“Critical Theory” is a name for a specific sort of desire—the desire “to liberate human beings,” as Max Horkheimer once said, “from the circumstances that enslave them”—and for the scholarly work that seeks to give that desire intelligibility, depth, shape, and reality. Though critical theory began in Post-World War I Germany, under specific conditions of economic crisis and emergent Fascist politics, it is not those particular conditions as such that define critical theory as a scholarly practice. What defines it are instead the questions that appear in the midst of such crises, as well as the grammars of emancipation that develop in response to those questions. Critical theory is therefore a special sort of scholarly work: It is work that renews our attention to practices of domination and to power relations of all sorts, as well as to the dynamics that subtend and sustain them, ranging from the crises and contradictions of late capitalism, to the theory and practice of instrumental reason, to the culture industry in all its forms, to humanity’s increasingly anxious mastery of nature, to the control of the non-West by the West.
The Amherst Program in Critical Theory was founded by faculty members from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Amherst College with the understanding that attention of this sort is more necessary than ever in this volatile moment of globalization’s adolescence, characterized as it is by intensifying political unrest and repression, rapid technological innovation, the rise of new and different modes of mass media, worsening inequalities, generalized environmental crises, the oppression of others in the name of democratization, and the growing obsolescence of modern political institutions.
The goal of the Amherst Program in Critical Theory is to create a space where the scholarly work of critical theory can flourish. To support this intellectual mission, the Program offers a Fellows Program to graduate students enrolled at the University of Massachusetts and to undergraduates enrolled at Amherst College. The Program also holds colloquia and public lectures, hosts paper workshops, facilitates publications of new works of critical theory, and promotes translations of works of critical theory not available in English.