language & Literature
    Rey Chow -- English & Comparative Literature
    Jacques Derrida -- French & Italian, Philosophy
    Liisa Malkki -- Anthropology
    J. Hillis Miller -- English & Comparative Literature
    Mark Poster -- History, past Director of Critical Theory Institute
    Leslie Rabine -- French & Italian
    John Carlos Rowe -- English & Comparative Literature
    John Smith -- German
    Brook Thomas -- English & Comparative Literature

    Previous Research Project (1992-1995)

    "`Culture' and the Problem of the Disciplines"

    "In recent years the question of culture has become a focus of theorizing in several disciplines and intellectural currents. Postmodern theorists disputed the distinction between high and low culture. Anthropological theorists problematize culture as an object of knowledge as well as the position of the ethnographer and the "informant." In literary theory deconstruction and new historicism revise the understanding of culture, raising a general question of the translatability among cultures. Historians open a field of "a new cultural history" to unsettle the treatment of culture in the older social and intellectual histories. Feminism and ethnic studies indicate limitations of theorizing culture in relation to masculine and Eurocentric presuppositions. Finally a newer tendency has emerged called cultural studied which draws upon diverse theories and analytic traditions to address the domain of culture as an autonomous region.

    At the epistemological level, these initiatives raise doubts about the possibility of culture as a discrete object of knowledge, of cultural identity as a stable unity, and of the subject as the basis for aesthetic judgements. The Critical Theory Institute wishes to explore the issue of culture from the many theoretical perspectives that may shed light on it in order, if possible, to bring these various positions of questioning into defined loci of scrutiny, to develop theoretical postures that may clarify the issues at stake, and perhaps to propel them to a new level of understanding.

    One area where collaborative work may be especially productive for a group like ours is that of the institutional framework of our own profession. Thus a focus on the culture of academia will enable us to examine assumptions underlying our professional-institutional practices (e.g., of criticism, of pedagogy) and to initiate specific investigations such as the following: the rationale of the disciplines; the life-span and the mutation of theoretical schools or movements in academic principles; the interdependence and antagonisms in the relation of cultural criticism to the disciplines. In these examples we would like to focus on the way notions and assumptions about culture interact with disciplinary practices.

    We understand critical theory and the problem of culture as dialectically constituted, not discrete or isolable theoretical practices or entities. Our goal is thus both to explore the role that cultural presuppositions and stated or implicit theories of culture have played in the constitution of various forms of critical theory and also to explore the theoretical presuppositions underpinning the notion of culture in its various historical and disciplinary forms."

    (Excerpted from the UCI General Catalog)

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