Unit for Criticism and Interpretive Theory

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The Unit for Criticism and Interpretive Theory is an interdisciplinary program developed within the Graduate College and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. It works to promote conversations among a range of departments in the humanities, social sciences, and performing arts by organizing lectures, panel discussions, and conferences, as well as a yearly series of lectures on Modern Critical Theory. The Unit is one of several dozen centers around the world devoted to critical theory, and was one of the first to be formally established (circa 1981).[1][2]

In The Employment of English: Theory, Jobs, and the Future of Literary Studies, literary scholar Michael Berube writes that "[b]y formally bringing together, through zero-time appointments, faculty members from disciplines engaged in some degree by theorized recursivity," the Unit for Criticism "has helped produce dialogue spoken in a kind of esperanto based in shared hermeneutic practices," performing an important interdisciplinary function within the university.[3][4] Although some criticized the books for being excessively theoretical and for what Terry Eagleton, in a review of Cultural Studies, called the “anything-goes-ism”[5] of cultural studies, they provoked discussion about the nature of interdisciplinary work in the humanities and social sciences. Hayden White called Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture a "major event in the discourse of cultural criticism of our time,"[6] Timothy Brennan noted that Marxism was “already featured on the reading lists of cultural studies seminars across the country,” [7] and Kristine L. Fitch wrote of Cultural Studies that “As an inquisitive stance from which to conduct research into a complex world of human beings and human problems, the book has a great deal to offer even when one does not entirely buy (as I do not) what cultural studies scholars do or how they do it.” [8] Through its large international conferences and their resultant books (Marxism and Cultural Studies) as well as through its smaller and more mundane activities (faculty development seminars and local colloquia; partial funding of graduate students) the Unit has helped foster theoretical inquiry and cultural studies in Urbana and beyond. It has thus played a small but significant part in the transformation of the humanities and qualitative social sciences in the past several decades in the USA.

Over the years, guests of the Unit have included Linda Martín Alcoff, Perry Anderson, Arjun Appadurai, Étienne Balibar, Tony Bennett, Lauren Berlant, Michael Bérubé, Homi Bhabha, Timothy Brennan, Wendy Brown, Pheng Cheah, James Clifford, William E. Connolly, Tim Dean, Lisa Duggan, Terry Eagleton, Roberto Esposito, Grant Farred, Didier Fassin, James Ferguson, Nancy Fraser, Simon Frith, Jane Gallop, Paul Gilroy, Gerald Graff, John Guillory, Judith Halberstam, Catherine Hall, Stuart Hall, Donna Haraway, Dick Hebdige, Andreas Huyssen, Fredric Jameson, Martin Jay, Lynne Joyrich, Paul W. Kahn, Ernesto Laclau, Christopher Lane, Henri Lefebvre, David Lloyd, Saba Mahmood, Toril Moi, Franco Moretti, Chantal Mouffe, Jeff Nunokawa, Paul Rabinow, Bruce Robbins, Andrew Ross, Joan Scott, Ella Shohat, Kaja Silverman, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Michael Szalay, James Vernon, Gauri Viswanathan, Priscilla Wald, Michael Warner, Cornel West, and Patricia J. Williams.

From 1981-1983 the Unit was directed by Cary Nelson. From 1984-2003 the Unit was directed Peter K. Garrett [1] From 2003-2009, the Unit was directed by Michael Rothberg, Professor of English [2] and current Director of the Holocaust, Genocide, and Memory Studies Initiative [3] also at the University of Illinois. In Fall 2009, Lauren M. E. Goodlad,[4] after a year as Interim Director in 2008-9, became the Unit’s director until 2014. The current director is Susan Koshy.


  • Mad World: Sex, Politics, Style and the 1960s (2010)[9]
  • Postcolonial Studies and Beyond (2002)[10]


  1. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on October 9, 2009. Retrieved December 17, 2009. 
  2. ^ Striphas, Ted (1998), "CULTURAL STUDIES' INSTITUTIONAL PRESENCE: A RESOURCE AND GUIDE", Cultural Studies, 12 (4): 571–594, doi:10.1080/09502386.1998.10383121 
  3. ^ Berube, Michael, The Employment of English: Theory, Jobs, and the Future of Literary Studies, New York University Press, 1998, p. 196
  4. ^ Harrison, Brady (2009), "Empire and the Anxiety of Influence", in Rothberg, Michael and Peter K. Garrett, Cary Nelson and the Struggle for the University, Albany, NY: SUNY Press, pp. 195–197 
  5. ^ Eagleton, Terry (18 December 1992). “Proust, punk, or both.” Times Literary Supplement, pp. 5-6.
  6. ^ http://www.press.uillinois.edu/books/catalog/27mnn6nz9780252014017.html
  7. ^ Brennan, Timothy (2009), Review of Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture, Modern Fiction Studies, 35.2 (1989): 367-370.
  8. ^ Fitch, Kristine L. Review of Cultural Studies, The Quarterly Journal of Speech 80.2 (1994): 240-242.
  9. ^ http://www.illinoistimes.com/Springfield/article-6979-mad-for-lsmad-menrs.html Coverage of Mad World in the Illinois Times
  10. ^ http://criticism.english.illinois.edu/archives/EventArchives.htm[permanent dead link]

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