Ideologies of Domination and Emancipation
Mark A. Foster, Ph.D.


Critical realism is a social scientific perspective. It focuses on domination (oppression) and emancipation (liberation or freedom from oppression).

The below reflections on the subject will be followed by links to reference materials either written or compiled by the director of The Emancipated Autism Project.

Critical realism, a social scientific (including sociological) and philosophical perspective, focuses on domination (oppression) and on emancipation (liberation or freedom from oppression). Unlike critical social theory, however, critical realism includes an ontological framework. However, critical social theory is distinguished from the critical theory (also known as literary criticism and literary theory) that began separately within the humanities.

These two critical theories, from the social sciences and the humanities, are now frequently placed under the banner of a larger critical theory. However, our interest here is in critical social theory, a framework which started, at least from one standpoint, in 1930, the year Max Horkheimer became director of Frankfurt’s Institut für Sozialforschung (Institute for Social Research). As a result, the group of German scholars who developed critical theory, including Horkheimer, is frequently called the Frankfurt School.

Despite the definitions offered above, Karl Marx himself, especially when regarded humanistically (that is to say, from a human-centered outlook) could, more broadly speaking, also be considered a critical realist. Certainly, he is the individual who introduced a well-reasoned focus on domination and emancipation into the social sciences, the humanities, and popular thought. Indeed, it really goes without saying that, if anyone is entitled to be called a critical realist, it is Marx.

While not intended to include each and every possibility, critical realism, in the twenty-first century, can be approached from a wide variety of Western Marxist (term coined by Maurice Merleau-Ponty) or neo-Marxist (those which use some of Marx’s ideas but may then combine them non-Marxist ones) positions and approaches. They are not, however, mutually exclusive. My own work, for instance, would fall under several the items listed below:

  1. New critical theory, a Marxian framework also known as postmodern critical theory, is a very recent, and an increasingly popular, view which combines critical theory with postmodernism and related ideas. It is somewhat similar to critical postmodernism and post-Marxism.
  2. Critical pedagogy may be defined as an approach to education, grounded in critical social theory, which encourages students, first, to become conscious of the social oppressions or dominations around them (racism, sexism, etc.) and, second, to reflect on the actions which may be required to become free (emancipated) from those oppressions or dominations. On campus, in my own applications of critical pedagogy, I combine lecture with class and small-group discussions. Emphases are placed on the social construction of groups and societies and on the deconstruction, or elimination, of political, economic, and social oppression. My intention is to promote a structured dialogue. Here are a couple of online videos: Critical Pedagogy and Why Critical Pedagogy?
  3. Critical realism itself, as this term is used by Roy Bhaskar and his followers, is a neo-Marxian thought system, focusing on emancipation, which considers human interpretations of the outward signs ("actualities") of universal realities. They include my The Institute for Structurization Theory and The Emancipated Autism Project (a nonpartisan Autistic rights project).
  4. Existential Marxism was developed by Jean-Paul Sartre, one of the key figures in existentialism. It may be understood as the struggle to free oneself from being alienated (cut off) from oneʼs own existence.
  5. Leftist identity politics refers to minorities promoting their own interests, such as socialist feminism (advocates struggles by women against economic oppression/capitalism and cultural oppression by men/patriarchy), including the Autistic Self Advocacy Network.
  6. Radical history develops oneʼs activism around an understanding of the past.
  7. Liberation theology refers to particular theologies and religions which are seen as struggles for liberation (began in Latin American Roman Catholicism but moved into other faith traditions, including the Black Church and the Palestinian rights movement).
  8. Engaged Buddhism promotes taking action on Buddhist concepts of compassion (degrees of Marxist influence vary).
  9. Feminist Theory, which encompasses numerous approaches (Marxist, radical, socialist, third wave, etc.), examine emancipation from domination.
  10. Queer theory explores sexual identity (e.g., female, male, and intersexed) and sexual preference or orientation (e.g., gay, straight, and bisexual as social constructions.
  11. Critical development is a Marxian approach to social and economic development.
  12. Community organizing originated in the "rules for radicals" developed by Saul Alinsky. His neo-Marxism incorporated some Machiavellianism.
  13. Critical geography is an application of various critical theoretical approaches (Marxist, poststructuralist, feminist, etc.) to geography.
  14. Critical criminology refers to a number of approaches, mostly neo-Marxist, which view crime as a product of various categories of oppression.
  15. Critical dramaturgy applies critical theory to Erving Goffmanʼs dramaturgical analysis.
  16. Tikkun olam expresses the ethical Jewish philosophy of "repairing the world"
  17. Jihad bil yad is an Islamic "struggle by the hand" to fight economic and social injustice
  18. Quakerism emphasizes the Inner Light and pacifism
  19. Radical political economics is, according to the Union for Radical Political Economics, "... a continuing critique of the capitalist system and all forms of exploitation and oppression while helping to construct a progressive social policy and create socialist alternatives."
  20. New political science is practiced by, for instance, the members of the Caucus for a New Political Science, a section of the Americal Political Science Association. They define new political science as, "[helping to] make the study of politics relevant to the struggle for a better world. As an educational organization, it offers a forum for diverse positions within the framework of this struggle."
  21. Critical psychology is defined by Donna Haraway in this way: "The aim of critical psychology is to analyse - and if possible to change - the conditions in which humans are - spoken with Marx - 'downtrodden beings'. The main question is why humans perpetuate a world in which people dominate other people, oppress them, exploit them, humiliate them, and kill them, instead of realising their potentials and create a real 'paradise'." A similar viewpoint is expressed by Royal Alsup as liberation psychology.
  22. Critical ethnography "begins with an ethical responsibility to address processes of unfairness or injustice within a particular lived domain. By 'ethical responsibility,' I mean a compelling sense of duty and commitment based on moral principles of human freedom and well–being, and hence a compassion for the suffering of living beings. The conditions for existence within a particularcontext are not as they could be for specific subjects; as a result, the researcher feels a moral obligation to make a contribution toward changing those conditions toward greater freedom and equity. The critical ethnographer also takes us beneath surface appearances, disrupts the status quo, and unsettles both neutrality and taken-for-granted assumptions by bringing to light underlying and obscure operations of power and control." (Introduction to Critical Ethnography: Theory and Method)
  23. Critical pragmatism combines critical theory with the philosophy of pragmatism (that the value of an idea or a proposition is based on its practical consequences).
  24. Reflexive sociology is the sociological study of sociology itself or of sociologists (usually from a radical or critical perspective).
  25. Anarchism, encompassing a variety of left-wing libertarian ideas, is critical of "vertical" power arrangements (where one social class has power over another class).
  26. Advocacy journalism, as illustrated on my SocioSphere.com webzine, is a reasoned use of journalistic methods to promote a particular cause.
  27. Theatre of the Oppressed, an approach to theatrical performance, was developed by the director, Augusto Boal, and was influenced by his fellow Braxilianʼs, Paulo Freireʼs, critical pedagogy.
  28. Critical management is a neo-Marxist approach to mangement. It is influenced by the Frankfurt school, poststructuralism (Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, etc.), anarchism, and other approaches. In addition, through the Tamara Journal, critical organization, a related perspective, "draws on Critical Management Theory and Postmodern Organization Science and is based in story/narrative and other qualitative study. It combines critical theory as well as postmodern theory and postcolonial theory and critical pedagogy with praxis. And one that seeks a higher ethics of global production and consumption."
  29. Marxist Literary Criticism often involves an examination of the political and economic assumptions made by a novel or short story.
  30. Radical unschooling is an anarchist approach to both schooling and parenting. One of the assumptions which is sometimes made is that children are natural learners and do not need to be forced to learn to behave in a certain fashion.
  31. Critical education theory examines the processes by which education, and educational systems, enforce dominant power structures.
  32. Critical architecture has been explained in this fashion: "At this moment there is an international debate going on between architects that hold on to the critical theory, and architects that think that the critical project is exhausted and has to be replaced by a projective practice. Opposed to a critical architecture that resists consumer society, Robert Somol and Sarah Whiting position a projective architecture that looks for opportunities within the capitalist society and exploits these."
  33. Critical nursing, based on critical social theory, focuses on avoiding nursing as power domination and on empowering patients.
  34. Critical neuroscience "aspires to engage neuroscience research with approaches from anthropology, history of science, philosophy, sociology, and transcultural psychiatry."

One of the objectives of the pages listed below is, by framing the anti-neurelitist movement in varied contexts, to invite each Autistic self-advocate to ground her praxis (theoretically and reflectively grounded activity) in whatever undertakings she finds appropriate and intellectually satisfying.

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