Critique and Genre: The Essay as Form
Dissertation in Sociology
Prof. Dr. Ulla Haselstein
Prof. Dr. Heinz Ickstadt
Prof. Dr. Renate Hof
The question how to critique those cultural norms and practices that are widely and ‘naturally’ taken for granted has always been at the heart of Cultural Studies. On the one hand, the problem of cultural critique has been conceptualized as a matter of exclusion, i.e. as a lack of authority on the part of the critic, due to his or her discursive position. On the other hand, there is the idea of cultural critique as a self-reflexive practice. In what ways can one create an outside position for a critical view of one’s own culture and discourse? How, and on what grounds, is it possible to assume a critical stance toward one’s own values and categories of knowledge?
In both cases, the project of cultural critique calls for specific textual strategies.
By examining the form of the essay and the ways it has been connected with the function of critique, my dissertation project approaches such questions from a genre perspective.
It thus builds on an understanding of genre as a category that guides readers’ expectations, i.e. a category that works to conventionalize and validate specific writing patterns and speaking positions, and thus to “shape strategies for occasions,” as John Frow puts it.
Ever since Montaigne, the genre of the essay has been associated with a ‘skeptical’ frame of mind. More particularly, however, the critical potential of the essay has been stressed in 20th ---century theories – most prominently so in Theodor W. Adorno’s landmark essay “The Essay as Form,” where he speaks of “the critical form par excellence.”
What kind of a critical practice did the essay constitute in different historical and cultural contexts? How – and to what effect – has it been adapted for specific occasions? And how have strategies and possibilities of critique in turn been shaped by the genre?
Since Fall 2007: Doctroral Candidate at the Graduate School of North American Studies, Freie Universität Berlin.
2006: Magister Artium (M.A.) in American Studies, French, and Business Administration. Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin.
2001-2002: Study abroad year at Georgetown University, Washington, D.C.; graduate exchange student at the Department of English.