19 May 2023 - 20 May 2023All dayFaculty of English



  • Rhona Jamieson, University of Cambridge


  • Michael Rizq, University of Cambridge
  • Alexander Hobday, University of Cambridge
  • Tanya Kundu, University of Cambridge
  • Ally Louks, University of Cambridge


  • Sarah Dillon, University of Cambridge
  • Rita Felski, University of Virginia
  • Jonathan Kramnick, Yale University


The urgency of scholarly analysis of trust, conspiracism, and the relationship between academy and state during the COVID-19 pandemic presents academics with an opportune moment in which to probe evolving and emergent considerations of the functions of criticism. Since Bruno Latour archly observed that critique has ‘run out of steam’, debate within the critical discussions that postcritique thinker Rita Felski has termed the ‘method wars’ have been sometimes fractious. This conference seeks to return, in a generous spirit of collaboration, to imperative questions regarding the humanities’ functions, methods, and contribution both within and beyond the academy.

Postcritique writing has productively reinvigorated assessments of the type of activity the humanities perform. But this growing body of work has also exposed the need for a widespread re-evaluation that both includes and ranges beyond affective philosophies of attachment and strategies of surface reading. Amongst recent interrogations of critical practices, posited solutions have ranged across actor-network theory, ordinary language philosophy, attention to cognitive approaches to texts, new modes of interdisciplinarity, sociological, digital, and quantitative methods, and a reconsideration of the public functions of academic research. There is a critical momentum building behind the question of what kind of activity ‘criticism’ is, and how best to describe and understand the activities of the humanities more broadly. Attending to this question requires both innovation and a rigorous interrogation of the disparities, synchronies, and intersections of critique and postcritique. As Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick delicately articulated, a hermeneutics of suspicion can be ‘one kind of cognitive/affective theoretical practice among other, alternative kinds’. Is it possible that these various methods might offer each other mutual support, or coexist in a disciplinary structure that thrives upon critical variety? This conference seeks to explore the question: What are the assorted functions of our criticism?

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