This PhD course gives participants an opportunity to intensively engage with some of the major foundational movements in critical social theory, so that they can continue to explore contemporary expansions of those movements in their own research. It is organized as an intensive discussion seminar over the course of four weeks (with two 3-hour sessions/week). With different specialized teachers for each session, from the chair groups RSO, SDC, GEO, SCH and beyond.

Learning Goals
After successful completion of this course, participants are expected to be able to:

  • Distinguish a range of positions in social theory
  • Critique understandings of the social world by contrasting different theoretical positions
  • Compose a coherent position with regard to multiple theoretical positions relevant to an issue


Critical social theoretical perspectives are a well-established and essential part of academic debate. For researchers entering into these debates, it is necessary to have at least basic understandings of many branches of theory, both to effectively carry out new research and to recognize subtle references to specific theories while engaging in dialogue with international audiences. Moreover, theoretical development is a cumulative process: as new theories come to the fore, they build on historical waves of previous development. To engage with new developments, it is therefore vital to have working knowledge of what preceded them.

This course intends to help researchers situate themselves in relation to different interpretations and lineages of major theoretical perspectives. The main objective is to give participants a brief opportunity to engage with some of the major foundational movements in critical social theory, so that they can continue to explore different expansions of those movements in their own research. To do so, the course is organised as an intensive discussion seminar over the course of four weeks, exploring 7 core theoretical topics. Each seminar will have its own set of required readings, which include both foundational literature and new research perspectives. Completing these readings is necessary for all students to contribute to discussion during the seminar meeting. These readings will require a substantial time commitment outside of the meeting hours, so participants will need to budget time accordingly in order to fully participate in the course.

In order to have enough time to complete the readings required for the first day of the course, registration is required by February 5. No registrations later than that date will be accepted.

From the 7 seminars, participants should take with them new understandings about the foundations of their own theoretical perspectives. These will include the following key topics in social theory, with some of the key authors we will read, introduced and guided by these associated experts:


Session 1 2018-02-19 10:00-13.00 Introduction to the course; Marx: Karl Marx Martijn Duineveld Bram Buscher
Session 2 2018-02-22 10:00-13:00 Marxisms: David Harvey, Nancy Fraser Robert Coates
Session 3 2018-02-26 10:00-13:00 Governmentality and biopolitics: Michel Foucault, Paul Rabinow Maartje Bulkens
Session 4 2018-03-05 10:00-13:00 Psychoanalysis: Jacques Lacan, Slavoj Zizek Robert Fletcher
Session 5 2018-03-08 10:00-13:00 (Post-) Colonialisms: Edward Said, Arundhati Roy, Gyatri Spivak Joost Jongerden
Session 6 2018-03-12 10:00-13:00 Feminisms: Simone de Beauvoir, Judith Butler, Gibson-Graham Chizu Sato
Session 7 2018-03-15 10:00-13:00 Posthumanism: Donna Haraway, Anna Tsing, Sarah Whatmore Clemens Driessen

The readings by key authors in these fields of social theory will for each session be supplemented by recent work from scholars using or engaging with these classic influential works in research on topics relevant to Wageningen.


To complete the 4 credits possible for this course, participants will need to: 1) attend and participate in each seminar (barring emergencies); and 2) submit brief one page reflections after each set of readings; and 3) further to these submit a reflective essay of approximately 2000 words after the end of course sessions demonstrating their engagement with the reading and course content. The topic and structure of the essay can be discussed with the examiners to reflect the student’s research interests.

Target group and min/max number of participants

This course is intended for PhDs, postdocs, and staff members who want to expand their engagement with critical social theory in their research. This can include beginning researchers who want an overview of different theoretical approaches, as well as experienced researchers who would like to familiarize themselves with strands of theory outside their normal purview.

The minimum number of participants is 10, the maximum 20, to ensure opportunities for debate during the sessions.

Assumed prior knowledge

Participants should have completed Advanced Social Theory (RSO-32806) or an equivalent course addressing classic thought and different strands of social theory. This is not suitable as a first theoretical course.

Course fee 

WASS, PE&RC and WIMEK/SENSE PhDs with TSP € 300
a) All other PhD candidates b) Postdocs and staff of the above mentioned Graduate Schools € 600
All others € 900

Fee includes coffee/tea, and course materials.  

NB: for some courses, PhD candidates from other WUR graduate schools with a TSP are also entitled to a reduced fee. Please consult your Education/PhD Programme Coordinator for more information

Cancellation conditions:

The participants can cancel their registration free of charge 1 month before the course starts. A cancellation fee of 100% applies if a participant cancels his/her registration less than 1 month prior to the start of the course.

The organisers have the right to cancel the course no later than one month before the planned course start date in the case that the number of registrations does not reach the minimum.

The participants will be notified of any changes at their e-mail addresses.