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“The London Critical Theory Summer School made me think differently”

Every year, the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities (BIH) runs the London Critical Theory Summer School. In this blog, participants from this year’s Summer School and previous years, tell of their experiences and its impact on their work and lives.  

2021 participants 

Stacey Keizan, Wits University, South Africa
Stacey Keizan is a junior researcher investigating Developmental Psychology, Behavioural Science and Social Psychology at Wits University, and was a recipient of the Open Society University Network (OSUN) bursary in 2021. 

What a privilege it was to receive a generous bursary to attend the 2021 London Critical Theory Summer School. It was such an incredibly insightful and thought-provoking two weeks!   

Firstly, it was an absolute honour to get to listen to such highly acclaimed intellectuals, whose work continues to inspire and guide my own intellectual pursuits. Jacqueline Rose and Esther Leslie were fantastic facilitators of the lectures and discussions, all of which were so well organized. They encouraged questions and discussion among participants, while constantly elevating the conversation. The opportunity to engage with the speakers on such a personal level was amazing, and the way in which different perspectives were expressed and highlighted made the lectures and discussion extremely thought-provoking.   

The content was novel and diverse and went a long way towards expanding my reading and theoretical understanding of critical theory. I loved the way the speakers engaged with current topical issues on a global scale and made the theory come alive with practical examples and debate that facilitated critical thinking and lively discussion among participants.  A surprising highlight for me was the opportunity to hear such diverse and global perspectives from attendees. The group discussions were always so interesting, and I loved the multidisciplinary perspectives that attendees brought to these discussions, which often introduced me to new theory and stimulated my reading and interest in different avenues. Given that some of the lectures and readings were outside of my area of knowledge and understanding, I felt that the Summer School really stretched me.  

Golam Mostofa, BRAC, Bangladesh
Golam Mostofa was studying for a Bachelor of Pharmacy (BPharm) with Honours degree as a final year student when he enrolled on the Summer School. He wanted to expand his understanding of critical analysis and thinking in order to be effective in the critical analyzing and decision making of important issues, both personally and professionally. 

My learnings from the Summer School exceeded my expectations and I was quite amazed to learn many things from the professors and participants. I was always interested to learn more about critical theory but never got the chance to meet such great critical thinkers before. Living in a developing country limits many aspects of education. This program was the very first Summer School that I ever participated in and coming from a very small rural primary school to attend the Summer School was a great achievement for me. My parents were very proud. They’ve had very little education themselves, but they always encouraged me with every step. 

The Summer School added a new dimension to my thinking and life. It created a new path for me to start a great journey. It created a new feeling towards life, and I can feel the changes. I was so overwhelmed by the influence of the current time and media, and how it was blocking me from reality. Critical thinking makes me think differently and creates new perspectives.  

The two weeks of Summer School were very special for me. We discussed topics that were very rich, lively and thought-provoking; every word of the Summer School was important to me. I found a welcoming and warm place where I can converse with great critical thinkers and would love to attend every year. I really thank everyone for this great experience and am forever grateful.  

Blogs from participants in previous years 

Gustavo Matte
Gustavo Matte, a researcher, novelist, and community education volunteer in Brazil, received the Open Society Foundation Bursary in 2019.  

It was two intense and wonderful weeks… a real watershed in my intellectual life. Thanks to the Summer School, I returned to my home country, Brazil – which is facing several social and political problems – with new intellectual and affective resources to think about our current situation and resist, on a daily basis, the rise of all types of violence (racial, sexual, economical etc.).  

The Summer School was a wonderful place to meet people from all around the world and share knowledge, experiences and ideas that allowed us to help each other in several crucial matters; solving personal research problems, broadening cultural perception, and also sharing social traumatic experiences from different places and times experienced by the students in a way that could help us to figure out ways to overcome these crisis through the comparison of similarities and differences of each case. For example, what worked in South America that could also work in Asia? How can left-wing organizations of one country avoid making the same mistakes that weakened their counterparts in other countries in the world? Is it possible to put our local experiences together to see the greater picture?  

The Summer School was the perfect opportunity for me to ally intellectual growth, friendship and international solidarity (a network of mutual support) in order to resist fascism. The classes, professors, colleagues, together with the experience of being abroad, opened the world up to me and helped me realise that we still have places and situations where we can think broader and dream together. 

Burcu Yalim
Burcu Yalim, a publisher and independent scholar from Turkey, was one of the first recipients of the Open Society Foundation Bursary and attended the Summer School in 2019.  

The international bursary for the London Critical Theory Summer School gave me the invaluable opportunity to summon the intellectual and spiritual strength and inspiration I had been struggling keep alive in me for the past few years. It allowed me to take a step away from the stifling daily atmosphere of my country and to re-connect with the wider intellectual community and with my own work in a way that would have otherwise been impossible for me in my actual circumstances.  

Through my experience there, I discovered that the Summer School aspires to be more than a mere scholarly program. It strives to be a locus of encounter in which the institution of academia opens itself up to its own margins, at a time when academia itself is being made to survive in a constant crisis of legitimacy and self-justification vis-à-vis the market-driven world of professionalism.  

What I witnessed in Birkbeck, was the extraordinary effort to organise and accommodate that kind of impetus whereby an institutional space is transformed into a space for those who seek to surpass their individual constraints and build an understanding that is not based on a common ground of reconciliation, but opens up true negotiations.  

That passion was most remarkable in that all speakers and participants alike recognised themselves in it, even when their individual agendas differed significantly, they could relate to one another as one does in friendship. It is through the emergence of such a community that thinking has the chance to become consistent and critical. In that, such spaces are vital if a true relation to the future is to be produced.  

Such hospitality is the rarest of occurrences in our world today and by itself presents a challenge to our border-driven environments and geographies despite all the claims to a borderless globe. The programme deserves every possible support and solidarity and I can only hope that many more who do not have the necessary means will have the chance to take part in this event in the years to come. 

Nombuso Mathibela
Nombuso Mathibela, a 24-year-old South African and a self-described academic and activist, was the first recipient of the BIH International Bursary in 2018.  

When I first heard about the Summer School, I was intrigued by the idea of being part of a programme that would attempt to situate psychoanalysis as a set of theories, and that could assist us in dealing with social and political life. I come from a legal background and activist spaces that have offered different pathways and frameworks to the pursuit of radical social and economic change. I was grateful for the opportunity to be part of an intellectual space that has deepened my understanding of critical theory.  

Understanding that theory is borne out of comparison and struggle, I really enjoyed being part of a programme that made space for students coming from different parts of the world to theorise about their different yet similar systemic conditions. This school created a space to negotiate ideas, experiences and the historical formation of theories while provoking me to consider the present-past and engage different ways of being or becoming and unbecoming. Laura Mulvey’s sessions on female voices and cinema were enchanting, challenging multiple assumptions about womens histories and feminist imaginations.  

Moreover, the invited scholars challenged us, adding much vigour to my intellectual and political life. Similarly exciting was the selection of students from different backgrounds, disciplines and research interests. Our class was quite special, and I was able to develop transnational relationships of unquantifiable importance. I am aware of many activist scholars and students who have shown an interest in the Summer School for both its content and the calibre of intellectuals who are invited to participate. I look forward to returning to this space. 

Further information 

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