• Year One
  • Year Two


Course Credits
Critical Theory 1: Introduction 3
Introduction to Cultural Studies 3
Critical Writing and Visual Culture 3
Critical Pedagogy 3
Total 12


Course Credits
Critical Theory 2: Feminist Theory, Queer Theory, Gender, and Sexuality 3
Research for a Creative Practice 3
Creative Nonfiction Writing 3
Elective 3
Total 12


Course Credits
Thesis 1: Propose Thesis 6
Internship 3
Critical Race Theory 3
Total 12


Course Credits
Thesis 2: Complete Thesis 6
Professional Practice 3
Total 9

Learning Outcomes

Demonstrate graduate level research skills through the thesis process.

Communicate ideas effectively in written and oral forms for a variety of audiences and stakeholders.

Develop postgraduate professional practice and collaborative skills.

Develop an understanding of how critical theory’s questions/concerns/theories influence your own research interests (through scholarly research and critical writing).

The required course sequence builds from identifying key questions and issues in critical theory and cultural studies, to providing students with the methodological, research, and writing skills they need to ask good questions and to investigate their self-selected areas of inquiry in a thesis project of their own design. The thesis writing occurs during the second year, resulting in both academic research and opportunities for public scholarship based on the student’s professional interests.

Key Skills and Competencies

  • Writing clearly and directly
  • Writing as a thinking mechanism
  • Writing for a specific reader
  • Revision
  • Unpacking how texts work
  • Thinking critically
  • Reading closely and carefully
  • Facilitating discussion
  • Public speaking and presentation skills
  • Giving and receiving feedback
  • Working with complexity and ambiguity

Course Descriptions

Fall Semester 1 (12 credits)

Critical Theory 1: Introduction (3 credits)

This seminar is an introduction to major concepts and questions in critical theory, beginning with key figures in the Frankfurt School and moving through feminism, critical race theory, and postcolonial criticism. The seminar claims critical theory as a creative project of analysis and exposure radically interested in accountability and the material effects of ideas. Because the course is taught in the context of an art school, we explore overlaps and tensions between critical theory and visual studies and investigate the role critical theory and artistic production can play in transforming institutions and ideologies.

Introduction to Cultural Studies (3 credits)

Lawrence Grossberg has written that cultural studies is not about “an object, a method, a theoretical paradigm, etc.” Rather it begins with a “question about the world.” In other words, rather than a discrete discipline, cultural studies is concerned with how methods and conceptual frameworks from critical theory, social sciences, humanities and the arts can be applied to help us understand the ways that language, images, history, and so on shape the world we live in. This seminar will familiarize students with key texts, scholars, and questions that have contributed to the field, from its roots in Birmingham’s Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies, its transformation of how we study things like youth, class, and popular culture, to current iterations both in and outside of the academy. Students will practice applying these perspectives to their own work and “questions about the world." Cultural studies is a vital component of the study of critical theory. It provides the “how” to critical theory’s “what” and “why.” That is, it demonstrates how to use cultural theories as practical tools for understanding, impacting, and intervening on the processes of everyday life.

Critical Writing & Visual Culture (3 credits)

This course models the program’s combination of critical theory, critical writing, and creative research and investigates practices of looking and the production, circulation, and effects of visual images.

Critical Pedagogy (3 Credits)

This course will provide students with the tools needed to foster transformative learning experiences in academia as well as sites of community education. We will engage with feminist, queer, Indigenous, abolitionist, and critical pedagogies. This course will emphasize practical skills for applying these theoretical frameworks to actual classroom or workshop settings. We will pay particular attention to facilitating difficult conversations related to positionality, accessibility, and social justice. Students will develop a statement of teaching philosophy, create original syllabi, facilitate classroom discussion, lead group activities, and work collaboratively on peer review.

Spring Semester 1 (12 credits)

Critical Theory 2: Feminist Theory, Queer Theory, Gender, and Sexuality (3 credits)

Approaching feminist and queer theories as tools for questioning power and analyzing the construction of difference, this seminar critically investigates genders and sexualities as contested categories of social and cultural analysis that influence institutions, economies, cultures, and political systems. Our texts will be interdisciplinary and intersectional, focusing on how sexism, heterosexism, and cissexism interact with other forms of oppression, including classism, racism, able-ism, size-ism, imperialism, and xenophobia. The seminar will combine required content with opportunities for intense engagement with specialized topics the student chooses to explore more deeply related to their thesis work. Students will be encouraged to connect assigned texts to their own areas of expertise and research interests

Research for a Creative Practice (3 credits)

The seminar in research for a creative practice provides a framework for students to pose questions and incorporate graduate level research methodologies into ongoing inquiry. The emphasis is on research as a process of critical engagement for observing connections between seemingly disparate ideas, planning future actions and strategies, and asking better questions. The seminar introduces students to writing as a multi- stage, process driven creative practice, and encourages inquiries that cross the boundaries of discipline and genre. The seminar prepares students to write their thesis projects. Over the course of the seminar, students will learn writing and revision techniques. Students develop professional skills for clearly communicating research ideas with theoretical and methodological rigor to various stakeholders.

Creative Nonfiction Writing (3 credits)

In this writing workshop, students will explore the broad genre of creative nonfiction— from small-scale constraint based writing exercises to the personal essay to academic articles to art reviews to non-narrative poetry and beyond. Through a variety of writing exercises, experiments, and reading assignments, we will play with language, content, and form. Emphasis is placed on experimentation and argument as means to develop a personal vocabulary while initiating a self-directed writing practice. A series of visiting writers will assist us in this work. The course is designed to support graduate students preparing for thesis writing, visual artists who use language and text in their work, and creative writers.

Elective (3 credits)

Fall Semester 2 = 12 credits

Internship (3 credits)

Students will design a credit-bearing internship to supplement their scholarly work.

Critical Theory 3: Critical Race Theory, Postcolonial Theory (3 credits)

This seminar explores Critical Race Theory and Postcolonial Theory as analytical frameworks that provide epistemological and methodological approaches to the study of structural inequalities. The seminar takes as its starting point Critical Race Theory’s insistence that racism is pervasive, persistent, and ongoing and examines how institutional racism, colonialism, and imperialism are embedded in institutions, laws, practices, and policies. The seminar approaches “race” as a social construction with material effects (racism) and investigates the roles language, images, and other forms of cultural production play in racism, (de)colonization, and resistance movements. The seminar will combine required content with opportunities for intense engagement with specialized topics the student chooses to explore more deeply related to their thesis work. Students will be encouraged to connect assigned texts to their own areas of expertise and research interests.

Thesis Writing 1: Thesis Proposal (6 credits)

This thesis workshop seminar is intended to support students as they propose and begin to write a successful master’s thesis for the Critical Studies program. The thesis (20-40 pages) will be both critical and constructive; that is, it should reveal, challenge, and dismantle systems of oppression, while also reimagining possible ways forward. At the end of the term, students will make a public presentation of their proposed projects, which will be evaluated by a panel composed of faculty, artists, and community stakeholders.

Spring Semester 2 (9 credits)

Thesis Writing 2: Complete Thesis (6 credits)

This course will provide students with opportunities to present, refine, and receive feedback on their written work. Regular reviews of drafts will occur in a combination of writing workshops and meetings with the professor throughout the semester. Each student will be provided with an additional mentor with expertise in their area of investigation. Final thesis work will be approved by the instructor, program Chair, and thesis mentor at the end of the semester.

Professional Practice (3 credits)

In this workshop-based seminar, students develop effective professional strategies to successfully pursue a chosen career path upon completion of the Critical Studies program. The course helps students identify opportunities for achieving meaningful career objectives and for making a contribution as a critical citizen. Students learn concrete professional skills: curriculum vitae formatting, email and communication etiquette, letter writing, interviewing, public speaking, job search resources, portfolio development, and how to apply for opportunities (which may include PhD programs, teaching positions, publications, grants, fellowships, internships, residencies, or exhibitions). The objective is to prepare the future Critical Studies graduate to identify, plan and pursue a strategy for meaningful career development and a rewarding professional life in which their talents translate into a significant critical cultural contribution.

Sample Readings

CRITICAL PEDAGOGY Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Paolo Friere (1970) Teaching to Transgress, bell hooks, (1994) The Undercommons, Fred Moten and Stefano Harney (2013)

CULTURAL STUDIES Discipline and Punish, Michel Foucault (1975) Essential Essays Volume 1: Foundations of Cultural Studies, Stuart Hall (2018) Mythologies, Roland Barthes (1957)

CRITICAL THEORY Are Prisons Obsolete? Angela Davis (2003) Black Skin White Masks, Frantz Fanon (1952) Capital is Dead. Is This Something Worse?, McKenzie Wark (2021) Terrorist Assemblages, Jasbir Puar (2007)

QUEER AND FEMINIST THEORY Black on Both Sides, C. Riley Snorton (2017) Exile and Pride, Eli Clare (1999) Living a Feminist Life, Sara Ahmed (2017) Wayward Lives Beautiful Experiments, Saidiya Hartman (2019)

CRITICAL RACE THEORY Black, White, and in Color: Essays on American Literature and Culture, Hortense Spillers (2003) In the Wake, Christina Sharpe (2016) Lose Your Mother, Saidiya Hartman (2006)



Reach out to MA in Critical Studies Chair, Shawna Lipton, to schedule a tour or to learn more about the program.

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