Institute in Paris

 Research Seminar Series: Theory in Crisis

This seminar series sets out to engage with the most dynamic work taking place in contemporary critical theory. This series will focus on work that responds to the urgency of the present and attempts to map unfamiliar terrain generated by entrenched capitalist crisis.

Stencil street art on a wall at a metro line. Photo by Robert Metz from Unsplash

 Research Seminar Series: Theory in Crisis

This seminar series sets out to engage with the most dynamic work taking place in contemporary critical theory. This series will focus on work that responds to the urgency of the present and attempts to map unfamiliar terrain generated by entrenched capitalist crisis.


Stuart Hall and Bill Schwarz defined crises as occurring “when the social formation can no longer be reproduced on the basis of the pre-existing system of social relations”. Working within the wider context of crisis described by historians such as Giovanni Arrighi and Robert Brenner, this seminar will address the radical measures taken by state and non-state actors in response to different manifestations of crisis, with particular attention to race and racialisation.

How should contemporary crisis be understood in relation to the long history of racial capitalism? Achille Mbembe (2013) has suggested that a ‘Becoming Black of the world’ is one way of understanding the continuities and mutations of racial capitalism today, while Ruth Wilson Gilmore (2007) and AbdouMaliq Simone (2018) have mapped the ways in which crisis indicates possibility as well as limitations. Following their work, this seminar aims to further consider how actors and resistance movements improvise and forge possibility out of constraint.

Different modes of analysis on contemporary riots by Joshua Clover and the Invisible Committee have illustrated the changing grammar of revolt in times of crisis and the rich field of scholarship on logistics and counterlogistical ‘circulation struggles’ has also offered energising new ways of understanding contemporary upheavals. The re-emergence of Black Lives Matter, the ongoing pandemic and evolving tactics of the climate movement in recent years invites reconsideration of this excellent scholarship while much work is already being developed on the links between racial capitalism and the Anthropocene, as well as the asymmetric responses to the coronavirus and climate crises (Malm 2020).

In addition to specific manifestations of crisis, this seminar will encompass broader methodological questions, particularly concerning the role of theory and its limitations in representing or mapping new political terrain. Fredric Jameson’s work has helped clarify a view of theory that is both ambitious in its desire to map the world system but modest in its recognition that theory is deluding itself if it tries to occupy any didactic or pedagogical positions. However, if the immediate political role of theory is modest in this account, others have insisted on the powers of the performative, drawing on a very different linage of mythology inspired by Afrofuturist figures to argue for a more consequential role for theory  (Yves Citton 2010, Kodwo Eshun 1998, Neyrat 2017). 

2021-22 Schedule of events

29 October 2021, ‘Feminist International: Political Alliances and Challenges’ by Verónica Gago

Verónica Gago will open the 2021-22 Theory in Crisis series with an online talk entitled Feminist International: Political Alliances and Challenges.

Missed it? Watch the event recording.

10 December 2021, 'Planetary movements: willing, knowing, acting' by Engin isin

Professor Engin Isin will analyse the interconnectedness of contemporary social movements, inviting us to interpret them as 'planetary movements'.

Missed it? Watch the event recording

28 January 2022, Sandro Mezzadra, ‘The Capitalist Virus: Mutations of Capitalism in the Pandemic Conjuncture’

Sandro Mezzadra will address the current pandemic conjuncture from the angle of a critical analysis of contemporary capitalism.

Missed it? Watch the event recording.

18 February 2022, Aaron Benanav, ‘Post-scarcity economics: the foundations of life after capitalism’

Aaron Benanav will explore Universal Basic Income and how the concept of work would have to change, if work was no longer the condition of survival for the vast majority.

Missed it? Watch the event recording.

18 March 2022, ‘Warfare, Property, Law: Colonial Continuities’ by Brenna Bhandar

In this talk, Brenna Bhandar will explore some of the conceptual analogies between warfare and laws of private property, with particular attention to recent manifestations of crisis and dispossession.

Missed it? Watch the event recording.

25 May 2022, 'Crisis For Real' by Geoff Gilbert

This talk by Geoff Gilbert in the series turns to representation, and the category of aesthetic realism. Is there still (if ever there was) a role for realism, as a way of modelling and politically mediating action and its conditions? It will consider some of the shared problems that literary realism and economics have in imagining the real conditions of individual and social action – particularly, in including crisis within the constitution of reality, or in imagining the totality without positing equilibrium as its condition.

Click here for more information and registration.

2020-21 Past Events

26 October 2020, ‘Fascist Times’ by Alberto Toscano

Our guest speaker discusses his forthcoming book on theories of fascism, the utility of notions of periodisation, temporarily and crisis in the contemporary analysis of reactionary politics.

Missed it? Watch the event recording

30 November 2020, ‘Notes on Brutalism’ by Achille Mbembe

In this seminar, Achille Mbembe discusses his new book Brutalisme (La Découverte, 2020), which offers a major theorization of our contemporary political moment and argues for a new politics based on reparation and planetary awareness. 

Missed it? Watch the event recording

29 January 2021, ‘Crisis in Motion’ by Deborah Cowen

In this talk, Deborah Cowen explores the connections between infrastructure and imperialism.

Missed it? Watch the event recording

19 February 2021, ‘Critical Reflections on the New Definition of the Human Species’ by Etienne Balibar

In this session, Etienne Balibar gave a talk entitled ‘Critical Reflections on the ‘New Definition of the Human Species.’ 

Missed it? Watch the event recording

26 March 2021, 'The Crisis of the Future' by Benjamin Noys

Benjamin Noys’ talk explores his argument that we need to reinvent the future and return to the present as a fraught and fragmentary site.

Missed it? Watch the event recording.

30 April 2021, ‘Anticolonial Contradictions: Temporality, Capital and Theory in 1950s Egypt’ by Sara Salem

Sara Salem talks about the project created in the aftermath of Egypt's decolonisation in the 1950s and 1960s through an imagined conversation between Antonio Gramsci and Frantz Fanon, two foundational theorists of anti-capitalism and anticolonialism. The talk asks what the contradictions present within these projects can tell us about social theory more broadly, as well as how we narrate, theorise, and remember histories of anticolonial struggle.

Missed it? Watch the event recording.

21 May 2021, ‘At the Extensions: Urban Life Within and Beyond Capture’ by AbdouMaliq Simone

AbdouMaliq Simone discusses his ongoing work on the changing forms of 21st-century urbanisation, with a focus on the volatile extended regions of cities.

Missed it? Watch the event recording

Past events

Missed our event? Do not worry, we record most of our online events and make them available on our YouTube channel. Simply click on one of our past events below to view event details and access the recordings.

Programme contact

Queries? Contact our Programme Convenor, Dr Eugene Brennan

Contact Dr Eugene Brennan

References & Suggested Readings 

List of references & suggested readings 

  • Norman Ajari, La dignité ou la mort : éthique et politique de la race (La Découverte, 2019) 
  • Etienne Balibar, Immanuel Wallerstein, Race, nation, class : les identités ambiguës (La Découverte, 1988) 
  • Etienne Balibar, «Ce que devient le politique – mi-temps de la crise 1/3», AOC Juillet 2020 :
  • Jasper Bernes, “Logistics, Counterlogistics and the Communist Prospect”, Endnotes 3:
  • Stuart Hall, The Hard Road to Renewal: Thatcherism and the Crisis of the Left (London: Verso, 1990) 
  • Stefano Harney and Fred Moten, The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning and Black Study (Minor Compositions, 2013) 
  • Deborah Danowski and Edouardo Viveiros de Castro, The Ends of the World (Polity, 2016) 
  • Stathis Kouvelakis, La critique défaite. Émergence et domestication de la Théorie critique (Editions Amsterdam, 2019) 
  • Nadia Yala Kisukidi, « Le conflit n’est pas entre le particulier et l’universel » Revue Ballast (2020) :…
  • Deborah Cowen, The Deadly Life of Logistics: Mapping Violence in Global Trade (University of Minnesotta Press, 2014) 
  • Didier Fassin and Bernard E Harcourt eds. A Time for Critique (Columbia University Press, 2019) 
  • Didier Fassin, L’Ombre du monde : une anthropologie de la condition carcérale (Seuil, 2017) 
  • Tristan Garcia, Nous (Grasset, 2016) 
  • Ruth Wilson Gilmore, Golden Gulag: Prisons, Surplus, Crisis, and Opposition in Globalizing California (University of California Press, 2007) 
  • Matthieu Rigouste, La domination policière : une violence industrielle (La Fabrique, 2012) 
  • Anselm Jappe, La société autophage.  Capitalisme, démesure et autodestruction (La Découverte 2017) 
  • Frédéric Neyrat, Atopies : Manifeste pour la philosophie. (Nous, 2014) 
  • Frédéric Neyrat, « Horreurs et merveilles – de l’impossible », Lignes 52 (2017), 69-87 
  • Brett Nielson, Sandro Mezzandra, The Politics of Operations: Excavating Contemporary Capitalism (Duke University Press, 2019) 
  • Frederic Jameson, The Geopolitical Aesthetic: Cinema and Space in the World System (Indiana University Press, 1995) 
  • Katherine McKittrick ed. Sylvia Winter: On Being Human as Praxis (Duke University Press, 2015) 
  • Benjamin Noys, The Persistence of the Negative: A Critique of Contemporary Continental Theory. Edinburgh University Press, 2010 
  • Alberto Toscano and Jeff Kinkle, Cartographies of the Absolute (Zero Books, 2015) 
  • Alberto Toscano, “Notes on Late Fascism” in new window) 
  • Joshua Clover, Riot. Strike. Riot: The New Era of Uprisings (Verso, 2016) 
  • Grégoire Chayamou, La Société ingouvernable : une généalogie du libéralisme autoritaire (La Fabrique, 2018) 
  • Denise Ferreira da Silva, “Towards a Black Feminist Poethics: The Quest(ion) of Blackness: Towards the End of the World”, The Black Scholar, 44 (2) 
  • Laurent de Sutter et al, Postcritique (PUF, 2019) 
  • Jackie Wang, Carceral Capitalism (New York: MIT Press/Semiotext(e), 2018) 
  • Achille Mbembe, « L’Afrique en théorie »
  • Mbembe, Critique de la raison nègre (La Découverte, 2013)
  • Théorie Communiste no 26 (2018)
  • Yves Citton, Mythocratie : Storytelling et imaginaire de gauche (La Découverte, 2010) 
  • Kodwo Eshun, More Brilliant than the Sun: Adventures in Sonic Fiction (Quartet Books, 1998) 
  • Andreas Malm, Corona, Climate, Chronic Emergency: War Communism in the Twenty-First Century (Verso 2020) 
  • AbdouMaliq Simone, Improvised Lives: Rhythms of Endurance in an Urban South (Wiley, 2018)