Istanbul Critical Theory Conference

Istanbul Critical Theory Conference

History, Progress, Critique - 3rd Istanbul-Oldenburg Critical Theory Conference

at Carl von Ossietzky University Oldenburg - September 12-14, 2019



The relationship between historical analysis and critical social praxis has been one of the central concerns of Critical Theory since its beginnings. For critical theorists historical analysis plays a key role in identifying immanent social forces and potentials as resources for a better society, i.e. for social and moral progress. While it was sufficient for the first generation of critical theorists to adopt a non-vulgarized version of historical materialism – perhaps with a Nietzschean ‘genealogical proviso’ – as a method of analysis, the experiences of the Second World War and the Holocaust made it necessary to radically rethink the naive teleological assumptions inherent in the notion of progress provided by German Idealism and Marxism. Critical Theory found itself confronted with the problem of grounding historical analysis on an alternative conception of philosophy of history. The need to rethink philosophy of history found its first expression in the seminal work of Theodor W. Adorno and Max Horkheimer, the Dialectic of Enlightenment. Since then, any substantial reorientation of Critical Theory has required a reassessment of the philosophy of history and its key notions.


This is perhaps the motivation behind Theodor W. Adorno's and Walter Benjamin's engagement with the concept of progress. They were questioning whether the very notion of progress presents an impediment to the radical transformation of society. If so, the concept would need to be transformed itself. A similar question plays a crucial role in the poststructuralist and postcolonial strands of contemporary critical theory. On the one hand, prominent theorists such as Foucault and Derrida have developed their critical perspectives on the rejection of not only rationalist but also structuralist binaries such as traditional/modern, static/dynamic, or progressive/regressive. The poststructural deconstruction of processes of knowledge and subjectivity production has generated transdisciplinary and emancipatory agendas that significantly enhance the scope of critical analysis. On the other hand, critical postcolonial theory has shown how the idea of progress has justified colonial exploitation and domination. The reassessment of the category of modernity, and the subsequent call for methodological self-reflexivity aims at transcending the sometimes narrow and Euro-centrist perspective of the Frankfurt School tradition of critical theory. Feminist theory has also opened new perspectives that allow us to critique patriarchal historical narratives that obscure gender differences and promote masculine ideas of progress.


In the light of these challenges, this conference aims at discussing whether and how to hold on to a philosophy of history and a notion of progress that enable critical theory to reflect on its own dependency on historical developments and prevent reifications.


Keynote Speakers:

Sonja Buckel (University of Kassel)

Estelle Ferrarese (Université de Picardie Jules Vernes, Amiens)

Rahel Jaeggi (Humboldt University Berlin)


The conference program will be made public by August 2019. The conference language is English. Attendance is free, but registration is required.




Organizing Chairs:

Volkan Çıdam (Boğaziçi University, Istanbul/Humboldt University Berlin)

Zeynep  Gambetti, (Boğaziçi University Istanbul)

Philip Hogh (Carl von Ossietzky University, Oldenburg)

Gaye İlhan-Demiryol (Bahçeşehir University, Istanbul)

Julia König (Johannes Gutenberg University, Mainz)



The International Consortium of Critical Theory Programs

Forschungsbasiertes Lernen im Fokus (FLiF+) at Carl von Ossietzky University Oldenburg


Conference History

The conference series “Istanbul Critical Theory Conference” started in 2016 at Boğaziçi University Istanbul and had to be displaced to Oldenburg owing to the political atmosphere reigning in Turkey. Since the situation in Turkey has not improved, the conference series continues in Oldenburg and is therefore now called “Istanbul-Oldenburg Critical Theory Conference”.

Previous conferences:


2016 Adorno and Politics


2017 Arendt and Critical Theory Today



Istanbul Critical Theory Conference 2017

Arendt and Critical Theory Today

2nd Istanbul Critical Theory Conference –

in Exile at the Carl von Ossietzky University, Oldenburg*

13-15 July 2017


Hannah Arendt’s political thought has been a source of controversy as much as it has inspired scholarly work in numerous directions. Some of the controversy is sparked by Arendt’s ambiguous relation to Frankfurt School thinkers. Her personal friendship with Walter Benjamin does not lead to an indiscriminate acceptance of Benjamin’s theses; her personal dislike of Theodor W. Adorno does not drive an unbridgeable gap between certain aspects of their theories. It would not be wrong to assume, that Arendt’s entire oeuvre springs from the urge to understand total domination, a feat that inevitably crosses her path with that of the first generation of Critical Theorists, although the latter refrained from using the term “totalitarian” to qualify both Nazism and Stalinism. Similarities and differences in Arendt's and the first generation of Critical Theorists’ understanding of fascism are further reflected in their observations and research on authoritarianism and the banality of evil. Despite her polemic against Marx, Arendt insistently pursues Marxist topoi such as imperialism, revolution, and laboring society. And despite her fascination with the American Revolution, she is fiercely critical of the state as an administrative apparatus and of law as a pre-political instance that tends to supplant collective action. In short, Arendt’s uneasy relationship to Kant, Nietzsche, Marx, Freud and Heidegger hint at how some of her reflections might overlap with those of the Frankfurt School.

Recent developments across the globe leave progressive circles rather baffled. Humanitarian ideals do not seem to resist the onslaught of nationalism, racism, antisemitism, mediocracy, and fear. A century after the collapse of Europe’s representative systems in the wake of World War I, authoritarianisms and fascisms are once again on the rise as surrogate revolutionary movements. Is this the dialectics of Enlightenment being played out anew? What do Arendt and Critical Theory have to offer in view of coming to terms with our predicament, as well as of ways to overcome it?


This conference aims to go beyond conventional approaches to Arendt’s political thought in view of extracting, from her unwritten dialogue with the Frankfurt School, the possibility of understanding the world we live in today. Beyond scholastic exercises focusing on the particularities of each thinker, we hope to generate a debate on the significance of this encounter for grasping the “burden of our time.”


Venue: Campus Haarentor, Ammerländer Heerstraße, Hörsaalzentrum A 14, Universitätsbibliothek




Keynote Speakers: Jay M. Bernstein (The New School for Social Research), Zeynep Gambetti (Boğaziçi University Istanbul), Lars Rensmann (University of Groningen)


Presentations by: Sabeen Ahmed (Nashville), Tobias Albrecht (Frankfurt a.M.), Delal Aydin (Binghampton), Amy Bartholomew (Ottawa), Floris Biskamp (Kassel), Markus Börner (Berlin), Larry Alan Busk (Eugene), Zahid Chaudary (Princeton), Nicholas Dunn (Montreal), Ashley Fleshman (Chicago), Steffen Herrmann (Hagen), Therese Herrmann (Frankfurt a.M.), Gaye Ilhan Demiryol (Istanbul), Emanuel John (Potsdam), Jim Josefson (Bridgewater), Andrew Key (Berkeley), Jenny Kneis (Berlin), Julian Kuppe (Halle), Kanchana Mahadevan (Mumbai), Judith Mohrmann (Frankfurt a.M.), Jan Müller (Basel), Ayala Paz (Beer Sheva), Aurélia Peyrical (Paris/Berlin),Enrico Pfau (Oldenburg), Marcus Quent (Berlin), Elisa Ravasio (Pavia), Michael Restagno (Montreal), Anne Rethmann (Berlin), Renaud-Selim Sanli (Brussels), Anna-Sophie Schönfelder (Osnabrück), Mesadet Maria Sozmen (Santa Barbara), Edgar Straehle (Barcelona), Andreas Stuhlmann (Edmonton), Marielle Kristina M. Sundiang (Quezon), Ville Suuronnen (Jyväskylä), Burak Tan (Istanbul), Javier Toscano (Chemnitz), Tom D. Uhlig (Frankfurt), Robin Weiss (Cairo), Matthew Wester (Texas), Thomas Wittendorff (Florence), Dana Villa (Notre Dame), Buğra Yasin (Istanbul), Yeşim Yaprak Yıldız (Cambridge), Rafael Zawisza (Warsaw), Hao Ji Zhu (New York), Judith Zinsmaier (Tübingen), Robert Zwarg (Marbach/Leipzig)


Organizing Chairs:

Philip Hogh (Carl von Ossietzky University, Oldenburg)

Zeynep  Gambetti, (Boğaziçi University Istanbul)

Volkan Cidam (Boğaziçi University, Istanbul)

Gaye İlhan-Demiryol (Bahçeşehir University, Istanbul)

Julia König (Goethe University, Frankfurt)


This conference is organized with support by the Hannah Arendt Center and the Adorno Research Center at Carl von Ossietzky University Oldenburg.


Registration at:


* Note: This conference is a follow-up to the first one on “Adorno and Politics” organized in Istanbul at Boğaziçi University in June 2016. Owing to the political atmosphere currently reigning in Turkey, we are obliged to displace it to Oldenburg, as a “critical theory conference in exile” of sorts.

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