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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not something for nothing, 4 April 2013
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This review is from: Critical Theory: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions) (Paperback)
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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