The International Summer School on Critical Theory 2018: Re-Thinking Ideology at Humboldt University Berlin took place from 14 to 21 July 2018. It involved lectures and discussions, reading sessions, smaller group discussions, and panel sessions on the concept of ideology, in order to stimulate debates across various paradigms—such as analytic moral philosophy, feminism, critical race theory, and Frankfurt School critical theory, and German Idealism. These concerned questions such as ‘what is ideology?’, ‘in which sense are ideologies false or deficient?’, or ‘on which basis and from which standpoint can ideologies be criticised?’.
Students in attendance came from fields as diverse as philosophy, literature, sociology, history, area studies, or politics. What made the summer school particularly unique compared to the other summer schools that I’ve been to was that the guest speakers themselves participated in the small discussion groups: they were themselves attending the summer school to engage in dialogue beyond their specialised field (e.g. someone from the Frankfurt School tradition would engage with analytic approaches to race critique and phenomenological approaches to gender).
I also had immense privilege to be able to present my ongoing research to, and receive crucial feedback from several of the speakers and participants, which helped me greatly with directing my work not only towards the most cutting-edge literature, but also towards spaces of dialogue between fields and disciplines.
Studying ideology critique in Berlin was also especially poignant, as Berlin is a city where, perhaps more than any other in the West, various ideologies—and resistances against them—played (and in some ways still play) a significant role in shaping its streets and stories in the past couple of centuries—whether on the seats of power in the Reichstag, in the explosive cultural anarchy of the Kreuzberg district, or behind the horrific, silencing walls of the Sachsenhausen camp. Humboldt University stands at the centre of the city as a veritable lighthouse of learning, weathering the storms of Nazi and Soviet control. But Berlin is more than a historical monument: it still harbours within the minds of the socially marginalised (such as myself) a promise of an inclusive utopia—an El Dorado, as the famous queer nightclub of the first ever gay district in the world (the Schöneberg district) was called. It was thus not surprising to learn that, in May, when an Alternative für Deutschland AfD (a far-right xenophobic nationalist party) rally was being held at the Brandenburger Tor, counter-protestors held a techno rave of 25,000 people (outnumbering the AfD 5 to 1).