About this topic
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 1994. 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. Empathy, Embodiment, and the Person: Husserlian Investigations of Social Experience and the Self.James Jardine - 2022 - Cham: Springer.
    This text explores how self-consciousness and self-understanding differ phenomenologically from the experience and comprehension of others, and the extent to which such relations are constitutively interdependent. -/- Jardine argues that Husserl’s analyses of selfhood and intersubjectivity are animated by the question of what's at stake in recognising an agent’s engagement as the situated response of a person, rather than simply as the comportment of an animal or living body. Drawing centrally from the freshly excavated Ideas II drafts and manuscripts, the (...)
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  2. Anas Karzai, Nietzsche and Sociology: Prophet of Affirmation. London: Lexington Books, 2019. pp. 221. ISBN: 9780739150511 (cloth: alk. paper). [REVIEW]Vasfi Onur Özen - 2022 - The Agonist : A Nietzsche Circle Journal 16 (1):53–58.
  3. Recognition: A Chapter in the History of European Ideas. Axel Honneth. Cambridge: Cambridge University. 2021Debating Critical Theory: Engagements with Axel Honneth. Julia Christ, Kristina Lepold, Daniel Loick, and Titus Stahl (eds.). London: Rowman & Littlefield. 2020. [REVIEW]Karen Ng - 2022 - Constellations 29 (4):509-515.
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  4. Two sorts of natural history: On a central concept in critical theory and ethical naturalism.Philip Hogh - 2022 - European Journal of Philosophy 30 (4):1248-1267.
    The concept of natural history has received a great deal of attention in contemporary practical philosophy, especially as a result of Michael Thompson's concept of natural-historical judgments which aims to explain the normativity of the human life-form. With this concept, the norms effective in a life-form are understood as something natural and constitutive for that life-form. Although Thompson does not present a historical-philosophical model, he claims to be able to determine the normativity of the historically developing human life-form. By contrast, (...)
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  5. Enter the metrics: critical theory and organizational operationalization of AI ethics.Joris Krijger - 2022 - AI and Society 37 (4):1427-1437.
    As artificial intelligence (AI) deployment is growing exponentially, questions have been raised whether the developed AI ethics discourse is apt to address the currently pressing questions in the field. Building on critical theory, this article aims to expand the scope of AI ethics by arguing that in addition to ethical principles and design, the organizational dimension (i.e. the background assumptions and values influencing design processes) plays a pivotal role in the operationalization of ethics in AI development and deployment contexts. Through (...)
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  6. Che cos'è la filosofia. L'essenza della filosofia oltre la distinzione fra analitici e contientali.Gaetano Licata - 2022 - Endoxa 40 (7):61-67.
    The determination of philosophy is the work of those who cooperate in the construction of knowledge, in its disparate fields, and at the same time preserve the very sense of indeterminacy. There are no areas of knowledge that cannot be also philosophical, nor can the themes, lines of research and styles of thought be limited a priori. The philosophy, it is said, is the search for truth. This is the most common definition, and therefore also the more covering than a (...)
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  7. Without a Voice of One's Own: Aphonia as an Obstacle to Political Freedom.Joonas S. Martikainen - 2021 - Acta Philosophica Fennica 97:105–128.
    In this article I use Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s existential phenomenology as a method for presenting a disclosing critique of aphonia as the loss of a political voice of one’s own. I claim that aphonia is a phenomenon that is qualitatively different from a lack of opportunities for democratic participation and a lack of the communicative capabilities required for effective political participation. I give examples from sociological literature on social exclusion and political apathy, and then diagnose them using Merleau-Ponty’s concepts of operative (...)
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  8. The transhumanist threat to plants and animals : an exercise in ecofeminist critical theory.Peter I.-min Huang & Iris Ralph - 2022 - In Arvin M. Gouw, Brian Patrick Green & Ted Peters (eds.), Religious Transhumanism and its Critics. Lexington Books.
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  9. Religion, universality and critical theory.Fasil Merawi - 2022 - In Workineh Kelbessa & Ṭanā Dawo (eds.), Philosophical Responses to Global Challenges with African Examples: Ethiopian Philosophical Studies, Iii. The Council for Research in Value and Philosophy.
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  10. Review Essay: Energopolitics, the Eurocene, and Critical Theory.Bruce Baum - 2022 - Political Theory 50 (6):964-974.
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  11. On the normative foundations of critical theory.Felix S. H. Yeung - 2019 - Dissertation, University of Hong Kong
    If critical theory is meant to be the “ruthless criticism of all that exists”, on what basis can critical theory ground its evaluative claims without being self-defeating? Is there a normative ground on which critique can stand? For Jürgen Habermas, critical theory has a ground embedded in the normative logic of communicative interactions. On the contrary, for Michel Foucault, critique can stand on no ground: critique is the refusal of any given ground and the opening up of possibilities for “thinking (...)
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  12. Critique in German Philosophy. From Kant to Critical Theory.María del Rosario Acosta López & J. Colin McQuillan (eds.) - 2020
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  13. Wittgenstein Does Critical Theory.Alice Crary - 2021 - In Anne Siegetsleitner, Andreas Oberprantacher, Marie-Luisa Frick & Ulrich Metschl (eds.), Crisis and Critique: Philosophical Analysis and Current Events: Proceedings of the 42nd International Wittgenstein Symposium. De Gruyter. pp. 385-416.
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  14. Elements of a critical theory of justice.Gustavo Pereira - 2013 - New York, NY: Palgrave-Macmillan.
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  15. Contesting the Public Sphere: Within and against Critical Theory.David Ingram - 2019 - In Peter E. Gordon & Warren Breckman (eds.), The Cambridge History of Modern European Thought. Vol. 2.
    This chapter examines how European thinkers working from within and without the Frankfurt School of critical theory have understood the public sphere as a distinctive political category. First-generation members of the school rejected institutional democracy and mass politics as ideologies that mask domination. The succeeding generation, whose most important representative is Jürgen Habermas, rejected that diagnosis. Habermas’s more optimistic assessment of the emancipatory potential of the public sphere as a medium of rational learning sought a middle ground between critics and (...)
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  16. Critical Theory of Technology.Andrew Feenberg - 2012 - In Jan Kyrre Berg Olsen Friis, Stig Andur Pedersen & Vincent F. Hendricks (eds.), A Companion to the Philosophy of Technology. Wiley-Blackwell.
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  17. Antisemitismus und Geschlecht – Zur Integration und Kritik antisemitischer Ressentiments in der (west-)deutschen und US-amerikanischen Frauenbewegung.Christian Kleindienst - 2022 - In Lennard Schmidt, Andreas Borsch, Salome Richter, Marc Seul, Luca Zarbock & Niels Heudtlaß (eds.), Antisemitismus zwischen Kontinuität und Adaptivität. Göttingen: V&R Unipress. pp. 121–136.
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  18. Feminism and power: the need for critical theory.Mary Caputi - 2013 - Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books.
  19. Subterranean politics and Freud's legacy: critical theory and society.Amy L. Buzby - 2013 - New York, NY: Palgrave-Macmillan.
    This book reclaims psychoanalysis as an ally to critical theory's efforts to restore subjectivity and oppose systemic domination in modernity. The author achieves this aim by reimagining of Freud as a militant optimist, compassionate practitioner and innovator whose work still supports democratic processes contests the dominant scholarly accounts of his work. The most important contribution of this book, however, is the restoration of the radical psychoanalytic foundations of critical theory. A return to its psychoanalytic foundations will restore the compassion of (...)
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  20. Wittgenstein and Critical Theory: Mickaëlle Provost in Conversation with Alice Crary.Alice Crary & Mickaëlle Provost - 2022 - Nordic Wittgenstein Review 11.
    This is the second of two parts of an interview with Alice Crary conducted in a single exchange in the first weeks of January 2022, where she discusses ordinary language philosophy and feminism, Wittgenstein’s conception of mind and its relation to feminist ethics, the link between Wittgenstein and Critical Theory, and her own views about efforts to bring about social and political transformations. The first part on “Wittgenstein and Feminism” is published in the NWR Special Issue “Wittgenstein and Feminism”, forthcoming (...)
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  21. Philosophical Systems of Post-Corona from Confrontation Perspectives of Realism, Liberalism and Critical Theory; Condemned Scenarios, Platform and Harriet.Arsalan Ghorbani Sheikhneshin & Hamid Ahmadinejad - 2022 - Philosophical Investigations 16 (39):678-695.
    Theories based on philosophical foundations and with the capacities of ontology, epistemology and methodology can be very useful in Futures Study research. Considering this, the aim of this research is to examine the future of the post-corona order from the perspective of theoretical paradigms. The question of the article is: What type of scenario will the image of each theory of the post-corona order be? In this sense, its purpose is to show what image do the three theories of realism, (...)
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  22. Ideology Critique: A Deleuzian Case.Keunchang Oh - 2022 - Southern Journal of Philosophy 60 (3):388-412.
    It is well-known that Gilles Deleuze (and Félix Guattari) are critical of the notion of ideology. However, it is not very clear why they seem to be so dismissive of it. In what follows, I will begin my discussion by showing what Deleuze means by ideology and reconstructing why Deleuze thinks that ideology is a misused concept and that the misuse of the concept warrants its dismissal. In Anti-Oedipus, the insufficiency or inadequacy of the concept of ideology can be understood (...)
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  23. Critiquing racist ideology as harmful social norms.Keunchang Oh - forthcoming - Philosophy and Social Criticism.
    In what follows, I will argue that racist ideology should be understood in terms of racist social norms that constitute certain incentive structures. To this end, I will motivate my position by exa...
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  24. Critical theory of the state.Bob Jessop - 2019 - In Emilios A. Christodoulidis, Ruth Dukes & Marco Goldoni (eds.), Research handbook on critical legal theory. Edward Elgar Publishing.
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  25. Critical theory and the law : reflections on origins, trajectories and conjunctures.Emilios Christodoulidis - 2019 - In Emilios A. Christodoulidis, Ruth Dukes & Marco Goldoni (eds.), Research handbook on critical legal theory. Edward Elgar Publishing.
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  26. Critical theory, democracy, and the challenge of neoliberalism.Brian Caterino - 2019 - London: University of Toronto Press.
    With a few exceptions, critical theorists have been late to provide a comprehensive diagnosis of neoliberalism comparable in scope to their extensive analyses of advanced welfare state capitalism. Instead, the main lines of critical theory have focused on questions of international justice which, while no doubt significant, restrict the scope of critical theory by deemphasizing linkages to larger political and economic conditions. Providing a critique of the Frankfurt School, Brian Caterino and Phillip Hansen move beyond its foundations, and call for (...)
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  27. How We Make Each Other: Trans Poetics at the Edge of the University.Perry Zurn - forthcoming - Durham, NC, USA: Duke University Press.
  28. Wrestling with Archons: Gnosticism as a critical theory of culture.Jonathan Cahana-Blum - 2018 - Lanham: Lexington Books.
    This book demonstrates that ancient Christian Gnosticism was an ancient form of cultural criticism in a mythological garb. It establishes that, much like modern forms of critical theory, ancient Gnosticism was set on deconstructing mainstream discourses and cultural premises. Strains of critical theory dealt with include the Frankfurt School, queer theory, and poststructural philosophy. The book documents how in both ancient Gnosticism and modern critical theories issues that used to serve as premises for discussion or as concepts relegated to the (...)
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  29. Engagements with contemporary literary and critical theory.Evan Gottlieb - 2020 - New York: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.
    Engagements with Contemporary Literary and Critical Theory is a wide-ranging but accessible introduction that illuminates the field of theory through a variety of useful and relevant examples. Covering all key theories and theorists, this book looks at the relation of theory to form, discourses, subjectivity, media and networks, and environments. Organized thematically, Engagements with Contemporary Literary and Critical Theory illuminates the field by focusing on the concepts and methodologies of key thinkers, while also providing historical introductions that contextualize the latest (...)
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  30. Anthropocene alerts: critical theory of the contemporary as ecocritique.Timothy W. Luke - 2020 - Candor, NY: Telos Press Publishing.
    A collection of essays by Timothy W. Luke discussing social and political issues related to ecology, environmentalism, ecocriticism, global climate change, and the Anthropocene.
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  31. Critique in German philosophy: from Kant to critical theory.Acosta López, María del Rosario & J. Colin McQuillan (eds.) - 2020 - Albany: State University of New York Press.
    Critique has been a central theme in the German philosophical tradition since the publication of Immanuel Kant's Critique of Pure Reason. Some successors turned Kant's critique against itself and used it to challenge the authority of his system. Others extended his critique, applying it to aesthetics, epistemology, ethics, metaphysics, and political philosophy and generating new forms of criticism that were then taken up by Idealism, Romanticism, Marxism, Neo-Kantianism, Phenomenology, and Critical Theory. Yet these various legacies of Kantian critique are rarely (...)
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  32. Beyond nature: animal liberation, Marxism, and critical theory.Marco Maurizi - 2021 - Boston: Brill.
    In Beyond Nature Maurizi tackles the animal question from an unprecedented perspective: strongly criticizing the abstract moralism that has always characterized animal rights activism, the author proposes a historical-materialistic analysis of the relationship between humans and non-humans. By contrasting the thinking of Hegel, Marx and the Frankfurt School with classical authors in the field of animal rights (such as Singer, Regan, and Francione) this text offers an alternative, social and dialectical theory of animality and a different practical approach to the (...)
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  33. Reconsidering the life of power: ritual, body, and art in critical theory and Chinese philosophy.James Garrison - 2021 - Albany: State University of New York Press.
    Offers a compelling intercultural perspective on body, art, self, and society.
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  34. Günther Anders' philosophy of technology: from phenomenology to critical theory.Babette E. Babich - 2022 - New York: Bloomsbury Academic, Bloomsbury Publishing Plc.
    Gunter Anders' Philosophy of Technology is the first comprehensive exploration of the ground-breaking work of German thinker Gunter Anders. Anders' philosophy has become increasingly prescient in our digitised, technological age as his work predicts the prevalence of social media, ubiquitous surveillance and the turn to big data. Anders' ouevre also explored the technologies of nuclear power and the biotech concerns for the human and transhuman condition which have become so central to current theory. Babette Babich argues that Anders offers important (...)
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  35. Critical theory and psychoanalysis: from the Frankfurt school to contemporary critique.Jon Mills & Daniel Burston (eds.) - 2023 - New York, NY: Routledge.
    Critical Theory has traditionally been interested in engaging classical psychoanalysis rather than addressing postclassical thought. For the first time, this volume brings Critical Theory into proper dialogue with modern developments in the psychoanalytic movement and covers a broad range of topics in contemporary society that revisit the Frankfurt School and its contributions to psychoanalytic social critique.
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  36. Hegel and the critical theory of religion.Rudolf Siebert - 2021 - Kalamazoo, MI: Ekpyrosis Press.
    For over fifty years, Rudolf J. Siebert (b.1927) has developed his Critical Theory of Religion and Society out of the Critical Theory of the Institute for Social Research, commonly known as the "Frankfurt School." Born from the World War II ruins of his hometown in Frankfurt, Germany, Siebert's Hegelian thought has developed in conversation with Christian theology, German Idealism, comparative religion, political-economy, sociology, psychology, and history. Also known as Dialectical Religiology, Siebert's literary corpus is saturated with the dialectics of Georg (...)
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  37. Hegel and the origins of critical theory : Aeschylus and tragedy in the natural law essay.Wes Furlotte - 2021 - In Mark Alznauer (ed.), Hegel on tragedy and comedy: new essays. State University of New York Press.
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  38. Digital Working Lives: Worker Autonomy and the Gig Economy.Tim Christiaens - 2022 - Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.
    Recent innovations in digital technologies are fundamentally transforming the world of work. A digital gig economy is emerging that threatens to displace traditional labour relations based on legally regulated labour contracts. Companies like Uber, Deliveroo, or Amazon Mechanical Turk rely increasingly on 'independent contractors' who earn piece-rate wages by completing tasks sent to them via their smartphones. This development understandably pushes workers to desire more autonomy, but what would workers' autonomy mean in the digital age? This book argues that the (...)
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  39. Decolonizing ethics: the critical theory of Enrique Dussel.Amy Allen & Eduardo Mendieta (eds.) - 2021 - University Park, Pennsylvania: The Pennsylvania State University Press.
    A collection of essays on the work of Latin American philosopher Enrique Dussel, focusing on his ethics of liberation.
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  40. Notes towards the critical theory of post-industrialism capitalism.J. F. Dorahy - 2022 - Thesis Eleven 171 (1):20-29.
    This essay aims to continue to develop the thesis that the welter of political-economic, social, technological, and subjective transformations that characterized the final decades of the 20th century and the first decades of the 21st necessitate a re-thinking of the relationship between social criticism and the critique of political economy. Herein the focus is directed towards the critique of reification and industrial rationalization as developed in the works of Georg Lukács and Cornelius Castoriadis. Drawing on recent phenomenological and psychological analyses (...)
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  41. Reification and critique of the social pathologies in the frame of Axel Honneth’s project of critical theory.Mauro Basaure - 2011 - Enrahonar: Quaderns de Filosofía 46:75.
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  42. Praxis as the unfolding of poiesis: Renewing the normativity of labor for critical theory.Ben Suriano - forthcoming - Philosophy and Social Criticism.
    If critical theory is to challenge capitalism’s corrosive commodification of labor and nature, then it should renew a sense of labor as a real bodily power with an internal telos, along the lines of an Aristotelian normativity of praxis. Recent thought however either rejects normativity altogether, or pits normative praxis against labor uncritically reduced to its commodification. Habermas’s work provides an exemplary case of the latter. While he rightly found the ‘production paradigm’ of normativity problematic, his acceptance of the reified (...)
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  43. Praxis as the unfolding of poiesis: Renewing the normativity of labor for critical theory.Ben Suriano - forthcoming - Sage Journals.
    Philosophy & Social Criticism, Ahead of Print. If critical theory is to challenge capitalism’s corrosive commodification of labor and nature, then it should renew a sense of labor as a real bodily power with an internal telos, along the lines of an Aristotelian normativity of praxis. Recent thought however either rejects normativity altogether, or pits normative praxis against labor uncritically reduced to its commodification. Habermas’s work provides an exemplary case of the latter. While he rightly found the ‘production paradigm’ of (...)
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  44. Critical theory in a decolonial age.Jan McArthur - 2022 - Educational Philosophy and Theory 54 (10):1681-1692.
    This article considers the critical theory of the Frankfurt School in the context of decolonisation and asks whether it can have continuing relevance given its foundations in white, western traditions which bear the hallmarks of colonialism. Despite critical theory, particularly in its early radical figurations, situating itself as an alternative to traditional western philosophy it undoubtedly shares some of the myopic and Eurocentric traits of this tradition. Mindful of not wishing to perpetuate colonial impulses to appropriate Indigenous philosophies, this article (...)
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  45. Critique on the couch: Why Critical Theory needs psychoanalysis.Jaeyoon Park - 2022 - Contemporary Political Theory 21 (S3):134-137.
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  46. Critical Theory Between Klein and Lacan: A Dialogue: by Amy Allen and Mari Ruti, London and New York, Bloomsbury Academic, 2019, 272 pp., $108.00 (hardback), $86.40 (eBook), ISBN 978-1-501-35226-3.Scott Robinson - 2022 - Critical Horizons 23 (3):305-310.
  47. Book Review: Critique on the Couch: Why Critical Theory Needs Psychoanalysis, by Amy Allen. [REVIEW]Siraj Sindhu - 2022 - Political Theory 50 (4):656-661.
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  48. Poverty and Critical Theory.David Ingram - forthcoming - In Routledge Handbook of Poverty.
    This chapter surveys the various critical theory approaches from Marx to the present in the study of poverty and underdevelopment in relationship to capitalism, democracy, and intersectionality.
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  49. The Transcendence of Historical Materialism to Modernity Criticism from the Perspective of Theoretical Self-Confidence—A Study on the Critical Theory of Modernity of Strauss.涵彬 朱 - 2022 - Advances in Philosophy 11 (4):527-533.
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  50. What Does Reification Conceal? Will and Norm in Lukács, Schmitt, and Kelsen.Todd Hedrick - 2021 - Metodo 2 (9):121-154.
    If reification is the projection of a false, thing-like appearance onto society, what is de-reifying critique supposed to reveal? After distinguishing between versions of reification based on a social ontology of will from those that think of the social as a normatively constituted domain, I argue that Lukács’ work on reification fudges this distinction through his account of class. I then turn to the debate between Schmitt and Kelsen, where the will-versus-norm issue is central. I argue that the consonance between (...)
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