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Deborah Mühlebach

Understanding Critique

How do we collectively promote critical agency that allows for social change? In Understanding Critique I explore the conditions under which critical agency may flourish. My main hypothesis is that there are different forms and objects of understanding which are crucial for critical agency. With the help of three case studies, I aim to show how the connection between critique and understanding plays out with regard to three core aspects of critical agency: the social production of critical subjects, the communicative dimension of putting forward critique, and the political negotiation of what counts as critique. Based on these case studies I shall show how fostering different forms of understanding and thus minimising instances of ignorance is crucial to collectively establishing and reinforcing critical practices as opposed to practices in which we merely talk or act past each other.

There are five major goals to my project. First, it connects discussions, traditions, and disciplines (feminist and critical race philosophy, critical social theory, epistemology, and the literature on understanding in the Arts) which tend to be kept separate. Only by bringing them into conversation I am able to answer my research question. Secondly, it advances the discussions on critique in social philosophy in that it theorises everyday instances of critique, rather than conceiving of social critique as something that mostly social scientists do. Thirdly, it explores the possibilities of how to counteract specific instances of ignorance, rather than merely conceptualising the phenomena of ignorance and understanding. Fourthly, it takes real world practices of understanding and critique seriously by illuminating the core aspects of critical agency with the help of three case studies with an ethnographic sensitivity. Fifthly, since the starting point of my research question lies in current political discourse, I aim to continue engaging in such public discussions.

Freie Universität Berlin
Humboldt Universität zu Berlin
Universität der Künste Berlin