Media, Society, and Spying for the State: Transatlantic Reflections on Autonomy, Social Expression, and the Antinomies of Surveillance

Goethe-Institut New York
30 Irving Place
New York, NY 10003

Between 1943 and 1949, Herbert Marcuse, Franz Neumann, and Otto Kirchheimer – three theorists from the “Frankfurt School” – formed a key component of a working group for the “Office of Strategic Services” in the United States – the forerunner of today’s CIA. These theorists saw the necessity of putting the tools and analyses of “critical theory” – without shying away from many of its arguments that would be unpalatable – at the hands of the American state first as part of the struggle against Fascism and then in the goal of the surveillance, domination, and restructuring of the new post-War West Germany. In a kind of paradox, each of these theorists wanted to preserve what little hope remained for autonomous thought and autonomous life in liberal democracies that they saw as always already compromised and on the precipice of crisis and catastrophe. In this session, we will first look at the German philosophical tradition in Kant to begin a conversation about what autonomy meant in the Enlightenment tradition and then in critical theory. We will then look at a few of the papers produced in this working group for the OSS. We will also consider transatlantic approaches to contemporary social media and surveillance structure in the Germany and the United States more broadly to engage session participants in a wide ranging discussion of the value of autonomy, the power and role of theory, and the salutary and corrosive nature of surveillance regimes.


  • Michael Stevenson

    Michael Robert Stevenson received his BA in philosophy from the University of Pennsylvania and his PhD in philosophy from Columbia University.  He is currently a Core Lecturer at Columbia University and has previously taught at Hunter College, City University of New York.  He specializes in the German philosophical tradition and has a special fondness for Kant, Fichte, and Heidegger.

  • Jordan Kraemer
  • Ajay Singh Chaudhary

    Ajay Singh Chaudhary is the executive director of the Brooklyn Institute for Social Research and a core faculty member specializing in social and political theory. His research focuses on social and political theory, Frankfurt School critical theory, political economy, media, religion, and post-colonial studies. He has written for the The Guardian, Los Angeles Review of Books, Quartz, Social Text, Dialectical Anthropology, The Jewish Daily Forward, Filmmaker Magazine, and 3quarksdaily, among other venues. Ajay is currently writing a book on the politics of climate change.

Event Schedule

Sunday, 3-6pm
December 06, 2015