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Critical Theory Research Group

The interdisciplinary Critical Theory Research Group brings together a group of faculty in the College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences. Our research relies on contributions from critical theory, broadly understood. As a distinct research tradition, critical theory began during the 1930s in Germany and in the United States. Its central assumption is that social, political, and economic contradictions are not ancillary features of modern societies, but integral components of western, industrialized societies with democratic political systems. Critical theory addresses these contradictions from the perspective of the social sciences and the humanities, with a special focus on issues of the philosophy of social science. Since the 1980s, the concept of critical theory has been expanded, especially in the United States. It now includes postmodernist theories, critical feminist theories, postcolonial theories, and critical race theories.

Disciplines / Departments

  • Cultural Studies in Education
  • English
  • Political Science
  • Sociology

Faculty Members / Areas of Expertise

Allison Anders, Ph.D., cultural studies, social and political theory, social justice and human rights, narrative theory and postcritical ethnography, sociology of education, feminist epistemologies, pedagogies, methodologies

Harry F. Dahms, Ph.D., theory (classical, contemporary, critical), globalization, economic sociology, political economy, social inequalities

Steven P. Dandaneau, Ph.D., social theory, political economy, community, critical theory, postmodernism

Allen R. Dunn, Ph.D., critical theory, twentieth-century Anglo-American literature

Amy Elias, Ph.D. contemporary literatures, globalization, narrative theory, media studies

Robert A. Gorman, Ph.D., phenomenology, hermeneutics, methodology, structuralism, Marxism, democratic socialism, modernism, postmodernism

Mary Papke, Ph.D., American literature, feminist theory

Barbara Thayer-Bacon, Ph.D., philosophy and history of education, social philosophy, cultural diversity, pragmatism, feminist theory and pedagogy, cultural studies in education


To facilitate active exchange and make the contributions of critical theory accessible to the larger university community, members of the Critical Theory Research Group invite guest speakers to campus and organize conferences on campus. In addition, the members of the group conduct scholarly research, collaboratively and individually, on the distorted representations of social, political, and cultural life in modern societies and on the ways these distortions limit the ability of institutions and organization to fulfill their stated purpose. Members’ research emphasizes the tension between the progressive values which society professes and the regressive social practices that undermine these values. The following questions have inspired recent research:

How does an interdisciplinary orientation enhance the quality of work in individual disciplines?

What are the perils and pitfalls of utopian imagination and the growing importance of constructive visions of the future?

What is the place of critique in democratic societies?

How does philosophy inform and inspire humanity’s timeless quest for justice?

How can seemingly abstract theories transform our everyday lives?

How do concepts such as alienation, reification, and instrumental reason facilitate explanations of the current economic and ecological crises?

What are the ethical implications and the narrative import of dialogue to postmodern theory?


For more than 20 years, Allen Dunn, a professor of English, has been organizing and conducting a weekly Critical Theory Discussion Group, providing participants the opportunity to engage with cutting edge work in critical theory. Texts discussed include contributions to the humanities as well as the social sciences. Special emphasis has been placed on social philosophy, social theory, political philosophy, and political theory, as well as works of interpretation at the intersection of history and social and political change.

In May 2009, the annual conference of the International Social Theory Consortium was held on the campus of the University of Tennessee. The theme of the conference was “Re-Visioning the Future: Modernity between Utopia and Dystopia.” Organizers were Harry F. Dahms, Steven P. Dandaneau, and Allen R. Dunn.

Harry F. Dahms, Steven P. Dandaneau, and Allen R. Dunn are collaborating on an edited volume on American critical theory. The compilation will combine contributions to critical theory by immigrant scholars working in the United States since the tradition’s beginning during the 1930s in New York, and studies developed in the United States by native-born scholars whose work was and continues to be compatible with this tradition.

Contact Information

Critical Theory Research Group
913 McClung Tower and Plaza
Knoxville, TN 37996-0490

Harry F. Dahms
Phone: (865) 974-7028

Allen R. Dunn
Phone: 865-974-6934

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