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Critical Theory Overview

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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 or traditional rather than critical theory in the Kantian or
Marxian sense. Critical theory in literature and the humanities in general does not necessarily involve a normative dimension, whereas critical social theory does, either through criticizing society from some general theory of values, norms, or oughts, or through criticizing it in terms of its own espoused values.
In social theory
Main article: Frankfurt School
The initial meaning of the term critical theory was that defined by Max Horkheimer of the Frankfurt School of social science in his 1937 essay
Traditional and Critical Theory: Critical theory 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 what he and his colleagues saw as the covert positivism and authoritarianism of orthodox Marxism and communism. Core concepts are: (1) That critical social theory should be directed at the totality of society in its historical specificity (i.e. how it came to be configured at a specific point in time), and (2) That Critical Theory should improve understanding of society by integrating all the major social sciences, including geography, economics, sociology, history, political science, anthropology, and psychology. Although this conception of critical theory originated with the Frankfurt School, it also prevails among other recent social scientists, such as Pierre Bourdieu, Louis Althusser and arguably Michel Foucault, as well as certain feminist theorists and social scientists.
The Praxis school was a Marxist humanist philosophical movement. It originated in Zagreb and Belgrade in the SFR Yugoslavia, during the
1960s that in many ways closely linked to Frankfurt School and Critical theory. Prominent figures among the school's founders include Gajo
Petrović and Milan Kangrga of Zagreb and Mihailo Marković of Belgrade. From 1964 to 1974 they published the Marxist journal Praxis, which was renowned as one of the leading international journals in Marxist theory.
This version of "critical" theory derives from Kant's (18th-century) and Marx's (19th Century) use of the term "critique", as in Kant's Critique of
Pure Reason and Marx's concept that his work Das Kapital (Capital) forms a "critique of political economy". For Kant's transcendental idealism,
"critique" means examining and establishing the limits of the validity of a faculty, type, or body of knowledge, especially through accounting for the limitations imposed by the fundamental, irreducible concepts in use in that knowledge system. Early on, Kant's notion associated critique with the disestablishment of false, unprovable, or dogmatic philosophical, social, and political beliefs, because Kant's critique of reason involved the critique of dogmatic theological and metaphysical ideas and was intertwined with the enhancement of ethical autonomy and the
Enlightenment critique of superstition and irrational authority. Marx explicitly developed this notion into the critique of ideology and linked it with the practice of social revolution, as in the famous 11th of his "Theses on Feuerbach," "Philosophers have only interpreted the world in certain ways; the point is to change it".[1]
In the 1960s, Jürgen Habermas raised the epistemological discussion to a new level in his Knowledge and Human Interests, by identifying critical knowledge as based on principles that differentiated it either from the natural sciences or the humanities, through its orientation to selfreflection and emancipation.
The term critical theory, in the sociological or philosophical and non-literary sense, now loosely groups all sorts of work, including that of the
Frankfurt School, Michel Foucault, Pierre Bourdieu, disability studies and feminist theory, that has in common the critique of domination, an emancipatory interest, and the fusion of social/cultural analysis, explanation, and interpretation with social/cultural critique.

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