Critical Theory

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					Critical Theory
By Jessica Studer, Kari Carlson,
        and Chris Logan
Roots of Critical Theory

• This school of thought emerged from the
 work of German theorists collectively
 known as The Frankfurt School. The roots
 of Critical Theory are directly centered in
 the creation of The Institute for Social
 Research and the social thinkers who
 promoted the Idealism of Karl Marx.
Institute for Social Research
• The first Marxist oriented research school was in Europe
 Scholars at school developed a critical theory of society
    called kritisch Therorie which was designed for a specific
    approach to interpreting Marxism
   This approach sought to revise Marx’s. Critique of
    capitalism and the idea that revolution was the best way
    to change the social and political structure since his
   The first president of the school was Carl Grundberg,
    who wanted Scientific Marxism
   Max Horkheimer, the second president, wanted a more
    philosophical and less dogmatic approach which was
    open to diverse intellectual currents
   The dilemma that the first generation of Critical
    Theorists had “to reconcile was Marx’s emancipatory
    dream with the stark reality of modern society as
    conceptualized by Max Weber” (pg. 232)
Institute for Social Research Cont.
• The school was restrained by Adolf Hitler and had
    its Jewish members exiled
   School was relocated to Columbia university in
   The term Critical Theory was coined in 1937 (this
    concept was initially a type of code which, while
    differentiating is adherents from prevailing forms
    of orthodoxy, also tended to veil radical
    comments in an environment that was hostile to
    anything remotely associated with Marxism)
   In 1953 school had re-established in post
    Germany where they were still subject to attack in
    press and academia
G.W.F. Hegel (1931-)

 Hegel’s Phenomenology Of The Mind
  gave two important influences on Critical
  Theory. First, the critique which took
  form of internal or immanent
  examination of various sources of
  deception, illusion, and distortion the
  mind goes through on the journey to
  absolute knowledge. Second, the belief
  that human history expresses an
  immanent telos, which is the liberation of
  individual and species from a system of
  constraints of the peoples own minds. A
  key component to understanding Hegel
  is that he assumes that humans are
  driven by a common interest in freedom.
Georg (Gyorgy) Lukacs (1885-

 His publication History and Class
    Consciousness argued “that
    subjectivity is annihilated by
    commodity production”
   Blended Marx’s ideas of fetishism of
    commodities with the belief that
    rationality is penetrating more
    spheres of modern life
   It is said that Lukacs’ analyses of
    alienation, commodity fetishism,
    subjectivity, consciousness, and
    spontaneous action are the
    theoretical bridge to Critical theory
Max Horkheimer (1895-1973)
 Chair of social philosophy and then
    director of The Institute for Social
   Institute under his supervision was
    oriented to developing social theory on an
    interdisciplinary basis. He wanted this
    theory to benefit from both the reflective
    capacity of philosophy and the rigorous
    procedures of the individual sciences
   Saw society as a totality that was
    continuously restructuring itself which
    resulted in the idea of social absolute or a
    complete or perfect state of social
    phenomenon being criticized
Horkheimer Cont.
 Endorsed the idea that there is no absolute truth of
 Thought Manheim’s Sociology of knowledge to be
  practically no less than theoretically wrongheaded and in
  his essay “Traditional and Critical Theory” distinguishes
  itself from Manheim and emphasizes a dialectical
  representation of Marx’s critique of political economy
  which was to be the analytical framework for critical
• Maintained the idea that there are no general criteria for
  critical theory as a whole since it depended on a
  repetition of events, Horkheimer said critical theory aims
  to asses the breach between ideas and reality
Theodor Wisengaurd-Adorno
 Attempted to establish a critical
    social consciousness
   Argued that objects exist for us
    through conceptuality
•   In Negative Dialectics, he insisted
    that the dialectic approach is not a
    middle point between absolutism
    and reality and was against the idea
    that critical theory should merely
    criticize one point of view in favor of
Defining Critical Theory

• There is no clear cut definition and the
  term itself is confused with literary
  criticism and other approaches to social
  theory could be consider critical
 Critical theory offers a multidisciplinary
  approach to society, is subject to change
  but is rooted in the dialectical tradition of
  Marx and Hegel
  Critical Theory Cont.
 Argues to have six Marxian tenets associated with
   critical theory which are:
     1. We lie in a society dominated by the capitalist mode of production,
          and a society based on exchange principals pf value and profit
     2.   The commodity character of products is not simply determined by
          their exchange value, but by their being abstractly exchanged
          though labor
     3.   Capitalist society ensures fetishism reification
     4.   Capitalism is not a harmonious social world. Contradictions
          between socially generated illusions and actuality lead to potential
     5.   The free market is progressively replaced by the oligarchies and
          monopolistic mass production of standardized goods
     6.   The progressive rise on the organic composition of capital per
          worker exacerbates the inherently unstable accumulation
          processes. In order to sustain the process its protagonists utilize all
          means of available including imperialist expansion
Hebert Marcuse (1898-1979)
 Background
   • Born in Berlin to a prosperous Jewish family
   • After serving in German Army in WWI, became associated
     with the Social Democratic Party
   • Left party in 1919 in protest over betrayal of the
   • Went on to study philosophy at the universities of Berlin
     and Freiburg
   • In December 1942 joined the Office of War Information as
     a senior analyst in the Bureau of Intelligence
   • Taught at Columbia and Harvard
       • While there began research which led to writing of
         Soviet Marxism
   • Gained world status during 1960s as a philosopher, social
     theorist, and political activist
   • Career represents a constant attempt to examine, defend,
     and reconstruct Marxist enterprise
    Concepts and Contributions
 Critical Theory
• Stated that critical theory is a process of bringing
    consciousness potentialities that have emerged within the
    maturing historical situation
•   Is a theory guided by political practice
•   Marcuse’s critical theory was influenced by Hegel and
•   Critical theory of society is essentially linked with
•   There are two basic elements linking materialism to
    correct social theory:
    1. Concern with human happiness
    2. Conviction that it can be attained through a transformation of the
       material conditions of existence
• Combining thoughts of Hegel and Marx, he concluded
    that history is the arena is which humans seek the
    freedom to manifest universal rationality
Concepts and Contributions Cont.
   Technological Rationality
•   An extension of Weber’s idea of rationalization
•   Defined term in his work, One-Dimensional Man
•   Argued that modern industrial society was dominated
    by a technological rationality, with the working middle
    class as its vocal supporter and defender
•   Concerned that the cost of material satisfaction was the
    loss of individual freedoms and liberties
•   Makes two claims:
    1. The workers of industrial society are suffering from false
    2. The workers should not be happy with material satisfaction but
        should be striving for some unidentified nonmaterial satisfaction
Concepts and Contributions Cont.
The New Left
• Radical writings were a perfect match for his
    place in time
•   He was looked upon as the guru of the New Left
•   Gave lectures and advice to student radicals
•   Used the media to spread to word of Marxian
    theory, revolutionary vision, and libertarian
Concepts and Contributions Cont.
 Revolution
• Entrenched in the Marxist tradition is the
    necessity for revolution
•   Argued that Marxian concept of revolution
    implies continuity in change
•   Proposed a global revolution where capitalism is
    replaced by socialism
•   The revolutionists that would challenge
    corporate capitalism are concentrated at two
    opposite poles of society:
    1. The ghetto population
    2. The middle class intelligentsia
Concepts and Contributions Cont.
Sexual Revolution
• In favor of the sexual revolution
• Against those who tried to impose sexual codes
    of conduct on others in the name of religion,
    especially those who would invade the realm of
    individual privacy
•   For Marcuse, sexual repression was more than
    just another evil capitalism; it represented the
    bourgeois concept of love
•   In Negations, he condemned the bourgeois era
    as an attempt to isolate individuals from their
    natural drives
•   Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, he was one of
    the most influential radical theorists
Jurgen Habermas (1929-)
 Background
• Born in Gummersbach in 1929
• Grew up during Nazi regime and WWII: Two
    influences that have a profound effect on his thinking
    and writings
•   Studied philosophy at Gottingen, Zurich, and Bonn,
    where he earned his doctorate in 1954
•   In 1964 he became a professor of philosophy at
•   Perhaps most well known of second generation of
    critical theorists
•   He was influenced by the works of Marx, Weber, and
    the early members of the Frankfurt School
•   Writings are steeped in the German tradition
     Concepts and Contributions
 Critical Theory
• In his article “The Tasks of a Critical Theory” he stated that
     the work of the Institute for Social Research was basically
     dominated by six themes:
1.   The Forms of Integration in Postliberal Societies: Whether in
     a democracy or totalitarian regimes
2.   Gamily Socialization and Ego Development: The structural
     change of the bourgeois nuclear family and the weakening of
     the authoritarian position of the father
3.   Mass Media and Mass Culture: The development of a culture
     industry for the manipulative control of consciousness
4.   The Social Psychology behind Cessation of Protest: Political
     consciousness of workers and employees
5.   The Theory of Art: The arts as the preferred object of an
6.   The Critique of Positivisim and Science: Science as a tool of
     the bourgeoisie
Concepts and Contributions
Critical Theory Cont.
• His critical theory was inspired by classical Greek
    and German philosophy, which stressed the
    inseparability of truth and virtue, of facts and
    values, and of theory and practice
•   Wanted a society where people are free to
    assemble and communicate openly
•   Communication and understanding of language
    are the keys to understanding and
    comprehending knowledge
•   Described the ideal speech situation as one that
    is un-coerced, free for all people, and in which
    all people are treated equally
 Concepts and Contributions Cont.
 Communication Theory
• Concerned with reformulating Marxian theory in the light of
    twentieth-century social changes
•   Expands Marx’s conception of humanity by adding language
    to work as a distinct feature of species-being
•   To escape the philosophical historical materialism of Marxist
    thought, he proposed that a theory cannot be tied to
    concrete ideals of human life
•   Instead, it must orient itself to the range of learning
    processes that are opened at any given time
•   The use of language as a significant aspect of human
    development led Habermas to concentrate on how
    undistorted communication might lay the foundation for the
    emancipation of individuals
Concepts and Contribtions
Communication Theory Cont.
• Distorted communication is similar to Marx’s
    false consciousness
•   Use of undistorted communication reveals the
    influence of Freudian psychoanalysis on his
    communication theory
•   Argued that individual’s life worlds are
    influenced by constant interaction with others
    and with society’s social structures
    Concepts and Contributions Cont.
 Rationality and Modernity
• Critical of Western industrial democracies for their reduction of
    the human world to some form of economic efficiency
•   Believed that rationality-the ability to think logically and
    analytically-is more than a strategic calculation of how to
    achieve some chosen end; it is a form of communicative action
•   Rational behavior serves the individual’s best interest and is a
    key ingredient in understanding others during social behavior
•   Ideas of rationality led him to explain modernity
•   The concepts of rationality and modernity come together in his
    examination of the life world
•   Also critical of scientism-identifying knowledge with science-
    because of its relation to positivism
•   Believed that critical theory should be a critique of knowledge,
    opposed positivism because it attempted to objective
    Concepts and Contributions Cont.
• Democracy must be seen first and foremost as a
    process that results when certain kind of social
    interaction prevails
•   Democracy should be seen as a particular way by
    which citizens make collective and rational decisions
•   Envisioned a deliberate democracy where a
    government’s laws and institutions would be a
    reflection of free and open public discussion
•   According to Habermas, modern democracies of the
    West are dominated by political legitimation
Douglas Kellner (1943-)
• Born in 1943
• Received his Ph.D. from Columbia
    University in 1973
•   Known for his systematic and critical
    review of television in the U.S.
•   He believes that the media, television
    in particular, have long served the
    interests of the powerful
 Concepts and Contributions
 Critical Theory
• Kellner’s critical theory is based on the premise that we
  have not moved into a postmodern, or postindustrial age,
  but rather that capitalism continues to reign supreme, as it
  did in the heyday of critical theory.
• Kellner described technocapitalism as a capitalist society
  structured so that technical and scientific knowledge,
  automation, computers, and advanced technology play such
  a significant role in the process of production that they
  parallel the role of human labor power in early capitalism.
• Kellner does not endeavor to develop a full-scale theory of
  techno-capitalism. His main point is that although it has
  changed dramatically, capitalism remains in the
  contemporary world
    Concepts and Contributions Cont.
 Media and Culture
• Kellner’s ideas on the effect of media on culture are influenced by the
    world of Baudrillard. His theory of a new, postmodern society rests on a
    key assumption that the media constitute a new realm of experience and
    a new stage of history and type of society
•   Kellner provided statistics that demonstrate how prevalent television is in
    contemporary society: “In excess of 750 million TV sets in more than
    160 countries are watched by 2.5 billion people per day. Nearly every
    home in the U.S. has a TV set that is turned on for more than 7 hours
    per day
•   He was concerned that television is a threat to democracy
•   Believes that television contributes to social integration and implies that
    democratized media could be the basis for a revitalized public sphere.
•   Concluded that television has worked increasingly to further
    conservative hegemony. In so doing, television has helped produce a
    crisis in democracy
•   The advent of cable television in the 1970’s was directly responsible for
    the increase in public access programs, channels for government, and
    educational programming
    Concepts and Contributions Cont.
• Postmodern thought extends to many disciplines,
    most notably art, but has also crept into
    sociological discourse since the mid-1980s
•   Kellner noted that the primary methods of
    postmodernism are deconstruction, reversal, and
    inversion. This implies that the theorist must
    question the taken-for-granted world, the rules of
    the game, and the claims to authority found in a
    society. Kellner viewed postmodernism as a new
    stage of society, a break with the previous social
•   The postmodern attitude is reflected in
    expressionist art
• Critical theory is generally about the role of power in
    social relations
•   Critical theory has existed since the formation of the
    Institute for Social Research at Frankfurt University in
•   Contemporary critical theorists have increasingly
    turned their attention to the media and other forms of
    entertainment in their examination of modern culture
•   Critical theory cannot be characterized by a particular
    set of methodological techniques and theoretical
    propositions; however, it is still a coherent approach
    to the social world that is separate from other types of
    sociology and Marxism
    Criticisms of Critical Theory
• The first criticism of critical theory is that it reproduces idealist
    (utopian) positions
•   The second criticism is that critical theory shows undue concern
    about philosophical and theoretical problems
•   The third criticism of critical theory is its preoccupation with
•   The fourth criticism of critical theory is the claim that it
    developed from a purely academic setting and thus was
    isolated from working-class politics (add to this, the fact that
    Marx’s conception of the working class as a revolutionary force
    is untrue) and became increasingly embroiled in abstract issues
    and “second-order” discourse
•   The fifth criticism leveled against critical theory is that it is a
    historical (critical theorists have examined a variety of events
    without paying much attention to their historical and
    comparative contexts)
    Criticisms of Critical Theory Cont.
• Postmodern critical theory is the first narrative to pose a
    possible utopian future not as a determinate outcome of
    nature-like social laws but rather as one conceivable discursive
    accomplishment among many
•   Critical theory can either be a museum piece or a living medium
    of political self-expression (Agger, 1976:19)
•   Critical theory addresses the relations among schooling,
    education, culture, society, economy, and governance
•   Critical theory has also been applied to issues related to crime
    and delinquency
•   In addition , critical theory draws its orientation from a broad
    range of disciplines, including linguistics, psychology, sociology,
    philosophy, and Marxism” (Groves and Sampson, 1986:538)

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