New Master's Programme: Critical Studies – Arts, Theory, History

2020-10-02 The degree programme "Critical Studies - Arts, Theory, History" at Leuphana Graduate School seeks to do nothing less than refound cultural studies. The four-semester programme is headed by Prof. Dr. Erich Hörl. Applications are welcome from 1 April to 1 June 2020.

The programme is unique in the German-speaking university landscape and is embedded in a lively research environment on cultures of critique, one of the three major focuses of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences.

Further information and application

Applications are accepted from 1 April to 1 June 2020.

Further information can be found on the


Critical Studies - Arts, Theory, History ©Foto: Michael Schindel
Andrea Fraser, Helmut Draxler et. al., "Services", 1993-1994, project meeting with Beatrice von Bismarck, Renée Green, Diethelm Stoller, Fred Wilson, Ulf Wuggenig and others, Kunstraum Leuphana University Lüneburg (Photo: Michael Schindel)

Thinking usually lags behind. Only in retrospect, when the process of forming a reality is complete, does thinking understand what this reality means. Hegel's famous aphorism, according to which "the owl of Minerva [...] spreads its wings only with the falling of the dusk", has summed up this retrospective aspect of thinking. "Cultural studies sciences, however, as we define them in Lüneburg," Hörl explains, "cannot and will not accept this retrospective aspect of thinking; indeed, at least in some shades, they have taken a stand against precisely this philosophical tendency of looking back. They are looking for strategies to overcome it and, in contrast, they represent the difficult claim of a contemporaneity of thinking within its inherent time. Over the years of their establishment at universities, which were also the years of rapid globalisation, capitalisation and mechanisation, this claim of cultural studies faded into the background. In view of the many socio-cultural and socio-political conflict zones that we witness today, however, the renewal and even aggressive reconceptualisation of this claim seems more necessary than ever. The cultural studies master's programme "Critical Studies - Arts, Theory, History" takes precisely this approach and revolves around the question: "In what way and through which perspectives do we succeed in both becoming contemporary to and doing justice to our own time, and what does this mean?" It is a matter of experimenting with a different relationship to our own time: developing modes of perspectivation that enable us to belong to the present while at the same time maintaining a distance to it, to not be completely absorbed in it, instead, to be fascinated by the present and anachronistic at the same time - in order to derive precisely from this the power of diagnosis and observation.

The degree programme proposes three central modes of perspectivation - arts, theory, history - whose extraordinary interweaving enables an untimely access to the present and its historical depths. "The students of the master's programme," Hörl explains, "are led to use these three modes of perspectivation to work on problems along the great lines of conflict in the present and thus to work on their recognisability. In doing so, the mode of perspectivation of the arts intervenes into established forms of perception, their media and institutions, and thereby encompasses, for example, contemporary art and modern art, literature, performative arts, and aesthetics from a transcultural perspective. The mode of theory transcends the conceptual work of philosophy towards other places of critical theory building such as culture, media, gender and queer theory up to the theory of postcoloniality and decoloniality. The mode of perspectivation of history, finally, opens up the development of the problem areas in terms of the history of culture, knowledge, power and media. The aim is to use the original interplay of these modes of perspective to disentangle the complex current problems - from the contemporary forms of capitalism and the universal form of globalisation, through the devastation of the Anthropocene, to forms of power and commonality under conditions of digitality - and to become capable of speaking in a powerful way. "If 'thinking' means, as Reiner Schürmann once wrote, 'to persevere in the conditions under which one lives, to linger in the place we inhabit'", says Hörl, "then we want to develop and practice precisely this perseverance and lingering."

Exploring the conditions of coexistence 

"But above all," Hörl says, "we also have to say goodbye to the notion that cultural studies is something like the supreme referential instance of a general crisis of modernisation or of the damage to life caused by modernisation, which keeps it in a constant mode of crisis". The critique of the present is currently literally stuck in the grand narrative that something (nature and culture, the nation, politics, economy and society, and of course the university) is in crisis. Without a crisis, nothing seems to be possible in thinking; criticism almost seems to need the crisis for its legitimisation and therefore constantly calls on it. "Instead, we need a reversal of thinking," says the head of the programme, "which interrupts precisely this rhetoric of crisis, and which, through precise analysis, cuts it off. Against the incessant talk of crisis, the course of study is designed to genealogically illuminate and systematically elaborate the major conflicts of our time. The horizon against which this dissection of the problems of critique is undertaken is the question of what is common. It is neither merely a matter of the search for a better life nor of demonstrating the normativity associated with it.  Instead, critical faculties imparted in the master's programme are ultimately intended to enable students to constantly probe the conditions of coexistence and to enable them to work on the present against the background of the central question: "What does it take to say yes to a co-existence? This very question marks the horizon of critique and gives it its undeniable legitimacy.

The label "cultural studies" is certainly used differently at different locations. At Leuphana's Graduate School, this subject (which is actually not a subject in the strict sense of the word, but rather plural in itself, representing a true subject pool), by bringing criticism and diagnosis to the fore as cultural studies tasks, directly addresses the cultural struggles of the present day. "It renews and expands the former founding impulse of cultural studies, which once emerged in response to the relapse into barbarism as its methodological prerequisite, making the subject a much-needed critical centre in the heart of today's university," Hörl said.