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> I started to respond and ended up writing so much that I thought a new page was in order: CriticalTheoryPlanProposal. Basically, I think understanding critical theory ''could'' further the goals of this wiki by helping everyone understand communication, society, knowledge, and power. However, critical theory is really complex and usually written in PainfulTalk. So, we need a plan of action. --MattBowen


WE COPIED THIS MATERIAL FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES this is from wikipedia. we experimented with group editing. trying to make sense of this document.


This article is a discussion of critical theory in its most general sense. For the more specific use of the term, see:

What it does

Despite the difficulties in defining its boundaries or its origins, some statements can be made about critical theory. It is often informed by [[postmodern?]] and [[post-structuralist?]] theory, though it is not strictly postmodernist. Its major concerns are questions of identity, both within the [[private_sphere?]] and within the [[public_sphere?]], and particularly in questions of [[dissonance?]] between those two identities. A major focus of critical theory, then, is on the process through which these identities are developed.

The second major focus of critical theory is on specific ways that cultural institutions - ranging from [[media?]] to [[religion?]] to [[science?|scientific]] and [[academic?]] work - are used to shape identities, dictating what is accepted as true, normal, or acceptable within a culture, offering privilege to some, and marginalizing or denying others. Critical theory looks at the mechanics of this process of privilege and marginalization, and often thinks about the possibility of political action against this process. Major thinkers within this aspect of critical theory include [[Derrida?]], [[Foucault?]], and the [[Frankfurt_School?]].

Major thinkers on this question include


Why do our identities matter?

Why does Critical Theory care about our identities?

What is Critical Theory trying to accomplish?


The term critical theory was first used by the [[Frankfurt_School?]] (i.e. members of the Institute for Social Research of the [[University_of_Frankfurt?]], their intellectual and social network, and those influenced by them intellectually), to describe their own work. Since then, it has become a broad term, encompassing work done across the disciplines grouped as the [[humanities?]]. Among the fields grouped within the designation are [[Marxist_theory?]] such as the Frankfurt School, [[psychoanalytic_theory?]] such as the work of [[Jacques_Lacan?]], [[semiotic?]] and [[linguistic?]] theory such as [[Julia_Kristeva?]] and [[Roland_Barthes?]], [[queer_theory?]], [[gender_studies?]], [[cultural_studies?]], and [[critical_race_theory?]]. However, the boundaries of critical theory are far from clear.

It is difficult to say with any firmness when critical theory began as a concept. Some argue that it began with the Frankfurt School, since that was, after all, where the term was first used. Others argue that the term as currently used corresponds with [[Jacques_Derrida?|Jacques Derrida's]] presentation of "[[Structure,_Sign,_and_Play_in_the_Discourse_of_the_Human_Sciences?]]" in 1966 at [[Johns_Hopkins_University?]]. Others claim that this is an oversimplification for the purpose of having a clear beginning point to something that doesn't have one, and point out that [[Michel_Foucault?]] and Jacques Lacan had been writing for decades when Derrida presented his paper, and are clearly now considered part of critical theory. Still others point out that the roots of all of these works lies in the work of [[Friedrich_Nietzsche?]], [[Sigmund_Freud?]], [[Karl_Marx?]], and [[Ferdinand_de_Saussure?]]. Others go back even further, arguing that critical thought began with [[G.W.F._Hegel?]], [[Immanuel_Kant?]], or even in [[ancient_philosophy?]].

Lists of [[List_of_major_critical_theorists?|notable figures in critical theory]] and of [[notable_works_in_critical_theory?]] exist.


In the [[humanities?]] and [[social_sciences?]], critical theory is a general term for new theoretical developments (roughly since the [[1960s?]]) in a variety of fields, informed by [[structuralism?]], [[post-structuralism?]], [[deconstruction?]], [[Marxist_theory?]], and several other areas of thought. It encompasses many related developments in [[literary_theory?]] (which is often a rough synonym) and [[cultural_studies?]], [[aesthetics?]], theoretical sociology and social theory, [[continental_philosophy?]] more generally.

See also

Similar disciplines of thought:

CaFoscari:LuciaPradella? wrote a related paper in German here: CaFoscari😀ieParadigmenänderung
([de]Die Paradigmenänderung in den 40er Jahren in der Theorie der Frankfurter Schule
[en]The 1940's Paradigm Change in the Theory of the Frankfurter Schule)

IRC conversation

<lion> I predict that more and more people are going to understand these abstract notions of theories of life and things like that. Because there is an "integration" on the Internet, that comes out of the Internet Concentration. We can get to the bottom of things very quickly. But it is still too obtuse. I mean: In the humanities and social sciences, critical theory is a general term for new theoretical developments (roughly since the 1960s) in a variety of fields, informed by structuralism, post-structuralism, deconstruction, Marxist theory, and several other areas of thought. It encompasses many related developments in literary theory (which is often a rough synonym) and cultural studies, aesthetics, theoretical sociology and social theory, philosophy more generally.
What the fuck does that mean?
I'm not sure if "Critical Theory" is what we're looking for. It's a concept I find myself coming back to, but I'm not sure if it's "it."

[14:34] <pir> Its major concerns are questions of identity, that seems to me the central piece of meaning.

[14:38] <lion> Why do our identities matter? Why does Critical Theory care about our identities? What is Critical Theory trying to accomplish?

[14:44] <pir> sigi says they were mostly marxists - the frankfurter schule people. sigi: then structuralists (which i need to look up) and then communications theory.

[14:45] <lion> Sunir Shah told me about a guy named Joshua Habermas, who had some sort of theory based on conversations and education. I investigated "Joshua Habermas," I think, and the path seemed "warm," but 1900 Marxism seems pretty dead to me.

[14:46] <pir> communications theory is what interests me. (sigi too)

[14:46] <lion> Well, are you talking - Shannon, or..?

[14:46] <featherj> Jürgen Habermas's main aim has been to construct a social theory that is also a non-oppressive and inclusive universalist moral framework. The framework rests on the argument that all speech acts have an inherent telos - the goal of mutual understanding, and that human beings possess the communicative competence to bring about such understanding.

[14:47] <pir> that last part is key, and in plain english.

[14:47] <lion> I just don't understand what specificly Habermas is saying. pir: How so?

[14:48] <pir> it's his goal i suppose because as things stand now, that's not happening because there is too much oppression.

[14:48] <pir> sigi: habermas wanted communication without oppression from above. [14:47] <lion> There's this idea floating in the air: People can understand ideas together.

[14:48] <mattis_> theory comes after practize. You do, then you observe what you do. Act.

[14:48] <lion> mattis_: It is a reciprical relationship, too, though. Theory feeds actions, actions feed theory.
This feels very abstract though, I have to admit.
When I read stuff like this, I feel: I want to start from scratch, knowing that scratch has - built into it- so much of this stuff.

[14:49] <pir> so there is inherent in this goal an analysis that as things stand, we are not free to communicate well.

[14:50] <lion> IntelligenceFailure.

[14:50] <pir> that society as it is isn't inclusive. that much of our communication oppresses others.

[14:51] <lion> What does he mean in particular - does he mean, "Go and kill Fred?" When he says, "Communication?" Because I think he must actually be talking about something deeper than that.

[14:51] <pir> i think it's way deeper.

[14:51] <lion> He must mean something deeper by "communication" than "Go and kill Fred."
I mean, he can't be just sitting there, thinking, "Gee, it'd be great if people talked to each other."

[14:52] <pir> i think i know what he means, but need to fiddle with my mind to express it.

[14:52] <lion> pir: Maybe our conversation would help?

[14:52] <pir> i read two articles yesterday on bad boys of cyperspace and which showed how communication can be used to come down like a ton of bricks on somebody. it was on "moral panic" of communities.

[14:53] <lion> pir: That's only a step from "Go and kill Fred," though - isn't it? I feel that there's some kind of deep communication, some concept we are looking for.

[14:53] <pir> several steps. mattis and sigi think adorno (frankfurter school) sucks. :) communication without oppression means that one gives no commands, says sigi.

[14:57] <lion> I have an intuitive notion I have wanted to write a CW page called "ThinkTalkAct" to help lay out the map. This is from the "going from scratch" side of things. I put ThinkTalkAct on my list of pages to write. I feel we are losing ourselves here.
let's see.. what are we doing… We're looking at the concept of " Critical Theory " because it seems to be connected with what we are doing in Wiki,

[15:01] <pir> sigi: adorno said that underneath communication free of oppression lies the pure will of a person to either command or communicate. he says that the wikizen is the opposite :) of what adorno calls "the authoritarian" character. so, wikizen is right down habermas et al's alley.

[15:02] <lion> sounds a little us-v-them, but okay, I think I can follow the intuition.

[15:02] <pir> i think that a lot of us vs them language is merely to illustrate one's viewpoint.

[15:03] <lion> pir: It's easier to understand with extreme examples.

meine bescheidene meinung: die kritsche theorie hat die gesellschaft nicht verändert, wie wir heute sehen. das internet ist aber dabei, es zu tun. vor allem wiki ist da ganz im sinne der kritschen theorie: weg vom autoritären charakter, hin zum kommunikativen charakter. weg vom monolog, hin zum dialog. und das baum bild bietet zum mindessten ein neues bild der gesellschaft. --sigi

es ist mir neu, das wikipedia etwas dagegen hat, dass man die texte dort kopiert, aber es verstärkt meine vorbehalte gegenüber wikipedia. --sigi

Es geht ganz einfach um die Lizenz. Der Text von Wikipedia steht unter der GNU Free Documentation License. Stünde Community Wiki unter derselben Lizenz, wäre kopieren, verändern und verbreiten kein Problem. Leider hat Community Wiki noch ein paar Zusätze, so dass zwar Text von hier nach dort kopiert werden kann, aber nicht in die umgekehrte Richtung.

complicated, eh? --sigi

I've discovered some more links to help us decypher "Critical Theory."

I was particularly drawn to this one, which, while still hard to decypher, has some stuff I can relate to in it.

It seems to say that:

  • In "the Enlightenment" period, people thought: "Oh, we're figuring stuff out! We'll figure everything out! We'll become rational human beings, and we'll throw off cruelty, and we'll throw out all these terrible things that come about because of our ignorance."
  • But that didn't happen.
  • Some people wondered why.
  • The results of those peoples' wondering is called "Critical Theory."

My guess is that they're trying to figure out the strategic path to take to realize the enligtenments goals.

This article on Habermas is incredibly useful, because it's in PlainTalk, and explains these complicated ideas. It explains the social background, and makes clear how these ideas connect to real life.

I believe if we decode this document, we will be much closer to the understanding we are seeking.

There is an essential set of passages in there; I think if we understood those ideas clearly, the rest would unfold for us.

(From "As Seyla Benhabib," to "The Enlightenment, Habermas concludes, continues to have "a sound core."")

I feel an intuitive proximity with SunirShah, reading this article. Perhaps he can help us understand these ideas.

I recently have been interested in something I call "trans-rationalism." It means that, even though things are more complicated than we can consciously reason about and talk about, it does not mean that we must be irrational inside ourselves, and as a society. We can see things, it appears, that are under the waters of consciousness, but that are clear and rational in themselves. It is not mysticism, but it is called mysticism by those who think it is irrational. There appears to be a continual "calling forth" from that essential underwater stuff, into conscious light. I can't help but feel that this idea is connected Habermas.

It also seems to be connected with SunirShah and I's back and forth- "Modernist," and "Post-Modernist," which you can also see reflected in that article.

I think I can understand some of this. In the article, it shows a challenger to Habermas:

:Stanley Fish, a professor of English and law at Duke University, has been particularly critical of Habermas' work. Fish scoffs at the notion that we might talk our way past our biases. In order to enter into a conversation in which you might lose your prejudices, he argues, you'd have to begin by putting aside your prejudices. "The trouble with Habermas' way of thinking," Fish asserts, "is that you couldn't possibly take this first step. This first step is in fact the last step.

I think I can anticipate a response: You don't have to enter a conversation by drawing up battle lines, and saying "You over there, me over here." You can engage in some subtler conversation, that weakens the attachment to the prejudice, and exposes complexity.

Look at IntegrationAndIdentity; I think that this is very similar.

i think Fish is correct, that setting aside prejudices is not the first step, and i believe Habermas' ideas are highly rational/intellectual and not reflective of the whole of human interaction which is often a lot more base – but it took me the longest time to realize it, because i used to think i was setting aside my prejudices at the beginning of a discussion. i know i tried to, very hard at times, but i just didn't look at that step in enough detail. and that detail has everything to do with deciding at some point in my life that i didn't like to fight at all, with figuring out that being direct was often perceived as confrontational, that i had to first connect with people in some personal way before they would actually really listen to me. and all of that led to AssumeGoodFaith – but that was definitely not the first step either; it was just a step on the road to setting aside my prejudices. the personal connection, that's what did it. turning a concept of a person into a real person, listening to the real person talk about zir concerns. i guess i am straddling the line between modernism and po-mo – i fear po-mo is correct, that it all is relative, and it informs my acceptance of other people as possibly having very different notions about right and wrong – but i hope in acting according to the idea that we can reason our way across obstacles i can make a better world. and i have evidence that it works within my own circle of influence, which helps a lot – my world really is better for acting according to habermas' ideas.

I can't really say whether I believe Habermas' ideas are correct or not, because I don't understand them! I wish I did..! I'm just not seeing much on the Internet that explains his ideas. Needs more PlainsTalk?.

I like to feel emotions, I like to reason. I like to be able to question things, and I like to be able to build things. Of all these things, I have a hard time picking one or the other!

I think academics are weird for trying to do so.


My summer reading list includes Habermas, you'll be glad to know. I'll see if I can't distill some sense from it and share it.

SoLaSI has an interesting short intro paragraph:

Critical theory tends to answer three important questions: How do people read, what do people read, and why do people read? On this website, critical theory will hopefully do just those things, with a particular focus on new textual media like HyperText and wiki (especially wiki). [1]

That's about literary critical theory- this is a different thing. It's tangentially related, but very different otherwise. It's not focused on reading and written word.

Sorry about the SoLaSI thing – I called it Critical Theory instead of Literary Critical Theory because I'm trying to get away from the word literature. There are simply a lot of “Critical Theories” – there’s critical theory of the state, standpoint-epistemology, narrative theory, etc…either way, I'll try to make the lit aspect more clean on the SoLaSI. Moving forward though…

I've read a little bit of Habermas, and he's a doozy. Going toward language as an escape from oppression, I've found a relevant (and opaque) portion of Lyotard's The Postmodern Condition (ISBN 0-8166-1173-4). When critiquing Habermas, he says:

"Diskurs is his [Habermas's] ultimate weapon against the theory of the stable system… Consensus has become an outmoded and suspect value. But justice as a value is neither outmoded nor suspect. We must arrive at an idea and practice of justice that is not linked to that of consensus.

A recognition of the heteromorphous nature of language games is a first step in that direction. This obviously implies a renunciation of terror, which assumes that they are isomorphic and tries to make them so. The second step is the principle that any consensus on the rules defining a game and the "moves" playable within it must be local, in other words, agreed on by its present players and subject to eventual cancellation. The orientation then favors a multiplicity of finite meta-arguments…" (page 66 of the 2002 U Minnesota P edition).

Eventually, for Lyotard (and maybe others like Foucault) it comes down to how do we get our knowledge and how do we legitimate our knowledge. And then that reduces to power, at least for Lyotard. The above link [2] explains the context of this and the rest of Lyotard’s arguments. Given the article [3] linked above about Habermas, I’d say Lyotard and he are pretty opposed, so maybe understanding the antithesis will help us understand the thesis. – MattBowen

I believe in PlainTalk.

I like Habermas; I understand and agree with the handful of his ideas that are given in these pages.

He believes in Justice, and Fairness, and Conversation, and the ability of people to Reason.

Sign me up!

But, I know that there are more ideas than just that. I've read that he talks about personal identities. I've heard that he has ideas on how conversations work and how the public space works. I've heard that he has strategic ideas. I've heard that he has a theory about how theory works.

I just wish they were communicated in plain talk.

I don't think there's anything about these conversations that's particularly complicated, such that we can't speak about it plainly.

I started to respond and ended up writing so much that I thought a new page was in order: CriticalTheoryPlanProposal. Basically, I think understanding critical theory could further the goals of this wiki by helping everyone understand communication, society, knowledge, and power. However, critical theory is really complex and usually written in PainfulTalk. So, we need a plan of action. --MattBowen



Define external redirect: continental philosophy media Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences G.W.F. Hegel LuciaPradella religion Ferdinand de Saussure Martin Heidegger science psychoanalytic theory Lacan Karl Marx post-structuralist gender studies linguistic postmodern deconstruction ancient philosophy cultural studies semiotic structuralism Friedrich Nietzsche Derrida List of major critical theorists dissonance Louis Althusser Sigmund Freud Johns Hopkins University aesthetics humanities Michel Foucault critical race theory Jacques Derrida private sphere Jacques Lacan Julia Kristeva 1960s Marxist theory Foucault literary theory academic Immanuel Kant public sphere queer theory notable works in critical theory Roland Barthes social sciences PlainsTalk Frankfurt School University of Frankfurt post-structuralism

EditNearLinks: SoLaSI SunirShah