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Northwestern to focus on critical theory in the Global South

A new Mellon Foundation-funded grant will lead to global partnerships and new courses

Northwestern University is leading a new curriculum initiative that will bring together researchers from across the globe and a wide range of disciplines to focus on critical theory in the Global South.

The group of new undergraduate and graduate courses being developed will reflect contemporary, historic and economic conditions that extend well beyond a traditional European focus in critical theory.

Led by the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, the project was made possible by generous support from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, including a $1.02 million grant to launch the Northwestern initiative in December.

The courses, workshops, exchanges and other related efforts will be designed to deepen and broaden the understanding of critical theory in the Global South, an area of scholarship that increasingly challenges core assumptions about research in the humanities and social sciences and the methodologies employed for analysis.

The course development will depend on a robust exchange of graduate students who will work with critical theorists affiliated with universities in South Africa, Chile, Peru, Argentina and Mexico as well as with Northwestern and other U.S. universities.

$1.02 million
grant to Northwestern from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation

“These extensive collaborations will bring to the fore perspectives and methodologies from the Global South and contribute to their widespread circulation,” Northwestern University Provost Daniel Linzer said. “We expect they will transform teaching and scholarship in critical theory on an international level.”

The Northwestern grant proposal was pursued in cooperation with the University of California, Berkeley, which is establishing an international consortium of critical theory programs with funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

At Northwestern, the project was developed by faculty affiliated with the Critical Theory Cluster, one of the innovative cluster initiatives spearheaded by The Graduate School. The faculty include Weinberg College’s Jorge Coronado, chair of Spanish and Portuguese, and two associate directors of Northwestern’s Critical Theory Cluster: Peter Fenves, chair of German, and Penelope Deutscher, professor of philosophy. Both Fenves and Deutscher are Weinberg College Joan and Sarepta Harrison Professors.

The Northwestern project conveners establishing the new inter-university affiliations are professors from the departments of German, Philosophy, and Spanish and Portuguese, and from the programs of African Studies, Gender and Sexuality Studies, Comparative Literary Studies and Latin American Studies.

The project consists of 10 teaching collaborations between faculty based in the United States (Northwestern, Yale, Fordham and Rutgers universities), South Africa (Witwatersrand and Stellenbosch), Chile (Universidad Metropolitana de Ciencias de la Educación and Universidad Diego Portales), Argentina (Universidad Tres de Febrero), Peru (Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú) and Mexico (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México).

“The decolonizing of critical theory rethinks the field’s Euro- American traditions and challenges the roles of ‘North’ and ‘South,’” Deutscher, the principal investigator of Northwestern’s new award, said.

The project includes 10 teaching collaborations between faculty in the U.S., South Africa, Mexico and three countries in South America.

“Importantly, our funding also supports new 'South-South' dialogues: exchanges between research groups working on epistemologies of injustice in African philosophy and in Latin American critical theory traditions, for example, or on totalitarian Chile and apartheid South Africa as different contexts of critical memory studies,” she said.

"This initiative underlines Northwestern's leading role in the development of interdisciplinary approaches to graduate education and our commitment to creating national and international platforms for intellectual exchange,” said Dwight A. McBride, dean of The Graduate School and associate provost for graduate education at Northwestern.

“In these times, such engagement has never been more important and speaks to the vital role that humanities scholars play in sustaining dialogue, creating community and enriching world cultures,” he said.

New Partnerships

Northwestern has partnered with the University of California, Berkeley, where Maxine Elliot Professor Judith Butler is principal investigator of the linked $1.525 million Andrew W. Mellon Foundation grant to establish an international consortium of critical theory programs.

The new International Consortium of Critical Theory Programs (ICCTP) at Berkeley will connect and promote contemporary forms of critical theory that respond to complex contemporary challenges across the globe, particularly those relating to democracy, violence, its memory and the critical tasks of the university.

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This initiative underlines 
Northwestern's ... commitment to creating national and international platforms for intellectual exchange.

Dwight A. McBride
dean, The Graduate School

The new funding will support a number of international conferences on these themes, the journal Critical Times: Interventions in Critical Theory, the new book series “Critical South,” with Polity Press, and a new multilingual website developed during the grant’s planning phase.

This website — for a field sometimes thought of as primarily European in origin — already boasts an international directory of more than 300 critical theory programs, centers, institutes, projects, summer programs, fellowships and archives. They are located in the Global South, the United States, Europe and its peripheries, the Balkans, the Middle East, Russia and East Asia.

Northwestern’s new $1.02 million Mellon-funded project is among the new collaborative partnerships of the Berkeley consortium. The Northwestern grant to develop the courses on critical theory in the Global South also will fund the new international faculty and graduate exchanges of the University’s Critical Theory Cluster and a series of inter-university doctoral workshops, conferences and translations.

“We’re excited about our participation, the new forms of research connectivity we expect to explore, the potential impact on the way we teach critical theory and the new opportunities we’ll be able to offer students,” Deutscher said.

This grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation supports Northwestern’s strategic priorities to discover creative solutions, integrate learning and experience, connect our community and engage with the world.

Graduates wanting to affiliate with Northwestern’s Critical Theory Cluster can email Undergraduates interested in Northwestern’s critical theory minor can email Mark Alznauer at