Politics and Aesthetics: Critical Theory and Critical Practice

Fall 2017
Winter 2018
Class Size: 50
Credits per quarter

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Taught by

cultural theory and analysis
Steven Niva
international politics, political science, Middle East studies

This writing-intensive program will focus on the relation between politics and aesthetics at the present time. We take “politics” to be one name for the human capacity to do things together (for better or worse), and we understand “aesthetics” to be rooted first and foremost in sensation and lived experience (even if it more traditionally means the study of art and/or beauty). The Burkinabè rapper Smockey has coined the word pré-volution , to describe his work as a combination of premonition, revolution , and evolution . In what ways might works of art -- whether they be poems, films, paintings, songs, etc. -- not only represent episodes of political life, but also constitute a kind of pré-volutionary space in which to cultivate and experiment with new social positions and political possibilities? How might we develop a historically informed critical toolkit to expand our ways of seeing and feeling and doing things together?

To these questions we will bring a set of critical reflexes that will be cultivated over the course of the program. We will explore how theory meets practice by studying a series of contemporary and historical cases in relation to a range of critical and theoretical frameworks. Cases to be considered could include (in reverse chronological order) the Arab Spring, the Soviet Revolution, and the Paris Commune. Critical frameworks are likely to include work by Édouard Glissant, Kristin Ross, the Frankfurt School, Jacques Rancière, Rosmarie Waldrop, Fred Moten, and others.

The program is designed to equip students to test the hypothesis that aesthetic artifacts have the power to transform conditions of possibility. Students will read aesthetic and political theory, analyze historical and contemporary social formations, and develop their own analysis in ongoing written work that will be shared with peers and faculty. This contextual and theoretical work will be accompanied by direct practical work. Students will be given opportunities to develop their own aesthetic practices in relation both to the cases and theories we are studying and to the shifting contexts in which we find ourselves.

Frequent writing assignments and peer responses (both online and in real life) will be a primary means by which we metabolize these materials. This intensive independent and collaborative critical and creative writing and reading will be complemented by weekly seminars, small-group workshops, and weekly lectures; occasional screenings and a local field trip are possible as well.

Note: Steve Niva is only in this program for part of winter quarter. A bug in the catalog is preventing the quarter-specific indicators next to faculty names.

This offering will prepare you for careers and advanced study in:

aesthetics, history, literature, philosophy, political science, and writing.


Credits per quarter

Online learning:
  • No Required Online Learning - No access to web tools required. Any web tools provided are optional.
Class Standing: Sophomore–Senior
Class Size: 50

Scheduled for: Day

Advertised schedule:

First class meeting: Monday, September 25 at 12pm (Lecture Hall Classroom 7)

Located in: Olympia

2017-11-30This program will accept new enrollment without faculty signature.
2017-11-21This program will accept new enrollment with faculty signature.