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on 4 April 2013
Having read a little about critical theory in standard research texts I thought I had a basic handle on the subject; critical theory was about research that did more then merely found things out but instead it aimed to do something about the imbalances and injustices its research subjects were subjected to. Its purported Marxist approach aided in my superficial understanding. After reading this book I understand far less what critical theory is and am much wiser for it.

To be sure Bronner explains that 'critical theory was conceived within the intellectual crucible of Marxism' {p2}, but the extent to which Bronner illustrates that critical theory is an interdisciplinary enterprise rather than just a mash-up of Marxism no attempt on my part could do proper justice to. Bronner explains that the authors of critical theory were less concerned with economic / material concerns than the political and cultural superstructure of society. Indeed Capitalism was not primarily to be opposed because it exploited workers but because it reduced social relations to ones based on competition; the former being an oft cited misreading of Marx.

The picture of critical theory that emerges from Bronner is one that is conceived and exercised as a critique of {late} modernism's championing of scientific rationality and its subsuming of the individual. Horkheimer and Adorno's book 'Dialectic of Enlightenment' is given good airing and Bronner is forthright about showing up the book's failings. You are left though with a view that critical theory is a theory of and for yesterday - a theory that deals in the modernist era rather than the postmodernist. It isn't clear for example what critical theory has to say about the present day neoliberal commercial repackaging of the individual and its mandatory freedoms, if it recognises the problem or acknowledges it as a separate problem from the eradicating of the individual in the modernist era.

If you want to tick off on some checklist that you may have that you now know all about critical theory then this would not be the book for you, neither is it even easy to read; it attempts to cover a lot of material in some depth. If you really want to know what critical theory is and intend to put in some serious effort in that direction then this book would be a good starting point. I'm certainly going to read it again if only for its in-depth insights into social theory.
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VINE VOICEon 27 July 2013
In the 1920s a group of German Marxist academics attempted to critically engage with western intellectual thought. Like many intellectuals, they were influenced by the ideas around them - Nietzsche, Freud, Kafka, Expressionism, Dada, Surrealism - yet also wanted to go beyond a mere academic work to engage in a way that would help achieve genuine liberation of humanity from the oppression of capitalism and imperialism.

The rise of Hitler and the Nazis forced them to flee first to Geneva and then to the USA. Their experience of Nazism and the accounts of the Stalinist USSR led them to fear that the inheritance of the Enlightenment - that eighteenth century movement of human rights, civil liberties and freedom of thought - was tragically going to lead to totalitarianism - and they attempted to examine how a system of thought which valued freedom and liberty could result in misery and oppression. Their conclusions were that Enlightenment thought resulted in scientific ways of thinking which had no soul - no humanity - had lost the link between fact and value - and so trapped humanity in a machine. People became human resources, collateral damage, cogs in the machine - humanity became the slaves of a giant organisational state that chewed up the population and spat them out.

Their experience in the USA provided no comfort either. They saw the USA - mass consumer culture, mass production, the culture industry - as just another part of this loss of humanity in the jaws of modernity. Through writers such as Freud, Nietzsche, Beckett and Kafka they sought to find the dimensions of humanity that had been lost in capitalist society.

Increasingly they saw the traditional Marxist post-capitalist state as no alternative but just another example of this giant machine society. Some thinkers returned to Germany after the war, others remained in the USA - increasingly their thought came to influence others, particularly in the USA, in a variety of disciplines - literary and cultural theory, sociology, philosophy and media studies. Some thinkers turned to religion - or the symbolism and mythology of religion - as a source of engagement with human culture outside of mass produced society. Others became involved in the anti-war, CND counter-culture of the late 1960s and tried to support the move towards a more humane society. Yet others were suspicious of all mass movements as having echoes of the Nazis in the 1930s, and concentrated on high culture as a means of authentic human living.

The author praises these thinkers for asking difficult questions about our society. He is critical of them in places and feels they may have been shaped too much by their experience of the rise of the Nazis as a filter to read other modern societies; yet nevertheless their insistence on the need for a society that allows humanity to flourish and grow rather than one which see humans as resources for the economy, is going to be necessary for a long time yet.
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on 30 March 2015
Currently reading for an MA International Relations. This is a good solid companion guide which summarises Critical Theory well, in particular the foundation and evolution of the Frankfurt School. Actually sells itself a little short by calling itself a 'very short' guide; although small, it's actually not that short and could be considered a 'go to' text. Now lives firmly in my laptop bags. Finally, I am not an adherent to the Frankfurt School and found this a well balanced guide which doesn't seek to 'sell' Critical Theory and does indeed critique the School. Must have for an Political Science, IP or IR theory scholar.
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on 29 November 2013
If you're like me you get a massive amount out of reading about philosophical theories in a condensed form before going to the actual, original, full texts.

Kind of like erecting a skeleton or scaffolding before hanging the meat and sinew of the theories from that bare, but solid, framework

If that's how you learn best then you should profit from this little book.
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on 2 January 2014
really interesting and relevant content - balanced too addressing criticisms(!) of critical theory itself and examples f different strands of CT.
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on 27 April 2016
Fantastic product. Arrived quickly and couldn't offer a better recommendation.
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on 30 May 2015
as described
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