Spring 2013

Introduction to the Frankfurt School

Listed in: Political Science, as POSC-315

Moodle site: Course


Samantha R. Hill (Section 01)


[PT] [PT, SC - starting with the Class of 2015] The Frankfurt School of Critical Theory grew out of the Institute for Social Research at the University of Frankfurt am Main, which was founded in 1923 by Felix Weil. With the rise of National Socialism, members of the Institute were forced to flee in 1933, and eventually relocated to the United States. The Frankfurt School only existed as a “school” for a brief period, but the work of critical theory that emerged continues to be a rich and enduring tradition that centers around a re-interpretation of Marxism in response to the rise of totalitarianism in the 20th century. The economic and political conceptions of commodification, reification, and fetishization figure prominently in the often conflicting critiques of mass culture and existent political, social, and economic institutions. In addition to Marx, thinkers like Erich Fromm and Herbert Marcuse rely heavily on a reading of Freud that emphasizes the relationships between psychoanalysis and economy. In addition to Marx and Freud, the tradition of critical theory is strongly influenced by the works of Hegel, Kant, Kierkegaard, and Lukács who weave together a rich analysis of aesthetics, philosophy, and political action. These influences are very much present today in the work of contemporary political theory.

This course is an introduction to and survey of the essential figures in The Frankfurt School. We will begin with Marx and the Freudo-Marxist work of Herbert Marcuse, which focuses on man’s relationship to the world in capitalist society. From there, we will move to Horkheimer and Adorno’s critique of “the culture industry,” and then to Adorno’s most philosophical work Minima Moralia: Reflections on a Damaged Life, which provides a poetic interlude before exploring the works of Walter Benjamin, who was often at odds with Adorno, and remains a mysterious and controversial figure. We will end the course with Benjamin’s last work, Theses on the Philosophy of History.

Limited to 25 students. Spring semester. Visiting Professor Hill.


2019-20: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2013