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Revision 2: Critical Theory
Transcript of Revision 2: Critical Theory
Specifically what we refer to is the Frankfurt School!
read all the questions very carefully
decide on the ones you want to answer strategically
make sure you understand the question
pay attention to the way the question is phrased: is it asking Why/What/How/Can? is it asking for analysis or normative view - should? does? would?
if the question is too big, too generic, come up with underlying questions to narrow it down and pick your angle
What is Critical Theory?
Be specific!? What do you mean?!
Revision 2: Critical Theory
Critical theory in literary studies, critical theory in sociology, critical IR theory, critical security studies… They criticize assumptions, data, texts, ideologies, theoretical, meta-theoretical and/or political status quo.
It is linked to Marxism, constructivism, post-modernism but it is distinct. Mostly, it refers to the Frankfurt School.
Critical international relations theory (I)
It is a diverse set of schools of thought in IR that have criticized the theoretical, meta-theoretical and/or political status quo, from positivist as well as postpositivist positions.
Positivist critiques include Marxist and Neo-Marxist approaches. Postpositivist critiques include poststructuralist, postcolonial, constructivist, and most feminist approaches.
Critical international relations theory (II)
It is the application of 'critical theory' to international relations. Proponents such as Andrew Linklater, Robert Cox and Ken Booth focus on the need for human emancipation from states. Hence, it is "critical" of mainstream IR theories that tend to be state-centric.
Critical Security Studies
It is critical of the realist approaches to security and its main proponents are the Welsh School of security studies that sees security as emancipation.
Modernist vs. Post-modernist
Post-modern critical theory politicizes social problems by situating them in historical and cultural contexts. 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.
Modernist critical theory concerns itself with forms of authority and injustice that accompanied the evolution of industrial and corporate capitalism as a political-economic system.
In general, the term "critical theory" is often appropriated when an author (such as Michel Foucault) works within sociological terms, yet attacks the social or human sciences (thus attempting to remain "outside" those frames of inquiry).
‘Truth’ is established through rational consensus: through argument / dialogue unconstrained by status, force or prejudice.
Critical theory criticizes everything, every assumption: it is a philosophical approach to culture, and especially to literature, that seeks to confront the social, historical, and ideological forces and structures that produce and constrain it.
It is a method (or methods) of social analysis deriving from non-positivist epistemology. Again, it is in this sense similar to constructivism, but the constructivism is more interested in sociology and anthropology of ideas and beliefs and to question these rather than to criticize theories and texts. Critical theory is born out of Marxism, so it is socialist in its core. It seeks emancipation and wants to change the society, constructivism does not have a normative stance as such.
Critical Theory provides:
A critique of domination, mainstream social theory, philosophy and science;
A critique of positivism and a defense of subjective / reflexive theory-building
A critique of ideology in its many forms - from religion to mass culture;
A systematic, comprehensive social theory capable of confronting the key social and political problems of the day – like capitalism/fascism.
Critical theory is stresses the reflective assessment and critique of society and culture by applying knowledge from the social sciences and the humanities.
Critical theory has two different origins and histories: sociology (Frankfurt) and literary criticism (Chicago), but it is used and applied as an umbrella term that can describe a theory founded upon critique. For Max Horkheimer theory is critical 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, which was developed in Germany in the 1930s. Frankfurt theorists drew on the critical methods of Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud.
Critical theory maintains that ideology is the principal obstacle to human liberation.
It was established as a school of thought primarily by five Frankfurt School theoreticians: Marcuse + Adorno + Horkheimer + Benjamin + Fromm.
Modern critical theory (2nd generation) has been influenced by Lukács and Gramsci as well as Habermas.
While critical theorists have been frequently defined as Marxist intellectuals, they also denounce some Marxist concepts and combine Marxian analysis with other sociological and philosophical traditions: Thus, sometimes they are labeled as
Classical, Orthodox, and Analytical Marxists, and by Marxist-Leninist philosophers.
Critical theory in literary studies is about the interpretation of texts which are themselves implicitly or explicitly the interpretation of other texts.
Critical social theory is, in contrast, a form of self-reflective knowledge involving both understanding and theoretical explanation to reduce entrapment in systems of domination or dependence – so its about emancipation.
Critical theory was first defined by Max Horkheimer of the Frankfurt School of sociology in 1937. It 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 the covert positivism and authoritarianism of orthodox Marxism and Communism.
Critical theory aims at improving our understanding of society by integrating all the major social sciences, including geography, economics, sociology, history, political science, anthropology, and psychology.
For Adorno and Horkheimer (1947), there is a certain ambivalence concerning the ultimate source of social domination; which gave rise to the “pessimism” of the new critical theory over the possibility of human emancipation and freedom. This ambivalence was rooted in the historical circumstances in which the work was originally produced, in particular, the rise of National Socialism, state capitalism, and mass culture as entirely new forms of social domination that could not be adequately explained by the traditional Marxist sociology.
try to answer a question you are not sure about or you don't entirely understand
be descriptive and simply informative
say obviously, surely, of course etc... its a political or philosophical debate, so things are not sure and obvious but argued. Always argue and support!
be afraid to use simple sentences and words, be clear and direct
try to sound smart at the expense of your argument
get lost in the details!
always! always! prepare an outline
reiterate your answer - pick a side and answer the question directly
provide more than one view
engage with the literature and debates
clarify your position
establish clear links between your examples and your arguments and the exam question
have an introduction and a conclusion
Know your Marxist and Gramscian concepts and critiques.
Draw links!! Do not take the question literally and directly, establish links between different topics and concepts, draw from your Intro2Pol module as well. Such as:
Regionalism and globalization
Regionalism and the EU
Global governance, democratisation and legitimacy
Religion and gender
Religion and security
Migration and security
Identity and security
Identity and the Eu
Identity and colonization
A Good Essay Structure:
• Is made easier by prior planning
• Makes it clear how you are going to address the question, where you are going and why
• Sets out your main ideas clearly
• Makes it clear how the main ideas relate to each other
• Presents logical and progressive answer
• Reiterates the thesis statement and links back to the underlying question
• Organises groups of related information in paragraphs
• Uses connecting words and phrases to relate each point/idea to earlier and later points.