Studying Critical Theory

The Critical Theory seminar at Ashbourne College is a fascinating and unique project that has developed at over the last few years. It introduces students to the wide variety of issues and concepts that have developed from the study of Psychoanalysis, Marxism, Feminism and Linguistics. It is led by Wesley Rykalski (History and Media Studies) and James Wykes (English and Drama), but students from a wide variety of subjects have played a major role in determining the subject content and direction.

The Seminar exists in order to stimulate and fascinate students with original, complex and provocative ideas, but has also proved extremely useful in supporting coursework projects, extended projects and exam work in English, History, Film Studies, Art and Media studies. Students have found it to be a particularly powerful asset when applying to top level universities.

The seminar meets once a week to discuss a variety of literary, philosophical and sociological ideas drawn mainly from the traditions of continental philosophy.

Seminars that students have been particularly enjoyed this year include:

  • Jacques Lacan reads Cloverfield (Lacan’s psychoanalytic registers.)
  • The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema (Slavoj Zizek reads film through Freud and Lacan)
  • The sex lives of the Ancient Greeks (Michel Foucault: The History of Sexuality)
  • The true meaning of Toothpaste (Roland Barthes, Mythologies.)
  • Why you shouldn’t trust Tim Minchin (Roland Barthes, S/Z.)
  • A Short History of the Dangers of Jam (Marx / Althusser.)
  • Postmodernism, or why Being a Dickhead is Cool.

Critical theory at Ashbourne is always evolving and changing and in the Autumn Term this year we began with a study of ideology, exploring the various ideas ranging from Marx to Althusser. We also explored and evaluated Theodor Adorno’s concept of The Culture Industry and how it relates to the modern consumption of media and culture.

A pleasing side effect of this project is that many ex Ashbourne students have maintained membership of the Seminar and continue to contribute to the blog stream from various universities. A splinter reading group has also developed this year involving teachers, current students and ex students dedicated to a close reading of Deleuze and Guattari’s difficult and highly influential book, A Thousand Plateaus.