Curriculum

Our curriculum focuses on the role critical theory and art can play in transforming institutions and ideologies.

  • Year One
  • Year Two

Fall

Course Credits
Critical Theory 1: Introduction 3
Introduction to Cultural Studies 3
Ethics & Visual Culture 3
Elective 3
Total 12

Spring

Course Credits
Critical Theory 2: Feminist Theory, Queer Theory, Gender, and Sexuality 3
Research for a Creative Practice 2 3
Creative Non-Fiction Writing 3
Elective 3
Total 12

Fall

Course Credits
Critical Theory 3: Critical Race Theory and Postcolonial Theory 3
Thesis Writing 1 6
Total 9

Spring

Course Credits
Thesis Writing 2: Preparing for Publication 6
Internships 3
Professional Practice 3
Total 12

Course Descriptions

Critical Theory Seminars

(9 credits)

In three critical theory seminars, students learn to read and write carefully and critically; to express ideas clearly; to hold multiple perspectives simultaneously; and to analyze ideas based on their material effects. The critical theory seminars form the intellectual foundation of the program and constitute the students’ shared texts. The seminars introduce students to major concepts and questions in critical theory – and, as the seminars build on one another, they become more focused on particular lines of thought within critical theory. The seminars approach critical theory/ies as epistemological and methodological approaches to the study of structural inequalities and as tools for questioning power and analyzing the construction of difference. Because the courses are taught in the context of an art school, particular attention is paid to exploring overlaps and tensions between critical theory and visual studies and investigating the role critical theory and the image can play in transforming institutions and ideologies. In each seminar, students will be exposed to a required set of texts and will also have the opportunity to connect the assigned topics to their own area of expertise and interest. Courses will combine both requisite content and opportunities for intense engagement with specialized topics in which the student chooses to read more deeply.

Introduction to Cultural Studies

(3 credits)

Lawrence Grossberg has written that cultural studies is not about “an object, a method, a theoretical paradigm, etc.” Rather it begins with a “question about the world.” In other words, rather than a discrete discipline, cultural studies is concerned with how methods and conceptual frameworks from critical theory, social sciences, humanities and the arts can be applied to help us understand the ways that language, images, history, and so on shape the world we live in. Most importantly, cultural studies foregrounds the political and theoretical importance of understanding how cultural processes (the production, distribution, regulation and consumption of cultural artifacts) are structured through relations to power. This seminar will familiarize students with key texts, scholars, and questions that have contributed to the field, from its roots in Birminghams’ Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies, its transformation of how we study things like youth, class, and popular culture, to current iterations both in and outside of the academy. Students will practice applying these perspectives to their own work and “questions about the world." Cultural studies is a vital component of the study of critical theory. It provides the “how” to critical theory’s “what” and “why.” That is, it demonstrates how to use cultural theories as practical tools for understanding, impacting, and intervening on the processes of everyday life.

Research for a Creative Practice Seminar

(3 credits)

The seminar in research for a creative practice provides a framework for students to pose questions and incorporate qualitative research methodologies into ongoing inquiry. The emphasis is on research as a process of critical engagement for observing connections between seemingly disparate ideas, planning future actions and strategies, and asking better questions. The seminar introduces students to a range of qualitative research methods and examples of creative inquiries that cross the boundaries of discipline and genre. The seminar also prepares students to write their thesis projects. By the end of the seminar, students write a literature review of relevant theorists, artists, and creative practices that inform their thesis work and are well prepared to transform core concepts and questions into a novel, researchable project that will make a contribution to the field. In addition, students develop professional skills for clearly communicating research ideas with theoretical and methodological rigor to various audiences.

Thesis Writing Seminars

(12 credits)

Students in the Critical Studies program complete and defend a master’s thesis (30-50 pages), which is both critical and constructive. In the first seminar, with support from a mentor, the thesis writing professor, and in-class workshops, students complete the thesis. In the second seminar, students reshape their academic thesis work for publication or public engagement so the research project is outward facing and makes a contribution in the world. The form of publication or public scholarship depends on the student’s area of interest and professional practice plans.

Ethics & Visual Culture Seminar

(3 credits)

This seminar explores critical theory as a critique of seeing. The course models the program’s combination of critical theory and creative research and investigates practices of looking and the production, circulation, and effects of visual images.

Creative Non-Fiction Writing

(3 credits)

In this writing workshop, students learn to write in preparation for the thesis project through a variety of writing exercises, experiments, and reading assignments. Emphasis is placed on experimentation and argument as means to develop a personal vocabulary while initiating a self-directed writing practice.

Professional Practice

(3 credits)

In this seminar, students develop effective professional strategies to successfully pursue a chosen career path upon completion of the Critical Studies program. The course helps students identify opportunities for achieving meaningful career objectives and for making a contribution as a critical citizen. Students learn concrete professional skills: curriculum vitae formatting, email and communication etiquette, letter writing, interviewing, public speaking, job search resources, portfolio development, and how to apply for opportunities (which may include PhD programs, teaching positions, publications, grants, fellowships, internships, residencies, or exhibitions). The objective is to prepare the future Critical Studies graduate to identify, plan and pursue a strategy for meaningful career development and a rewarding professional life in which their talents translate into a significant critical cultural contribution.

Internship

(3 credits)

Internships provide opportunities for students to translate their academic research interests into real-world professional experience.

Electives

(6 credits)

Students take courses in programs at PNCA that support their creative, research, and intellectual interests and prepare them to complete their thesis project.

Questions?

Reach out to MA in Critical Studies Chair, Shawna Lipton, to schedule a tour or to learn more about the program.

Get in Touch