Photo: CCA Hubbell Street Galleries

Critical Studies

Gain the critical thinking and argumentation skills you’ll need to engage with contemporary conversations and enrich your creative practice.


Become an informed creative citizen

harness critical thinking for good

VOTE student design installation, 2018.

Harness critical thinking for social good

Critical Studies, part of our college wide humanities and sciences curriculum, teaches you to think critically and imaginatively about the world around you. Taught by a dynamic interdisciplinary faculty of academic experts in the fields of performance art, ecology, robotics, anthropology, and more, seminars challenge you to investigate a broad range of perspectives and values:

  • Philosophy and critical theory cultivate curiosity and ethical reflection
  • Science and math teach skills in experimentation, modeling, and observation
  • Social science and history cover essential research techniques while emphasizing cultural literacy and diverse perspectives
  • Foundation in Critical Studies teaches students how to actively engage with complex nonfiction texts and how contemporary art and design practitioners grapple with core ethical issues in modern social life

You’ll gain the skills needed to approach your own work within a larger cultural context and the strategies needed to re-envision, rethink, and remake our world.

Pair research and writing

Students exploring an installment at the CCA Hubbell Street Galleries.

Pair research and writing with hands-on making

Critical Studies seminars are designed to speak to your creativity. Many courses combine traditional learning activities, such as close readings and written responses, with hands-on making and visual assignments. You’ll discover how to connect your creative interests to major themes and events in contemporary life. A special guest speaker series brings renowned experts into our classrooms to help broaden your critical capacities. You may, for example, take a Critical Studies course on the global anthropology of dreams that hosts an indigenous shaman.

Integrated curriculum (1000 level)

We offer a range of 2000- and 3000-level Critical Studies elective courses each semester, all designed to meet humanities and sciences requirements for graduation (51 units total). Please note that some programs (including Architecture, Fashion Design, Interaction Design, and the minor in Computational Practices) require specific Science/Math and/or Social Science/History courses.

Critical Studies requirements

Foundation in Critical Studies (1000 level)
3 units
Philosophy/Critical Theory (2000 level)
3 units
Science/Math (2000 level)
3 units
Social Science/History (2000 level)
3 units

Total 12 units

critical studies chair Julian Carter smiling in garden

Julian Carter, Chair of Critical Studies

Meet the chair

Chair Julian Carter is a performance theorist and critical historian whose research and teaching focuses on embodiment, normativity, and power. He is the author of The Heart of Whiteness: Normal Sexuality and Race in America, 1880–1940 (Duke University Press, 2007), as well as numerous essays on queer and trans subjects. Carter also dances, draws, and produces social sculpture events through Studio Red Stripe in Oakland and as principal of PolySensorium, a social sculpture collective that sponsors experiential knowledge creation in academic settings.


Foundation in Critical Studies explores the provocative

Team-taught courses examine different themes

To fulfill your first-year Foundation in Critical Studies requirement, you can choose from several course options with different themes. These courses are team-taught by faculty from different academic disciplines to provide interdisciplinary perspectives on shared topics. Each faculty team includes at least one creative practitioner to demonstrate how intellectual scholarship can manifest real-world applications. You’ll learn how to actively engage with complex nonfiction texts and explore how contemporary art and design practitioners grapple with core ethical issues in contemporary social life. Below are a few examples of recent Foundation in Critical Studies courses.

Critical Making

This course examines what it means to be an embodied being with the capacity to shape our material surroundings. You’ll learn to think critically about the multiple ways scholars and creative practitioners explore issues of identity, inequality, and power. You’ll tackle controversial subjects at the intersections of nationality, race, ethnicity, class, ability, sexuality, and gender identity/expression to generate provocative ideas and lively group discussions.

Grief and Death in America

Focused on themes of desire, fear, redemption, and violence, this course examines how we create stories about American identity. Seminal examples across film, photography, music, sculpture, and other visual formats help you interrogate the ghosts of our collective psyche. You’ll develop foundational techniques in critical analysis and visual interpretation that you can then broadly apply to social and cultural power dynamics in your own work.

Values in Action

Building upon your Writing 1 and Introduction to the Arts experience, this course teaches you how to put your values into action. Whether you’re a fine artist, designer, critical thinker, activist, or a combination of these roles, you’ll learn to ask key questions about the stories we choose to amplify in contemporary culture and society. You’ll analyze current controversies around public monuments, cultural patronage, audience reception, and more.


We’re here to answer your questions

Start a conversation

Two students reviewing work at the Irwin Hall student housing facility.

Start a conversation

Are you passionate about techno-utopian ideals and science fiction? Interested in postcolonial and indigenous perspectives? Each semester, the Critical Studies program offers numerous seminars that expose you to the interconnections between criticality and creativity. Get in touch to learn about what’s coming up and how you can enrich all aspects of your CCA experience.

Julian Carter

Assistant Professor and Chair of Critical Studies

[email protected]
First Year Core students working on needle point in class

First Year Experience

Every undergraduate student participates in the First Year Experience, an opportunity to explore a wide range of materials and tools. Faculty from different disciplines guide projects, group critiques, and theoretical discussions to help set you up for success in your major. You’ll learn to move easily between conceptual and studio work.

Oakland Mural close-up

Close-up of a student mural on the Oakland campus.

Critical Ethnic Studies

Critical Ethnic Studies is an interdisciplinary field that explores multiculturalism and cultural diversity in American society. You’ll focus on the convergences and relationships between race and ethnicity, artmaking, and design practices. You’ll gain the analytical and critical skills you need to examine the legacies of racial and ethnic inequalities and resistance through seminars and studios.

Visual Studies Symposium_norrena_2016_062 Write and present your thesis

BA in History of Art and Visual Culture

Challenging you to think and write critically about the past, present, and future, the BA in History of Art and Visual Culture incorporates many different disciplines. You’ll learn how to engage with the material practices you want to research, from ancient architecture to video games, as you work toward a final thesis and scholarly presentation.

Computational Practices minor

In the Computational Practices minor, you’ll focus on new computational technologies and incorporate technical skills, conceptual rigor, and ethical competencies into your studio practice. You’ll learn to reprogram existing tools and build/design new tools, as well as further your understanding of technology’s roles and contexts in your chosen discipline.

Find your creative community at CCA

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