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2022 International Communication Association (ICA) pre-conference: Critique, post-Critique and the Present Conjuncture

14.01.2022 09:59 | Anonymous member (Administrator)

 Wednesday May 25, 9.00pm to 6.00pm (CET)

Hybrid format: Online and Université Paris Nanterre

Deadline: March 4, 2022

in collaboration with the Culture/cultures/CREA 370 research group (François Cusset, Veronique Rauline and Thierry Labica), Université Paris Nanterre

Conference registration fee: $35.00 USD

Keynote speakers (with more to be confirmed):

  • François Cusset (Université Paris Nanterre)
  • Alan Finlayson (University of East Anglia)
  • Sahana Udupa (Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München)

A commitment to critique – in its diverse theoretical forms and idioms – is the defining ethos of scholarship attuned to the power dynamics of academic research and knowledge production more generally. Critique encourages us to interpret the given world suspiciously, often for very good reasons. However, it can also be a “thought style” (Felski, 2015, p. 2) with its own intellectual and political limitations. This pre-conference will reflect on the place of critique in a political moment that poses some distinct challenges to how critique is imagined and practised in communication and media studies and elsewhere. It does so from a perspective that is affirmative of critique, yet mindful that “to be faithful to its core principle, critique must involve its self-critique” (Fassin & Harcourt, 2019, p. 3). It also invites perspectives and contributions from different fields and disciplines. We think the question of critique should summon a healthy disregard for disciplinary strictures and imperatives, and demand engagement with all the paradoxes and tensions of the present conjuncture.

Three rather different conjunctural developments justify discussion of this topic now. First, authors in different fields have questioned the condition of critique by invoking the notion of “post-critique” (Anker & Felski, 2017). This label has been read by some as signifying a straightforward renunciation of critique. However, this characterization annihilates the intellectual richness of some of the post-critique literature, and we agree with Rita Felski’s (2015) observation that it is “becoming ever more risible to conclude that any questioning of critique can only be a reactionary gesture or a conservative conspiracy” (p. 8). Similar arguments have been made by appealing to motifs like “critique of critique” or “critique of the critical”, to signify how critique can take forms that are formulaic and marketized (Billig, 2013), disenchanted from the political question of emancipation (Rancière, 2011), or over-reliant on a rhetoric of moral denunciation (Phelan, 2021). Work done under the heading of “critical university studies” (Smyth, 2017) emphasizes, in turn, the need for meaningful critique in the institutional universe that shapes scholarly identities and practices, as an antidote to a critical gaze that directs its attention exclusively outwards.

Second, critique is increasingly being represented in pejorative ways by an ideologically heterogenous cast of political, cultural and media actors, often self-styled academic dissidents. These figures sometimes assume the mantle of the real critical thinkers unmasking the politicized scholarship of left-wing academics, as if to dramatize Bruno Latour’s (2004) fears about how the “weapons of social critique” can be reappropriated (see also Tebaldi, 2021). These developments have gained wider public visibility in far-right attacks against “critical race theory” in the US (Goldberg, 2021). They are also expressed in a generalized condemnation of “critical” and “postmodern” scholarship across the humanities and social sciences. These anti-critique discourses are produced in malleable forms (Jay, 2020) that circulate easily across media cultures and national boundaries. They become part of the ready-to-hand weaponry of “culture war” politics. The critical academy is targeted for its role in the creation of an authoritarian “woke” culture that, we are told, threatens sacred Enlightenment values.

Third, the university is now routinely depicted on the political right as one of a number of elite social institutions (including “the media”) that has been captured by “wokeness” and the forces of “cancel culture” (Labica, 2021). Yet, in tandem with these discourses, it is not hard to cite examples of how the culture of scholarly critique is being “cancelled” in a rather different way by forces within and outside the neoliberal university. This was exemplified by events at the University of Leicester in 2021, when several critical management studies and political economy academics (Halford, 2021) were made redundant for doing research that was deemed to be at odds with the future strategic vision of the university’s business school. It was illustrated in a June 2021 motion passed by Danish parliamentarians on the boundaries between science and politics, which was described – in a letter co-signed by over 3,000 academics – as an attack on “critical research and teaching” in areas like “race, gender, migration and post-colonial studies” (Myklebust, 2021). It also takes a distinctly French form in the image of academic departments that have been taken over by the forces of “islamo-gauchisme”, or in the assumption that even talking about race indicates activist commitments at odds with a normative conception of proper science (Dawes, 2020; Mohammed, 2021). Universities can, and do, respond differently to external political attacks, and sometimes in ways that affirm a principled commitment to scholarly critique. This was illustrated by cross-university support for a September 2021 conference Dismantling Global Hindutva, despite the “harassment and intimidation” of speakers and organizers “by various Hindu right-wing groups and individuals staunchly opposing the conference” (Naik, 2021). Nonetheless, the transnational dynamics of such attacks point to the normalization (Krzyżanowski, 2020) and mainstreaming (Mondon & Winter, 2020) of far-right discourses globally. It is not difficult to imagine a dystopian future for the university where attacks against critical academics become more common, or where the managerial class of more universities capitulate to the agenda of reactionary publics.

Format and papers

Our description of the pre-conference theme is intended to be suggestive rather than exhaustive: we welcome diverse paper proposals that confront all the contradictions and possibilities of the current political moment, both from a critical communication and media studies perspective and a wider interdisciplinary horizon. The conference will be organized as short keynote and roundtable panels that will create space for conversation between panellists and audience questions. We also encourage submissions that reflect plurality in terms of region, career level, ethnicity, gender, class, disability and sexual orientation.

The format of the conference is hybrid. Speakers can present either in person or online (the precise online platform is subject to confirmation). The on-site gathering will take place at the Université Paris Nanterre. Registration costs for paper presenters and in-person attendees will be US$35, to help cover basic conference expenses, including catering costs. We also hope to open the event (at no cost) to a wider online audience.

Paper proposals should be submitted as short abstracts of 150 to 250 words (not counting references). They should be sent as PDF attachments to the email address, with the pre-conference title listed in the abstract. The deadline for abstract submission is Friday March 4, 2022. Please also include a short bio note of 100 words maximum. And please clarify how you are planning to attend the pre-conference, indicating “don’t know yet” if you are not sure.

The pre-conference chairs are Sean Phelan (Massey University/University of Antwerp), Simon Dawes (Université Versailles St-Quentin-en-Yvelines) and Pieter Maeseele (University of Antwerp). Any questions about the pre-conference should be emailed to Sean at

Abstracts should be framed as short provocations that speak clearly to the pre-conference theme. Potential sub-themes include:

  • Critique, the university and the politics of knowledge production
  • Reflections on the post-critique debate
  • Critique, post-critique and capitalism
  • Critique, media and journalism
  • Critique, post-critique and communication studies
  • Critique and digital culture
  • Critique, Marxism and socialism
  • Critique, suspicion and reactionary politics
  • Critique and the left
  • Critique, race and racism
  • Critique, gender, and gender theory
  • Critique and the politics of social justice
  • Critique and ideology
  • Critique and critical discourse studies
  • Critique, meaning and identity
  • Critique, science and activism
  • Anti-critique, critical theory and reactionary pedagogy
  • Anti-critique and the transnational far right
  • Far-right appropriation of critical discourse and signifiers

Advisory committee

  • Sarah Banet-Weiser (USC Annenberg)
  • Lilie Chouliaraki (LSE)
  • Mohan Dutta (Massey University)
  • Jayson Harsin (American University of Paris)
  • Thierry Labica (Université Paris Nanterre)
  • Robert Porter (University of Ulster)
  • Veronique Rauline (Université Paris Nanterre)
  • Gavan Titley (Maynooth University/University of Helsinki)
  • Sahana Udupa (Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München)

Institutional supporters

  • ICA Division: Philosophy, Theory and Critique
  • ICA Division: Race and Ethnicity in Communication
  • Department of Communication Studies, University of Antwerp
  • Centre d’histoire culturelle des sociétés contemporaines, Université de Versailles Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines (UVSQ), France
  • Université Paris Nanterre

Selective references

Billig, M. (2013). Learn to Write Badly: How to Succeed in the Social Sciences. Cambridge University Press.

Dawes, S. (2020, November 2). The Islamophobic witch-hunt of Islamo-leftists in France. openDemocracy.

Fassin, D., & Harcourt, B. E. (2019). A Time for Critique. Columbia University Press.

Felski, R. (2015). The Limits of Critique. University of Chicago Press.

Goldberg, D. T. (2021, May 2). The War on Critical Race Theory. Boston Review.

Halford, S. (2021, May 11). BSA President writes to Leicester VC on the proposed closure of Critical Management Studies and Political Economy.

Jay, M. (2020). Splinters in Your Eye: Essays on the Frankfurt School. Verso Books.

Krzyżanowski, M. (2020). Normalization and the discursive construction of “new” norms and “new” normality: Discourse in the paradoxes of populism and neoliberalism. Social Semiotics, 30(4), 431–448.

Labica, T. (2021, November 30). De l’ « islamogauchisme » au « wokisme »: Blanquer et la cancel-culture des dominants –. CONTRETEMPS REVUE DE CRITIQUE COMMUNISTE.

Latour, B. (2004). Why Has Critique Run out of Steam? From Matters of Fact to Matters of Concern. Critical Inquiry, 30(Winter), 24.

Mohammed, M. (2021, May 14). Islamophobic Hegemony in France: Toward a Point of No Return? Berkley Forum.

Mondon, A., & Winter, A. (2020). Reactionary Democracy: How Racism and the Populist Far Right Became Mainstream. Verso Books.

Myklebust, J. P. (2021, June 10). Uproar as MPs claim university research is ‘politicised.’ University World News.

Naik, R. H. (2021, September 7). US academic conference on ‘Hindutva’ targeted by Hindu groups. Al Jazeera.

Phelan, S. (2021). What’s in a name? Political antagonism and critiquing ‘neoliberalism.’ Journal of Political Ideologies, 1–20.

Rancière, J. (2011). The Emancipated Spectator. Verso Books.

Smyth, J. (2017). The Toxic University: Zombie Leadership, Academic Rock Stars and Neoliberal Ideology. Springer.

Tebaldi, C. (2021). Speaking post-truth to power. Review of Education, Pedagogy, and Cultural Studies, 43(3), 205–225.



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