The Seminar in Experimental Critical Theory (SECT) is an intensive ten-day summer program offered by UCHRI. SECT convenes distinguished instructors with a group of 40-60 faculty, graduate students, independent scholars, and public intellectuals from both the US and the international community. Neither an introductory survey nor an advanced research seminar, SECT functions as a “laboratory” where participants at all levels of experience can study with scholars at the leading edge of creative theoretical thought. The hallmark of SECT is its attention to both “pure” and “applied” modes of contemporary critical theory.
SECT’s topic—and often its location—changes each year. Founded in 2004, the first five seminars were held at UCHRI on topics ranging from psychoanalysis and politics to creative societies and culture industries. In 2009, SECT collaborated with the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences to explore design in China. In 2011, SECT was held in partnership with the University of Hawai’i for ten days in Honolulu on the intersection of Asian, technoscience and area studies. And in 2012, hosted by American University of Beirut, SECT was held in Lebanon on spaces of resistance.
Two key features separate SECT from the run-of-the-mill academic gathering. First, SECT is ten days of intensive engagement, combining formal talks and panels, lightning presentations, breakout groups, social gatherings, guest speakers, site tours, and more. And second, SECT participants are a curated group: a core handful of invited faculty plus several dozen faculty, graduate students, artists, activists, public intellectuals, and others from around the world, selected with an eye toward intriguing juxtapositions, collaborations, and conversations that challenge assumptions, push boundaries, and take both the “critical” and the “experimental” seriously.
The most recent SECT workshop, Archives of the Non-Racial, engaged South African histories and landscapes of the centuries-long struggles against racism, from the Freedom Charter, Treason and Rivonia Trials to Constitution Hill, from Black Consciousness and labor struggles to political resistance, anti-apartheid to post-apartheid. In each site, and where possible at all in dialogue with local communities, we crafted critical dialogues with other traditions of racial configuration, non-racialism, and antiracism elsewhere.
No wonder past participants have described the SECT experience as “fantastic,” “enchanting,” and “transformative.”