Aesthetics and Politics in Critical Theory

Reading Group organized by Ben Moore, Marc Farrant, and Steyn Bergs.

This reading group will explore a selection of seminal, and some lesser-known, works within twentieth and twenty-first century critical and cultural theory, with an emphasis on the intersection between the aesthetic and the political. Walter Benjamin argued in the conclusion of his ‘Work of Art’ essay of 1936 that one of the dangers of fascism is its ‘aestheticizing of politics’, and that communism must respond by ‘politicizing art’. As our contemporary political moment comes to increasingly resemble the conjuncture at which Benjamin was writing in the 1930s, we will ask how the relationship between politics and aesthetics has been theorised by thinkers since, and how we might use their work to analyse and rethink that relationship today.

We plan to meet once a month on Wednesday or Thursday afternoons for around two hours. Our first two meetings will serve as a theoretical orientation, looking at work from Jacques Rancière, Terry Eagleton and Fredric Jameson. After that, we plan to take particular artistic forms, genres, or themes to guide our reading through the year, including comedy (Zupančič, Berlant, Ngai), cinema (Rancière, Deleuze, Eisenstein), music (Adorno) and performativity (Sedgwick). The direction of our reading is flexible however, and depends partly on the interests of the participants. The format will be open and informal. All staff and graduate students, from inside or outside the UvA, are welcome to take part. Research Masters students who take part in the group will be eligible for 2ECs via NICA.

The first meeting will take place at 16.00-18.00 on Thursday 19 September. We will discuss the Terry Eagleton’s essay ‘The Ideology of the Aesthetic’ in parallel with work by Jacques Rancière on the distribution of the sensible.

Please contact Ben Moore (, Marc Farrant ( and Steyn Bergs ( if you would like to attend, and to receive a pdf copy of the readings.

Visualising the Archive: A Workshop with elin o’Hara slavick

Location and date: Groningen, 10 September 2019, 10-17

Organizers: Jan van Egmond (Academie Minerva), Camilla Sutherland (RUG), Ruby de Vos (RUG) in collaboration with elin o’Hara slavick

Credit: 1 EC

What is the archive, and what role does it play in contemporary art and culture? Which historical, institutional, and political ideas shape our understanding of the archive? What are the ethical implications of engaging with the archive as an artist, and how do they play a role in the creation and reception of the artwork? And which methodologies and concepts are helpful to study these practices as a researcher of art and culture? These are some of the questions this workshop will explore in collaboration with visual artist elin o’Hara slavick, through a theoretical as well as a practice-based workshop.

In critical theory the archive has long been an object of interest, most notably through the work of Foucault and Derrida. Both connect the archive to knowledge production and discursive processes of inclusion and exclusion through practices of organisation and categorisation. The archive is thus a potent site for reflections on memory and forgetting, even as its material dimensions are changing in an age where the logic of the archive is affected by increased digitisation and online access to the database (Dekker 2013). In contemporary art and culture, at the same time, we can witness what Hal Foster has called an “archival impulse” (2004), as the archival, both as a practice and as an aesthetic, is increasingly visible in the gallery and the museum (Van Alphen 2014). Against this background, this workshop asks: what kind of transformation does (or doesn’t) the archive undergo in the artistic process?

This workshop takes the exhibition of US-artist elin o’Hara slavick’s work at Galerie Block C in Groningen as a starting point to engage with the questions about the archive outlined above. In her work After Hiroshima, slavick works with objects from the archive of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, creating fragile works that paradoxically attest to the violence of the atomic bomb that was dropped on the city in 1945. Starting with a discussion session of set texts in the morning, lead by Sutherland and De Vos (RUG), participants will also engage in a practice-based session in the afternoon lead by O’Hara slavick and Van Egmond (Academie Minerva). To further encourage connections between theory and artistic practice, the session will be open to RMA and PhD students from NICA as well as to students from the Frank Mohr Institute in Groningen.

Visualising the Archive is part of the programme of After Hiroshima: Cultural Responses to the Atomic Bomb, a series of events about the atomic bomb that will take place in Groningen from 7 until 14 September 2019. More information can be found here.

Registration & practicalities

6 places are available for RMA and PhD students. Participants are asked to write a brief motivation letter (350 words max.) in which they outline their interest in the topic, by reference to one case study that interests them (for example a physical/virtual archive, a cultural practitioner engaged in archival praxis, personal experiences with the archive as research tool etc.). Deadline: 27 June 2019

Applications and questions to: and

The workshop will take place at various locations in the city center of Groningen, including a visit to O’Hara slavick’s exhibition in Galerie Block C. Readings will be announced and distributed closer to the date.

Image courtesy of elin o’Hara slavick.

Masterclass Ariella Azoulay (Brown University)

23 Nov 2018 | Tropenmuseum

The Research Center for Material Culture is pleased to invite you to a masterclass with Professor Azoulay, one of the leading photo theorists today. Azoulays work explores questions around photographic theory, archival practices in relation to issues of sovereignty, political subjectivity and human rights. Professor Azoulay will speak on the theme potential history, a concept and an approach that she has developed over the last decade, which has far-reaching implications for the fields of political theory, archival formations and photography studies.


Ariella Azoulay, Professor of Modern Culture and Media and the Department of Comparative Literature, Brown University, film essayist and independent curator of archives and exhibitions Azoulay’s research and forthcoming book (Verso, 2019) focus on potential history of key political concepts-institutions: archive, sovereignty, art and human rights. Potential history, a concept and an approach that she has developed over the last decade, has far-reaching implications for the fields of political theory, archival formations and photography studies.

Among her books: The Resolution of The Suspect (with photographer: Miki Kratsman), Radius Books/Peabody Museum Press, 2016; Aïm Deüelle Lüski and Horizontal Photography, Leuven University Press and Cornell University Press, 2013. From Palestine to Israel: A Photographic Record of Destruction and State Formation, 1947-1950, (Pluto Press, 2011), Civil Imagination: The Political Ontology of Photography (Verso, 2012) and The Civil Contract of Photography (Zone Books, 2008); co-author with Adi Ophir. The One State Condition: Occupation and Democracy between the Sea and the River. Stanford University Press, 2012.

Her archives & exhibitions (selection): “Act of State 1967-2007,” [in Cher(e)s Ami(e)s, Centre Pompidou, 2016], “The Natural History of Rape,” (F/Stop photography festival, Leipzig & Pembroke Center, Brown University, 2016), “The Body Politic” [in Really Useful Knowledge, curated by What, How & for Whom / WHW], Reina Sofia, Madrid; When The Body Politic Ceases To Be An Idea, Exhibition Room – Manifesta Journal Around Curatorial Practices No 16, Potential History (2012, Stuk / Artefact, Louven), Untaken Photographs (2010, Igor Zabel Award, The Moderna galerija, Lubliana; Zochrot, Tel Aviv), Architecture of Destruction(Zochrot, Tel Aviv), Everything Could Be Seen (Um El Fahem Gallery of Art). Cinematic essays (selection): Civil Alliances, Palestine, 47-48 (2012), I Also Dwell Among Your Own People: Conversations with Azmi Bishara (2004), The Food Chain (2004).


To participate fully in the masterclass we ask that you read:


The class will be conducted as a discussion.
Attendees are expected to read the readings in advance of the seminar
More information and registration:


Crowds and Parties

ASCA/NICA Master class with Jodi Dean organized by Joost de Bloois, 22 November, 11:00-13:00 hrs., PC Hoofthuis, Spuistraat 134, room K04

Jodi Dean is a well-known political theorist. She is the author of several much-acclaimed books, such as The Communist Horizon, Blog Theory and Democracy and Other Neoliberal Fantasies. Recently, she published Crowds and Parties with Verso Books. In her work, Dean theorizes new forms of political organization, the modern-day meaning of ‘communism’, as well as trenchant critiques of neoliberalism, institutional democracy, contemporary forms of labour and (new) media. Her work, often polemically, engages with contemporary theorists such as Toni Negri & Michael Hardt, and Slavoj Zizek, and takes its cues, among others, from Marxism, media studies and psychoanalysis.

For this master class, Dean will discuss chapters from Crowds and Parties and work in progress.

The master class is open to PhD and rMa students, as well as others working with or curious of Jodi Dean’s work. Participants will read chapters from Crowds and Parties, and will formulate questions for Jodi Dean to facilitate discussion.

The master class is relevant for scholars working in philosophy, cultural analysis, political sciences, media studies, history, gender studies.

PhD and rMa students may obtain credits for their participation.

For further information and registration, please contact: Joost de Bloois,

Sound, Ontology, and Race: Which way does the turn go? 

Sound, Ontology, and Race: Which way does the turn go? 

NICA Masterclass with Dr. Alejandra Bronfman (University at Albany, SUNY)

Date: Tuesday 11 December, 15:00-17:00
Location: Potgieterzaal, University Library (UB), Singel 425, Amsterdam

During this masterclass we will work through a recent debate on the meaning of the recent ontological turn in Sound Studies, and in particular its relationship to race, politics and history. In turn, authors Marie Thompson, Annie Goh and Christoph Cox puzzle through what it means to bring materialism to bear on sound and listening. Is this problematic to considerations of sonic alterity and the politics of knowledge production? What are the productive critiques and fruitful considerations to bear in mind as we develop our own research projects? This workshop will invite participants to critically engage with these texts and think through the implications for imagining their own research directions. 

Reading preparation

– Thompson, Marie. “Whiteness and the Ontological Turn in Sound Studies.” Parallax 23.3 (2017): 266-282.

– Goh, Annie. “Sounding Situated Knowledges: Echo in Archaeoacoustics.” Parallax 23.3 (2017): 283-304.

– Cox, Christoph. “Sonic Realism and Auditory Culture: A Reply to Marie Thompson and Annie Goh.” Parallax 24.2 (2018): 234-242.

Dr. Alejandra Bronfman is Associate Professor in the Department of Latin American, Caribbean and Latino Studies at the University at Albany, SUNY. Her recent book, Isles of Noise: Sonic Media in the Caribbean (University of North Carolina Press, 2016), considers the politics and poetics of sound and broadcasting in Cuba, Jamaica and Haiti in the early 20th century. Future and past research interests include histories of race, the production of knowledge, and the materiality of media, its archives and infrastructures. Currently she is developing a project on sound, toxicity and environment in Vieques, Puerto Rico during the military occupation of the island. Another project decenters Cold War histories with a focus on Cuba-Haiti clandestine broadcasting in the early 1960s.