The Issue

Learning about CriticalTheory looks like it could help community members to work in the spirit of the MissionStatement. Unfortunately, there’s almost nothing about CriticalTheory written in PlainTalk. Most contemporary philosophers appear to be focused on being as opaque as possible in their writings. This doesn’t mean we must give up on understanding CriticalTheory, though. We just need a (tentative) strategy of some sort. Understanding people (like Habermas) is going to take more effort to understand than had they used PlainTalk. Maybe that’s how they wanted it and maybe it’ll make understanding them all the more profound and significant. Or maybe (as some have accused) their ideas aren’t worth much so they’ve couched them in weird lingo. This page assumes the former is true.

Critical Theory seems to be of central interest to a wiki community: it’s concerned with how society functions, how people communicate (particularly in writing), how people “know” (epistemology), and power (which feeds back into the previous three). Critical Theory should offer a way to analyze all of these things and talk about them in interesting and fulfilling ways. Critical Theory should make situations more understandable and help give rise to new ideas of community building, social organization, and the betterment of everyone. But maybe that’s a bit too hopeful…

A Plan

So, what’s to be done?

We need to decide what to study – we need to set some outlines and make up a reading list. Then, community members can pick the books and try to understand them and “translate” them into PlainTalk. It will take a while, be a pain, and may not be fruitful immediately – but it may well also teach everyone about communications and communities. If there’s overlap in the reading selections, that’s great – the more “translators,” the more collaboration there can be and therefore the higher the quality of the information contributed.

So… We need to build a reading list. If you see something that interests you, go ahead and put your name next to it with the date that you start reading it.

The simple book summaries could go on BookShelved Wiki. More complex analysis of themes in Critical Theory can go in a variety of places. SoLaSI would love to have some discussion of people like Roland Barthes and Lit-Theory (which may or may not be important for Critical Theory, depending on who you ask). For topics that currently aren’t discussed on any wiki, maybe discussions could start here and move if they got too bit, or maybe someone could set up a critical theory wiki. As the information gets more and more vast for each topic areas, maybe the communities could move to their own wikis. If this were to happen (a bunch of wikis devoted to in-depth discussion of parts of critical theory), it could help alleviate the TooFewWiki problem. Maybe the CriticalTheory page could become a place where the major ideas are summarized and linked to across the various wiki – sort of like a nexus.

Reading List

Habermas is definitely important. It seems that the biggest things for those interested here are his two volumes on Communicative theory (ISBN 0807015075 and ISBN 080701401X) and his book on the Public Sphere (ISBN 0262581086).

According to Bob Nowlan [1] and UCC [2], lit-theory is important. MattBowen is currently reading Wolfgang Iser’s The Act of Reading (ISBN 0-8018-2371-4). He’s also read a little Roland Barthes and hopes to read more.

As for an introduction to Marxian thought, there’s Critical Theories of the State (ISBN 0-299-13714-7). Oxford has a really good anthology of Feminist Essays called Feminisms (ISBN 0192892703). Someone should also probably read some Foucault and some Derrida. Foucault has some really interesting stuff to say about power, and Derrida started Deconstruction.

As more is learned, please add to this list.


Obviously, I think CriticalTheory could be really interesting to learn about. I’d be happy to make another wiki over at solasi to host the discussion of specific stuff like epistemology and Marxism that isn’t on topic here. I’m not sure how great of a wiki-editor/GodKing/Admin-Guy I am though, so help would be appreciated. Feel free to change the plan above to make it better and more achievable, or tell me if you think it’s just a plain stupid plan. Thanks! – MattBowen

I dunno. I just read the commentary on the German version of The Act of Reading – and it must be terrible. Do we really have to do this? I guess my problem is that I believe the second explanation: maybe their ideas aren’t worth much.

To be direct and personal (that is, very CriticalTheory-esque), you wouldn't have Arabic (and Kurdish) friends without CriticalTheory paving the way for you, let alone "no marriage"! Practically everybody today understands critical theory, even those who disagree with the "homosexualist agenda" understand critical theory. It was the fundamental moral argument of the latter half of the 20th century in Western society. It is the basis of our moral centres as modern social secularists. I personally don't want to be convinced that because the reading is hard the ideas are worthless. How could we ever have gotten past "See Dick run" then when we were four? The challenge is sometimes worth it, although maybe not CriticalTheory any more. PostModernism, yes. Although, I have become impressed with how much disrespect men have towards women now that I work on one side with entirely men and on the other side with almost entirely women, and homosexual rights, and racism, and all those issues continue to pervade. The world of exploited labour, in factories and cubicles. The shrinking vacation time and extended overtime. So, maybe still CriticalTheory. – SunirShah

The plan feels a bit like homework to me. I'm mostly busy with OneBigSoup programming, too. :( I don't think I'll be taking any reading assignments.

Should we talk about the ideas here, though? We can follow the HubAndSpokeWikis pattern, as you suggest, MattBowen.

I think CriticalTheory is valuable. The reason I think CriticalTheory is important, for me at least, is because it shimmers. When I read PainfulTalk text about CriticalTheory, behind the PainfulTalk, I can see some phantasms of pattern and brief matches in wording that line up just so. It's like its trying to express the other end of something that I've got on the tip of my tongue. Solving the mystery would make, I think, a more complete picture of Life for me. These feelings have, in my life, moved me in the right direction.

I believe that there is value in CriticalTheory. I also think that Habermas spoke in PlainTalk; that's because I read about how he absorbed people in restaurants and stuff like that. I've seen that power – where a bunch of people are suddenly opening up, and thinking seriously about something. I've never seen it happen around PainfulTalk – I've only seen it happen around people speaking in PlainTalk.

Sadly, people tend to lose it when they set pen to paper, and suddenly they can't speak English (or German) any more. Maybe Habermas had this disease as well; I don't know – I have only heard of CriticalTheory second-hand.

Sorry about the homework feel… I guess I'm just so used to homework at this point that that's how I think :(. I am, however, interested in pursuing this myself at least. It's not going to be a quick or short-term thing; these texts are long and tortured. And, Alex, it's not for everyone – no one has to do anything but work on our rhizome :). Also, I see CriticalTheory and PostModern theory as very much intertwined, so any study of critical theory must also include at least some post-modernism; as the LA Times article asserts [3], these theorists are often critiquing and replying to one another.

With that, here are the next steps as I see them: We need to define as well as we can what we’re looking to study. Then, we need a categorized reading list so people can decide what to read based on their personal tastes and interests. I’ve gone on implicit definitions and made up a reading list off the top of my head, but neither will get us very far. So, what is our working definition of CriticalTheory and what is the CriticalTheoryCanon??

I realize this all seems really restrictive, structured, and time-consuming… but I guess that’s just how I operate. I’m very open to suggestions and improvements or even entirely alternate plans though. With that said, this proposal is very much a long term thing in my mind, with a few stages:

  1. Understanding specific texts of Critical Theorists and Post-Modernists
  2. Understanding major themes of the two camps.
  3. Offering our own insights, knowledge, and theory.
  4. Applying the theory to life and the community (praxis!).

I am intrigued, I must confess. Based on MutualInspiration, I think that I will just read whatever you read. Because when two people read the same thing at the same time, they can talk it over. And from these little interchanges, some might derive the motivation to continue. I'm at least willing to invest the money, and a few hours to give it a try. Thus, The Act of Reading?

Thanks Alex. I have to read The Act of Reading for a thesis I'm writing, so we do know that I will finish it. I have recently also become interested also in A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (ISBN 0816614024). On the back of the book, it claims to be CriticalTheory, and it is the fundamental text describing rhizomes. Unfortunately, according to someone over at Amazon [4], "It's in a word, bizarre, and even makes Habermas much easier to read." But, I've read the first chapter and I think I sort of understand what they're saying, and there's a Users-Guide (I'm not kidding; ISBN 0262631431) that's written in something closer to PlainTalk. So I leave it to you. I'm going to read both at some point, maybe at the same time, though Iser is the (slightly) higher priority.

I found an excellent PlainTalk explanation of Jurgen Habermas' ideas:

Here is an interesting segment:

People interact to respond to this crisis and Habermas calls this interaction Communicative Action. Habermas adapted Horkheimer’s definition of reason as rationality, then, combines it with the relation based activities that results when humans agree. Communicative action, it is the one type of action, that Habermas says uses all human ways of thinking, and language. This combination allows human beings to understand and agree with one another, to make plans for common action. This coming together and agreeing; communicative action, takes the place of revolution as mode of change.

If I were to recreate Jurgen Habermas' ideas today, I would link them with a CyberNetics framework, which, when you get down to it, is about communication.


Define external redirect: CriticalTheoryCanon

EditNearLinks: BookShelved CyberNetics GodKing SunirShah SoLaSI