The Unit for Criticism is an interdisciplinary program located within the Graduate College and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Since its founding in 1981, the Unit has advanced the study of theory and shaped major debates about poststructuralism, Marxism, cultural studies, feminism, and postcolonial theory. In the 1980s and 1990s, the Unit emerged as a leading center for materialist thought and cultural studies in the United States. Unit publications like Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture (1988), the landmark journal Cultural Studies (1991), and a series of seminal conferences and summer institutes set a bold agenda for research in critical theory. Field-shaping Unit conferences brought together leading theorists like Stuart Hall, Frederic Jameson, Gayatri Spivak, Paul Gilroy, and Judith Butler and trained a new generation of theorists.

In the twenty-first century, as the epicenter of global transformation shifted to the global South, critical theory has fractalized, creolized, and tropicalized. Subfields such as disability studies, environmental studies, post-development studies, and Indigenous studies have emerged, opening a space for new scales of analysis, objects of inquiry, and frames of comparison. This new vision of theory animates the Unit today. Recent initiatives on “Unnatural Disasters” “Racial Capitalism” “Planetarity” and “Monolingualism and Its Discontents” exemplify the possibilities of working from “the South of theory.” Rather than responding to Eurocentrism solely with the corrective of producing theory from the South, working from the South of theory requires theorists located in the North and South to bring the centers of theory into critical and constructive dialogue with its peripheries.