The Seminar in Experimental Critical Theory (SECT) is an intensive ten-day summer program offered by the University of California Humanities Research Institute (UCHRI). SECT convenes distinguished instructors with a group of 40-60 faculty, graduate students, independent scholars, and public intellectuals from both the US and the international community. Neither an introductory survey nor an advanced research seminar, SECT functions as a “laboratory” where participants at all levels of experience can study with scholars at the leading edge of creative theoretical thought. The hallmark of SECT is its attention to both “pure” and “applied” modes of contemporary critical theory.

SECT's topic – and often its location - changes each year.  Founded in 2004, the first five seminars were held at UC Irvine, the home campus of UCHRI, on topics ranging from psychoanalysis and politics to creative societies and culture industries. In 2009, UCHRI formed its first international partnership, taking SECT to China through a collaboration with the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences to explore design in China. In 2011, UCHRI partnered with the University of Hawai’i for ten days in Honolulu on the intersection of Asian, technoscience and area studies. And in 2012, hosted by American University of Beirut, SECT will be held in Lebanon on spaces of resistance.

Two key features separate SECT from the run-of-the-mill academic gathering. First, SECT is ten days of intensive engagement, combining formal talks and panels, lightning presentations, breakout groups, social gatherings, guest speakers, site tours, and more. And second, SECT participants are a curated group:  a core handful of invited faculty plus several dozen faculty, graduate students, artists, activists, public intellectuals and others from around the world, selected with an eye toward intriguing juxtapositions, collaborations, and conversations that challenge assumptions, push boundaries, and take both the "critical" and the "experimental" seriously.

No wonder past participants have described the SECT experience as "fantastic," "enchanting," and "transformative."

For more on the SECT experience from participants in the 2014 Seminar in South Africa, check out this video.