Capital, Nature, Critical Theory: Adorno and Horkheimer’s "Dialectic of Enlightenment" in the Anthropocene

Philip Kaisary's picture
March 19, 2020 to March 22, 2020
Illinois, United States
Subject Fields: 
Environmental History / Studies, Humanities, Literature, Philosophy, Sociology


A proposed seminar for the American Comparative Literature Association (ACLA) annual conference taking place in Chicago, March 19th–22nd, 2020. Please circulate to interested colleagues. Please submit paper proposals to: and by September 23.


Call for Paper Proposals / Seminar Participants 

*Proposals due September 23, 2019*


This seminar aims to contribute to the ongoing work of re-energizing critical theory as a socially transformative project by revisiting Adorno and Horkheimer’s foundational Dialectic of Enlightenment (first published in 1947 in German as Dialektik der Aufklärung; English translation first published in 1972). We seek papers that place a special emphasis on the legacies of Dialectic of Enlightenment in light of environmental catastrophe and climate breakdown, critical theory’s engagements with political ecology, and attempts to revise and reconfigure the received histories of capital and modernity. Papers might engage with this broad theme through readings of a variety of texts and media, including (but not limited to) literary, cultural, and theoretical materials. Interdisciplinary submissions are especially welcome, as well as those grounded in a wide range of disciplinary backgrounds (including the humanistic social sciences).


After a period of relative neglect, the Frankfurt School is once again on the front burner of theoretical attention. While the context of resurgent global neo-fascisms – from Washington D.C. to Brasília, to London, Moscow, New Delhi, and beyond – offers one sobering and compelling reason to revisit the legacy of Adorno and his associates at the Institute for Social Research, the field of Frankfurt School and (in particular) Adorno studies has itself shifted in response to other pressures. Some of these have been disciplinary: consider, for example, postcolonial critiques of a Eurocentric conception of modernity and Marxist-feminist reconstructions of Enlightenment history. Other pressures have been more general and include, inter alia, the encroachment of technology into all areas of public and private life, the continuing automation of work, and the rise of AI. A relatively under-attended aspect of Frankfurt School critique, however, has been its understanding of the role of (non-human) nature in capitalist modernity. Many of the current debates around the Anthropocene/Capitalocene would benefit from greater engagement with this strand of Dialectic of Enlightenment’s argument; conversely, the ecological crisis today throws aspects of Dialectic of Enlightenment – what it includes and what it overlooks – into sharper relief. From the standpoint of our current historical moment, twenty years into the new millennium, the capacity of narratives predicated on liberal democratic ideology to communicate a hopeful message of progress has been revealed as wholly insufficient; within this context, drawing on the resources provided by the Frankfurt School and its varied interlocutors, the seminar aims to theorize and to critically appraise alternative modes of being in the world.


For more information on the conference please visit:


Contact Info: 
Dr. Philip Kaisary
Associate Professor
Department of Law & Legal Studies | Department of English Language & Literature | ICSLAC
Carleton University
Loeb Building C473
1125 Colonel By Drive
Ottawa, ON, K1S 5B6 Canada
Unceded Algonquin Territory

Dr. Nick Lawrence
Associate Professor
Department of English & Comparative Literary Studies
Humanities Building, University Road
University of Warwick
Coventry CV4 7AL, UK