Barbara Herrnstein Smith  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Barbara Herrnstein Smith is an American literary critic and theorist, best-known for her work Contingencies of Value: Alternative Perspectives for Critical Theory. She is currently the Braxton Craven Professor of Comparative Literature and English and director of the Center for Interdisciplinary Studies in Science and Cultural Theory at Duke University, and also Distinguished Professor of English at Brown University.



Smith briefly studied at City College of New York, studying biology, experimental psychology, and philosophy. She then earned her B.A. (summa cum laude) in 1954 and her Ph.D. in 1965, both from Brandeis University.

From 1961 to 1973, Smith taught at Bennington College. She accepted a faculty position at the University of Pennsylvania in 1973. In 1987 she joined the Duke University faculty, and also joined Brown University in 2003.

Smith has also occupied numerous short-term and honorary posts. She was a fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford and at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton.

Scholarship and work

Smith is a well-known writer, most particularly for her 1988 work on critical theory, Contingencies of Value: Alternative Perspectives for Critical Theory. In this work, she attempts to situate the various liberal, conservative, and other views of "values" within her "metametatheory" of contingencies, an economics-influenced theoretical approach. She uses her theory to address literary, aesthetic, and other types of values, attempting to discern whether any objective standards may be applied.

Other works include Poetic Closure: A Study of How Poems End, Belief and Resistance: Dynamics of Contemporary Intellectual Controversy, and an edition of Shakespeare's sonnets; she has published numerous books and articles on language, literature, and critical theory.

In recent years she has been doing considerable work on the science and the humanities, including Scandalous Knowledge and her 2006 Terry lectures at Yale, Natural Reflections: Human Cognition at the Nexus of Science and Religion.

Published works

Awards and recognitions

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