Critical theory is a school of thought that stresses the examination and the 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 in so far as it seeks "to liberate human beings from the circumstances that enslave them."
In philosophy, the term critical theory describes the neo-Marxist philosophy of the Frankfurt School, developed in Europe in the 1930s, that engaged the works of intellectuals such as Friedrich Nietzsche and Sigmund Freud. Modern critical theory arose from the anti-positivist sociology of Max Weber and Georg Simmel, the Marxist theories of György Lukács and of Antonio Gramsci, towards that of the Institute for Social Research in Frankfurt. Critical theory was established as a school of thought primarily by five Frankfurt School theoreticians: Herbert Marcuse, Theodor Adorno, Max Horkheimer, Walter Benjamin, and Jürgen Habermas. In Habermas's work, critical theory transcended its theoretic roots in German idealism, and progressed closer to American pragmatism. The concern for a social "base and superstructure" is one of the remaining Marxist philosophic concepts in much contemporary critical theory.
Whilst critical theorists usually are broadly defined as Marxist intellectuals their tendency to denounce some Marxist concepts, and to synthesise Marxian analysis with other sociologic and philosophic traditions has been attacked as revisionism, by Classical, Orthodox, and Analytical Marxists, and by Marxist-Leninist philosophers. Martin Jay said 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".
Famous quotes containing the words critical and/or theory:
“Productive collaborations between family and school, therefore, will demand that parents and teachers recognize the critical importance of each others participation in the life of the child. This mutuality of knowledge, understanding, and empathy comes not only with a recognition of the child as the central purpose for the collaboration but also with a recognition of the need to maintain roles and relationships with children that are comprehensive, dynamic, and differentiated.”
—Sara Lawrence Lightfoot (20th century)
“... the first reason for psychologys failure to understand what people are and how they act, is that clinicians and psychiatrists, who are generally the theoreticians on these matters, have essentially made up myths without any evidence to support them; the second reason for psychologys failure is that personality theory has looked for inner traits when it should have been looking for social context.”
—Naomi Weisstein (b. 1939)