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Critical Theory

Edited by Chad Kautzer (University of Colorado at Denver)
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Summary

Critical Theory refers to a form of self-reflexive social critique as well as a particular tradition associated with the Institute for Social Research (Institut für Sozialforschung), a.k.a. the Frankfurt School. Early Frankfurt School theorists combined a Hegelian Marxist social criticism with other emancipatory approaches, such as psychoanalysis and cultural critique, taking a genuinely anti-positivist and interdisciplinary approach. Critical theory was intended to contribute to the “intensification of the struggle with which the theory is connected,” wrote Horkheimer, becoming a material force in the “transformation of society as a whole” (219). Theorists associated with the early Frankfurt School include Theodor Adorno, Max Horkheimer, Herbert Marcuse, and Walter Benjamin, while contemporary figures such as Jürgen Habermas, Axel Honneth, Nancy Fraser, and Seyla Benhabib continue the tradition with non-Marxist forms of critique grounded in, for example, communicative reason and social recognition. Today, Critical Theory refers to a broader spectrum of social theorists in poststructuralist, feminist, queer, critical race, disability, and postcolonial theory, such as Michel Foucault, Judith Butler, Angela Davis, Paulo Freire, Frantz Fanon, Enrique Dussel, Gayatri Spivak, Giorgio Agamben, Jacque Rancière, and Slavoj Žižek.

Key works

Max Horkheimer’s 1937 essay “Traditional and Critical Theory” (in Horkheimer 1972) is a foundational text, outlining the Institute’s interdisciplinary methodology and critique of "traditional" theory. Other important works by early Frankfurt School theorists include Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer, Dialectic of Enlightenment; Theodor Adorno, Minima Moralia and Negative Dialectics; short works by Walter Benjamin in Illuminations and Reflections, particularly his essays “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” and “On Violence”; and Herbert Marcuse, One-Dimensional Man and Eros and Civilization. Jürgen Habermas’ two-volume work The Theory of Communicative Action represents a break from the earlier Marxist tendencies of the Institute, laying out a new normative foundation for critique in communicative reason. Axel Honneth, the current director of the Institute for Social Research, has alternatively reconstructed the Hegelian notion of social recognition in his critiques of social injustices and social pathologies in Struggle for Recognition and Freedom’s Right. Seyla Benhabib’s Critique, Norm, and Utopia and Nancy Fraser’s Unruly Practices are also important works in the Frankfurt School tradition. Seminal texts beyond this tradition include, for example, Frantz Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth, Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Michel Foucault’s Discipline and Punish, Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble Enrique Dussel’s Ethics of Liberation, Gayatri Spivak’s “Can the Subaltern Speak?”, and Giorgio Agamben’s Homo Sacer.

Introductions

The best scholarly introductions to the Frankfurt School tradition in English are Jay 1973, Held 1980, and Wiggershaus 1995. Jay Bernstein has edited the six-volume collection: The Frankfurt School: Critical Assessment and the publications of the Institute’s journal Zeitscrift für Sozialforschung (1932-1941) are available in a nine-volume set. Notable anthologies on the Frankfurt School and critical theory more generally include Andrew Arato and Eike Gebhardt (eds.), The Essential Frankfurt School Reader, Stephen Eric Bronner and Douglas MacKay Kellner (eds.), Critical Theory and Society, David Rasmussen, The Handbook of Critical Theory, Benhabib, Butler, Cornell, and Fraser, Feminist Contentions; Seyla Benhabib and Drucilla Cornell (eds.), Feminism as Critique, William Rehg and James Bohman (eds), Pluralism and the Pragmatic Turn, Kimberlé Crenshaw, Neil Gotanda, et al. (eds.), Critical Race Theory, Philomena Essed and David Theo Goldberg (eds.), Race Critical Theories, Patrick Williams and Laura Chrisman (eds.), Colonial Discourse and Post-Colonial Theory, and two volumes on the “idea of communism”: Costas Douzinas and Slavoj Žižek (eds.),The Idea of Communism, and Slavoj Žižek (ed.), The Idea of Communism, Volume II.

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  1. J. Abromeit (2013). Anti-Semitism and Critical Social Theory: The Frankfurt School in American Exile. Theory, Culture and Society 30 (1):140-151.
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  2. John Abromeit (2010). Left Heideggerianism or Phenomenological Marxism? Reconsidering Herbert Marcuse's Critical Theory of Technology. Constellations 17 (1):87-106.
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  3. Carol J. Adams (2000). The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory. Continuum.
    New Tenth Anniversary edition of this classic text with a new preface by the author, compares myths about meat-eating with myths about manliness, and seeks to ...
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  4. Suzi Adams (2013). Castoriadis and the Non-Subjective Field: Social Doing, Instituting Society and Political Imaginaries. Critical Horizons 13 (1):29 - 51.
    Cornelius Castoriadis understood history as a self-creating order. In turn, he elaborated history in two directions: as the political project of autonomy, and as the ontological modality of the social-historical. On his account, history as self-creation was only possible through the interplay of social (or political) imaginaries and social doing. Although social imaginaries are readily situated within the non-subjective field, non-subjective modes of doing have been less explored. Yet non-subjective contexts are integral to both the “doing” and “imaginary” dimensions of (...)
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  5. Walter L. Adamson (1983). Andrew Feenberg, Lukács, Marx and the Sources of Critical Theory (Review). [REVIEW] Journal of the History of Philosophy 21 (2).
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  6. Giorgio Agamben (1998). Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life. Stanford University Press.
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  7. Ben Agger (1983). Marxism 'Or' the Frankfurt School? Philosophy of the Social Sciences 13 (3):347-365.
  8. Rolf Ahlers (1975). How Critical is Critical Theory?: Reflections on Jurgen Habermas. Philosophy and Social Criticism 3 (2):119-136.
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  9. William Price Albrecht (1975). The Sublime Pleasures of Tragedy: A Study of Critical Theory From Dennis to Keats. University Press of Kansas.
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  10. Linda Martín Alcoff & John D. Caputo (2012). Abromeit, John. Max Horkheimer and the Foundations of the Frankfurt School. Cambridge-New York: Cam-Bridge University Press, 2011. Pp. Xiii+ 441. Cloth, $95.00. Acosta, Emiliano. Schiller Versus Fichte: Schillers Begriff der Person in der Zeit Und Fichtes Kategorie der Wech-Selbestimmung Im Widerstreit. Fichte Studien Supplementa, Band 27. Amsterdam-New York: Rodopi, 2011. Pp. X+ 302. Paper, $87.00. [REVIEW] Journal of the History of Philosophy 50 (2):305-307.
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  11. C. F. Alford (1993). Reconciliation with Nature? The Frankfurt School, Postmodernism and Melanie Klein. Theory, Culture and Society 10 (2):207-227.
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  12. C. Fred Alford (2002). Levinas, the Frankfurt School, and Psychoanalysis. Wesleyan University Press.
    'Original and provocative . . . engagingly written. (C Fred Alford) counters Levinas's notorious obscurity with a goodly dose of transparency' - John Lechte, Macquarrie University Abstract and evocative, writing in what can only be ...
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  13. C. Fred Alford (2002). The Opposite of Totality: Levinas and the Frankfurt School. [REVIEW] Theory and Society 31 (2):229-254.
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  14. Amy Allen (2010). The Entanglement of Power and Validity : Foucault and Critical Theory. In Timothy O'Leary & Christopher Falzon (eds.), Foucault and Philosophy. Wiley-Blackwell. 78--98.
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  15. Amy Allen (2007). The Politics of Our Selves: Power, Autonomy, and Gender in Contemporary Critical Theory. Columbia University Press.
    Introduction : the politics of our selves -- Foucault, subjectivity, and the enlightenment : a critical reappraisal -- The impurity of practical reason : power and autonomy in Foucault -- Dependency, subordination, and recognition : Butler on subjection -- Empowering the lifeworld? autonomy and power in Habermas -- Contextualizing critical theory -- Engendering critical theory.
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  16. Amy Allen (2005). “Dependency, Subordination, and Recognition: On Judith Butler's Theory of Subjection”. [REVIEW] Continental Philosophy Review 38 (3-4):199-222.
    Judith Butler's recent work expands the Foucaultian notion of subjection to encompass an analysis of the ways in which subordinated individuals becomes passionately attached to, and thus come to be psychically invested in, their own subordination. I argue that Butler's psychoanalytically grounded account of subjection offers a compelling diagnosis of how and why an attachment to oppressive norms – of femininity, for example – can persist in the face of rational critique of those norms. However, I also argue that her (...)
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  17. Amy Allen (1998). Power Trouble: Performativity as Critical Theory. Constellations 5 (4):456-471.
    Although Judith Butler’s theory of the performativity of gender has been highly influential in feminist theory, queer theory, cultural studies, and some areas of philosophy, it has yet to receive its due from critical social theorists.1 This oversight is especially problematic given the crucial insights into the study of power – a central concept for critical social theory – that can be gleaned from Butler’s work. Her analysis is somewhat unique among discussions of power in its attempt to theorize simultaneously (...)
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  18. Kevin S. Amidon & Mark P. Worrell (2008). A.R.L. Gurland, the Frankfurt School, and the Critical Theory of Antisemitism. Telos 2008 (144):129-147.
    “Just for the record, however: I don't hate Communists.” So wrote Arcadius Rudolph Lang Gurland to his longtime friend, colleague, and collaborator Otto Kirchheimer in 1958.1 Behind this straightforward statement lay over thirty years of Gurland's experience as a passionate scholar, spokesperson, and advocate of that most dialectical of the many forms of socialist politics, revolutionary social democracy. Throughout his peripatetic life of near-constant exile in Russia, Germany, France, and the United States as student, journalist, theoretician, researcher, writer, teacher, and (...)
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  19. Joel Anderson (forthcoming). Autonomy Gaps as a Social Pathology: Ideologiekritik Beyond Paternalism. In Rainer Forst (ed.), Sozialphilosophie und Kritik. Suhrkamp.
    From the outset, critical social theory has sought to diagnose people’s participation in their own oppression, by revealing the roots of irrational and self-undermining choices in the complex interplay between human nature, social structures, and cultural beliefs. As part of this project, Ideologiekritik has aimed to expose faulty conceptions of this interplay, so that the objectively pathological character of what people are “freely” choosing could come more clearly into view. The challenge, however, has always been to find a way of (...)
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  20. Kevin Anderson (1998). On Marx, Hegel, and Critical Theory in Postwar Germany: A Conversation with Iring Fetscher. [REVIEW] Studies in East European Thought 50 (1):1-18.
    This paper consists of an introduction to the life and work of Iring Fetscher by the interviewer, followed by a conversation with Fetscher, and notes. In the interview, Fetscher discusses his relationship to Marxism, Hegelianism, Lukács, and the Frankfurt School, as well as his critique of Althusser. The contribution of Fetscher, an extremely well-known German specialist on Soviet and Marxist thought, is here discussed in greater detail than anywhere else to date in the English-language scholarly literature.
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  21. Kevin Anderson (1993). On Hegel and the Rise of Social Theory: A Critical Appreciation of Herbert Marcuse's Reason and Revolution, Fifty Years Later. Sociological Theory 11 (3):243-267.
    Marcuse's Reason and Revolution was the first Hegelian Marxist text to appear in English, the first systematic study of Hegel by a Marxist, and the first work in English to discuss the young Marx seriously. It introduced Hegelian and Marxist concepts such as alienation, subjectivity, negativity, and the Frankfurt School's critique of positivism to a wide audience in the United States. When the book first appeared, it was attacked sharply from the standpoint of empiricism and positivism by Sidney Hook, among (...)
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  22. Sybol Cook Anderson (2009). Hegel's Theory of Recognition: From Oppression to Ethical Liberal Modernity. Continuum.
    Introduction: Redeeming recognition -- Oppression reconsidered -- Foundations of a liberal conception -- Toward a liberal conception of oppression -- Conclusion : A liberal conception of oppression -- Misrecognition as oppression -- Exploitation and disempowerment -- Cultural imperialism -- Marginalization -- Violence -- Conclusion: Misrecognition as oppression -- Overcoming oppression : the limits of toleration -- Contemporary differences : matters of toleration -- John Rawls : political liberalism -- Will Kymlicka : multicultural citizenship -- Conclusion: Accommodating differences : the limits (...)
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  23. Mark Andrejevic (2004). Rethinking the Frankfurt School: Alternative Legacies of Cultural Critique (Review). Philosophy and Rhetoric 37 (1):92-95.
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  24. Ruth Wanda Anshen (1974). "Authority and Power" Erich Fromm and Herbert Marcuse. Journal of Social Philosophy 5 (3):1-8.
  25. Barbara Applebaum (2002). Teaching Applied Ethics, Critical Theory, and “Having to Brush One's Teeth”. Teaching Philosophy 25 (1):27-40.
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  26. Yoko Arisaka, Women Carrying Water: At the Crossroads of Technology and Critical Theory.
    In the rapidly changing arena of global politics today, nothing looms larger than the framework technology provides in determining the cultural, political, and economic fate of a people. Japanese philosopher Kiyoshi Miki observed already in the early 1940s that technology is not merely a sophisticated manipulation of tools but that it is fundamentally a “form of action” expressing a cultural and political orientation through the means of material production.1 The power of technology, according to Miki, has to do with its (...)
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  27. Darrell Arnold (2012). Andrew Biro, Ed. , Critical Ecologies: The Frankfurt School and Contemporary Environmental Crises . Reviewed By. Philosophy in Review 32 (2):89-92.
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  28. Stanley Aronowitz (2013). Marcuse's Conception of Eros. Radical Philosophy Review 16 (1):31-47.
    In his books Eros and Civilization and An Essay on Liberation, Herbert Marcuse offers a different, but complementary, theory of eros from that of Freud. While sexuality still occupies a central space in the pleasure principle, Marcuse extends the concept to embrace a wider understanding of eros. Now eros is termed the “new sensibility,” which, in his view, has been made possible by the end of scarcity’s rule over human life. In an epoch in which necessary labor can be sharply (...)
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  29. Honneth Axel (1998). [Book Review] the Struggle for Recognition, the Moral Grammar of Social Conflicts. [REVIEW] In Stephen Everson (ed.), Ethics. Cambridge University Press. 108--3.
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  30. Honneth Axel (1997). Recognition and Moral Obligation. Social Research 64 (1).
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  31. Honneth Axel (1994). [Book Review] the Critique of Power, Reflective Stages in a Critical Social Theory. [REVIEW] In Peter Singer (ed.), Ethics. Oxford University Press. 104--412.
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  32. Albena Azmanova (2012). The Scandal of Reason: A Critical Theory of Political Judgment. Columbia University Press.
    Preface -- Introduction: the scandal of reason and the paradox of judgment -- Political judgment and the vocation of critical theory -- Critical theory: political judgment as ideologiekritik -- Philosophical liberalism: reasonable judgment -- Liberalism and critical theory in dispute -- Judgment unbound: Arendt -- From critique of power to a theory of critical judgment -- The political epistemology of judgment -- The critical consensus model -- Judgment, criticism, innovation -- Conclusion: letting go of ideal theory.
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  33. R. J. B. (1970). Herbert Marcuse. Review of Metaphysics 24 (1):138-139.
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  34. Babette Babich, Nietzsche's Critical Theory of Science as Art.
    radicalization of Kant's critical project inverts or opposes traditional readings of Kant's critical program. Nietzsche aligns both Kant and Schopenhauer with what he named the effectively, efficiently pathological optimism of the rationalist drive to knowledge, patterned on the Cyclopean eye of Socrates in The Birth of Tragedy .(1) For the rest of Nietzsche's writerly life, the name of Socrates would serve both as a signifier for the historical personage marking the end of the "tragic age" of the (...)
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  35. Babette E. Babich (ed.) (2004). Habermas, Nietzsche, and Critical Theory. Humanity Books.
  36. Veit Bader (2007). Misrecognition, Power, and Democracy. In Bert van den Brink & David Owen (eds.), Recognition and Power: Axel Honneth and the Tradition of Critical Social Theory. Cambridge University Press. 238--269.
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  37. John Bamber (2010). Developing Competence in Collegial Spaces : Exploring Critical Theory and Community Education. In Mark Murphy & Ted Fleming (eds.), Habermas, Critical Theory and Education. Routledge.
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  38. Renford Bambrough (1994). One-Dimensional Man By Herbert Marcuse Routledge. Philosophy 69 (269):380-.
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  39. Clodomiro José Bannwart Júnior (2013). The Evolutionary Perspective in Habermas' Critical Social Theory. Trans/Form/Ação 36 (SPE):67-86.
    Busca-se acompanhar o desenvolvimento da teoria evolucionária no pensamento de Habermas, a partir da afirmação colhida no prólogo de Problemas de Legitimação do Capitalismo Tardio, de 1973: "O caráter programático evidencia que uma teoria da evolução social hoje se encontra apenas esboçada, mas que, no entanto, deveria constituir a base da teoria da sociedade". A atenção é direcionada à forma como Habermas reorienta o sentido evolucionário do desdobramento histórico à luz do conceito de mundo da vida, como esfera de realização (...)
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  40. A. D. Barder & F. Debrix (2011). Agonal Sovereignty: Rethinking War and Politics with Schmitt, Arendt and Foucault. Philosophy and Social Criticism 37 (7):775-793.
    The notion of biopolitical sovereignty and the theory of the state of exception are perspectives derived from Carl Schmitt’s thought and Michel Foucault’s writings that have been popularized by critical political theorists like Giorgio Agamben and Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri of late. This article argues that these perspectives are not sufficient analytical points of departure for a critique of the contemporary politics of terror, violence and war marked by a growing global exploitation of bodies, tightened management of life, and (...)
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  41. Ulrich Beck (2009). Critical Theory of World Risk Society: A Cosmopolitan Vision. Constellations 16 (1):3-22.
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  42. Ulrich Beck (2003). Toward a New Critical Theory with a Cosmopolitan Intent. Constellations 10 (4):453-468.
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  43. Elisabeth Beck-Gernsheim, Judith Butler & Lidia Puigvert (eds.) (2003). Women & Social Transformation. P. Lang.
  44. Christina M. Bellon (2011). The Politics of Ourselves: Power, Autonomy, and Gender in Contemporary Critical Theory. By Amy Allen. Metaphilosophy 42 (3):340-345.
  45. Fritz Bender (2010). Robin Celikates-Kritik als soziale Praxis. Gesellschaftliche Selbstverständigung und kritische Theorie. Philosophischer Literaturanzeiger 63 (4):346.
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  46. Seyla Benhabib (1996). The Local, the Contextual and/or Critical. Constellations 3 (1):83-95.
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  47. Seyla Benhabib & Judith Butler (1995). Drucilla Cornell, and Nancy Fraser. In , Feminist Contentions: A Philosophical Exchange. Routledge.
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  48. Seyla Benhabib & Drucilla Cornell (eds.) (1987). Feminism As Critique: On the Politics of Gender. University Of Minnesota Press.
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  49. J. C. Berendzen (2008). Institutional Design and Public Space: Hegel, Architecture, and Democracy. Journal of Social Philosophy 39 (2):291–307.
    Habermas's conception of deliberative democracy could be fruitfully supplemented with a discussion of the "institutional design" of civil society; for example the architecture of public spaces should be considered. This paper argues that Hegel's discussion of architecture in his 'Aesthetics' can speak to this issue. For Hegel, architecture culminates in the gothic cathedral, because of how it fosters reflection on the part of the worshiper. This discussion suggests the possibility that architecture could foster a similar kind of intersubjective reflection. To (...)
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  50. J. M. Bernstein (2005). Suffering Injustice: Misrecognition as Moral Injury in Critical Theory. International Journal of Philosophical Studies 13 (3):303 – 324.
    It is the persistence of social suffering in a world in which it could be eliminated that for Adorno is the source of the need for critical reflection, for philosophy. Philosophy continues and gains its cultural place because an as yet unbridgeable abyss separates the social potential for the relief of unnecessary human suffering and its emphatic continuance. Philosophy now is the culturally bound repository for the systematic acknowledgement and articulation of the meaning of the expanse of human suffering within (...)
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