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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).

2023-24 Schedule of events

References & Suggested Readings 

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.

2021-22 Past Events

2020-21 Past Events

Programme contact

Queries? Contact our Programme Convenor, Dr Eugene Brennan