Culture and Theory in Reactionary Times (Grad student conference)

deadline for submissions: 
September 1, 2022
full name / name of organization: 
University of Minnesota, Department of Cultural Studies and Comparative Literature
contact email: 

Culture and Theory in Reactionary Times

How do we study culture in reactionary times? Dominant critical approaches to culture in the humanities and interpretive social sciences in recent years have tended to focus on the “neoliberal” values and subjectivities produced by contemporary capitalist society, from the precarious laborer in the gig economy to the brazen opportunism of the “professional-managerial class.” However, it appears that the cultural and political situation has decisively changed, and the immediate future of modern democratic societies is less likely to be a springtime of rampant consumerism and liberal individualism than a “polar night of harsh and icy darkness, no matter which group may triumph on the surface,” as Max Weber chillingly prophesied at the dawn of the Weimar Republic. Our conference aims to explore old and new theoretical perspectives that can help make sense of the reactionary cultural climate that has exploded in recent years and shows no sign of abating: extreme conservative social values; racial prejudice; ethnonationalism; religious fundamentalism; and anti-liberal sentiment in the broadest sense.

Our keynote speaker is Dr. Robyn Marasco, currently an Associate Professor of Political Science at Hunter College and The CUNY Graduate Center.  Her research has focused on developing the insights of critical theory, feminism, and psychoanalysis for political theory and interpretive social science. Her first book, The Highway of Despair: Critical Theory after Hegel (Columbia UP, 2015), reconstructs the emancipatory project of critical theory around the idea of negative dialectics. Professor Marasco was the guest editor of a special issue of South Atlantic Quarterly on “The Authoritarian Personality” and her current book project, Critique, Politics, and the Family, explores the distinctly political concept of the family in twentieth-century critical theory.

We welcome abstracts from graduate students in all disciplines across the humanities and social sciences. Theoretical analyses, empirical research, and interpretations of specific cultural phenomena are all welcome. Possible topics include but are not limited to:


  • Marxist theories of prejudice (e.g. “racial capitalism,” “structural antisemitism,” “patriarchy of the wage,” “fossil fascism,” “coloniality of power”)
  • Psychoanalytic and affective theories of political extremism and desire
  • Ethno-nationalist/anti-democratic theories of culture (e.g. “the Conservative Revolutionaries” and the European “New Right”)
  • Fresh approaches to ideology critique (or meaningful rehearsals of existing approaches in light of our present historical conjuncture that offer an original contribution)
  • Contemporary historical/ethnographic studies of emergent and/or understudied political extremism (e.g. Le Pen and Rassemblement National), and particularly as they turn towards or away from the “West” as a democratizing influence (Modi and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, Touadéra and the Central African Republic, Lee Kuan Yew and theories of competitive authoritarianism in Singapore)
  • The “paranoid style” of post-liberal podcasts and news media, including theories of the “conspiratorial” (e.g. “the alt right” and “the dirtbag left”)
  • Consumer habits and cultural practices of fascist societies (e.g. Zionism and the “heritage” trip, anti-masking/vaxxing and disability rights, the general possibility of “ethical consumption”)
  • The present state of the “common”/“undercommons” and theorizations of its capture


The conference will take place in person from October 21-22, 2022 in Minneapolis. Abstracts of 200-300 words are due to conference co-chairs Alya Ansari ( and Kyle Baasch ( by September 1st. Notifications of acceptance will be sent out no later than September 7th.