|Subfields and other major theories|
Critical theory is the reflective assessment and critique of society and culture by applying knowledge from the social sciences and the humanities. As a term, critical theory has two meanings with different origins and histories: the first originated in sociology and the second originated in literary criticism, whereby it is used and applied as an umbrella term that can describe a theory founded upon critique; thus, the theorist Max Horkheimer described a theory as critical insofar as it seeks "to liberate human beings from the circumstances that enslave them."
Critique is a method of disciplined, systematic study of a written or oral discourse. Although critique is commonly understood as fault finding and negative judgment, it can also involve merit recognition, and in the philosophical tradition it also means a methodical practice of doubt. The contemporary sense of critique has been largely influenced by the Enlightenment critique of prejudice and authority, which championed the emancipation and autonomy from religious and political authorities.
A society is a group of individuals involved in persistent social interaction, or a large social group sharing the same geographical or social territory, typically subject to the same political authority and dominant cultural expectations. Societies are characterized by patterns of relationships between individuals who share a distinctive culture and institutions; a given society may be described as the sum total of such relationships among its constituent of members. In the social sciences, a larger society often exhibits stratification or dominance patterns in subgroups.
Culture is the social behavior and norms found in human societies. Culture is considered a central concept in anthropology, encompassing the range of phenomena that are transmitted through social learning in human societies. Cultural universals are found in all human societies; these include expressive forms like art, music, dance, ritual, religion, and technologies like tool usage, cooking, shelter, and clothing. The concept of material culture covers the physical expressions of culture, such as technology, architecture and art, whereas the immaterial aspects of culture such as principles of social organization, mythology, philosophy, literature, and science comprise the intangible cultural heritage of a society.
In sociology and political philosophy, the term "Critical Theory" describes the Western Marxist philosophy of the Frankfurt School, which was developed in Germany in the 1930s. This use of the term requires proper noun capitalization, whereas "a critical theory" or "a critical social theory" may have similar elements of thought, but not stress its intellectual lineage specifically to the Frankfurt School. Frankfurt School critical theorists drew on the critical methods of Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud. Critical theory maintains that ideology is the principal obstacle to human liberation.Critical theory was established as a school of thought primarily by the Frankfurt School theoreticians Herbert Marcuse, Theodor Adorno, Max Horkheimer, Walter Benjamin, and Erich Fromm. Modern critical theory has additionally been influenced by György Lukács and Antonio Gramsci, as well as the second generation Frankfurt School scholars, notably Jürgen Habermas. In Habermas's work, critical theory transcended its theoretical roots in German idealism and progressed closer to American pragmatism. Concern for social "base and superstructure" is one of the remaining Marxist philosophical concepts in much of contemporary critical theory.
Sociology is the study of society, patterns of social relationships, social interaction and culture of everyday life. It is a social science that uses various methods of empirical investigation and critical analysis to develop a body of knowledge about social order, acceptance, and change or social evolution. While some sociologists conduct research that may be applied directly to social policy and welfare, others focus primarily on refining the theoretical understanding of social processes. Subject matter ranges from the micro-sociology level of individual agency and interaction to the macro level of systems and the social structure.
Political philosophy, also known as political theory, is the study of topics such as politics, liberty, justice, property, rights, law, and the enforcement of laws by authority: what they are, if they are needed, what makes a government legitimate, what rights and freedoms it should protect, what form it should take, what the law is, and what duties citizens owe to a legitimate government, if any, and when it may be legitimately overthrown, if ever.
Western Marxism is a current of Marxist theory arising from Western and Central Europe in the aftermath of the 1917 October Revolution in Russia and the ascent of Leninism. The term denotes a loose collection of theorists who advanced an interpretation of Marxism distinct from that codified by the Soviet Union.
Postmodern critical theory politicizes social problems "by situating them in historical and cultural contexts, to implicate themselves in the process of collecting and analyzing data, and to relativize their findings."
Critical theory (German : Kritische Theorie) was first defined by Max Horkheimer of the Frankfurt School of sociology in his 1937 essay Traditional and Critical Theory: Critical Theory is a social theory oriented toward critiquing and changing society as a whole, in contrast to traditional theory oriented only to understanding or explaining it. Horkheimer wanted to distinguish critical theory as a radical, emancipatory form of Marxian theory, critiquing both the model of science put forward by logical positivism and what he and his colleagues saw as the covert positivism and authoritarianism of orthodox Marxism and Communism. He described a theory as critical insofar as it seeks "to liberate human beings from the circumstances that enslave them". Critical theory involves a normative dimension, either through criticizing society from some general theory of values, norms, or "oughts", or through criticizing it in terms of its own espoused values.
German is a West Germanic language that is mainly spoken in Central Europe. It is the most widely spoken and official or co-official language in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, South Tyrol in Italy, the German-speaking Community of Belgium, and Liechtenstein. It is also one of the three official languages of Luxembourg and a co-official language in the Opole Voivodeship in Poland. The languages which are most similar to German are the other members of the West Germanic language branch: Afrikaans, Dutch, English, the Frisian languages, Low German/Low Saxon, Luxembourgish, and Yiddish. There are also strong similarities in vocabulary with Danish, Norwegian and Swedish, although those belong to the North Germanic group. German is the second most widely spoken Germanic language, after English.
Max Horkheimer was a German philosopher and sociologist who was famous for his work in critical theory as a member of the 'Frankfurt School' of social research. Horkheimer addressed authoritarianism, militarism, economic disruption, environmental crisis, and the poverty of mass culture using the philosophy of history as a framework. This became the foundation of critical theory. His most important works include Eclipse of Reason (1947), Between Philosophy and Social Science (1930–1938) and, in collaboration with Theodor Adorno, Dialectic of Enlightenment (1947). Through the Frankfurt School, Horkheimer planned, supported and made other significant works possible.
The Frankfurt School is a school of social theory and critical philosophy associated with the Institute for Social Research, at Goethe University Frankfurt. Founded in the Weimar Republic (1918–33), during the European interwar period (1918–39), the Frankfurt School comprised intellectuals, academics, and political dissidents who were ill-fitted to the contemporary socio-economic systems of the 1930s. The Frankfurt theorists proposed that social theory was inadequate for explaining the turbulent political factionalism and reactionary politics occurring in ostensibly liberal capitalist societies in the 20th century. Critical of capitalism and of Marxism–Leninism as philosophically inflexible systems of social organisation, the School's critical theory research indicated alternative paths to realising the social development of a society and a nation.
The core concepts of critical theory are as follows:
This version of "critical" theory derives from Kant's (18th-century) and Marx's (19th-century) use of the term "critique", as in Kant's Critique of Pure Reason and Marx's concept that his work Das Kapital (Capital) forms a "critique of political economy". For Kant's transcendental idealism, "critique" means examining and establishing the limits of the validity of a faculty, type, or body of knowledge, especially through accounting for the limitations imposed by the fundamental, irreducible concepts in use in that knowledge system.
Immanuel Kant was an influential German philosopher in the Age of Enlightenment. In his doctrine of transcendental idealism, he argued that space, time, and causation are mere sensibilities; "things-in-themselves" exist, but their nature is unknowable. In his view, the mind shapes and structures experience, with all human experience sharing certain structural features. He drew a parallel to the Copernican revolution in his proposition that worldly objects can be intuited a priori ('beforehand'), and that intuition is therefore independent from objective reality. Kant believed that reason is the source of morality, and that aesthetics arise from a faculty of disinterested judgment. Kant's views continue to have a major influence on contemporary philosophy, especially the fields of epistemology, ethics, political theory, and post-modern aesthetics.
The Critique of Pure Reason is a 1781 book by the German philosopher Immanuel Kant, in which the author seeks to determine the limits and scope of metaphysics. A heavily-revised second edition was published in 1787. Also referred to as Kant's "First Critique", it was followed by the Critique of Practical Reason (1788) and the Critique of Judgment (1790). In the preface to the first edition, Kant explains that by a "critique of pure reason" he means not "a critique of books and systems, but of the faculty of reason in general, in respect of all knowledge after which it may strive independently of all experience" and that he aims to reach a decision about "the possibility or impossibility of metaphysics". The First Critique is often viewed as a culmination of several centuries of early-modern philosophy, and an inauguration of modern philosophy.
Das Kapital, also called Capital. A Critique of Political Economy by Karl Marx is a foundational theoretical text in materialist philosophy, economics and politics. Marx aimed to reveal the economic patterns underpinning the capitalist mode of production in contrast to classical political economists such as Adam Smith, Jean-Baptiste Say, David Ricardo and John Stuart Mill. While Marx did not live to publish the planned second and third parts, they were both completed from his notes and published after his death by his colleague Friedrich Engels. Das Kapital is the most cited book in the social sciences published before 1950.
Kant's notion of critique has been associated with the overturning of false, unprovable, or dogmatic philosophical, social, and political beliefs, because Kant's critique of reason involved the critique of dogmatic theological and metaphysical ideas and was intertwined with the enhancement of ethical autonomy and the Enlightenment critique of superstition and irrational authority. Ignored by many in "critical realist" circles, however, is that Kant's immediate impetus for writing his "Critique of Pure Reason" was to address problems raised by David Hume's skeptical empiricism which, in attacking metaphysics, employed reason and logic to argue against the knowability of the world and common notions of causation. Kant, by contrast, pushed the employment of a priori metaphysical claims as requisite, for if anything is to be said to be knowable, it would have to be established upon abstractions distinct from perceivable phenomena.
Metaphysics is the branch of philosophy that examines the fundamental nature of reality, including the relationship between mind and matter, between substance and attribute, and between potentiality and actuality. The word "metaphysics" comes from two Greek words that, together, literally mean "after or behind or among [the study of] the natural". It has been suggested that the term might have been coined by a first century CE editor who assembled various small selections of Aristotle’s works into the treatise we now know by the name Metaphysics.
The Age of Enlightenment was an intellectual and philosophical movement that dominated the world of ideas in Europe during the 18th century, the "Century of Philosophy".
David Hume was a Scottish Enlightenment philosopher, historian, economist, and essayist, who is best known today for his highly influential system of philosophical empiricism, scepticism, and naturalism. Hume's empiricist approach to philosophy places him with John Locke, George Berkeley, Francis Bacon and Thomas Hobbes as a British Empiricist. Beginning with his A Treatise of Human Nature (1738), Hume strove to create a total naturalistic science of man that examined the psychological basis of human nature. Against philosophical rationalists, Hume held that passion rather than reason governs human behaviour. Hume argued against the existence of innate ideas, positing that all human knowledge is founded solely in experience.
Marx explicitly developed the notion of critique into the critique of ideology and linked it with the practice of social revolution, as stated in the famous 11th of his Theses on Feuerbach : "The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it."
One of the distinguishing characteristics of critical theory, as Adorno and Horkheimer elaborated in their Dialectic of Enlightenment (1947), is a certain ambivalence concerning the ultimate source or foundation of social domination, an ambivalence which gave rise to the "pessimism" of the new critical theory over the possibility of human emancipation and freedom.This ambivalence was rooted, of course, in the historical circumstances in which the work was originally produced, in particular, the rise of National Socialism, state capitalism, and culture industry as entirely new forms of social domination that could not be adequately explained within the terms of traditional Marxist sociology.
For Adorno and Horkheimer, state intervention in economy had effectively abolished the tension between the "relations of production" and "material productive forces of society", a tension which, according to traditional critical theory, constituted the primary contradiction within capitalism. The market (as an "unconscious" mechanism for the distribution of goods) had been replaced by centralized planning.
Yet, contrary to Marx's famous prediction in the Preface to a Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, this shift did not lead to "an era of social revolution", but rather to fascism and totalitarianism. As such, critical theory was left, in Jürgen Habermas' words, without "anything in reserve to which it might appeal; and when the forces of production enter into a baneful symbiosis with the relations of production that they were supposed to blow wide open, there is no longer any dynamism upon which critique could base its hope".For Adorno and Horkheimer, this posed the problem of how to account for the apparent persistence of domination in the absence of the very contradiction that, according to traditional critical theory, was the source of domination itself.
In the 1960s, Jürgen Habermas, a proponent of critical social theory,raised the epistemological discussion to a new level in his Knowledge and Human Interests, by identifying critical knowledge as based on principles that differentiated it either from the natural sciences or the humanities, through its orientation to self-reflection and emancipation. Although unsatisfied with Adorno and Horkeimer's thought presented in Dialectic of Enlightenment, Habermas shares the view that, in the form of instrumental rationality, the era of modernity marks a move away from the liberation of enlightenment and toward a new form of enslavement. In Habermas's work, critical theory transcended its theoretical roots in German idealism, and progressed closer to American pragmatism.
Habermas is now influencing the philosophy of law in many countries—for example the creation of the social philosophy of law in Brazil, and his theory also has the potential to make the discourse of law one important institution of the modern world as a heritage of the Enlightenment.
His ideas regarding the relationship between modernity and rationalization are in this sense strongly influenced by Max Weber. Habermas dissolved further the elements of critical theory derived from Hegelian German Idealism, although his thought remains broadly Marxist in its epistemological approach. Perhaps his two most influential ideas are the concepts of the public sphere and communicative action; the latter arriving partly as a reaction to new post-structural or so-called "postmodern" challenges to the discourse of modernity. Habermas engaged in regular correspondence with Richard Rorty and a strong sense of philosophical pragmatism may be felt in his theory; thought which frequently traverses the boundaries between sociology and philosophy.
While modernist critical theory (as described above) concerns itself with "forms of authority and injustice that accompanied the evolution of industrial and corporate capitalism as a political-economic system," postmodern critical theory politicizes social problems "by situating them in historical and cultural contexts, to implicate themselves in the process of collecting and analyzing data, and to relativize their findings."Meaning itself is seen as unstable due to the rapid transformation in social structures. As a result, the focus of research is centered on local manifestations, rather than broad generalizations.
Postmodern critical research is also characterized by the crisis of representation, which rejects the idea that a researcher's work is an "objective depiction of a stable other". Instead, many postmodern scholars have adopted "alternatives that encourage reflection about the 'politics and poetics' of their work. In these accounts, the embodied, collaborative, dialogic, and improvisational aspects of qualitative research are clarified".
The term "critical theory" is often appropriated when an author works within sociological terms, yet attacks the social or human sciences (thus attempting to remain "outside" those frames of inquiry). Michel Foucault is one of these authors.
Jean Baudrillard has also been described as a critical theorist to the extent that he was an unconventional and critical sociologist;this appropriation is similarly casual, holding little or no relation to the Frankfurt School. Jürgen Habermas of The Frankfurt School is one of the key critics of postmodernism.
Critical theory is focused on language, symbolism, communication, and social construction. Critical theory has been applied within the social sciences as a critique of social construction and postmodern society.
The critical theory allows public relations practitioners to recognize participatory planning by allowing previously unheard voices to be heard. Furthermore, this allows professionals the ability to create more specialized campaigns using the knowledge of other areas of study, moreover, it provides them with the ability to comprehend and change social institutions through advocacy.
From the 1960s and 1970s onward, language, symbolism, text, and meaning came to be seen as the theoretical foundation for the humanities, through the influence of Ludwig Wittgenstein, Ferdinand de Saussure, George Herbert Mead, Noam Chomsky, Hans-Georg Gadamer, Roland Barthes, Jacques Derrida and other thinkers in linguistic and analytic philosophy, structural linguistics, symbolic interactionism, hermeneutics, semiology, linguistically oriented psychoanalysis (Jacques Lacan, Alfred Lorenzer), and deconstruction.[ citation needed ]
When, in the 1970s and 1980s, Jürgen Habermas redefined critical social theory as a study of communication, i.e. communicative competence and communicative rationality on the one hand, distorted communication on the other, the two versions of critical theory began to overlap to a much greater degree than before.[ citation needed ]
Critical theorists have widely credited Paulo Freire for the first applications of critical theory towards education/pedagogy. They consider his best-known work, Pedagogy of the Oppressed , a seminal text in what is now known as the philosophy and social movement of critical pedagogy. For a history of the emergence of critical theory in the field of education, see Isaac Gottesman (2016), The Critical Turn in Education: From Marxist Critique to Postructuralist Feminism to Critical Theories of Race (New York: Routledge).
While critical theorists have been frequently defined as Marxist intellectuals,their tendency to denounce some Marxist concepts and to combine Marxian analysis with other sociological and philosophical traditions has resulted in accusations of revisionism by classical, orthodox, and analytical Marxists, and by Marxist–Leninist philosophers. Martin Jay has stated that the first generation of critical theory is best understood as not promoting a specific philosophical agenda or a specific ideology, but as "a gadfly of other systems".
Critical theory has been criticized for not offering any clear road map to political action following critique, often explicitly repudiating any solutions (such as with Herbert Marcuse's concept of "the Great Refusal", which promoted abstaining from engaging in active political change).
The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to critical theory:
Jürgen Habermas is a German philosopher and sociologist in the tradition of critical theory and pragmatism. He is perhaps best known for his theories on communicative rationality and the public sphere. In 2014, Prospect readers chose Habermas as one of their favourites among the "world's leading thinkers".
Theodor W. Adorno was a German philosopher, sociologist, psychologist and composer known for his critical theory of society.
German philosophy, here taken to mean either (1) philosophy in the German language or (2) philosophy by Germans, has been extremely diverse, and central to both the analytic and continental traditions in philosophy for centuries, from Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz through Immanuel Kant, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Arthur Schopenhauer, Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche, Martin Heidegger and Ludwig Wittgenstein to contemporary philosophers. Søren Kierkegaard is frequently included in surveys of German philosophy due to his extensive engagement with German thinkers.
The term culture industry was coined by the critical theorists Theodor Adorno (1903–1969) and Max Horkheimer (1895–1973), and was presented as critical vocabulary in the chapter "The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception", of the book Dialectic of Enlightenment (1944), wherein they proposed that popular culture is akin to a factory producing standardized cultural goods—films, radio programmes, magazines, etc.—that are used to manipulate mass society into passivity. Consumption of the easy pleasures of popular culture, made available by the mass communications media, renders people docile and content, no matter how difficult their economic circumstances. The inherent danger of the culture industry is the cultivation of false psychological needs that can only be met and satisfied by the products of capitalism; thus Adorno and Horkheimer especially perceived mass-produced culture as dangerous to the more technically and intellectually difficult high arts. In contrast, true psychological needs are freedom, creativity, and genuine happiness, which refer to an earlier demarcation of human needs, established by Herbert Marcuse..
Dialectic of Enlightenment is a work of philosophy and social criticism written by Frankfurt School philosophers Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno and first published in 1944. A revised version appeared in 1947.
In social theory and philosophy, antihumanism is a theory that is critical of traditional humanism and traditional ideas about humanity and the human condition. Central to antihumanism is the view that concepts of "human nature", "man", or "humanity" should be rejected as historically relative or metaphysical.
Positivism is a philosophical theory stating that certain ("positive") knowledge is based on natural phenomena and their properties and relations. Thus, information derived from sensory experience, interpreted through reason and logic, forms the exclusive source of all certain knowledge. Positivism holds that valid knowledge is found only in this a posteriori knowledge.
The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society is a 1962 book by the philosopher Jürgen Habermas. It was translated into English in 1989 by Thomas Burger and Frederick Lawrence. An important contribution to modern understanding of democracy, it is notable for "transforming media studies into a hard-headed discipline."
In sociology, communicative action is cooperative action undertaken by individuals based upon mutual deliberation and argumentation. The term was developed by German philosopher-sociologist Jürgen Habermas in his work The Theory of Communicative Action.
The positivism dispute was a political-philosophical dispute between the critical rationalists and the Frankfurt School in 1961, about the methodology of the social sciences. It grew into a broad discussion within German sociology from 1961 to 1969. The naming itself is controversial, since it was the Frankfurt School proponents who accused the critical rationalists of being positivists—while the latter considered themselves to be opponents of positivism. On the political level, it was a dispute between the leftist Frankfurt School proponents supporting revolution, and the allegedly bourgeois critical rationalists supporting reform as the method to be preferred to change society.
George E. McCarthy is a professor of sociology at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio.
The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity: Twelve Lectures is a 1985 book by Jürgen Habermas, in which the author reconstructs and deals in depth with a number of philosophical approaches to the critique of modern reason and the Enlightenment "project" since Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel and Friedrich Nietzsche, including the work of 20th century philosophers Max Horkheimer, Theodor Adorno, Martin Heidegger, Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, Cornelius Castoriadis and Niklas Luhmann. The work is regarded as an important contribution to Frankfurt School critical theory. It has been characterized as a critical evaluation of the concept of world disclosure in modern philosophy.
This is a list of articles in continental philosophy.
Regina Becker-Schmidt is an emeritus professor at the Institute of Sociology and Social Psychology at the University of Hanover. Her research focuses on corporate and subject theory, critical theory, psychoanalytically oriented social psychology and gender studies. She is considered a seminal figure in feminist critical theory.
Garbis Kortian was an Armenian philosopher and political theorist.
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