Critical Theory

University of California, Berkeley

About the Program

The Designated Emphasis (DE) in Critical Theory enables graduate students already enrolled in UC Berkeley PhD programs from across the social sciences, arts, and humanities to obtain certification of a Designated Emphasis specialization in Critical Theory. (The DE is not an independent degree-granting program.) Students admitted to the DE who complete its requirements will receive a parenthetical notation to that effect on their doctoral degrees. The program offers graduate fellowships, hosts international scholars, and presents lectures, seminars, and other events for the wider campus community and local public. Critical Theory also maintains important collaborative relations with other critical theory institutes and programs nationally and internationally.

Critical Theory is often associated with the Frankfurt School, a group of intellectuals who, starting in the 1920s, developed critiques of modern capitalist society, fascism, and the new global dispensations that followed in the aftermath of World War II. In doing so, the Frankfurt School constructed modes of social theory distinct from established forms of philosophy. But key modern concepts of critique had already emerged in various forms in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in the works of Immanuel Kant, G.W.F. Hegel, Karl Marx, and others. Critique has assumed historically distinct modalities across the twentieth and twenty-first centuries as well.

The Designated Emphasis in Critical Theory offers courses on the nineteenth-century notion of critique; on the Frankfurt School and other twentieth-century currents of critical theory and philosophy; and on contemporary forms and modes of critical theory, including critical race theory, postcolonialist theory, feminist critique, gender studies and queer theory, and the diverse approaches to critique arising with and after structuralism and postructuralism. The program emphasizes the centrality of theoretical critique in the examination of contemporary values, of the power relations that constrain and enable political, social, cultural and economic life, and of the modes of justification that legitimate historical and cultural inquiry and sociopolitical analysis.

The DE student community comprises approximately 100 graduate students enrolled in a wide range of established PhD programs across the humanities and social sciences at UC Berkeley.

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Only students enrolled in PhD programs at Berkeley are eligible to apply for the DE in Critical Theory. Students must apply in the first or second year of graduate study in order to fulfill the requirements of the DE in addition to those of their home departments.

Petitions for admission to the DE are accepted each spring for admission to the program. The DE in Critical Theory admits approximately 15 students each year. Petitions and due dates are available on the program’s website.

For further information regarding admission to graduate programs at UC Berkeley, please see the Graduate Division's Admissions website.

Designated Emphasis Requirements


CRIT TH 200Critique in 19th-Century Thought4
CRIT TH 205The Classical Frankfurt School: The First Generation of Critical Theory4
CRIT TH 240Contemporary Critique and Critical Theory4
Two Electives, selected from a list of courses offered by DE faculty, including CRIT TH 290

Qualifying Exam

One of the members of the student’s qualifying examination committee must represent the DE in Critical Theory and be a member of the DE’s designated faculty. These faculty members may be outside or inside members of the student’s committees.


One of the members of the student’s qualifying dissertation committee must represent the DE in Critical Theory and be a member of the DE’s designated faculty. These faculty members may be outside or inside members of the student’s committees.

Degree Conferral

Upon successful completion of the dissertation, the student’s transcript will include the designation: “PhD in [major] with a Designated Emphasis in Critical Theory.” This designation certifies that a candidate has participated in, and successfully completed, a Designated Emphasis in Critical Theory in addition to all departmental requirements for the doctorate.

Research Resources

A full annual calendar of lectures, colloquia, and conferences contributes to Critical Theory’s rich research environment. The ongoing participation of international visiting scholars and researchers as well as student-led working and writing groups facilitate dialogue and build community across academic disciplines.

With adequate funding, the Program in Critical Theory awards yearly dissertation fellowships to Critical Theory DE students with records of achievement and promising dissertation projects. The annual fellowships are open to Critical Theory students in UC Berkeley departments including African American Studies, Ancient Greek & Roman Studies, Anthropology, Berkeley Law, Comparative Literature, East Asian Languages and Cultures, Energy & Resources Group, English, Ethnic Studies, Film & Media, French, Gender & Women’s Studies, German, Geography, History, History of Art, Italian, Medical Anthropology, Music, Philosophy, Political Science, Rhetoric, School of Education, School of Public Health, Sociology, South & Southeast Asian Studies, Slavic Languages and Literature, Spanish & Portuguese, and Theater, Dance and Performance Studies. 

The fellowships support students writing their dissertations, providing full fee remission (where required) and a full stipend, usually for a semester. Other research grants of shorter term (including summer) may also be awarded, as resources permit.


Critical Theory

Contact Information

The Program in Critical Theory

440 Stephens Hall, MC 2340

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Critical Theory Co-Director

Poulomi Saha, PhD

Critical Theory Co-Director

Sharad Chari, PhD

Student Affairs Coordinator

Patty Dunlap

Phone: 510-367-0762

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