German 264. The Frankfurt School in the 21st-Century





Frankfurt School author collage


This course is not being offered during the current academic year.



This course will be equally accessible to students in German, comparative literature, history and literature, philosophy, religious studies, psychology and history of science (all texts will be available in translation).

What conceptual tools can help us understand current social trends or the roles played by literature, mass culture and philosophy in today’s society? We will start with Rahel Jaeggi’s recent ‘Critique of Forms of Life’ (2014, trans. 2018). Where earlier Frankfurt School theorists such as Horkheimer, Adorno or Habermas hoped to ground their critique of society in something (reason, art, an idealized communication) that in some sense lies beyond or before everyday practices, Jaeggi takes up the mantle of Frankfurt-School-style critical theory but proposes a model that derives its evaluative norms from inside the very forms of life under analysis. The course will put Jaeggi’s thought in historical context, showing the origins of key aspects of her approach in earlier Frankfurt School thinkers, as well as productive lines of thought explored by the earlier generations that she has chosen not to develop further. You will read major essays by authors from the first generation: Adorno, Benjamin, Horkheimer. An extract from Habermas’s  ‘Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere’ will give you a sense of subsequent developments.  The excerpts will be contextualized by comparisons with influential contemporaries: John Dewey, Erich Auerbach and Hannah Arendt. By the end of the course you will have an understanding of the foundational model of critical theory initiated by the Frankfurt School, as well as a nuanced sense of how their ideas might serve an analysis of our 21st-century present.

The mid-term paper will consist in a short exploration of a topic of your choice related to the readings. This topic will be further explored in your final paper.