Paris: Social Sciences - Critical Theory

Looking out from a sculpture garden within the Centre Pompidou, one can see the Eiffel Tower.

Program Term:


Language Requirement:



 Kylie Poulin

Application Deadline:


Please note: Offered in alternating years. Following the Winter 2022 program, the next program will run in Winter 2024.

The College’s new Contemporary Critical Theory sequence in Paris is offered in partnership with the Chicago Center for Contemporary Theory. Known as 3CT, the Center is a space for the critical discussion and reimagination of social, political, and cultural processes in the world today.

    The Critical Theory program’s courses explore some prevailing themes in contemporary critical theory. Although the term “critical theory” is sometimes associated narrowly with the Frankfurt School, this set of seminars will approach the topic more broadly, putting race and gender, as well as class, at the center of analysis.

    The thematic focus in Winter 2022 will be on capitalism, empire, and ideology, with an emphasis on the dialectical relationships between structure and agency, efforts to diagnose current impasses to human flourishing, and the range of possibilities and impediments to emancipatory politics in the present. Students will learn how to engage in immanent critique, to identify generative tensions in authors’ arguments, and to understand current debates in terms of historical antecedents and ruptures.

    Independent reading and class discussions will be complemented by a series of visiting speakers and group excursions.

    The following courses will be offered in Winter 2022:

    Topics in Contemporary Critical Theory 1
    Kaushik Sunder Rajan
    , Professor of Anthropology and of Social Sciences in the College and Co-Director of the Chicago Center for Contemporary Theory

    This class considers the question of capital, historically, comparatively and conceptually. What is capital? How is it related to value? How is it different from money? How does it work to organize social relations? In what forms, and through what institutional structures, does it materialize? How does it reflect in modes and relations of production? How is it governed, and what is its relation to the political?

    This course will enter into such questions, in the first instance, through a reading of Karl Marx. It will subsequently traverse a heterodox genealogy of Marxist social thought (with some emphasis on French theorists), in order to understand how a method of analysis developed to come to terms with nineteenth century European industrial capitalism might help us understand contemporary worlds of extraction, logistics and finance in comparative perspective. We will consider how capital is racialized and gendered, how it has expanded and mutated across place and over time, and what it means that we live in a time today when it is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism.

    Topics in Contemporary Critical Theory 2
    Kaushik Sunder Rajan
    , Professor of Anthropology and of Social Sciences in the College and Co-Director of the Chicago Center for Contemporary Theory, and Lisa Wedeen, Mary R. Morton Professor of Political Science and the College and Co-Director of the Chicago Center for Contemporary Theory

    This course investigates the central place of empires in the shaping of the modern world and understands critical theory as inextricable from its colonial context. We will read authors including Montaigne, Diderot, Tocqueville, Du Bois, Aimé Césaire, Suzanne Césaire, Fanon, Foucault, Said, and Trouillot, as well as contemporary theorists including Luce Irigaray, Achille Mbembe, David Scott, Françoise Vergès, and Joan Scott; we will pay particular but not exclusive attention to the context of French imperialism and to Paris as a site of theorizing, and critique of, the imperial global order.

    Topics in Contemporary Critical Theory 3
    Lisa Wedeen
    , Mary R. Morton Professor of Political Science and the College and Co-Director of the Chicago Center for Contemporary Theory

    This course examines selections from the vast literature on ideology—with attention to the political commitments and intellectual genealogies that have made the concept both important and vexed. The bulk of the course will entail examining ideology’s relationship to material practice, the notion of interpellation, the usefulness of “hegemony,” and the problems associated with false consciousness. We shall also analyze ideology’s connection to prevailing theoretical and empirical concerns, such as those related to “subject” formation, affect, new developments in capitalism, the resurgence of populism, and the dynamics associated with contemporary “democratic” liberal, as well as authoritarian, political orders.

    Headquarters for the College’s study abroad programs in Paris is the University of Chicago Center in Paris, the University’s research and teaching arm in Europe. Situated in the thirteenth arrondissement, the Center in Paris is part of an ambitious intellectual project along the river Seine, including the Bibliothèque Nationale and a new home for Université de Paris (formerly Université Denis Diderot - Paris VII). The Center in Paris features classrooms, offices for faculty and graduate students, computer facilities, a small library, and an apartment for the faculty director. For participants in Chicago’s programs, the Center in Paris provides a focus for academic activities, a central meeting place, and a continuing Chicago “presence” within one of the major capitals of Europe.

    Students in the Critical Theory program are housed in a residence hall within the Cité Internationale Universitaire (Cité). The Cité, a park-like residential complex in the fourteenth arrondissement, is the international student campus in Paris, though French students also live there. Students reside in single rooms with a private bath and have access to Cité facilities, including a library, theater, laundry, and athletic facilities. Students will have access to common kitchens in the residence halls and can purchase inexpensive meals at the Cité’s restaurant universitaire.

    Participants in the Critical Theory program remain registered as full-time students in the College. They receive one credit for each of the four courses offered through the program. The Critical Theory courses are based within the Chicago Center for Contemporary Theory and have been pre-approved for cross-listing in the Departments of Political Science and Anthropology. Information on further departmental affiliations is forthcoming.

    The use of any of these courses in another major is subject to the approval of the undergraduate chair of the respective department. All courses are usable, without further approval, as general electives. The language course will normally count as an elective. Course titles, units of credit, and grades are placed on the College transcript.

    Please note that these courses may not be used to satisfy the general education social sciences requirement.

    Study abroad students pay regular College tuition, a program fee, and a nonrefundable study abroad administrative fee. The tuition and program fee are paid in conformity with the home campus payment schedule, and the nonrefundable study abroad administrative fee is submitted when accepting a place in a program. Precise figures for the Critical Theory program during the 2021–2022 year are listed below:

    Winter tuition: as set by the Bursar’s Office

    Study abroad administrative fee: $675

    Paris Social Sciences program fee: $4,975

    Program fee includes:

    Out-of-pocket expenses include:

    • round-trip airfare to and from the program site
    • transportation on site
    • meals
    • course materials
    • personal entertainment and travel
    • communications (including cell phone usage)
    • health insurance and upfront payments for care
    • other miscellaneous expenses

    Previous program participants report spending in the range of $200 to $250 per week on meals and incidentals while on the program, though frugal students may spend less, and others could spend much more. Bear in mind that the cost of living in Paris is relatively high and that, while it is possible to live frugally, it is also possible to run short of money if you are unwary. It is therefore essential that you budget your funds prudently, apportioning your resources so that they last for the duration of the program. If you are planning to travel before or after the program or on weekends, you should budget accordingly.

    Study abroad students retain their financial aid eligibility. For more information about financial aid resources, please see our Tuition, Fees, and Funding section.

    The Critical Theory program is open to University of Chicago undergraduate students only. Applications from outside the University are not accepted.

    The program is designed for undergraduates in good standing who are beyond their first year in the College. While the program stipulates no minimum grade-point average, an applicant’s transcript should demonstrate that they are a serious student who will make the most of this opportunity. Because the program courses (aside from the French class) are taught in English, there is no language prerequisite, although students are encouraged to take French on campus before the program begins.

    Each application is examined on the basis of the student’s scholastic record and personal statement. If you are interested in applying for this program please fill out the online application.

    To discuss the Paris Critical Theory program and the possibility of participating, please contact Kylie Poulin.

    Photo: “Centre Pompidou” by Kyle Tingling, ’21