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Critical Theory

Critical Theory In The Disciplines, The Frankfurt School And Critical Theory, From Structuralism To Poststructuralism And Beyond

In the humanities, the term critical theory has had many meanings in different historical contexts. From the end of World War II through the 1960s, the term signified the use of critical and theoretical approaches within major disciplines of the humanities such as art history, literary studies, and more broadly, cultural studies. From the 1970s, the term entered into the rapidly evolving area of film and media studies. Critical theory took on at the same time a more specialized sense describing the work of the Frankfurt School that itself spread steadily through many disciplines of the humanities and social sciences in the English-speaking world from the 1970s on.

While critical theories were entering the humanities throughout the world, a proliferation of new theoretical approaches from France, often associated with structuralism and then poststructuralism and postmodern theory, generated new discourses that were also assimilated to the cover concept of critical theory. Moreover, different groups such as women, gays and lesbians, and people of color also developed specific critical theories within a wide range of disciplines from the 1970s into the early twenty-first century. The situation was further complicated when many of the theoretical discourses (such as deconstruction) were associated with philosophy, which in turn gave rise in the humanities to a tendency to speak of Theory with a capital T when describing the proliferation of critical theories and methods and to privilege them as a necessary instrument of criticism.

To sort out this complex trajectory, it is useful to first broadly sketch the role of critical theory in the various fields of the humanities, then present the Frankfurt School version of critical theory, and finally engage the mutations of critical theory from the theory proliferation of the 1960s and 1970s, the rise of the "posts," the interconnection of critical theory with groups associated with new social movements, its connection with philosophy, and the emergence of Theory as a privileged discourse. While this narrative is partly historical, it is mainly analytical, for in the contemporary context, different people use the term critical theory in diverse and contested ways following the various models and stages of the discourse. Thus there is not one single or dominant understanding of critical theory in the university of the early twenty-first century.

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Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Cosine to Cyano group