Since the Pilot Seminar of 2012, those of us involved have been working to expand the programmes of The Centre on Critical Thinking. In 2013 we added a second advanced seminar (on Identity) to follow on the first (on Information Technologies), and shortened the duration of each seminar to a three-week period. We kept this structure through 2014, and in 2015 we again built on - offering a new Spring seminar in Benicàssim, Spain, expanding our topical reach, and reconfiguring syllabi to get deeper into the content. We offered two new seminars in 2016, one on the The Queston of Method, and another for the leadership of AEGEE - the European Students' Forum on Education, Information Technologies, and New Subjectivities in Kőszeg, as well as an additional seminar in Benicàssim in spring 2016 on The Political Economy of Love.
Below you will find brief descriptions of seminars we held in the last two years which we are likely to hold again in 2017. Please contact us us if you would like further information.
"The History and Political Economy of Information Technologies,"
This seminar addresses the cunundrum first articulated by information theorists such as Claude Shannon: in service of technological advancement, efficiency, and speed, "information" - an entity native to the 20th century - has been increasingly detached from context and "meaning." As Freeman Dyson has noted, “information could be handled with greater freedom if it was treated as a mathematical abstraction independent of meaning.” Thus as technology, algorithms, and digital information infrastructures become ever more prominent in our daily lives, we are flooded with meaningless messages, contributing to the ever more pervasive feeling of meaninglessness that informs contemporary human existence. The primary tasks of this introductory seminar are to 1) provide students with a critical perspective on their information environment 2) explore the idea that human subjectivities are being engendered through the use of the new technologies, and 3) begin observing how those subjectivites may be functioning within the structures of economic and political "globalization."
"History and Social Change,"
This seminar investigates the social, political, and economic transformations that have ushered in the contemporary age. As critical inquiry necessitates a salient knowledge of interrelated histories, the course explores the developments and dynamics of capitalism, the nation state, and technology. Recognizing the pressing relevance of resource exploitation, environmental degradation, and climate change in the story of (post)modern civilizations, the course also includes a retrospective on the economics of resource exploitation. The course fosters discussions and debates on individual and collective strategies for social change.
"Self and Identity"
This seminar will attempt to map our condition by moving outward from the Self through the social, economic, political, and psychological assumptions that constrain our ability to engage with the circumstances we face. Concretely, this means being especially attentive to the manner in which language helps to create social worlds, which then often become forms of incarceration from which individuals attempt to escape. "Identity crises" will therefore be a primary focus, and we will explore how identity became constructed in various historical circumstances with special attention given to the role of culture. This allows us to refer back to the issues addressed in the Introductory Seminar, especially regarding how the cultures being created in the shadow of the new information technologies are shaping and informing individual identities. The final part of the seminar will then explore various strategies of resistance to the new subjectivities, and approach the question of how a more positive and solidaric vision might be fostered.
Seminars are structured as 3-week residential programs of intensive reading, writing, reflection, and discussion. Seminar sessions meet for three hours each morning from Monday through Friday, and discussions over lunch and dinner on weekdays are considered an integral part of the seminar. Generally students will be expected to read at between two and three assigned books as well as supplementary articles each week. One should expect to read between 100-150 pages per day.
All students will be expected to be familiar with the principal issues raised in the reading. Students will be expected to raise issues or questions that the readings have brought forward, and the seminar coordinator, additional scholars, and other students will respond with their own reflections and comments. The idea is to stimulate a conversation around issues of importance in the readings and more broadly. Readings have been chosen to stimulate the imagination, not to catalog facts, so students should read accordingly! Readings should be completed prior to each session and sufficient time has been scheduled so that reading can be done in the afternoons and some evenings.
By common agreement among students who participated in the Pilot Seminar, internet and smart phone usage are severely restricted during the seminars in order to enhance the capacity for deep reading of the texts. Given the amount of reading and reflection necessary to fully engage in the seminars, we also suggest that any sort of touristic activity be restricted to before and after the seminars.
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