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After Macalester

When I first came to Macalester, I was both very opinionated and very poorly read. Doing the critical theory concentration has revealed to me the sheer depth of my ignorance, but also helped me to articulate my views better than I could as a first-year arguing with my friends (or anyone else who had the bad fortune to sit near me in Cafe Mac). The Critical Theory concentration served as my introduction to philosophy, and gave me the means to think through the social and political implications of philosophical texts that often seem divorced from such mundane concerns. It helped me to develop my already-existing interest in film—allowing me to say a bit more about what I watch besides whether I liked it or not. It also introduced me to the German language (I realized in my second year that no serious Marx scholar could get away with not knowing German). Currently, I’m spending the year living in Austria and working as an English teaching assistant at a secondary school there. I’m not sure yet what I will do after I’m finished with this year, but I am sure that I will continue to find the concepts and texts that I explored during the Critical Theory concentration useful in understanding and interpreting the world.  

  • Augie Pomerleau. Class of 2023. German Studies & Philosophy

The Critical Theory department has defined my time at Macalester. Since my first class in the department, Critical Theory had its claws in me, whether I realized it or not. By the end of my junior year, I had almost completed the requirements for a concentration unintentionally–I had merely taken classes that I found interesting, which focused a lot on critical theory. It may not have been the easiest coursework, but it was the most rewarding that I have taken. Taking the time to unwrap the work of the philosophers we read both in class and by myself helped elucidate the ways that ideological components shape and alter the world, which in turn altered the way I looked at the world. In other words, the readings warped my brain by forcing me to deconstruct everything, especially the things I had assumed to be immutable truths. I brought these ideas and theoretical approaches to everything else I did, especially my other coursework. I always found myself using these thinkers’ philosophies when I would engage in other coursework like incorporating Marx’s ideas of capitalist value in discussion of the value of human life in a bioethical context. Even outside of the classroom, I find myself using these ideas and philosophies to contextualize the world around me, understanding how the world truly works. At this point in time (about six months after graduation) I am not sure where I will end up career-wise, but I know that wherever I do, the Critical Theory program undeniably has directed me there and that I will be utilizing what I learned in this department.

  • Andrew Shea, Class of 2023, Philosophy & Media and Cultural Studies

My experience with the critical theory concentration might have been a little different from others. I had the opportunity to visit Macalester’s campus two years before I attended. The first thing I picked up while walking into Weyerhaeuser Hall asking for directions was a brochure on a class called Dead White Men. Not only did the class pique my pre-existing interest in the didactic capacity of intellectual histories, but it also indicated a direction I might take in confronting that which weighs like nightmares on the brains of the living. The critical theory concentration allows you to aim a kaleidoscopic lens on your major(s) and follow those lines of flight which challenge your academic interest’s economic utility. As someone working in the world, this will remain one of the most important experiences I have taken away from my academic career.

  • Owen Sayre, Class of 2023, Philosophy & German Studies

The Critical Theory concentration has been the most fascinating academic program throughout my undergraduate journey at Macalester. My introduction to this concentration was accidental—I stumbled upon it while auditing a course on Marxism. Initially, I had not intended to audit the entire semester. However, my involvement in the class surpassed my initial expectations, echoing the psychoanalytic argument that truth arises from misrecognition. Accidentally auditing the Marxism course became the catalyst for my deepening interest in critical theory. What distinguishes the Critical Theory concentration is its ability to prompt reflection on knowledge itself. This program equips us with theoretical tools to scrutinize our reality and fosters a mindset capable of introspection about the theories we encounter, while integrating theory and practice—an especially crucial inquiry for students in a liberal arts college. To authentically study a subject, we must position ourselves within it to gain a correct viewpoint, and while the Critical Theory concentration doesn’t claim to provide students with a definitive
viewpoint, it empowers them to reflect on their own positions. Comprising diverse subjects such as philosophy, film studies, and social theory, the Critical Theory concentration enables students to develop a versatile skill set to address a myriad of problems. In our rapidly changing world—marked not only by technological advancements but also by shifts in social movements, consciousness, and ideologies—the most valuable tool is not a specific body of knowledge but an enduring reflection on various forms of knowledge. This, above all, is the invaluable lesson I gleaned from the Critical Theory program.

  • Yuyi Miao, Class of 2023, Computer Science & Philosophy

Like many, I stumbled into Critical Theory in my first semester at Macalester and never looked back. CT coursework challenged me to improve my reading comprehension, written, and verbal communication (invaluable in school and life), and influenced the questions I asked and the answers I sought; my education became less about what I was learning and more about the how and why that underpinned each topic. This framing was central to what I learned as a student of Environmental Studies and Geography, fields which call upon the social sciences, hard sciences, arts, and humanities. I learned to draw techniques from literary, political, social, and aesthetic theory to increase the depth and dimension of my studies. My ES capstone, for example, investigated affordable housing policy, urban development trends, and grassroots social movement to clarify the ethics of informal settlement in city-making and urban design. I’ve used the tools of the CT program to develop my academic, artistic, and social practices post-graduation and craft a life of questions, wonder, and experimentation. This foundation has helped me to look past what I’ve been doing since graduating — managing community gardens, making furniture, working as a chef — to ask how the work is done, why it is done, and “what could be different?” This questioning will continue to be key to building community in place, addressing social needs on micro and macro levels, and finding personal fulfillment.  

  • Daniel Westhoven. Class of 2021. Environmental Studies Major, Geography Minor, Critical Theory Concentration

I was searching for a way to understand my seemingly independent interests. CT encouraged me to understand phenomena by tracing the circumstances that gave rise to them, and then I tested the utility of this knowledge by turning to psychological research of today. It is a tad bit strange but it filled me with joy and developed my skills in interdisciplinary problem-solving. CT moves you outside the inevitable, disciplinary tunnel vision. You meet some of the most peculiar and creative professors. They are exploratory in their fields and demand clarity and precision. One day you are the spectator, and another voluntarily entering the arena. The first at Macalester who valued my interpretations of original texts and inspired my CT journey was John Kim. Then, there was this humble intellectual powerhouse, encouraging my funny essay titles – David Blaney. Joanna Inglot, to whom I caused numerous headaches, accepted this freshman into an advanced course and taught me for hours how to write essays. David Martyn taught me how to read when I thought I knew. A role model that inspired my psychology teaching has to be Althea Sircar – a creative thinker who encouraged students to take responsibility for their learning, at their own pace. And finally, the cornerstone, professor Kordela – who did praise my understanding of Spinoza’s reading once or twice, which was the biggest compliment at the time. I thank them for raising my own bar and encouraging me to think so boldly, while my ideas were still cooking. And to you, a wanderer: why not embark on a tumultuous and mind-altering trip? No worries, you will be humbled regardless of the entrance ticket, but the promise of exploration and growth is irresistible. What to say, I am a confident child of the CT concentration. They will take good care of your curious mind.

  • Janica Kozina, Class of 2021,  Psychology & Political Science

The first question that I always consider before writing any piece of written work, is this: what should I write about and why should I write about it? This may seem overly obvious, but it’s the huge first barrier in creativity. David Lynch famously compared this process of creativity to fishing, that one has their rod constantly cast out into the water, and waits for something, an idea, to catch upon it. The more I’ve thought about it, the more I’ve come to realize that the “hook” which catches these ideas in this analogy might be one’s own, original perspective. For me, my experience in the Critical Theory concentration has given me enough hooks and bait to last me a lifetime, and it’s one of the reasons I loved my time at Macalester as much as I did. Without the rigorous philosophical, political, and sociological scalpel of critical theory, I don’t think I’d be where I am today as a thinker and as a writer. By reading the works of Spinoza, Marx, Foucault, Benjamin, Nietzsche, Deleuze, Arendt, Saïd, and Fanon, among many others, I learned how to become an independent and critical thinker, to see everything through an alternate lens that allows one to deconstruct the spectacle of the world, its systems, its horrors, and its multitudinous beauties, to its parts, and understand how those parts impact humanity on a material and moral level. This effort was helped by the fact that I had the privilege of dissecting these works with professors who are, in my completely biased opinion, simply the best at Macalester. Professors such as Kiarina Kordela, David Moore, and Morgan Adamson, Diane Michaelfelder and David Blaney were without a doubt the smartest people I’ve ever met, and I’m glad I had the honor of calling them my teachers. They pushed me farther than I could have imagined, both personally and intellectually, and for that I’m deeply grateful. Though I’m not going into academia as many on this page are (though lets not say that isn’t absolutely the case for my future), I’ve decided to pursue a long held dream. I will be attending the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts to pursue the MFA in Writing for the Screen and Television. I owe all my success to my professors, to the close relationships I was able to develop with them during my time at Macalester, and to the knowledge, insight, and perspective that I was able to accumulate during my time in Critical Theory. It was in this community of scholars, activists, intellectuals, and outsiders that I found myself and my people, and I think you, dear reader, will find it too. 

  • Justin M. Secor, Class of 2020, Political Science & English

The concentration in Critical Theory is the most unique and, in my opinion, compelling part of Macalester’s academic program. While, as many others before me have also mentioned, my degree from the college holds the name of my ‘major,’ Critical Theory ended up forming the bulk of my study at Macalester and has served me perhaps most successfully in the years after. The program is not only incredibly rigorous in its approaches to key theoretical texts, but also helped me find a community of likeminded scholars at Macalester, with whom I found myself discussing course materials far after classes were over. Those friendships have also become productive academic partnerships for me on my current career path in academia. Participating professors in Critical Theory are also incredibly generous with their time. Under Kiarina Kordela, I not only gained valuable summer experience in research, writing, and article preparation, but also assisted in the manuscript editing process of an academic book and was able to precept for advanced theory courses. Professors David Martyn, Althea Sircar, Mark Mazullo, Morgan Adamson, John Kim, and Brad Stiffler also made themselves abundantly available for close readings of texts and other discussions outside of class. Due to the high caliber of mentorship through the program, as well as through the theoretical rigor offered by instructors, I found myself entering a PhD program in Comparative Studies in Discourse and Society at the University of Minnesota directly following my undergraduate years. This reflects not only the immense support I received through Critical Theory, but also the quality of my education in theory, which made me a competitive applicant at the graduate level—I currently find myself fully equipped to answer the demands of graduate seminars, which I attribute to my time in the Critical Theory program. Unlike other academic fields, Critical Theory provided me with invaluable methodologies for the analysis of the world that I consider integral to any variety of advanced analysis, academic or otherwise. If anyone is interested in chatting about the concentration or the opportunities that it presents after graduation, feel free to email me at [email protected].

  • Alya Ansari, Class of 2019, Media & Cultural Studies major, Linguistics minor

When I arrived at Macalester, I came hungry for an intensity, a disposition of learning that turned upon a vulnerable openness to the beautiful—and brutal—voyage of reading. Had it not been for my serendipitous fall into the Concentration in Critical Theory my first year, I would have graduated starved. But my courses in the Concentration were far more than intellectual sustenance. No, they were my lifeblood.  They were lessons in how to read voraciously, but never to satiety; how to pursue difficult texts and unearth inadequation in “simple” ones; how to sit with paradox, to linger in the agitated spaces between and within words.  Critical Theory afforded me the opportunity to grasp at poetic excess, to attend to the pathos that confounds and convolves distinctions upon which “meaning” is predicated, to experience something like a closeness—yes, physical—to language. If this sounds carnal and existential, it is.  It is the investment engendered by Critical Theory in critique not just as a mental exercise, but as an essential component of survival.  As I find myself pursuing a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature at the University of California, Berkeley, I think back to the felt something in those classes in Critical Theory that enabled me not only to grow as a thinker and a writer, but to become who I need to be in order to live on in the world.

  • Liza Michaeli, Class of 2018, English

The Critical Theory concentration greatly enriched my studies while I was at Macalester.  Although my major was Philosophy, many of the courses that fundamentally influenced my academic trajectory, introducing me to texts and thinkers that inform my current research, were Critical Theory classes taught in various departments. Social Theories in sociology, Marx: Ideology and Alienation in religious studies, and History of Photography in media studies are examples of such courses which helped me develop an interdisciplinary methodology of philosophical scholarship. More concretely, these courses often emphasized the importance of exploring the potential political significance of philosophical texts. Reading Aristotle with Marx, Spinoza with Lacan, and Kafka with Foucault highlighted how texts and thinkers, spanning different disciplines and eras, had the potential to be mutually enlightening. This style of teaching not only provided me with a broad foundation in the philosophical canon, but also trained me in a methodology of comparative reading that was attuned to the continuity between metaphysical frameworks and political thought, a method which has become integral to my current work. I am now beginning my PhD in Philosophy at DePaul University where I focus on early modern philosophy and political theory. It is without a doubt thanks to the courses I took in the Critical Theory concentration, and the excellent instructors who taught them, that I am able to pursue my academic interests at this level.

  • Joseph Bermas-Dawes, Class of 2017, Philosophy major, German Studies minor

When thinking back on my time at Macalester, I often date it as either ‘Before’ or ‘After’ Critical Theory. After just a few class meetings that first semester, I found myself fully converted. Religious comparisons aside, I had experienced nothing before and have experienced nothing since that brought me such a thrill—of learning, of learning how to learn, of reading more intensely than I thought I could. I date my time at Macalester this way because my thinking now is entirely indebted to that first course (‘A Kafkaesque Century’) and the yearning it would create in me to immerse myself in the world that Critical Theory opened up. The Macalester Critical Theory program is unique among American universities, and it would be a shame to not take advantage of it. In pursuit of a life in the world of theory, I am currently completing an M.A. in Philosophy at Duquesne University, co-editing a book on Jacques Lacan’s Écrits, as well as working on plans alongside two other Critical Theory grads for a self-published journal of our own.

  • Molly Wallace, Class of 2016, Religious Studies major, Anthropology minor

What I witnessed and took part in through the critical theory concentration at Macalester was nothing short of life changing. Before falling into the net of critical theory, I paid little attention in classes and was just a bit lost with what to do with myself, with my life. It was not until I began to grasp the concepts and methodologies critical theory during my sophomore year that I discovered a field that allowed me to expend my creative energies and desire for learning productively. For the first time, I found myself energized by a drive to tie things together, a drive that crept into everything I was studying, inside and outside the humanities. I’ve learned that nothing beats ennui quite like learning itself. My experiences through critical theory taught me (once more, with feeling) that being good to others is one of the best things one can do, even though that sounds like another shibboleth. Outfitted with the frameworks imparted on me by my excellent CT professors (notably Kiarina Kordela, David Martyn, and Erik Davis), I do not think I can genuinely “fail.” To fail in this case would be to not keep faith with how much what I learned at Macalester meant to me. Today, I’m deciding whether to turn toward a master’s degree in Social Work or to go after a PhD in philosophy or psychosocial studies.

  • Alexander Dolabi, Class of 2016, Geology major, Religious Studies minor

The critical theory classes at Macalester were the ones that renewed my excitement for school. Thanks to the critical theory professors that I had, namely Kiarina Kordela, David Martyn, and David Blaney, I felt like I got a fresh start in school and in life. A washing away of habitual dullness. It’s difficult to write about what the classes were like, because there’s not really a limit on what the CT concentration taught. A true liberal arts education rolled up into semester-long fragments, critical theory classes were everything from religion to philosophy to science to art to economics to politics and, beyond these fields, to anything unknown. It was an out-of-boundaries concentration since it didn’t limit itself to any specialty. I was drawn to the field because critical theory’s methodology was intoxicating and bold and humble. It saw and felt with blind curiosity. The concentration tried to meet the world on its own terms, in all of its complexities, in all of its nuances and structures, all of its sufferings and enjoyments and oppressions and mysteries. It cared about the world. I left Macalester with a renewed interest in school, a renewed interest in life, and so I continued with a master’s degree in philosophy at Kingston University, London, UK. I doubt that I would have continued with school without the Critical Theory concentration, which is a testament to the professors that make the CT concentration possible.

  • Noah Borochoff-Porte, Class of 2016, English major

I graduated from Macalester with a major in Art History and a concentration in Critical Theory. I took more than the five required courses for the concentration, and if it were possible to major in Critical Theory, I would have. The quality of the professors and the CT community were unlike anything I had experienced before. These people—the professors and my fellow students—remain some of my closest friends. Some say CT isn’t defined by an object (like Art History) but by a methodology, which makes it a fantastic tool with endless breadth. As a freelance researcher based in New York, I really appreciate this aspect of CT. With many different gigs going at once, I rely on my CT perspective to help me grasp different projects. I mostly contribute to catalogue raisonné publications (do you know your French theory vocabulary?), where I am able to put my structuralist education to practice by establishing and analyzing every facet of an artist’s production. I also help research and edit poetry publications. This work often calls for intensive ‘close reading’, which brings me back to the days of scrutinizing Kafka and Brecht with Professors David Martyn and Kiarina Kordela. Again, I find myself paying dividends to Macalester’s CT concentration throughout my working life.

  • Parker Field, Class of 2015, Art History major

One of Macalester’s defining features, across all areas of campus life, is the Critical Theory concentration. Though it doesn’t always get the credit it’s due. Students don’t come to Macalester for its stellar critical theory program; instead it tends to be something students ‘fall into’. I know that is what happened to me, but once I did something in me clicked. The lamentation of one of my professors that ‘no one teaches the distinction between signifier and the signified’ could easily provoke a room full of eye-rolls, but, on the contrary—and, for me, what really defines the importance of this program—such theoretical considerations suddenly become a matter of the utmost importance. This program, and most importantly the professors who shape it, push past the charge of reveling in meaningless abstraction to show you that this really does mean something for our everyday life. Before taking classes within the critical theory concentration the thought of continuing my studies after undergrad was unthinkable, but after just two years of taking classes I realized that I could no longer imagine a meaningful life for myself that did not somehow involve grappling with the questions raised by these professors. Even now, in a master’s program at the University of Chicago Divinity School, what I learned from my professors in undergrad, with the clarity, rigor and import they gave the material, continues to be my guiding light not only in my professional and scholastic development, but in how I hold myself and understand the world around me.

  • John Kreitzberg, Class of 2015, Religious Studies major & Classics minor

The Critical Theory concentration allowed me to formally name and study the subjects that capture my attention most deeply. The courses I took with Kiarina Kordela particularly defied expectations of a small liberal arts school classroom in all respects. She pursued thoroughness, accuracy, and deep understanding of every text we encountered. While maintaining the highest standards, Kiarina provides numerous opportunities for students to succeed in their own unique ways. My major was Art History, but I knew early on in my academic career that I didn’t want to pursue professional roles in an institutional museum or gallery setting. After briefly working in both such contexts, the experiences confirmed my suspicions. I am now self-employed and living in Brooklyn. I am able to combine my many interdisciplinary creative interests in the work that I do, spanning professional organizing, curatorial and image research, fashion and prop styling, modeling, natal chart astrological readings, and film production. Aside from having two working artist and filmmaker parents successfully model how to freelance, I attribute my ability to work independently to the skills, texts, and self-understanding encouraging by studying Critical Theory. I am able to align myself with likeminded friends and colleagues, while also directly addressing the problematic aspects of the entertainment, art, fashion, and self-help/wellness industries from within.

  • Maya Aguayo Schmidt-Feng, Class of 2014, Art History

The Critical Theory classes I took while at Macalester shaped me far beyond my academic career. “Thinking about the way thought works,” I remember was one of the first definitions of CT I heard, and to this day I think about how that definition does in good measure describe what the concentration has done for me: it has informed and structured my curiosity about many other fields of study. During the CT classes I felt almost dizzy thinking about whatever our object of study from a perspective that took into consideration the structures of power underlying it, and that allowed us to connect it to pretty much any other subject. I currently live in Mexico City, where I teach Spanish as a Foreign Language. I am also currently in residence at the Centro Cultural Border, organizing discussions and producing audiovisual material around the subject of social class. Here, through the questions about the relations of production and consumption that I am asking, I feel like I am continuing a conversation with the authors I started reading during the CT program.

  • Mariana Roa Oliva, Class of 2013, French and Francophone Studies Major & Media and Cultural Studies Minor

I started studying critical theory at Macalester because it was fun. Soon, however, I found myself no longer capable of breezing over my world (as usual), as these courses revealed a complexity of patterns that resulted in the disintegration and necessary reformation of vital aspects of my world. In those moments, instead of needing to move through space to observe a change in scenery, I sat glued to my chair as the room spun. These ‘trips’ were as exhausting and confusing as they were exhilarating—I was hooked in no time. So often, all it takes to impact a young student’s life is an excited professor, and the Critical Theory courses are those to which inspired, creative professors flock to share with students their personal intellectual explorations, their pet ideas, and their moral quandaries. Topics are dear to professors’ hearts, and it is no surprise that in these courses students learn also from the persons of the professors, not just from the lecture topic. The air in the classrooms and offices of these professors is rife with opportunities for mentorship. Without having engaged myself in the Critical Theory concentration I would never have been offered positions as a PhD candidate in the Religious Studies programs at Rice and UC Santa Barbara. I guess sometimes it’s just hard to know where you’re going until you start walking.

  • Tommy Symmes, Class of 2013, Religious Studies & Psychology Major

While I graduated from Macalester with majors in International Studies and Political Science, my concentration in Critical Theory was the real motivation for me to continue my studies. As a result, I will be starting my Ph.D. in the Program of Rhetoric, Politics, and Culture at the University of Wisconsin-Madison next year. Not only do I think concentrating in Critical Theory prepared me well for graduate studies, it was also the support of Professor Kiarina Kordela throughout the application process (including the invaluable advice that I get drunk to write my statement of purpose—it worked!) that ensured my success. I am incredibly grateful that I had the opportunity to engage with critical theory at the undergraduate level, both for the ways in which it has informed my thought and has been the catalyst for future scholarship.

  • Hana Masri, Class of 2013, International Studies & Political Science major

After graduating from Macalester with a concentration in Critical Theory and a major in Literature and Classical Civilizations, I worked in Washington, D.C. for the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness. Not only did my studies in Critical Theory at Macalester prepare for this position, but my ability to think and write critically, skills I honed through the Critical Theory courses, allowed me to excel quickly in the agency. However, I am now taking up my studies in Critical Theory and Literature again through a Master’s Program at Duke University, where I hope to continue my studies in Marxism and the Frankfurt School. The Critical Theory courses at Macalester have prepared me the most for my time after Macalester, while being the most engaging and thought-provoking classes I have ever experienced.

  • Nick Leyh, Class of 2013, English Literature & Classical Civilizations Major

My major was in HMCS with a focus in Critical Theory. This focus, combined with my work on German literature, opened the door for my current position at the Twin Cities German Immersion School. My classes and projects at Macalester brought together politics and literature with various schools of critical theory—from psychoanalysis to the Frankfurt school, from phenomenology to structuralism, etc.. I plan to extend this work with a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature and German Studies. I have already been accepted to programs at the State University of New York, Buffalo, and the University of California, Irvine, and I am looking forward to hearing from several other programs before I decide where to pursue further work in Comparative Literature and Critical Theory.

  • Leigh York, Class of 2011, HMCS major

David Martyn and Kiarina Kordela’s critical theory classes were some of the most fascinating and valuable classes at Macalester. Theory classes encouraged me to think about words as organisms with different mechanisms. Currently, I am taking a gap year in South Korea before grad school. Post-Mac has been busy: working at a TOEFL institute in Seoul, translating for two North Korean defector organizations and meeting a lot of cool people. These days I am catching up on reading, applying to internships in journalism, and getting ready for graduate school at Berlin’s Freie Universität, Media & Political Communication (fingers x).

  • Hae Ryun Kang, Class of 2011, German & International Studies major

Upon graduating from Macalester I relocated to Brooklyn, where I have become immersed in an arts community of radical queers and troublemaking challengers of the State. The latter half of 2011 was spent organizing, curating, and producing installation work for “MIX 24: The New York Queer Experimental Film Festival,” as well as assisting with the Department of Transformation’s series of experimental installations and performances. This, coupled with my work in the sex industry, has allowed me to live out my academic research and interrogate critically and personally what it means to use the body as a commodity. In the spirit of critical theory, my life and work is dedicated to challenging structures or institutions that inform the way we experience power, value, and production, all as an acknowledged part of the machine itself.

  • Melanie Raydo, Class of 2011, HMCS

After graduation, I completed an AmeriCorps service year promoting literacy in two North Minneapolis pre-school classrooms.  I currently work with Minneapolis Public School’s Early Childhood Education department, and will attend The University of Minnesota Law School fall of 2012. My studies in critical theory have sharpened my ability to interpret and synthesize difficult texts and ideas, skills I will continue to use throughout my academic and legal career.

  • Lauren Rosso, Class of 2010, Philosophy & Classics major

I graduated with a degree in critical theory from Mac in 2010. Because the concentration didn’t yet exist, “graduated with a degree in critical theory” is a metaphor for “took all my classes with what is now part of the faculty of the critical theory concentration,” and particularly with Professors Kordela and Martyn. I learned the distinction between metaphor and metonymy while getting a degree in critical theory at Macalester College. I also learned which of these two linguistic devices is related to desire, which to repression, and how they function with respect to surplus value. If the above plug is too abstract, I should mention that my degree in critical theory has prepared and enabled me to pursue, after graduating from Mac, a year of study through a DAAD fellowship at Humboldt University in Berlin. I am currently pursuing a Ph.D. at Columbia University in Germanic Languages and Literatures, with a concentration in Comparative Literature and a certificate in Psychoanalytic Studies. I doubt whether I could be as well prepared for the stuff I’m doing now through any other program, at Macalester or otherwise.

  • Ross Shields, Class of 2010, HMCS major, German Studies & Classics minor

Majors and minor aside, the proper name for the course of my studies is in fact Critical Theory. Right after Mac, I received a scholarship to study German Literature on the MA level at Humboldt University in Berlin. Although my proficiency in German language was not on the level of the native speakers, the superior preparation in critical theory more than compensated on the academic level—studying abroad in German was after all not scary at all. I just finished my Ph.D. at NYU in Comparative Literature—a department known for its theoretical rigor—and have received a three-year post-doc fellowship with the Zfl (Center for Literature and Cultural Studies) in Berlin, Germany. Not only did the rigorous training in critical theory provided by Macalester prepare me as a candidate for a top graduate department in theory, but also upon entering the program I felt on par with more advanced students regarding my knowledge in theory and philosophy. Having a solid background in critical theory (and, of course, proficiency in relevant foreign languages) allows me to circulate comfortably among several, at first sight disparate, disciplines, such as Slavic studies, German, Art History, and Psychoanalysis. This is because Macalester’s critical theory reaches beyond the subject matter, providing its students with a methodology reigning in a diversity of fields, and the ability to practice a truly interdisciplinary approach. In my experience, a solid background in critical theory is a presupposition for academic pursuits in any field of the humanities, arts, and social sciences, not to mention that it is instrumental in critical thinking in general, academic or not.  If you would like to discuss post-undergraduate possibilities that critical theory opens up, feel free to shoot a quick email: [email protected].

  • Siarhei Biareishyk, Class of 2010, German Studies & HMCS major, Russian minor

My education at Macalester focused on critical theory, and I took an array of courses that were at the time offered in the HMCS, English, and WGSS departments. After graduating with honors in 2008 under the direction of Professor Kiarina Kordela, I published an article derived from my senior thesis in the peer-reviewed journal of Psychoanalysis, Culture, and Society. I spent two years living in Minneapolis, working at a day treatment facility for children with autism, and participating in an array of social justice and local activist projects. In the fall of 2010, I moved to Durham, North Carolina to pursue a Ph.D. in the Program in Literature at Duke University. My academic focus continues to be critical theory, and I am particularly interested in exploring questions of epistemology, representation, and geography in the waging of power and violence in war zones. In turn, I am currently spending the semester in the borderlands of Arizona/Sonora, Mexico, dividing my time between working with direct aid organizations to provide food, water, and medical care to people migrating through the desert, and conducting field research for my dissertation. I continue to be attracted to critical theory as a method for apprehending the complexity of experience, and as a disciplinary formation that invites a deep dialogical engagement between modes of analysis and forms of political practice. I am grateful to the many professors who have been invaluable to my academic, political, and personal development, and for the truly unique and formative opportunity that I had at Macalester to engage in rigorous and sustained scholarship in critical theory at the undergraduate level.

  • Sophie Smith, Class of 2008, English & HMCS major

I studied mostly film theory at Macalester, and upon graduating I knew I wanted to pursue a career in filmmaking.  After two years of middle school English teaching in South Korea, I was accepted into Ohio University’s MFA film program.  I could not imagine a more perfect education for studying film making than what I received at Macalester. Studying critical theory taught me the value, in all things, to function amidst contradictions, and to understand the medium as far more than just entertainment. Over the past two years I have edited single shot music videos while working for the Washington State Department of Ecology. I have written middle class dinner party dramas while filming for non-profit progressive alliances.  I am now finishing a Documentary on Occupy Wallstreet as I pre-produce a Cooking Clown show.  I write this short paragraph because of critical theory, and upon finishing, I question the number of times I use the word ‘I’. But keep in mind, that’s just a prelude to what critical theory does.

  • Riley Gibson, Class of 2007, HMCS major

I am currently in my fourth year of the critical theory-oriented Ph.D. program of Comparative Studies in Discourse and Society at the University of Minnesota, in Minneapolis.  In addition to my own schoolwork, I am also the instructor for introductory undergraduate courses on cultural analysis, theories of history, and film study. My experience in critical theory classes at Macalester has been invaluable as preparation for both graduate school and teaching. There have been many times that coursework has been made easier by my already having read the class material as an undergraduate. And, in teaching, I regularly assign my students the same sets of readings from my Macalester courses or find myself using the same examples in lecture.

  • Brad Stiffler, Class of 2007, WGSS & American Studies Major

I’m a currently working for a recycling and environmental services start-up in the Middle East and I put to use the skills that I learned from Macalester’s Critical Theory courses nearly everyday.  These courses taught me the skills to translate roughly synonymous concepts into the various languages of international development, environmental management or municipal planning; building partnerships among a variety of sectors, and often divergent perspectives, that confront waste management. Although my professional life has not dealt directly with critical theory, I’ve found the skills to analysis and command rhetoric that I learned in those classes to be indispensable.

  • Jay Bowman, Class of 2007, International Studies & Political Science major

I majored in English, with a focus in creative writing. In my time at Mac, I took classes on critical theory with Professors Frank Adler and Kiarina Kordela. Currently, I am working on an MFA in fiction from UMass-Amherst, where my study of theory continues to inform, and enlarge, my understanding of literature. I plan to apply next year for a Ph.D. in English. And I recently read the whole Capital vol. I with an independent study group.

  • Lech Harris, Class of 2007, English major, Philosophy & Political Science minors

Critical theory courses were among the best I had at Macalester, leading me to write an honors project on Nietzsche and Capitalism in my senior year. After graduation, I wanted to continue working in this field and am now a Ph.D. student in the political theory program at Johns Hopkins University. What I learned at Macalester has made my graduate experience more interesting and productive, and still continues to influence my work. Critical theory is not just important to my professional academic life, but also to my everyday life. My consumption habits, reactions to media, interactions with others, political ideas, and personal goals and values have all been infused with the perspectives and philosophies that I read and discussed in these classes. Critical theory has truly changed the way I live and engage with the world.

  • Kellan Anfinson, Class of 2006, Political Science major

After 2 years as Exhibitor Relations Manager at Magnolia Pictures, I began my grassroots outreach tenure with Frederick Wiseman’s LA DANSE: THE PARIS OPERA BALLET (Film Forum, American Masters) and Nicole Opper’s OFF AND RUNNING (IFC Center, POV), before joining forces with Merrill Sterritt in early 2010 to create Film Presence. Since then, Film Presence has implemented grassroots outreach and social media campaigns for over 30 films as they prepare for their theatrical, DVD, broadcast and festival premieres with an emphasis on organizational partnerships and community building. Highlights include the 2011 Oscar Nominated WASTE LAND, Sundance 2010 darling BEING ELMO, and 2011 Oscar Nominated HELL AND BACK AGAIN. Macalester gave me a well-rounded foundation, combining social issues with film theory and analysis, which has allowed me to connect and engage with filmmakers, festival programmers, non-profit orgs, foundations, educators and advocates with ease. I currently reside in Brooklyn, NYC.

  • Sara Kiener, Class of 2006, HMCS major

Since my Critical Theory days at Macalester, I’ve chosen the path of a freelance writer (or perhaps it’s chosen me). Through my writing I focus on the fields of travel, culture commentary, humor, and researched non-fiction for the likes of Atlas Obscura, National Geographic’s “My Wonderful World” blog, and MPLS.TV. Additionally, my writing will be found in the upcoming issues of Paleofuture and Momentum Magazine. Despite the seemingly incongruent trajectory of my work, I can confidently say that I wouldn’t be half the writer I am today without the attention I received from professors in the Critical Theory program, particularly Kiarina Kordela. It was in her classes that I learned the value of thorough research, articulate presentation, and pluck. Perhaps most importantly, it also became ingrained in me that just because an argument can be made does not mean it is inherently correct. Together these skills constitute my arsenal as a writer. I’d be impotent without them.

  • Sarah Brumble, Class of 2006, English major

From character development and plot to diction and syntax, all aspects of my first novel Nothingrelied heavily on the Critical Theory coursework I pursued while at Macalester. A background in Critical Theory is unique in the contemporary literary world, and has allowed me to imbed philosophical and political concepts in my fiction.

  • Anne Marie (Wirth-Cauchon) Spidahl, Class of 2006, English & HMCS minor

Establishing a Critical Theory Program is a really crucial move for Macalester, responding to a long-standing need of many students. I’m a Ph.D. candidate in the Cultural Studies program at the University of California, Davis, currently in my fourth year and writing my dissertation. My research looks at the display of human bodies in science and medical history museums. I’m convinced that my education at Macalester—and in particular the courses I took that emphasized critical theory—were responsible for the fact that when I began the program without a masters degree under my belt, I didn’t have any catching up to do.

  • Megan Bayles, Class of 2005, English major

I was once rescued by Critical Theory. And when you’ve been rescued once it is difficult to give up hope. Hope is always in the possibility of an encounter, in the sense that Celan describes it in the Meridian, but also in the sense of that adolescent ideal of a conversation that would be absolutely satisfying. The two are very near. This is why the ethos of impossibility that, at least in my times at Macalester, seemed to hover over the Critical Theory classes, is partially misleading. What the excellent professors associated with this concentration transmit is the possibility of entering however briefly and humbly into a conversation that began long before us and will outlive us concerning the strange experience of being human, or beings who can potentially converse. And you may say: but what else is education? what else is literature? what else is being alive? Well, precisely! After Macalester I did an MPhil and PhD at Cambridge, taught in La Paz and Berlin, and now I am back in Argentina where I was born.

  • Tania Espinoza, Class of 2005, French and HMCS major

Dear reader—teenage soul or paying parent—please see this blurb to lure as a WARNING!  As a warning to what critical theory can do to you…. What did it do to me?  Having first been seduced by thought that swept horizontally across authors, texts, and times, I was spit out on a different shore.  Evidently, we didn’t square then.  Was it my sails or its wind?  In any case, after graduation I left the American academy—was it the elitism, or simply, the military-industrial-complex?  But after having moved from Berlin to Buenos Aires, and a few places in-between; I returned – this time to a place north of the border—for a second sailing.  I began to row in an institution predicated on never forgetting that some (more) always labor for others (few) to have leisure to think…. Today I teach political philosophy and economy with a taste of history (and bit of art, which I also make “when I need bread”), a combination that I love….  But back to where we started: please be warned that critical theorists—whoever they are—but let’s say for the sake of argument, those guys you see as young and old portrayed on the running collage at the top of the webpage—they do something to you that no drugs, sex or indie band can…they hijack your brain like cat parasites, and from there tyrannically rush through your veins, fill your flesh, and finally, they get your heart…so don’t forget your adolescence Eros!  Seeing the names of faculty appointed to the program; I’m called to thank my former teachers, and warmly recommend them to you by placing a word next to each of their proper names: Dr. Kordela formalize;, while not losing sight of passion; Dr. Martin listen; Dr. Adler lecture; Dr. Moore read….

  • Karl Dahlquist, Class of 2004, HMCS major, Studio art minor

The courses I took at Macalester in critical theory have provided a crucial foundation for me, both in my doctoral studies and in my work as a political activist. My honors thesis, on theater and psychoanalysis, became the writing sample I used (successfully!) in graduate applications. I’m currently in my fourth year of Brown University’s Ph.D. program in Theater and Performance Studies, beginning work on my dissertation. I credit my comfort entering this world to the courses I took in Macalester’s then-Humanities and Cultural Studies department, and the committed mentoring I received from members of its faculty. More important even than the material we covered in these critical theory courses (though the material itself has been endlessly useful) was the focus on developing practices of critical reading and critical thinking. I use these every day, in my research, teaching, and writing, and in my political work, organizing with social justice groups here in Providence.  What these critical theory classes teach is, I think, what we actually come to college to learn: ways of looking at the world that we can apply to whatever we might do afterwards.

  • Lindsay Goss, Class of 2004, English major

After graduating from Mac, I completed a year as a Fulbright Teaching Assistant in Bendorf, Germany. Since returning to the US, I have been working for AFS, a non-profit high school exchange organization, where I support exchange students and their families by facilitating intercultural learning and adjustment. My critical theory studies at Macalester strengthened my ability to examine situations from multiple perspectives, to challenge long held opinions and assumptions, and to delve deeper into the issues that present themselves in order to identify underlying patterns and connections. The critical theory classes I took at Mac changed the way I interpret and interact with the world around me, and I continue to use the skills I gained in those classes both professionally and personally.

  • Erin Howlett, Class of 2004, Linguistics & German Studies major

After graduating from Mac I went directly into the Ph.D. program at the University at Buffalo. My graduate work focused on Lacanian psychoanalysis, an interest I had nurtured over the course of many afternoons and evenings in the Humanities building. Even in a graduate program which imported students with substantial experience in a wide variety of critical disciplines, I found that my work at Macalester had given me exposure to a broader domain of authors and ideas than most of my peers, and enabled me not to start from scratch, in a way that many other first-year graduate students seemed to require. Courses in Critical Theory at Macalester were an extraordinary opportunity to approach the original texts that are rarely examined in undergraduate coursework. Beyond various philosophers (Spinoza, Kant, Hegel, etc.), I had read several of Lacan’s seminars, along with complicated texts from Foucault, Derrida, Butler, Marx and others. After completing my degree, I coached debate at the University of Rochester and back at Macalester before moving to a teaching faculty position at the University of Minnesota. All my successes as a debate coach and instructor started in my critical theory courses. I learned how to teach, read and think in new and challenging ways.

  • Mike Baxter-Kauf, Class of 2002, HMCS major

I was the first student to major in the then newly established department of HMCS, and my focus was critical theory. Now I work as an art critic in New York. I have written criticism for Adbusters, ARTnews, Modern Painters,,,, and the Village Voice, as well as catalogue essays for art shows around the world. I was associate editor at Artnet Magazine for five years, and am now executive editor at, where I write “Interventions,” a regular column on art and politics (as well as “The Art Lover,” a less frequent column of relationship advice). My book Art and Class, featuring essays about art theory and the economy, will be published by Haymarket in fall 2012. (A partial archive of essays is available at The foundation of critical theory absorbed at Macalester was a key impetus for the work I have contributed to visual art criticism, and continues to provide me with an indispensable framework and tool.

  • Ben Davis, Class of 2001, HMCS major

Since graduating from Macalester, my livelihood and work have mostly comprised teaching (currently at Anoka Technical College) and pursuing a Ph.D. in English literature from the University of Minnesota. I have my master’s and am ABD at the moment. My teaching does not relate directly to critical theory – one won’t find Lacan, Foucault or Deleuze on the reading list for my composition courses. However, my approach as a scholar emerges first (if not evidently foremost) from the background I obtained in critical and literary theory from Macalester professors such as Kiarina Kordela, Gitta Hammarberg, and Stuart McDougal. My dissertation examines the evolution of the concept of the body politic during the political ferment of the early Jacobean years in England, and much of my inspiration and insight concerning this topic arises from my ongoing engagement with structural linguistic and psychoanalytic theories of discourse.  The little library of theoretical texts I accrued during my years as an undergraduate continually rotates on and off my bookshelves, gathering a palimpsest of marginal notes. I have in these books, as well as in the discussions about them from my Macalester years, a collection of intellectual touchstones.

  • Steve Jaksa, Class of 2001, English major

For the past four years I am working as a ship-broker in the dry bulk chartering desk at Clarksons Piraeus office, Greece.  Clarksons is the leading ship-broking company with offices all around the world and headquarters in London  Although my field of action appears to have no direct relation to the critical theory classes I took at Macalester, I know that these classes have definitely contributed to who I am, and continue to assist me in my day-to-day social/working life.  Being the middleman between the cargo holder and the ship owner, I often encounter during negotiations a dead-end or some clauses that have to be mutually agreed. Such situations require me to be creative, imaginative, and open-minded in order to make the deal happen. The fact that critical theory courses broadened my horizons, expanded my thought, increased my critical thinking, and made me consider issues from a different angle, is one of the most positive factors in being successful in this aspect of my work. I would recommend to every Macalester student to take a course such as “Modernity and the Unconscious.”

  • Konstantinos Melissaris, Class of 2001, Economics major

Critical Theory courses, and illuminating conversations with Mac faculty and peers, spurred me toward academic graduate school.  Broadly interested in the critique of ideology and mass culture, I earned an MA in Cultural Studies and Film at UCLA before moving on to the Ph.D. program in English & Comparative Literature at UC Irvine, where I held a multi-year fellowship in critical theory and matriculated in the Critical Theory Emphasis.  I am currently Assistant Professor of Victorian Literature and Critical Theory at the University of Illinois, Chicago.  Throughout my career, Mac faculty have actively supported and inspired my work, and many of the questions that drive my research today were first formulated at Mac.  I hope, too, that my pedagogy reflects the dynamism and generosity of Macalester faculty.

  • Anna Kornbluh, Class of 1999, Political Science major, Urban Studies & French minor

After a series of rigorous courses on critical theory and my senior thesis, supervised by Professors Kiarina Kordela and Michal McCall, at Mac, I was exposed to a bevy of German cultural theorists as a directly enrolled graduate student at Humboldt University in Berlin. I highly recommend that undergraduates develop adequate German skills, so as to study at German universities (practically tuition-free, with work permits available to college graduates who directly enroll in the university) and to facilitate their acceptance to graduate programs in USA. Since 2002 I’ve been in New York, working in Democratic politics and pursuing a Ph.D. in Political Science at CUNY. I can honestly say I was disappointed in the quality of the theory courses there after my Mac experience, and my research has shifted towards more quantitative methods. Nevertheless, I still apply my learning to causes I value—the alter-globalization, environmental, and Occupy movements, in addition to relatively “left” American politics. Once it came to committing to a dissertation topic, I had to assess honestly what I could really wed myself to, which led me back to themes I had studied at Mac, reinforcing the importance of the choices I made then for my current trajectory. Still, I know I would have benefited from a more formally structured program on critical theory, such as the one that current and future generations of Mac students are fortunate to enjoy.

  • Jason Harle, Class of 1999, German Studies & Political Science major

My current intellectual and professional trajectory was heavily influenced by my studies in Critical Theory while at Macalester College in the late 1990s. Professor Kordela was an exemplary teacher of incredibly difficult but profoundly moving texts by writers such as Jacques Lacan and Kojin Karatani. Dr. Kordela was also a careful reader of my senior honor’s thesis on Western Marxism. After returning home to Detroit to teach high school for five years, I returned to higher education to continue my ongoing questions regarding Marxism, cultural studies, and critical theory. My grounding in these traditions, which I had been exposed to at Macalester, were essential to my success in graduate school. In May 2011 I completed my Ph.D. at the University of Pittsburgh in Communication with a Certificate in Cultural Studies. I now work as a Postdoctoral Teaching Associate at Northeastern University in Boston. In the wake of the “Great Recession” in 2008 and the recent “Occupy Wall Street” movement since 2011, questions of critical theory continue to be paramount in my thought. What is the relationship between politics and philosophy? Are progressive subjectivities possible within a world influenced, for instance, by the administration of culture? These questions do not have immediate or easy answers; rather they provoke the imagination and, potentially, illuminate human futures.

  • Carleton Sumner Gholz, Class of 1999, Communications & Political Science major