Contemporary conditions of critique: power, value(s), economy

Please note: This page refers to a course that has already taken place.

20 - 22 Sep 2017

PRIO, Hausmanns gate 3, Oslo

Nina Boy (PRIO) and Kristin Asdal (UiO)


Covadonga Morales Bertrand:

Introduction (Kristin Asdal and Nina Boy)

Critique of power and power of critique (Nina Boy)

Critique of value and value of critique (Brett Christophers)

Valuation and critique (Kristin Asdal)

Security, critique and normative orders (Kristoffer Liden)

Performance and critique (Angus Cameron)

Performativity and critique (Fabian Muniesa)

This course presents a cross-disciplinary exploration of the present condition(s) of critique with respect to power, value(s) and economy. These interrelations are important also for disciplines that do not directly engage with the economy, including security studies and peace and conflict studies, because they are implicated in the formation of epistemic and normative orders characteristic for different eras.

Course Description:

In modern thought, critique is invoked as a particular relation to power: critique stands for the empowerment of the enlightened subject holding power to account, a premise continued by the tradition of capitalist critique. Over the last decades, performativity and ANT have emerged as influential alternatives to critique, alleging the modern critic to perform a self-defeating empowerment of the object of contestation. By some these have been experienced as liberation from the foreclosed accusation of anti-capitalism, allowing for change in the small and concrete. Others have accused these of an unwitting alliance with capitalism, and the financial crisis in particular has renewed the prominence of capitalism in theorising and critiquing contemporary relations of power and inequality.

Against the backdrop of the cross-disciplinary debate between critique and anticritique, the course will discuss important contemporary phenomena, such as the changing value of knowledge from an end in itself to a means to societal or economic impact; the crisis in the measure of value and disappearance of traditional grounds of critique associated with contemporary finance; the declining value of evidence in the so-called post-factual reality; and the politicisation of values as normative foundation of critique.

The course does not require a set position of critique but will work with students to refine the explicit and implicit assumptions of their approach. The 3-day course addresses PhD students across the social sciences, law and humanities and will be limited to 12 participants.

The syllabus has now been updated. The course is organised in collaboration with NordSTEVA and SOURCE


Day 1

09.00 – 10.00 Introduction 

10.00 – 12.00 Critique of power and power of critique (Nina Boy)

12.00 – 13.00 Lunch 

13.00 – 15.00 Performativity and critique (Fabian Muniesa)

19.00 Course dinner

Day 2

10.00 – 12.00 Depth of critique (Brett Christophers)

12.00 – 13.00 Lunch 

13.00 – 15.00 Valuation and critique (Kristin Asdal)

16.00 – 18.00 Performance as critique (Angus Cameron)

Day 3

10.00 – 12.00 Security, critique and normative orders (Kristoffer Lidén)

12.00 – 13.00 Lunch 

13.00 – 14.00 Concluding session


​The deadline for applications is 9 June 2017

Submission of essay proposal: 8 October 2017

Submission of essay: 8 December 2017


​The course awards an optional 5 ECTS (according to the standards of the University of Oslo) upon full participation and the satisfactory completion of a course essay. Writing the essay is not mandatory. Students may also consult with their universities whether ECTS credits may be obtained upon active participation. A certificate of attendance will be issued for all participants. 

All participants are expected to read the course literature in advance and participate actively in the course sessions. To the extent possible the literature will be made available to students prior to the course.  

Those writing essays are asked to submit an essay proposal including a research question or title and essay plan of 300-500 words with reference to relevant course literature by 8 October 2017. Full essays of 4000-5000 words are to be handed in by 8 December 2017. Essay submission should be indicated in the application form but is not binding. 

Essay proposals and full submissions should be send to Marte Nilsen ( Extensions may be requested in case of an emergency or illness (with doctor's certificate) but will not be given after the deadline. Essays will be evaluated by course leaders within two months of submission.


To apply, please fill in the application form. IMPORTANT: In the section 'Comments', please provide 1) a brief description of your doctoral research and the theories you are working with and 2) briefly state how you would currently characterise your position of critique. Alternatively, describe what draws you to the theories you are working with or interested in. Point 1 should be about 150-250 words and point 2 about 150-200 words. Applications without this information are not valid.

PhD candidates will receive priority but graduate students and post-docs from relevant disciplines may also apply. Current members of the Research School on Peace and Conflict are only required to register but should also provide the above-mentioned information.

There is no course fee but participants are expected to cover their own travel and accommodation cost. A number of accommodation stipends for the near-by Anker Hotel are available to PhD students who do not have access to funding for course participation through their universities. Please indicate your request for an accommodation stipend in the application form.

Course Literature:


The first session of this course will introduce the contemporary debate between critique and anti-critique. Since the turn of the millennium, the social sciences and humanities alike have been strongly defined by the 'end of critique' proposed by performativity and Actor-Network Theory (ANT). Systemic critique on the other hand has gained renewed appeal since the financial crisis. The session will depict the broad contours of this debate in light of the questions: What is the purpose of critique? How does critique relate to the contemporary?


Koch, R. (2002) The critical gesture in philosophy. In Iconoclash: Beyond the Image Wars in Science, Religion and Art, ed. B Latour and P Weibel (MIT Press)

Felski, R. (2015) The limits of critique (University of Chicago Press)

Christophers, B. (2014) From Marx to Market and Back Again: Performing the Economy. Geoforum, 57: 12-20

A. N. Mhurch, R. Shindo (2016) Critical imaginations in International Relations (Routledge)

Critique of power and power of critique (N. Boy)

How to critique power? What makes critique powerful? This session will explore connections of truth, power and critique by comparing prolific scenes of critique as truth-telling: The topos of The Emperor's New Clothes symbolizes the modern distrust of authority and the ability to counter the authority of the sovereign with the authority of fact. Yet different to conventional readings, the tale has also been shown to offer insights as to why the sovereign remains unaffected by the revelation of the naked truth. This will be compared with accounts of truth-telling in the scene of Jagannath's saligram in Latour's Pandora's Hope and Foucault's account of parrhesia.

Core readings:

Andersen, H.C. (1837) The Emperor's New Clothes (C. A. Reitzel)

Kant, I. (1784) An Answer to the question: What is Enlightenment?

Latour, B. (1999) Pandora's Hope, Ch. 9 The slight surprise of action: Facts, Fetishes, Factishes (Harvard)

Freud, A. (1900) The Embarassement Dream of nakedness in The Interpretation of Dreams

Derrida, J. (1980/ 2003) The purveyor of truth in J D Culler (ed) Deconstruction: Critical Concepts in Literary and Cultural Studies, Vol. 3 (Psychology Press)

Additional readings:

Foucault, M. (2010) The Government of Self and Others: Lectures at the College de France, 1982-1983 (Palgrave)

Butler, J. (2010) Performative agency, Journal of Cultural Economy, 3:2, 147-161

Koselleck, R. (2000 (1959)) Critique and crisis: Enlightenment and the patho-genesis of the modern society (MIT Press)

Larsen, L T (2011) Turning critique inside out: Foucault, Boltanski and Chiapello on the tactical displacement of critique and power, Distinktion 12(1), 37-55

Performativity and critique (F. Muniesa)

The repertoire of the performative intermingles with that of the critical in more than one way. Suffice it to consider here critique as an act, or reality as something that ought to be provoked, in order to apprehend the perceptibly modern disposition that the connection of these two categories do form. The purpose of this session is to tackle this topic, first, through a discussion of a few philosophical and anthropological rudiments, and, second, through an investigation on the notion of reality featured in contemporary mainstream business culture and in the critique thereof. A tangible display of a culture of realization seems indeed to cohabit today, within these dominant segments of society that fall under the rubric of global business, with an arguably fragile moral critique of reality.

Core readings:

Blumenberg, Hans. 1979. "The concept of reality and the possibility of the novel." In New perspectives in German literary criticism: A collection of essays, edited by Richad E. Amacher and Victor Lange, 29-48. Princeton (NJ): Princeton University Press.

Deleuze, Gilles. 1990. "The simulacrum and ancient philosophy." In The Logic of Sense, 253-279. London: The Athlone Press.

Lévi-Strauss, Claude. 1963. "The effectiveness of symbols." In Structural Anthropology, 186-205. New York (NY): Basic Books.

Lyotard, Jean-François. 1984. "Research and its legitimation through performativity." In The Postmodern condition: A Report on Knowledge, 41-47. Minneapolis (MN): University of Minnesota Press.

Additional readings:

Lezaun, Javier, Fabian Muniesa and Signe Vikkelsø. 2013. "Provocative containment and the drift of social-scientific realism." Journal of Cultural Economy, 6(3), 278-293.

Lezaun, Javier and Fabian Muniesa. 2017. "Twilight in the leadership playground: subrealism and the training of the business self." Journal of Cultural Economy, 10(3), 265-279.

Muniesa, Fabian. 2014. The Provoked Economy: Economic Reality and the Performative Turn, Abingdon: Routledge.

Muniesa, Fabian. 2016. "You must fall down the rabbit hole." Journal of Cultural Economy, 9(3), 316-321.

Muniesa, Fabian. 2016. "The problem with economics: naturalism, critique and performativity." In Enacting Dismal Science: New Perspectives on the Performativity of Economics, edited by Ivan Boldyrev and Ekaterina Svetlova, 109-219. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Muniesa, Fabian. 2017. "Grappling with the performative condition." Long Range Planning, in press.

The depth of critique (B. Christophers)

This session will examine critique by focusing on the choice of the object of critique. More specifically, it asks us to reflect closely on the depth of our critique. With "depth", I am gesturing towards a distinction between empirical, "surface-level" specificities and deeper, arguably more fundamental generalities. Do we critique the particulars of financial-market governance and/or the underlying logic of market organization that renders questions of "market governance" imaginable? Are we interested (critically) in particular models of "the economy" and/or the very idea of modelling it? The goal of the session is not to provide answers, but to raise awareness of, and encourage reflexivity about, the importance and implications of such questions.

Core readings:

Carruthers, B. G., & Espeland, W. N. (1991). Accounting for rationality: Double-entry bookkeeping and the rhetoric of economic rationality. American Journal of Sociology, 97(1), 31-69.

Mann, G. (2017). Equation and Adequation: The World Traced by the Phillips Curve. Antipode, doi: 10.1111/anti.12321

Mügge, D., & Perry, J. (2014). The flaws of fragmented financial standard setting: why substantive economic debates matter for the architecture of global governance. Politics & Society, 42(2), 194-222.

Additional reading:

Robinson, J. (1953). An Open Letter from a Keynesian to a Marxist. In On Re-reading Marx, Cambridge: Students' Bookshops Ltd, 1953. Available at

Valuation and critique (K. Asdal)

In recent years scholars within the broad field of science and technology studies (STS) have increasingly turned to the study of economics. The approach is of relevance to already established approaches. Instead of criticizing economics for deficient models, we must investigate how economics, through its theories, helps to create precisely this kind of rational, economic actor, it is argued. From this perspective, economics is understood as a material practice, a form of technology, and not as a theory standing in a distant relationship to its object of study. Even more recently, valuation studies have emerged at the intersection of STS and economic sociology, borrowing the concept "valuations" from the American pragmatist John Dewey. The concept "valuation" is employed in order to work across disciplines, and across "values" (as something "belonging" to sociologists") and "value" (as something "belonging" to economics). What do these approaches offer when it comes to doing critique and the study of the economy differently?

Core readings:

Asdal, K. (2015) Enacting values from the sea in I. Dussauge, C.-F. Helgesson, and F. Lee (eds) Value Practices in the Life Sciences and Medicine (Oxford)

Hutter, M. and D. Stark (2015) 'Pragmatist Perspectives on Valuation: An introduction', in: A. Berthoin Antal, M. Hutter, D. Stark (eds) Moments of valuation. Exploring Sites of Dissonance. Oxford University Press, 1-12.

F. Muniesa, A flank movement in the understanding of valuation (2011), The Sociological Review, Vol. 59, Issue 2, 24-38

Additional readings:

 Asdal, K., B. Brenna, I. Moser (2007) The politics of Interventions. A History of STS, in (eds) Technoscience - the politics of interventions, Unipub – (see in particular the subheading "from laboratory studies to ecology, economics and politics") (Available at Asdals page on

Performance as critique (A. Cameron)

The purpose of this session is to provide an analytical and historical backdrop to performativity and its uneasy relationship to performance. The academic criticism of performativity will be compared with performance as critique. Performance is a mode of critical engagement that includes satire, foolishness, paradoxy, tricksterism, cynicism/kynicism, comedy and, in general, making stuff up. Such approaches develop critical narratives that differ from 'rigorous' or 'scholarly' ones – but also focus on the mode of performance. How things are said and done, in other words, is just as important as what is said and done. The session will look at how and why performative techniques have been used historically and will reflect on the ways they can be used to analyse the contemporary world – in some instances perhaps being the only effective ways.

Core readings:

Hyde, L, 2008, Trickster Makes this World: Mischief, Myth and Art, Edinburgh, Canongate [Introduction, Chapter 6]

Colie, R, 1966, Paradoxia Epidemica: The Renaissance Tradition of Paradox, Princeton Legacy Library [Introduction, Chapter 7]

Sloterdijk, P, 1988, Critique of Cynical Reason, London, Verso [Chapter 1, Chapter 5]

Additional readings:

Feyerabend, P. 1975. Against Method. London: Verso [Introduction, Chapter 4]

More, T, (1516 - many editions), Utopia.

More, T, 1508 – many editions) Praise of Folly

Manguel, A & Guadalupi, 1999, The Dictionary of Imaginary Places, London, Bloomsbury.

Chabon, M. 2008. "Trickster in a Suit of Lights." In Maps and Legends, ed. Michael Chabon, 13–26. New York: Harper Perennial.

Hind, D. 2009. "Jump, You Fuckers!",

Huizinga, J, 1950, Homo Ludens: a study of the play element in culture, Boston, Beacon Press.

Jung, C. G. 1956. "On the Psychology of the Trickster Figure." In The Trickster: A study in American Indian mythology, edited by P. Radin, 195–211. New York: Schocken Books.

Rabelais, F (1532 onwards.  Many editions) Gargantua and Pantagruel.

Welsford, E. 1935. The Fool: His Social and Literary History. London: Faber and Faber.

Security, critique and normative orders (K. Liden)

The final session will examine critique and value(s) in different areas of political studies. The field of critical security studies is united by a questioning of mainstream conceptions and values of security but divided on the implications of such questioning. Should critical security studies prescribe better policies of security or concentrate on the deconstruction of all normative orders? As reflected in controversies on critical theory in general, positions on this question are closely related to philosophical positions on truth and value. In this session, these connections are examined, with consequences for the conception of critique in related fields like peace and conflict studies and International Relations. It will be explored to what extent these fields may be said to reflect overarching contemporary conditions of critique.

Core readings:

Hutchings, K (2000) 'The nature of critique in critical international relations theory', Chapter 5 in R.W. Jones, Critical theory and world politics. London: Lynne Rienner.

c.a.s.e. collective (2006) Critical Approaches to Security in Europe: A Networked Manifesto. Security Dialogue 37(4): 443-487.

Nunes J (2012) Reclaiming the Political: Emancipation and Critique in Security Studies. Security Dialogue 43(4): 345-361.

Additional readings:

Peoples C and Vaughan-Williams N (2010) Critical Security Studies: An Introduction. Milton Park/New York: Routledge. Chapter: Introduction

Wallensteen, P, 2011, The Origins of Contemporary Peace Research, in Kristine Höglund & Magnus Öberg eds., Understanding Peace Research: Methods and Challenges, London and New York: Routledge, 2011.

A.N.MhurchR.Shindo (2016) Critical imaginations in International Relations (Routledge) . Chapters: 'Introduction' and 'Theory'.