Philosophy seminar - help

(13 Posts)
IndigoSkye Wed 06-Nov-19 18:39:52

Hi All,

I am a PhD student in health sciences and next week need to run a short seminar on critical theory. I am finding the reading material very hard going, reading about Hegel, dialectical thinking, the Frankfurt school and Habermas.

Any ideas where I can find this sort of topic in a easy to understand format?

Many thanks

OP’s posts: |
Awaywiththepiskies Wed 06-Nov-19 19:56:04

Oh dear, even those of us who work daily with this stuff find it difficult!

You might find a good way in is via literary critical theory - I regularly recommend Raman Selden's A Reader's Guide to Contemporary Literary Theory

The other way in is to read the editorial introductions to those works: Craig Calhoun, for example, is good on critical theory from a sociological POV. I think he's done some explanatory work on Habermas? (or it might be Bourdieu).

But generally, you need "Introduction to ..." or "Handbook of ..." or "Dictionary of ..." kinds of guides. As will your students, who will no doubt find this even more baffling than you.

I remember the first time I tried to read Foucault's Archaeology of Knowledge, as a 2nd Year History student back in 1980 - my friends couldn't understand why I was so wound up at coffee that afternoon - it was a side effect of trying to read tis stuff. It takes a lot of time!

AutumnCrow Wed 06-Nov-19 19:59:42

Who's the seminar for? As in, who are going to be the participants?

IndigoSkye Wed 06-Nov-19 20:11:01

Thank you for your suggestions, I did read some of the literary stuff and found it much more relatable, will have a look at what you recommend.

The seminar is for other post grad healthcare students, who this is also very unfamiliar to. I only have half an hour so it will be a quick summary, I just want it to be able to explain the concepts rather than regurgitating what I've read!

OP’s posts: |
Booboostwo Wed 06-Nov-19 20:13:23

Not my area but the Stanford Encyclopaedia of Ohilosophy entries can be trusted to be good

plato.stanford.edu/entries/critical-theory/

As an aside, this sounds like a very unfair teaching request. Asking anyone to teach a topic that they are not familiar with, with such short notice is a big ask, but asking a PhD student who, presumably, is new to teaching to do this is unfair. Asking someone from another discipline to teach philosophy with no background or support is outright crazy.

IndigoSkye Wed 06-Nov-19 20:24:05

I think the idea is it's supposed to help me understand it, they will have had a lecture on the topic before hand. I have a bit of knowledge in some areas but have done more positivist and realist stuff in the past.

OP’s posts: |
IndigoSkye Wed 06-Nov-19 20:24:46

Also thanks for the link @Booboostwo

OP’s posts: |
Awaywiththepiskies Wed 06-Nov-19 21:11:10

Basically, what you're looking at is a bunch of critical theorists who argue that most of our social/cultural formations - at both the level of society and the individual - are constructed through reiterative cultural practices which are related to the economic base (^Grundrisse^) but go beyond it.

Generally, that it's ideas & concepts which structure our society and protect power - that we (or our position in the system or power structure) are constructed discursively, as much as materially.

They're Marxist thinkers who find Marx & Engels' insistence on seeing society as purely an economic construct as rather a blunt sociological instrument.

They're also interested in modernity - Habermas argues that the emergence of modern society - thus capitalism - happened in the 18C via public discourse in the public sphere - the coffee houses, the newspapers.

Of course, he completely overlooks the fact that this was only 50% of the population ... there's been a bit of feminist work on counter-publics.

People who are more expert than I in this material will recognise my summaries as bastardised, but I hope they help you with a starting point for your teaching: that in looking at these social constructionist theories, we're looking at ideas about how society is structured via discourse, as opposed to materialist aspects.

And in my own [feminist] work I'm often really interested in the ways that discourse can have material effects. Tell a young girl often enough that she's "no good" at woodwork, and lo and behold! she'll likely be rubbish at it ...

Booboostwo Thu 07-Nov-19 05:41:59

A seminar is even more challenging than a lecture. In a lecture you can get away with passively presenting some material, but in the seminar you need to engage the students in discussion where any sort of question might emerge. I really don’t get this teaching task! Good luck OP!

Awaywiththepiskies Thu 07-Nov-19 14:16:06

On the other hand ... in a seminar, you can ask questions, and wait while the students process, think, and discuss. A seminar is where they do the work, exercising their brains in thinking on the spot, and collaborating with others in building knowledge collectively through discussion.

One way to help this along might be to pick some key passages from the theorists you're studying and do some close reading to really pull apart (analyse) what they're arguing, and how they present the argument (no content without form; no form without content).

DavidHide Sun 16-Feb-20 13:17:28

Not my area but the Stanford Encyclopaedia of Ohilosophy entries can be trusted to be good
plato.stanford.edu/entries/critical-theory/
eduloh.com/essaybox-org-review/
As an aside, this sounds like a very unfair teaching request. Asking anyone to teach a topic that they are not familiar with, with such short notice is a big ask, but asking a PhD student who, presumably, is new to teaching to do this is unfair. Asking someone from another discipline to teach philosophy with no background or support is outright crazy.

Oh thank you so much for your tips

NotDavidTennant Sun 16-Feb-20 15:48:01

Why on earth are students in health sciences having to learn about critical theory? Madness.

Igglepigglesgrubbyblanket Tue 18-Feb-20 07:44:25

I second the Stanford recommendation, that's where I go if I'm stuck on anything philosophy related

Join the discussion

To comment on this thread you need to create a Mumsnet account.

Join Mumsnet

Already have a Mumsnet account? Log in