Susan Buck-Morss

  Department of Government
102A White Hall
Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853


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Profile: Susan Buck-Morss is Professor of Political Philosophy and Social Theory in the Department of Government, and a member of the graduate fields of German Studies and History of Art. Her training is in Continental Theory, specifically, German Critical Philosophy and the Frankfurt School. She is currently researching and lecturing on politics and religion, theories of sovereignty, legitimacy and faith, and economies of political vision.

Curriculum Vitae: Click here to download.

Courses: She has recently taught courses in Political Vision, Islamism, Critical Theory, Sovereignty, Globalization, and Visual Culture and Social Theory.

Fall Courses: 2005
GOVT 471/GERST 471Critical Reason: The Basics
Govt 669/GERST 669/VISST670 Modern Social Theory I: Political Vision

Spring 2007: On leave

Description of courses:

Political Vision (last taught Fall 2006)
The topic for 2006 is "Political Vision." We will consider case studies in the politics of vision to break new ground, both in terms of the visual cultures we consider (not all modern, not all western), and the theoretical principles we develop. The seminar is imagined as an experimental workshop of political imagination.


Islamism (last taught Spring 2006)
This course introduces students to the field of comparative political philosophy that acknowledges the importance of thinkers outside of the Western philosophical canon. We will deal in depth with the complexities of Islamism as a modern discourse of political opposition that discusses issues of social justice, legitimate power, and ethical life. Rather than emphasizing tradition and ancient civilization, we will approach Islamism in the very contemporary context of globalization in the post-Cold-War era.

The past several decades have seen a new era of Islamic thought. Many of the most influential writers have lived (often in exile), studied or taught in the West, where they have been in dialogue with liberation theology, post-colonial theory, and Westerns thinkers from Kant, to Nietzsche, to Fanon, so that they are a part of this intellectual history as well. Understanding these interconnections challenges the hegemonic concept of “the West,” which has presumed a global monopoly to decide the meanings of modernity, democracy, human rights, women’s rights, the role of the state, and the nature of struggles for liberation. Because the secondary literature on Islamism is part of the partisan debates, attention is given to the political and theoretical presuppositions embedded in the very concepts of “Islamism” and the "West.”

So far as available translations permit, we will read the original sources: philosophical texts by Rachid Ghannouchi (Tunisia), Muhammad Iqbal (Pakistan), Ayatollah Ruhallah Khomeini (Iran), Sayyid Qutb (Egypt), Nurcholish Madjid (Indonesia), Fatima Mernissi (Morocco), Fazlur Rahman (Pakistan), Ali Shar’iati (Iran), Ustadh Mahmoud Taha (Sudan), and others. We will also read commentaries on Islamism by academic scholars: Talal Asad, Hamid Dabashi, Roxanne Euben, Ali Mirsipassi, Bobby Sayyid, Azam Tamimi, and others, as well as historical and social-scientific analyses of political events influenced by Islamism.  As the major experiment in founding an “Islamic Republic,” Iran will be a focus. Themes will include Islamism and feminism, Islamism and Marxism, Islamism and democracy, Islamism and cinema.


Critical Theory (last taught Fall 2006)
This course deals with basic concepts and methods of Critical Theory from Kant to Adorno. Lectures will consider philosophy from the perspective of the political, demonstrating how autonomy, freedom, democracy, and law are approached by the following: critical reason, dialectics, materialist epistemology, and the socio-logics of non-identity. Students will tackle difficult primary texts in this tradition, with the goal of enhancing their own critical capacities to analyze political, social and economic life. We will read texts by Kant, Hegel, Marcuse, and Adorno. Note: Basic does not mean introductory. This is an advanced and rigorous course. Not recommended for students without former background in theory or philosophy.


Sovereignty  (last taught Spring 2006)
The enemy is the embodiment of your own question “ - T. Däubler
We will examine sovereignty, a central idea of macro/metapolitics, on multiple levels - theoretical, historical and cultural; and across several media  - mainly text, but also artifact, image, and film. We are less interested in the existing debates on sovereignty among well-known theorists (who will be read but not revered) than in the urgent issues of sovereign power that confront us today regarding legitimate violence, collective resistance, truth, and belief.


Globalization (last taught Spring 2005)
This seminar approaches the topic of Globalization through diverse sources, combining theoretical texts with empirical studies, and historical accounts with contemporary analyses. The aim is to avoid common academic pitfalls, preventing theoretical analyses from being vacuously abstract, social scientific descriptions from being dangerously unreflective – and both from being naively unhistorical.Topics considered in their global ramifications include Capitalism, Imperialism, Sovereignty, Totalitarianism, Legitimacy, Media, and Religion.Theoretical texts included are by Althusser, Ahmad, Bourdieu, Eisenstein, Brennan, Hardt and Negri, Mignolo, Giroux, and Tsing.

Reigning -isms will be critically engaged (postmodernism; post-colonialism; post-nationalism; post-Marxism; neo-liberalism; neo-imperialism; market and religious fundamentalisms), and alternatives will be explored (feminism, anarchism, NGOs, World Social Forum, sustainable development, independent media). The course is designed to expand intellectual horizons and encourage students to share interdisciplinary and inter-subfield expertise, while promoting research concerns that connect to political practice. Readings are heavy (not advised for undergraduates).


Visual Culture and Social Theory (last taught Fall 2004)
Introduction to critical concepts for the study of visual culture in specific socio-historical contexts. The course deals with the intersection of art and politics in the twentieth century. Empirical cases  (from the Russian Revolution to today’s artworld) are used to examine such theoretical issues as: the human sensorium; the meaning of aesthetics; images and the political imagination; art for the masses; vanguard and avant-garde; the political implications of style (fascism, socialism, liberalism, nationalism); the impact on art of the technical reproduction of the image;  form v. content; the political claims of contemporary practices (feminist, modernist, conceptualist, site-specific, non-western, new media). Central attention will be given to the theoretical writings of Walter Benjamin.


Photo by Joan Sage