Who is the subject of critical theory in 2020? And how does this subject grapple with the legacy of patriarchy, whiteness, and coloniality that have haunted critical theory since 1968 and earlier? Too much of a question for a blog post. But I would venture briefly that one way to rethink the legacy of critical theory is to see how others have already escaped it.
I want here to explore feminist theorist Sara Ahmed’s professional encounter with critical theory in Britain. I draw here on her published reflections on her education, set largely in the late 1980s and early 1990s. For Ahmed, theory’s reified masculinism was a point of departure in her process of coming to consciousness as a feminist. Ahmed, who resigned her professorial position at Goldsmiths to protest widespread sexual harassment, initially encountered “theory” as an undergraduate in the literature department at the University of Adelaide. When she moved to Cardiff University’s then-new Centre for Critical and Cultural Theory for her doctoral work, she learned a major lesson: that theory in the abstract was predominantly theory in the masculine.
What I glean from Ahmed’s writing is that her coming-to-consciousness-against-theory took place in four key moments.