Critical Theory – Overview
In the humanities and social sciences, critical theory is the examination and critique of society and literature, drawing from knowledge across social sciences and humanities disciplines. The term has two quite different meanings with different origins and histories, one originating in social theory and the other in literary criticism. Though until recently these two meanings had little to do with each other, since the 1970s there has been some overlap between these disciplines. This has led to "critical theory" becoming an umbrella term for an array of theories in Englishspeaking academia. This article focuses primarily on the differences and similarities between the two senses of the term critical theory. There are two meanings of critical theory which derive from two different intellectual traditions associated with the meaning of criticism and critique. Both derive ultimately from the Greek word kritikos meaning judgment or discernment, and in their present forms go back to the 18th century. While they can be considered completely independent intellectual pursuits, increasingly scholars are interested in the areas of critique where the two overlap.
To use an epistemological distinction introduced by Jürgen Habermas in 1968 in his Erkenntnis und Interesse (Knowledge and Human Interests), critical theory in literary studies is ultimately a form of hermeneutics, i.e. knowledge via interpretation to understand the meaning of human texts and symbolic expressions. 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, obeying the emancipatory interest in expanding the scope of autonomy and reducing the scope of domination. From this perspective, much literary critical theory, since it is focused on interpretation and explanation rather than on social transformation, would be regarded as positivistic...
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