SPT Twenty-fifth Anniversary

The following letter was mailed to alumni of the Graduate Programme in Social & Political Thought at York University.


Dear Alumni


The Graduate Programme in Social & Political Thought will be twenty-five years old this coming Fall. In order to commemorate the quarter century of the Programme's existence and success, we are planning a 25th Anniversary Celebration. The tentative date is September 11-13th. All those who have been, and/or are still associated with the Programme, whether as students, students, alumni, faculty or "friends" are invited.


The main event will be a conference, and one of the purposes of this letter is to begin to solicit papers. The conference will be entitled "The relevance of Critique and The Critique of Relevance," about which more later. As part of this conference, but as something of a sidebar, we are also planning to have a session on the Programme itself -- its founding intentions, its history and future prospects -- in which, it is hoped, a number of the original faculty will participate. It need hardly be added that this event will provide an opportunity for all of us to get together, to become acquainted and reacquainted, in short, to socialize and to celebrate. And the appropriate venues will be organized for this purpose as well.


One of the central purposes in having a 25th Anniversary Celebration is to publicize the Programme and its accomplishments. In this light, we would like to see the following happen. First, that the conference will generate papers of sufficient focus, quality and originality that we can interest a publisher in putting out a book culled from the conference proceedings. Second, given the connections of some of those associated with SPT, to obtain a certain amount of exposure from the local media. And third, to construct a display case -- possibly a permanent one -- of books published by SPT graduates (and all graduates are encouraged to loan/donate any books that they have had published, particularly those that originated as dissertation projects in the Programme). As a final possibility, it has been suggested that alumni who now find themselves in more fortunate circumstances, monetarily speaking, may wish to contribute to the establishment of a scholarship for our increasingly impecunious, current students. The hope is that if there is a sufficient response, we can seek matching contributions from some more official body.


The Conference

In deciding to call the conference "The Relevance of Critique and the Critique of Relevance," we were seeking to find a title that would encompass the programme in all its shifting diversity. Almost all of us, whatever our differences, would feel comfortable with the terms "critique" or "critical" as self-descriptions. Many of us came to SPT because we were engaged in some larger critical project, which we felt could not be sufficiently accommodated within a conventional department. And for a number of years, as if to reflect the term's abiding importance, students in SPT have been organizing an annual "Strategies of Critique" conference. However rather than using "critique" as a catch-all rubric under which to fit all our multiple projects, we would like to use this occasion, without necessarily abandoning our respective "locations," to thematize Critique as a problematic in itself. In this manner, we hope to open up a common space of reflection.


In posing the question of Critique -- what is it, and why is it (still) important -- one cannot but be confronted by two tendencies which, while they cannot be ignored, should not be allowed to unduly restrict our inquiries. The first involves simple stock-taking, describing where we are now in relation to where we were then, and thus providing a sort of intellectual autobiography, whether individual or collective. The second involves adopting an overly defensive attitude to "critique" or the "critical intellectual," that is, to ourselves -- a defence that has, admittedly, been given a new urgency, at least in this province, by a government that, to all appearances, is hostile to the very idea of a liberal education. That both tendencies will their way into our thinking, is not to be denied; but if we limit ourselves to them, we could easily find that the space of reflection that we are seeking to establish, will be much diminished. The first tendency, given the Programme's differences, is liable to threaten our sense of focus, and the second, while it may allow us to regain a sense of commonality, could easily deepen the potential, already contained in the first, for narrow self-justification.

What then does it mean to be critical? (Or does the term resist any determinate semantic content?) To what end is one critical? (Or is critique, above all, the critique of ends, or is it the critique of the end of ends)? What is the relation of critique to that which it criticizes (whether a politics, an ethics, a culture, a society, a civilizational project, or lack thereof)? Is this relation simple, reciprocal, dialectical? Does it imply some hidden complicity, or is it a game played with a diabolical, and diabolically clever opponent? And what is the relation of critique to the person, movement or institution doing the criticizing? Implicitly, this raises the question of the intellectual, but also of her institutional insertion in certain types of movements, traditions, types of regime or society. Indeed, it raises more generally, the whole question of social reflexivity. Why is critique relevant? Which is to ask the question contained in all the others, why is critique important? But it is also to pose a relation to time, both to the present, and to time more generally (does critique imply a relation to a specific understanding of time, to its "institution," its tyranny, its indeterminacy?). Must critique always be relevant? and in what sense? Must critique adapt to the times? And in what sense, relative to these times, can critique still be critical?


These are the sorts of questions that come to mind, and that can hopefully be ventilated through all the different tendencies represented in times past and present within the Programme. One need not, and indeed cannot respond to all these questions. Still a response to any one or several of them should help to construct a shared space of (self) reflection. No doubt, the responses will be multiple, but because they originate in a common set of interrogations, they will, it is hoped, form genuine spaces for dialogue in the present, even as they help to orient us towards the future.


Panels will be arranged on the basis of the number and character of the responses. If you would like to give a paper, and you are encouraged to do so independent of your present "status," could you please send a page outline by the end of May. And if you do not intend to give a paper, we would still very much like you to come.


All communications (whether inquiries, suggestions, possible contributions, or expressions of a desire to participate) can be forwarded to:


25th Anniversary Celebration

Graduate Programme in Social & Political Thought

York University, 4700 Keele Street

Toronto, Ontario

Canada, M3J 1P3


jhawley@yorku.ca or bsinger@yorku.ca

fax: (416) 650-8075

telephone: 416-736-2100, extension 77402, or 736-5320 (Programme Office)


The Programme also has a website on the internet, at http://www.yorku.ca/spot/ and [more] information concerning the 25th anniversary celebration will be posted.


We look very much like to seeing you in the fall.




Brian Singer

Director, Graduate Programme in Social & Political Thought


Edward Winslow

Chair, 25th Anniversary Committee


Back to the main 25th Anniversary page.



|SPT Programme Information| GRW ~ Graduate Workshops|
Strategies of Critique (SPT conference)|
SPT Social Events|Links|25th Anniversary|
J-SPoT ~ The Journal of Social and Political Thought|
SPT Speakers' Series| SPT Graduate Students' Association|

email your comments to :
Brian Singer or Judith Hawley, York University
last updated: May 10, 1998

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