Critique (2016)

Please note: This page refers to a course that has already taken place.


28 - 30 Nov 2016


PRIO, Hausmanns gate 3, Oslo


Nina Boy and Kristin Asdal


5 ECTS (with course essay)




Nina Boy (PRIO)

Kristin Asdal (University of Oslo)

Benjamin Noys (University of Chichester)

Angus Cameron (University of Leicester)

Rocco Bellanova (PRIO)

Kristoffer Lidén (PRIO)

​​​​​​​​What does it mean to be critical today? This course pursues this question by reviewing the terms of a prominent contemporary debate on critique across the social sciences, law and humanities. It will work with students to reflect on and refine the implicit and explicit dimensions of their own critical position.

Course Description:

​One of the most influential strands across disciplines for the last decades has been the performativity approach, which has assigned classical capitalist critique a self-defeating gesture of producing and empowering that which it seeks to contest (Latour, Callon). Perform​​ativity denies the stylized opposition between capitalism and its opponents as well as between realism and social constructivism. By some, performativity has been experienced as liberation from the foreclosed accusation of anti-capitalism, allowing for change in the small and concrete. For others, however, the position of 'anti-critique' amounts to an 'alliance' with power/ economics (Mirowski and Ni-Kah 2007) or owes its discrete charm to the influence of neoliberalism itself (Noys 2014). A core aspect of the course are the terms on which performativity can count as 'critical', falls short of, conditions or redefines critique. Course sessions will also examine emblematic scenes of critique in the modern imaginary such as the topos of the Emperor's New Clothe​s, and from there explore the (post)modern and post-crisis relations between power, knowledge, economy and critique​. The course does not require a set position of critique but rather seeks to provide perspectives in which to reflect students’ work. The 3-day course is available to PhD students across the social sciences, law and humanities and will be limited to 12 participants.


Mon 28 November

09.00 – 10.00 Introduction 

10.00 – 12.00 Critique of power and power of critique (Nina Boy)

12.00 – 13.00 Lunch 

13.00 – 15.00 Critique of economy and economy of critique (Benjamin Noys)


Tue 29 November

10.00 – 12.00 Performativity as critique (Angus Cameron)

12.00 – 13.00 Lunch 

13.00 – 15.00 Materiality of critique (Kristin Asdal)

16.00 – 18.00 Critique and (big) data (Rocco Bellanova)

19.00 Course dinner 


Wed 30 November

10.00 – 12.00 Foundations of critique (Kristoffer Lidén)

12.00 – 13.00 Lunch 

13.00 – 14.00 Concluding session


​​The deadline for applications is 9 September 2016

The deadlines for the course essay are 17 December 2016 for the submission of an essay proposal and 15 February 2017 for full essay submission. 


The course awards an optional 5 ECTS (according to the standards of the University of Oslo) upon full participation and the satisfactory completion of a course essay. Writing the essay is not mandatory. Students may also consult with their universities whether ECTS credits may be obtained upon active participation.​​ A certificate of attendance will be sendt to all participants. 

All participants are expected to read the course literature in advance and participate actively in the course sessions. To the extent possible the literature will be made available to students.  

Those writing essays should submit an essay proposal including a research question or title, an essay plan of 300-500 words and some references to relevant course literature by 17 December 2016. Full essays of 4000-5000 words are to be handed in by 15 February 2017. Essay submission should be indicated in the application form but is not binding. ​

Essay proposals and full submissions are to be submitted to Covadonga Morales-Bertrand ( Extensions may be requested in case of an emergency or illness (with doctor's certificate) but will not be given after the deadline. Essays will be evaluated by course leaders generally within two months of submission.


To apply, please fill in the application form. In the section 'Other comments', please provide 1) a brief description of your​​ doctoral research and the theories you are working with and 2) briefly state how you would currently characterise your position of critique. Alternatively, describe what draws you to the theories you are working with or interested in.

PhD candidates will receive priority but graduate students and post-docs from relevant disciplines may also apply. Current members of the Research School on Peace and Conflict are only required to register but still need to fill in the above-mentioned information.

There is no course fee but participants are expected to cover their own travel and accommodation cost. A number of accommodation stipends for the near-by Anker Hotel are available to PhD students who do not have access to funding for course participation through their universities.

Applicants will be notified by 23 September of the outcome of their application. Early applicants may request an early evaluation in an email to if necessary to make travel arrangements.

Course Literature:


The first session of this course will introduce the contemporary debate between critique and anti-critique. Since the turn of the millennium, the social sciences and humanities alike have been strongly defined by the 'end of critique' proposed by performativity and Act​or-Network Theory (ANT). Systemic critique on the other hand has gained renewed appeal since the financial crisis. The session will depict the broad contours of this debate in light of the question What is the purpose of critique?


Koch, R. (2002) The critical gesture in philosophy. In Iconoclash: Beyond the Image Wars in Science, Religion and Art, ed. B Latour and P Weibel (MIT Press)

Felski, R. (2015) The limits of critique (University of Chicago Press)

Christophers, B. (2014) From Marx to Market and Back Again: Performing the Economy. Geoforum, 57: 12-20

A. N. Mhurch, R. Shindo (2016) Critical imaginations in International Relations (Routledge)​

Critique of power and power of critique

What makes critique powerful and intervention effective? This session will explore connections of truth, power and critique by examining prolific scenes of modern critique. The topos of the Emperor's New Clothes symbolizes the modern distrust of authority and the ability to counter the authority of the sovereign with the authority of fact. Yet diffe​​rent to conventional readings, the tale has also been shown to offer insights as to why the sovereign remains unaffected by the revelation of the naked truth. Based on this discussion the session will look at the voice of the critic in light of aspects such as a marginal or mainstream position of critique and modes of attack and defense.  

Core readings:

Andersen, H.C. (1837) The Emperor's New Clothes (C. A. Reitzel)

Kant, I. (1784) An Answer to the question: What is Enlightenment?

Latour, B. (1999) Pandora's Hope, Ch. 9 The slight surprise of action: Facts, Fetishes, Factishes (Harvard)

Freud, A. (1900) The Embarassement Dream of nakedness in The Interpretation of Dreams

Derrida, J. (1980/ 2003) The purveyor of truth in J D Culler (ed) Deconstruction: Critical Concepts in Literary and Cultural Studies, Vol. 3 (Psychology Press)

Additional readings:

Foucault, M. (2010) The Government of Self and Others: Lectures at the College de France, 1982-1983 (Palgrave)

Butler, J. (2010) Performative agency, Journal of Cultural Economy, 3:2, 147-161

Koselleck, R. (2000 (1959)) Critique and crisis: Enlightenment and the patho-genesis of the modern society (MIT Press)

Larsen, L T (2011) Turning critique inside out: Foucault, Boltanski and Chiapello on the tactical displacement of critique and power, Distinktion 12(1), 37-55

Critique of economy and economy of critique

This session looks at the viability of critique and the relation of critique to questions of the economy. It will explore the performative and anti-critical turn which treats the economy as a network or assemblage that cannot simply be given determinant power. The session will explore the appeal of this approach but also its limits in confronting the opaque and global forces of forms of capitalism through a focus on the problem of mapping the economy. How can we map contemporary capitalism? What is the purpose of this mapping? How might we intervene in the global field of the econ​​omy? This will be a collective effort, engaging students' relation to these problems and interests in particular theories, texts and cultural objects.

Core readings:

Latour, B. (2004), 'Why Has Critique Run out of Steam? From Matters of Fact to Matters of Concern', Critical Inquiry 30: 225–48. 

Noys, B. (2017) 'Epic Fails: Scale, Commodity, Totality', in The Idea of the Avant-Garde, Vol. 2, ed. M. Léger, Manchester: Manchester University Press. [Forthcoming]. 

Toscano, A., and J. Kinkle (2015) Cartographies of the Absolute, Winchester and Washington: Zero Books. [Extract to be made available of Chapter One 'Capitalism and Panaroma']

Noys, B. (2017) 'Matter against Materialism: Bruno Latour and the Turn to Objects', in Theory Matters: The Place of Theory in Literary and Cultural Studies Today, eds. M. Middeke and C. Reinfandt (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, [Forthcoming] 

Literary readings:

Clover, Joshua (2015) Red Epic, Oakland, CA: Commune Editions [the session will focus on 'Years of Analysis for a Day of Synthesis']

Lerner, Ben (2014) 10.04, London: Granta. [Extract to be made available]

McCarthy, Tom (2015), Satin Island, London: Jonathan Cape. [Extract to be made available]

Additional readings:

Barragan, Y. (2014) Selling Our Death Masks: Cash-For-Gold in the Age of Austerity, Winchester, UK: Zero Books. [Extract to be made available]

Cunningham, D. (2013) 'Here Comes the New: Deadwood and the Historiography of Capitalism', Radical Philosophy 180: 8–24. 

Noys, B. (2014) 'The Discreet Charm of Bruno Latour', in (Mis)readings of Marx in Continental Philosophy, ed. Jernej Habjan and Jessica Whyte, Basingstoke: Palgrave, 195–210. 

E-flux conversation 'Paranoid Subjectivity and the Challenges of Cognitive Mapping – How is Capitalism to be Represented?'

Godden, R. & M. Szalay (2014) 'The bodies in the bubble: David Foster Wallace's The Pale King', Textual Practice 28:7: 1273–1322 

Performativity as critique

The purpose of this session is to provide an analytical and historical backdrop to performativity and its uneasy relationship to performance. The academic criticism of performativity will be compared with performance as critique. Performance is a mode of critical engagement​​ that includes satire, foolishness, paradoxy, tricksterism, cynicism/kynicism, comedy and, in general, making stuff up. Such approaches develop critical narratives that differ from 'rigorous' or 'scholarly' ones – but also focus on the mode of performance. How things are said and done, in other words, is just as important as what is said and done. The session will look at how and why performative techniques have been used historically and will reflect on the ways they can be used to analyse the contemporary world – in some instances perhaps being the only effective ways.

Core readings:

Hyde, L, 2008, Trickster Makes this World: Mischief, Myth and Art, Edinburgh, Canongate.

Colie, R, 1966, Paradoxia Epidemica: The Renaissance Tradition of Paradox, Princeton Legacy Library.

Sloterdijk, P, 1988, Critique of Cynical Reason, London, Verso

Feyerabend, P. 1975. Against Method. London: Verso.

Additional readings:

More, T, (1516 - many editions), Utopia.

More, T, 1508 – many editions) Praise of Folly

Manguel, A & Guadalupi, 1999, The Dictionary of Imaginary Places, London, Bloomsbury.

Chabon, M. 2008. "Trickster in a Suit of Lights." In Maps and Legends, ed. Michael Chabon, 13–26. New York: Harper Perennial.

Hind, D. 2009. "Jump, You Fuckers!",

Huizinga, J, 1950, Homo Ludens: a study of the play element in culture, Boston, Beacon Press.

Jung, C. G. 1956. "On the Psychology of the Trickster Figure." In The Trickster: A study in American Indian mythology, edited by P. Radin, 195–211. New York: Schocken Books.

Rabelais, F (1532 onwards.  Many editions) Gargantua and Pantagruel.

Welsford, E. 1935. The Fool: His Social and Literary History. London: Faber and Faber.

Materiality of critique


In recent years scholars within the broad field of science and technology studies (STS) have increasingly turned to the study of economics. The approach is of relevance to already established approaches. Instead of criticizing economics for deficient models, we must investigate how economics, through its theories, helps to create precisely this kind of rational, economic actor, it is argued. From this perspective, economics is understood as a material practice, a form of technology, and not as a theory standing in a distant relationship to its object of study. Even more recently, valuation studies have emerged at the intersection of STS and economic sociology, borrowing the concept "valuations" from the American pragmatist John Dewey. The concept "valuation" is employed in order to work across disciplines, and across "values" (as something "belonging" to sociologists") and "value" (as something "belonging" to economics). What do these approaches offer when it comes to doing critique and the study of the economy differently?

Core readings:

Asdal, K. (2015) Enacting values from the sea in I. Dussauge, C.-F. Helgesson, and F. Lee (eds) Value Practices in the Life Sciences and Medicine (Oxford)

Hutter, M. and D. Stark (2015) 'Pragmatist Perspectives on Valuation: An introduction', in: A. Berthoin Antal, M. Hutter, D. Stark (eds) Moments of valuation. Exploring Sites of Dissonance. Oxford University Press, 1-12.

F. Muniesa, A flank movement in the understanding of valuation (2011), The Sociological Review, Vol. 59, Issue 2, 24-38

Additional readings:​

Asdal, K., B. Brenna, I. Moser (2007) The politics of Interventions. A History of STS, in (eds) Technoscience - the politics of interventions, Unipub – (see in particular the subheading "from laboratory studies to ecology, economics and politics") (Available at Asdals page on


Critique and (big) data

This session will examine the impact of 'big data' and new data analytics on the contemporary condition of critique. Data-driven knowledge generation has been said to lead to the end of theory, radically altering the mode of research. The session will carve out a series of questions about the relations and tensions between data and critique. The first set of questions revolves around the issue of what makes data a good thing for carrying out critical research. The excitement about big data will be traced ​​to major epistemic debates about the foundation and practice of research methods in social sciences. The second set of questions concerns the forms of critique proposed or mobilised in order to tackle the politics of data-driven practices. Overall, the goal of the session is to explore the possibility of political critique when data names both the problem of government and the means to solve it.

Core readings:

ARADAU, C. & BLANKE, T. 2015. The (Big) Data-security assemblage: Knowledge and critique. Big Data & Society, 2, 1-12.

BARRY, A. 2002. The anti-political economy. Economy and Society, 31, 268-284.

KITCHIN, R. 2014. Big Data, new epistemologies and paradigm shifts. Big Data & Society, 1, 1-12.

ROUVROY, A. 2013. The end(s) of critique. In: HILDEBRANDT, M. & DE VRIES, K. (eds.) Privacy, Due Process and the Computational Turn. Oxon: Routledge.

Additional readings:

DESROSIÈRES, A. 2011. Words and Numbers: For a Sociology of the Statistical Argument. In: SAETNAN, A. R., LOMELL, H. M. & HAMMER, S. (eds.) The Mutual Construction of Statistics and Society. New York: Routledge.

GINZBURG, C. 1980. Morelli, Freud and Sherlock Holmes: Clues and Scientific Method. History Workshop, 9, 5-36.

AMOORE, L. & PIOTUKH, V. 2015. Life beyond big data: governing with little analytics. Economy and Society, 44, 341-366.

BOYD, D. & CRAWFORD, K. 2012. Critical Questions for Big Data. Provocations for a cultural, technological, and scholarly phenomenon. Information, Communication & Society, 15, 662-679.

BOLTANSKI, L. 2011. On Critique. A Sociology of Emancipation, Cambridge, UK, Polity (Chapter 5: Political regimes of domination, pp. 116-149).

CHANDLER, D. 2015. A World without Causation: Big Data and the Coming of Age of Posthumanism. Millennium - Journal of International Studies, 43, 833-851.

ROSE, N. & MILLER, P. 1992. Political Power beyond the State: Problematics of Government. The British Journal of Sociology, 43, 173-205.

ROSENBERG, D. 2013. Data before the Fact. In: GITELMAN, L. (ed.) "Raw Data" Is an Oxymoron. Cambridge, MA.: The MIT Press.

Foundations of critique

As reflected in controversies on critical theory, the role of critique in the social sciences and humanities is closely bound up with philosophical positions on the concepts of truth and value. ​​​In this final session, selected topics from the previous sessions will be related to central debates in the philosophy of science. The aim is to reconsider the overarching questions of the course in a perspective of epistemology and ethics.  

Core readings:

Hutchings, Kimberly (2000) 'The nature of critique in critical international relations theory', Chapter 5 in Richard Wyn Jones, Critical theory and world politics. London: Lynne Rienner.

A. N. Mhurch, R. Shindo (2016) Critical imaginations in International Relations (Routledge)​, 'Introduction'  

Additional readings:

Flyvbjerg, Bent (2001) Making Social Science Matter: Why Social Inquiry Fails and How it Can Succeed Again. Cambridge: Cambridge UP.

Jackson, Patrick T. (2016) The Conduct of Inquiry in International Relations: Philosophy of Science and Its Implications for the Study of World Politics. New York: Routledge (2nd Edition – or use 1st edition from 2010).

A. N. Mhurch, R. Shindo (2016) Critical imaginations in International Relations (Routledge)​, Chapter on 'Theory'


The concluding session will provide a forum to reflect students' self-understanding as scholars and to discuss the freedoms and constraints of critique and its intellectual and emotional ​​aspects in the professional field of academia.