Fall 2022: Phl 820 – Materialist Societal Epistemology

General information


Here is more information about Prof. Lotz

Class Meetings

Days: Monday
Time: 5:30-8:30pm
Place: SK 530

Office & Office Hours

Phone: 517.355.4490 [dept.])
Place: SK 503
Hours: Mondays, 3:30-5pm

Other Contact

E-mail: lotz@msu.edu
Home Phone: please ask
Webpage: http://christianlotz.info


You will find my box in the front office of the philosophy department (SK 503)


Block I: (Theory of) Society: Marx, Sohn-Rethel, Adorno

Sep 5, Labor Day
No class, read some Marx!

Sep 12, Marx I: Society

Lukacs, What is Orthodox Marxism? (D2L)
Marx, Introduction, Grundrisse (D2L)
Adorno, Society (D2L)

Hall, A Reading of the 1857 Introduction (D2L)

Sep 19, Marx II: Ideology

Marx, German Ideology, excerpts (D2L)
Marx, Feuerbach Theses (D2L)
Marx, Philosophical and Economic Manuscripts (D2L)

Habermas, Knowledge and Human Interest, part 1 (D2L)

Zizek, The Spectre of Ideology (in Mapping Ideology)

Note: the manuscripts of the German Ideology recently have been republished in a new order in the German Collected Works (MEGA). In English: check Carver, T. and Blank, D., Marx and Engels’ ‘German Ideology’ Manuscripts (Palgrave)

Protocol 1: Matt

Sep 26, Marx III: Commodity Fetishism

Marx, Capital, Vol.1, ch.1.4

Zizek, How did Marx invent the symptom? (D2L), in: Mapping Ideology

Protocol 2: Reese

Oct 3, Sohn-Rethel: Social Synthesis, Exchange Principle

Sohn-Rethel, Intellectual and Manual Labor, part 1 & 2 (book)
Adorno, Theodor W. “Theodor W. Adorno on ‘Marx and the Basic Concepts of Sociological Theory” (D2L)

Marx, Capital, Vol.1, chapter 2 (exchange)

McNulty, Frankfurt School Critical Theory as Transcendental Philosophy: Alfred Sohn-Rethel’s Synthesis of Kant and Marx (D2L)
O’Kane, The Critique of Real Abstraction: From the Critical Theory of Society to the Critique of Political Economy and Back Again (D2L)

Protocol 3: Noah

Block II: Theory, Ideology, Praxis: Althusser

Oct 10, Althusser I

Althusser, Is it simple to be a Marxist in Philosophy? (D2L), in: Philosophy and the Spontaneous Philosophy of the Scientist
Althusser, On the Materialist Dialectic, in: For Marx (D2L), focus on 163-172, 182-218

Two excellent books on Althusser:
Elliott, Althusser. The Detour of Theory (Haymarket Books)
Montag, Althusser and His Contemporaries. Philosophy’s Perpetual War (Duke)

Protocol 4: Carlos
Presentation 1: Peighton (On the Materialist Dialectic)

Oct 17, Althusser II

Althusser, Theory, Theoretical Practice and Theoretical Formation: Ideology and Ideological Structure (D2L), in: Philosophy and the Spontaneous Philosophy of the Scientist

Althusser, Philosophy and the Spontaneous Philosophy of the Scientist (D2L), in: Philosophy and the Spontaneous Philosophy of the Scientist

Balibar, From Bachelard to Althuser: the concept of ‘epistemological break’ (D2L)
Lewis, Knowledge versus ‘Knowledge’: From Althusser on the Autonomy of Science and Philosophy from Ideology (D2L)

Protocol 5: Peighton
Presentation 2 (on Theory, Theoretical Practice): Reese

Oct 24, Break Day
No Class

Oct 31, Althusser III

Althusser, On the Reproduction of Capitalism, chapter 11&12&Notes&Appendixes (D2L)

Protocol 6: Reese
Presentation 3 (on ideology): Noah

Block III: After Althusser

Nov 7, Hall I

Hall, Cultural Studies 1983: A Theoretical History (book)

Protocol 7: Matt

Nov 14, Hall II [cancelled because of sickness]

Read in this order:
Hall, Culture, the Media, and the ‘Ideological Effect’ (D2L)
Hall, The Whites of Their Eyes: Racist Ideologies and the Media (D2L)
Hall, Race, Articulation, and Societies, Structured in Dominance (D2L)

Hall, Rethinking the Base Superstructure Metaphor (D2L)
Hall, The Problem of Ideology: Marxism without Guarantees (D2L)

Nov 21, Bourdieu I

Bourdieu, Critique of Theoretical Reason (part one of Logic of Practice) (D2L)
Bourdieu, Making the economic habitus (D2L)

Protocol 8&9: Noah & Peighton
Presentation 4: Carlos (on Making the Economic Habitus)

Nov 28, Bourdieu II

Bourdieu, Critique of Theoretical Reason (part one of Logic of Practice) (D2L)
Bourdieu, Bodily Knowledge (part 4 of Pascallian Meditations)

Bourdieu, The Social Space and the Genesis of Groups (D2L)

Protocol 10: Carlos
Presentation 5 (on Bodily Knowledge): Matt

Block III: Contemporary Authors

Dec 5, Haslanger & Shelby

Haslanger, Critical Theory and Practice (D2L)
Haslanger, Ideology in Practice (D2L)
Shelby, Ideology, Racism, and Critical Social Theory (D2L)
Shelby, Is Racism in the Hart? (D2L)

Dec 16, Final Paper
Final paper due via email by the end of Dec 16

Course Description

In this seminar we will read and discuss critical societal epistemology. We will look into the Marxist tradition, the British cultural studies tradition, French Structuralism and Situationists, as well as contemporary authors. Philosophers discussed come from the following list of authors: Marx, Althusser, Butler, Mannheim, Bourdieu, Foucault, Sohn-Rethel, Hall, Williams, Debord, Habermas, Haslanger, and Shelby. We will ask two questions: [1] how and what do we know about society (theory)? and [2], how and what does society know of itself (ideology)? Overall, we will try to figure out whether we can think of societal self-knowledge as something different than (collective) world-views, biases, or (mental) beliefs.

Course Goals

This course should make you familiar with the main approaches to understand social knowledge and ideology from a societal perspective.


This graduate seminar is not based on a set of fixed knowledge and, as such, is not based on a behavioral idea of education; rather, we will try to learn together and critically examine the material. The material is the absolute center of this class. Free floating discussions about things unrelated to the material are to be avoided.

Recommended Texts to Have in your own Book Library

  • Althusser, Reproduction of Capitalism (Verso)
  • Sohn-Rethel, Manual and Intellectual Labor (Haymarket Books)
  • Althusser, Philosophy and the Spontaneous Philosophy of the Scientist (Verso)
  • Althusser, How to be a Marxist in Philosophy (Bloomsbury)
  • Marx, Capital (Penguin)
  • Marx, Grundrisse (Penguin)
  • Hall, Cultural Studies 1983 (Duke)
  • Lukacs, History and Class Consciousness

Recommended Secondary Literature

  • Lehmann, Ideology (Haymarket)

Important Journals

  • Historical Materialism
  • Capital&Class
  • Rethinking Marxism
  • Science&Society
  • Constellations
  • Philosophy&Social Critcism

Important Handbook and Dictionaries

  • SAGE Handbook of Frankfurt School Critical Theory (4vols)
  • SAGE Handbook of Marxism
  • Palgrave Handbook of Critical Theory
  • Historisch Kritisches Wörterbuch des Marxismus (Argument)
  • Marx Dictionary (ed. Angus)
  • Dictionary of Marxist Thought (ed. Bottomore)

Important Book Series

  • Critical Theory and the Critique of Society (Bloomsbury)
  • Historical Materialism (Brill/Haymarket)


Course Requirements

  • 2 protocols, write-up, up to 900 words, take questions in class
  • 2 oral presentations, write-up, up to 900 words, 20-25 minutes, leading class discussion
  • Final paper, conference style, 3600-4500 words
  • Regular participation, you are expected to attend every week, except in cases of reasonable excuses


The class protocol should cover our discussion in class. Protocols should have a length of 2-3 pages (no more than 900 words), and they will in and outside of the classroom force us to have an ongoing reflection on our texts that we study for class. They can also include problems or questions that the writers had either with our class discussion or with the texts itself, but above all protocols should cover what I lectured about and what we discussed afterwards. Protocols should clarify and discuss selected issues in question. Protocols have to be sent out to everyone by Sunday at noon. Everyone will read the protocols before class. Please avoid late turn ins. The student who wrote the protocol will address questions during the first 15-20 minutes of the next class meeting.

Presentation & Write-Up

Each student will be responsible for working out introductory presentations, which should function as a platform for our discussions. Please focus on selected aspects of the readings; desired length of presentations: around 20 minutes. Please distribute a brief write-up/overview of what you will be talking about by Sunday morning. Your write-up should have a length of 2-3 pages. A write-up differs from a handout (used during a presentation); i.e., the write-up should consists of a coherent text that either interprets, reflects on, or explains the primary material. Let’s call it a “miniature-paper” that everyone reads before class. Note: the reading material should be the absolute focus of your presentation. Free floating discussions that are completely unrelated to the readings are to be avoided by all means.

General Remark

Given that this is a graduate seminar, I expect self-motivation, autonomy, civility, as well as self-responsibility. My seminars are completely open: you can always bring in your own positions or criticize others. My job is to clarify thoughts. The attendance requires the willingness to intensively study the texts selected for class.

Final Paper

The class essay should be well researched and should present a substantial reflection on some parts of the material discussed in class. I expect excellent papers in regard to research, form, and content. The paper should be accompanied by an abstract of no more than 150 words. The paper should be “conference style,” i.e., it should have a length of around 15 pages and, ideally, could be presented at a conference.


I will refuse giving DFs in this class, unless you find yourself in an emergency situation (health issues, etc.)

Course Evaluation

Assignments (traditional)

2 protocols + class discussion30 points
1 oral presentation + write-up20 points
final paper50 points
   100 points


4.0 (=A)100 – 93
3.592 – 87
3 (=B)86 – 82
2.581 – 77
2 (=C)76 – 72
1.571 – 65
1.0 (=D)64 – 60
0.0< 60

GENERIC SYLLABUS (might not be applicable to each class)

Laptop/Cell Phone/Tablet Policy

You are not permitted to use laptops or cell phones in class, unless needed for medical reasons. Flat devices, such as tablets, are permitted  if you have purchased the literature required for class electronically. Please do not text under the table. Cell phones should be removed from tables. Failure to follow this policy will lead to unannounced assignments in class or loss of points (at the digression of the instructor).

Class Attendance

As mentioned above, I do not employ in my classes a class attendance policy. Having said this, you should be aware that class attendance is very important. When engaging in a philosophical and humanistic dialogue it is necessary to be an active and present participant in the ongoing discussion. If you miss class please do not email me asking if you missed anything important. Every class is important. You should get a study buddy for the class; a student in class who will inform you of what you missed. If you miss a class you can come to my office hours or make an appointment to discuss the material, providing you have read the material and you simply want to see if your understanding of the material is on target. Time in office hours will not be used to repeat the class lectures.

Grading Criteria + Paper Writing Tips

Check out this page for grading criteria, example of assignments, etc.

Online Research Sources

Unfortunately, some people think that the internet as such is a reliable source of information. If you decide to use online sources for additional information or your paper then do not just use one of the common internet search engines, such as Google; rather, use reliable academic sources, such as Britannica Online, or the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. The Internet Ecyclopedia of Philosophy isn’t very good, but still acceptable. Check out MSU’s library resources! And, as with other sources, you must cite any online sources to which you refer in your essay.

Writing Center Information

MSU’s writing center offers excellent help on all matters regarding writing and learning. Check the website at http://writing.msu.edu for an overview and hours. For more information, please call 517.432.3610 or send an e-mail to writing@msu.edu.

Grief Absence Policy

I follow MSU’s general grief absence policy, which can be found here.

Integrity of Scholarship and Grades (Plagiarism)

The following statement of University policy addresses principles and procedures to be used in instances of academic dishonesty, violations of professional standards, and falsification of academic or admission records, herein after referred to as academic misconduct. [See General Student Regulation 1.00, Protection of Scholarship and Grades.]

Academic Honesty

Article 2.3.3 of the Academic Freedom Report states that “The student shares with the faculty the responsibility for maintaining the integrity of scholarship, grades, and professional standards.” In addition, the (insert name of unit offering course) adheres to the policies on academic honesty as specified in General Student Regulations 1.0, Protection of Scholarship and Grades; the all-University Policy on Integrity of Scholarship and Grades; and Ordinance 17.00, Examinations. (See Spartan Life: Student Handbook and Resource Guide and/or the MSU Web site: www.msu.edu) Therefore, unless authorized by your instructor, you are expected to complete all course assignments, including homework, lab work, quizzes, tests and exams, without assistance from any source. You are expected to develop original work for this course; therefore, you may not submit course work completed for another course to satisfy the requirements for this course. Students who violate MSU rules may receive a penalty grade, including but not limited to a failing grade on the assignment or in the course. Contact your instructor if you are unsure about the appropriateness of your course work. (See also https://www.msu.edu/~ombud/)

Plagiarism, from the Ombudsman’s page

Plagiarism (from the Latin plagiarius, an abductor, and plagiare, to steal) is defined by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy on Misconduct in Research (take that!) as “ . . . the appropriation of another person’s ideas, processes, results or words without giving appropriate credit.”

Accidental or Unintentional
One may not even know that they are plagiarizing.  It is the student’s responsibility to make certain that they understand the difference between quoting and paraphrasing, as well as the proper way to cite material.

Here, students are well aware that they are plagiarizing.  Purposefully using someone else’s ideas or work without proper acknowledgment is plagiarism.  This includes turning in borrowed or bought research papers as one’s own.

Turning in the same term paper (or substantially the same paper) for two courses without getting permission from one’s instructor is plagiarism.

The Spartan Code of Honor

Student leaders have recognized the challenging task of discouraging plagiarism from the academic community. The Associated Students of Michigan State University (ASMSU) is proud to be launching the Spartan Code of Honor academic pledge, focused on valuing academic integrity and honest work ethics at Michigan State University. The pledge reads as follows:

“As a Spartan, I will strive to uphold values of the highest ethical standard. I will practice honesty in my work, foster honesty in my peers, and take pride in knowing that honor is worth more than grades. I will carry these values beyond my time as a student at Michigan State University, continuing the endeavor to build personal integrity in all that I do.”

The Spartan Code of Honor academic pledge embodies the principles of integrity that every Spartan is required to uphold in their time as a student, and beyond. The academic pledge was crafted with inspiration of existing individual college honor codes, establishing an overarching statement for the entire university. It was formally adopted by ASMSU on March 3, 2016, endorsed by Academic Governance on March 22, 2016, and recognized by the Provost, President, and Board of Trustees on April 15, 2016.

SIRS Evaluations

Michigan State University takes seriously the opinion of students in the evaluation of the effectiveness of instruction and has implemented the Student Instructional Rating System (SIRS) to gather student feedback (https://sirsonline.msu.edu). This course utilizes the online SIRS system, and you will receive an e-mail during the last two weeks of class asking you to fill out the SIRS web form at your convenience. In addition, participation in the online SIRS system involves grade sequestration, which means that the final grade for this course will not be accessible on STUINFO during the week following the submission of grades for this course unless the SIRS online form has been completed. Alternatively, you have the option on the SIRS website to decline to participate in the evaluation of the course. We hope, however, that you will be willing to give us your frank and constructive feedback so that we may instruct students even better in the future. If you access the online SIRS website and complete the online SIRS form or decline to participate, you will receive the final grade in this course as usual once final grades are submitted.

Social Media and Sharing of Course Materials

As members of a learning community, students are expected to respect the intellectual property of course instructors. All course materials presented to students are the copyrighted property of the course instructor and are subject to the following conditions of use:

  • Students may record lectures or any other classroom activities and use the recordings only for their own course-related purposes.
  • Students may share the recordings with other students enrolled in the class. Sharing is limited to using the recordings only for their own course-related purposes.
  • Students may post the recordings or other course materials online or distribute them to anyone not enrolled in the class with the advance written permission of the course instructor and, if applicable, any students whose voice or image is included in the recordings.
  • Any student violating the conditions described above may face academic disciplinary sanctions.

Student Support Program (SSP)

Michigan State University is offering all MSU students access to counseling support 24/7/365 through My SSP: Student Support Program. My SSP is free to all MSU students. My SSP is confidential, and can help with:

  • Adapting to new challenges
  • Being successful at school
  • Relationships with friends and family
  • Practical issues with studying
  • Stress, sadness, loneliness, and more

The My SSP professional counselors are available to help anytime, anywhere with:

  • Immediate support by phone and chat
  • Ongoing support by appointment via phone and video
  • In addition, culturally relevant support is available in the language of the caller’s choice.

There are multiple options for connecting with a My SSP counselor:

  • Download the free My SSP app on Google Play or iTunes
  • Chat online at http://us.myissp.com
  • Call 1-866-743-7732
  • From outside North America, call 001.416.380.657

Accommodations for Students with Disabilities

Students with disabilities should contact the Resource Center for Persons with Disabilities to establish reasonable accommodations. For an appointment with a counselor, call 353-9642 (voice) or 355-1293 (TTY)

Drops and Adds

The last day to add this course is the end of the first week of classes. The last day to drop this course with a 100 percent refund and no grade reported is (see Academic Calendar). The last day to drop this course with no refund and no grade reported is (see Academic Calendar). You should immediately make a copy of your amended schedule to verify you have added or dropped this course.

Note on Attendance

Students who fail to attend the first four class sessions or class by the fifth day of the semester, whichever occurs first, may be dropped from the course.