Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Germanic Languages and Literatures
This dissertation charts an alternative history of Frankfurt School Critical Theory through its critical reception and appropriation by students involved in anti-authoritarian, anti-capitalist, and anti-imperialist social movements in the United States and West Germany in the 1960s and 1970s. There, many student readers of the tradition, including those named in the title, found opportunities to refine and critique their mentors’ ideas about capitalism and the state, racism and fascism, technology and mass culture, and the nexus of theory and praxis. They resisted the domestication of Critical Theory into the purely academic discourse of philosophy, sociology, and political theory, and instead sought to recover and extent its revolutionary origins in order to draw lessons for the political struggles in which they found themselves involved: for decolonization and international solidarity, for peace in Vietnam, for liberation from the affluent society and from monopoly capitalism, and for an autonomous university that might resist the capture of critical knowledge by state and corporate power.This dissertation reads these students as a distinct generation of Frankfurt School theorists, whose work is characterized by a reciprocal relationship between the content of their reception and the form of their political activism. In reevaluating the students’ radical ideas and political activities as genuine contributions to the tradition, it recovers an iteration of Critical Theory that is, first, transatlantic in scope; second, more attentive to the ways in which gender, race, and nation shape class stratification on global and local scales; and, third, committed to combatting their combined and uneven material manifestations through political action and organization. Chapter 1 reads Rudi Dutschke’s articulation of the historical nexus of anticolonial liberation struggles and international solidarity movements as a revolutionary correlate for Theodor Adorno’s theory of non-identity. Its aim is to equip the latter to better function as a framework for conceptualizing universal material freedom without curtailing the legitimacy of particularist liberation movements. Chapter 2 considers how a cohort of students in Frankfurt, including Angela Davis and Hans-Jürgen Krahl, retooled Max Horkheimer’s early critique of fascism and state capitalism into an urgent critique of the U.S. war in Vietnam and of imperialism and its state gatekeepers more broadly. It further tracks how Krahl sought to articulate a theory of organization on the terms of Horkheimer’s critique that would be capable of withstanding bureaucratic capture in advanced capitalist society. Chapter 3 charts a line of continuity from Davis’s dissertation project on Kantian political philosophy to her subsequent formulation of prison abolition. Specifically, it recovers Davis’s affinity to a Frankfurt School reading of the latent dialectics in Kantian philosophy in order to show how prison abolition implicitly mobilizes a philosophical defense of human agency in the face of reified social structures, such as racism and the state. Chapter 4 reads together two student-led campaigns for university reform in Frankfurt and San Diego, whose respective organizers included Krahl and Davis. By placing these two campaigns in conversation, it locates a critique of the role of the university in furthering capital accumulation by entrenching the racial stratification of late capitalist society. In further documenting how the Spartacus Seminar (Frankfurt) and Lumumba-Zapata College (San Diego) each aimed at establishing accredited infrastructural conditions that would facilitate non-coercive forms of sociality and study, it sketches a dual power theory of organization that is absent in the original Frankfurt School corpus.
Sebastian, Cecilia, "Critical Theory in Revolt: Angela Davis, Rudi Dutschke, Hans-Jürgen Krahl and the Frankfurt School, 1964-1972" (2022). Yale Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Dissertations. 657.