MA in Critical Studies


  Full Curriculum

Critical Theory Seminars (9 credits): In three critical theory seminars, students learn to read and write carefully and critically; to express ideas clearly; to hold multiple perspectives simultaneously; and to analyze ideas based on their material effects. The critical theory seminars form the intellectual foundation of the program and constitute the students’ shared texts. The seminars introduce students to major concepts and questions in critical theory – and, as the seminars build on one another, they become more focused on particular lines of thought within critical theory. The seminars approach critical theory/ies as epistemological and methodological approaches to the study of structural inequalities and as tools for questioning power and analyzing the construction of difference. Because the courses are taught in the context of an art school, particular attention is paid to exploring overlaps and tensions between critical theory and visual studies and investigating the role critical theory and art can play in transforming institutions and ideologies. In each seminar, students will be exposed to a required set of texts and will also have the opportunity to connect the assigned topics to their own area of expertise and interest. Courses will combine both requisite content and opportunities for intense engagement with specialized topics in which the student chooses to read more deeply.

Research for a Creative Practice Seminars (6 credits): The seminars in research for a creative practice provide frameworks for students to pose questions and incorporate qualitative research methodologies into ongoing inquiry. The emphasis is on research as a process of critical engagement for observing connections between seemingly disparate ideas, planning future actions and strategies, and asking better questions. The seminars introduce students to a range of qualitative research methods and examples of creative inquiries that cross the boundaries of discipline and genre. The seminars also prepare students to write their thesis projects. By the end of the first seminar, students pose their research question; by the end of the second seminar, students write a literature review of relevant theorists, artists, and creative practices that inform their thesis work and are well prepared to transform core concepts and questions into a novel, researchable project that will make a contribution to the field. In addition, students develop professional skills for clearly communicating research ideas with theoretical and methodological rigor to various audiences.

Thesis Writing Seminars (12 credits): Students in the Critical Studies program complete and defend a master’s thesis (30-50 pages), which is both critical and constructive. In the first seminar, with support from a mentor, the thesis writing professor, and in-class workshops, students complete the thesis. In the second seminar, students reshape their academic thesis work for publication so the research project is outward facing and makes a contribution in the world. The form of publication depends on the student’s area of interest and professional practice plans.

Ethics & Visual Culture Seminar (3 credits): This seminar explores critical theory as a critique of seeing. The course models the program’s combination of critical theory and creative research and investigates practices of looking and the production, circulation, and effects of visual images.

Creative Non-Fiction Writing (3 credits): In this writing workshop, students learn to write in preparation for the thesis project through a variety of writing exercises, experiments, and reading assignments. Emphasis is placed on experimentation and argument as means to develop a personal vocabulary while initiating a self-directed writing practice.

Professional Practice (3 credits): In this seminar, students develop effective professional strategies to successfully pursue a chosen career path upon completion of the Critical Studies program. The course helps students identify opportunities for achieving meaningful career objectives and for making a contribution as a critical citizen. Students learn concrete professional skills: curriculum vitae formatting, email and communication etiquette, letter writing, interviewing, public speaking, job search resources, portfolio development, and how to apply for opportunities (which may include PhD programs, teaching positions, publications, grants, fellowships, internships, residencies, or exhibitions). The objective is to prepare the future Critical Studies graduate to identify, plan and pursue a strategy for meaningful career development and a rewarding professional life in which their talents translate into a significant critical cultural contribution.

Internship (3 credits): Internships provide opportunities for students to translate their academic research interests into real-world professional experience.

Electives (6 credits): Students take additional courses in graduate or undergraduate programs at PNCA that support their creative, research, and intellectual interests and prepare them to complete their thesis project.



Fall Semester
12 credits

Critical Theory 1: Introduction (3)
Research for a Creative Practice 1 (3)
Ethics & Visual Culture (3)
Elective (3)

Spring Semester
12 credits

Critical Theory 2: Feminist Theory, Queer Theory, Gender, and Sexuality (3)
Research for a Creative Practice 2 (3)
Creative Non-Fiction Writing (3)
Elective (3)


Fall Semester 
12 credits

Critical Theory 3: Critical Race Theory and Postcolonial Theory (3)
Thesis Writing 1 (6)
Professional Practice (3)

Spring Semester  
9 credits

Thesis Writing 2: Preparing for Publication (6)
Internships (3)

Request Info Apply Now

Shawna Lipton

Full Curriculum

Viewbooks & Packets