The Institute for Emancipatory Constructionism
Critical Theory and New Critical Theory
Out of the Western Marxism of the Frankfurt School

New critical theory (NCT) is third-generational critical social theory (critical sociology). It resembles postmodern critical theory, critical postmodernism, and the post-Marxism of Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe. NCTs begin, like the first- and second-generational theories of the Frankfurt School before them, with a Marxian focus and then add other frameworks. For this reason, critical theories, narrating human struggles against dominative social texts, are more accurately termed neo-Marxist than Marxist.

New critical theories express, in a manner similar to Jeffrey Alexander's school of cultural sociology, the impact of a "cultural turn" on critical social theory. Here, cultures are examined for their provision of explanatory factors; and cultural traits are regarded as causal mechanisms for various categories of social phenomena, not merely as objects of treatment by independent variables. As a consequence of this cultural turn, and the influences of such postisms as postmodernism and poststructuralism, sociology has moved closer to the humanities, such as literary criticism.

To elaborate further, just as some first-generational critical theorists supplemented Karl Marx with Sigmund Freud and as Jurgen Habermas (of the second generation) incorporated pragmatism and systems theory (among others), so NCTs are injected with postmodernism, poststructuralism, social constructionism, neopragmatism, etc. Critical social theories have been, and remain, decidedly ecclectic.

All critical theories (of whatever generation) emphasize a dialectic of domination (or oppression) and emancipation (or liberation from oppression). That is to say, critical theorists develop a praxis (theoretically reflective social action), centered on emancipation, on top of the theory itself. Praxis was also a central feature of Marx's own radical theory.

Foster, Ph.D., Mark A., Professor of Sociology at Johnson County Community College

This anthology brings together various strands of contemporary theory to combine the newer insights of postmodernism, feminist, race, and queer theory, with the older ideals of a Marxist-influenced critical social theory of the first- and second-generation Frankfurt Schools. We call this new social theory New Critical Theory.

Wilkerson, William S. and Paris, Jeffrey, "Why a New Critical Theory?" Wilkerson, William S. and Paris, Jeffrey (eds.). New Critical Theory. Lantham, Maryland. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. 2002. Page 1.

The aim of New Critical Theory [a Rowman & Littlefield book series edited by Patricia Huntington and Martin J. Beck Matustik] is to broaden the scope of critical theory beyond its two predominant strains, one generated by the research program of Jurgen Habermas and his students, the other by postmodern cultural studies. The series will reinvigorate early critical theory—as developed by Theodor Adorno, Herbert Marcuse, Walter Benjamin, and others—but from more decisive postcolonial and post patriarchal vantage points. New Critical Theory represents theoretical and activist concerns about class, gender, and race, seeking to learn from as well as nourish new social liberation movements.

New Critical Theory. Retrieved on May 1, 2009.

I argue that postmodernism, conceived within the eschatological or "critical" framework of Marxist critical theory, does not betray Marxism but extends Marxism into the late 20th century, formulating postmodernity as the latter-day version of Marx's socialism. In particular, postmodern critical theory is the first narrative to pose a possible utopian future not as a determinate outcome of nature-like social laws but rather as one conceivable discursive accomplishment among many. Shorn of "necessity," postmodernism bridges the global and local, system and action.

Agger, Ben. Postponing the Postmodern. Retrieved on April 29, 2009.

Critical Theory

In a sense, critical theory starts with Marx, but quickly abandons the philosophical materialism, the theory of historical development, and the crucial role of the proletariat, which are key features of most Marxism. What is retained is the sort of explanations of false consciousness and of alienation which are to be found in Marx's earlier writings. It then draws on a variety of insights into the formation and structure of consciousness (more specifically, "modern" consciousness), including Jean Piaget's accounts of how children learn language and thought, Ludwig Wittgenstein's philosophy of language, and Heidegger's hermeneutics. But, in each case, it goes beyond these forms of inquiry into a broader, Marx-like account of the political and economic processes upon which the workings of consciousness are said to depend....

The most criticized weakness of critical theory is its failure to engage in what many writers would regard as genuine ethical or political argument: only very rarely do critical theorists offer reasoned alternatives to capitalism, democracy, or "positivist" science, which are among their most frequent targets. Nor do they clarify what would count as acceptable criteria for the resolution of such arguments.

Allison, Lincoln, "Critical Theory." Political Dictionary ( Retrieved on May 2. 2009.

Critical Theory

A school of thought derived in part from a disenchantment with classical Marxism and the development of Western Marxism within what became known as the "Frankfurt School". Associated with Adorno, Habermas, and Marcuse amongst others, critical theorists aim to uncover the inner workings of a society which they suggest lie concealed from view by a veneer of ideology.

"Critical Theory." Archaeology Dictionary ( Retrieved on May 2. 2009.

Frankfurt School

The Institute for Social Research founded in 1923 and located in Frankfurt, Germany; it brought back concern with ideology, human intentionality and reflexivity into marxist theory and into sociology. It was marxist, freudian, weberian and neo-hegelian all at once. In World War I, the working class of each country joined the capitalist class to fight other capitalists and workers in other countries. The founders of the Frankfurt Schule thought that ideology was part of the answer and began work on the social sources of fascism and authoritarian personality. They found it in the patriarchal family; in the racism, sexism and fascism of art, cinema, magazines and other mass culture. Then too, orthodox social science tended to adopt the model of objective 'laws' which seemed to be beyond human reach. Radical sociology had been depoliticized by adopting a positivist style after American, French, and British Philosophy of Science. Led by Horkheimer, Adorno, Marcuse, Fromm, Benjamin and others, the marxian interest in alienated consciousness and the creative role of humans in constructing social forms is reasserted. Critical theorists, especially Marcuse, made a criticism of the obstacles to human praxis in both capitalist and "socialist" societies.

Also known as the School of Critical Theory or critical sociology, it recognizes that structural marxism leaves many questions unanswered. Critical theory seeks to remedy this by incorporating theory from freudianism, phenomenology, and existentialism and lately, from feminist and from postmodern scholarship.

Young, T.R.. The Red Feather Dictionary of Critical Social Science. Retrieved on May 9, 2009.

In the spring of 1845 one of the founders of the liberation sociology tradition, the young Karl Mark, wrote that "the philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways, the point, however, is to change it." Sociologists centrally concerned about human emancipation and liberation take this insight seriously. The point of liberation sociology is not just to research the social world but to change it in the direction of democracy and social justice.

Feagin, Joe and Vera, Herman. Liberation Sociology. Second edition. Boulder, Colorado. Paradigm Publishers. 2008. Page 1.

A common theme in critical social theories is the centrality of social oppression and domination....

As a rule, critical social theorists do not focus only on the negative realities and consequences of oppression but often target issues and strategies of human liberation from that oppression ...."

Feagin, Joe and Vera, Herman. Liberation Sociology. Second edition. Boulder, Colorado. Paradigm Publishers. 2008. Page 3.

The black movement of the post World War I1 era, which is often (unreasonably) blamed for heightened identity politics, is a good example of the emancipatory construction and assertion of group identity. The celebration of Blackness was in the first instance reactive to the racism of American society: to the experience of racial subordination and terror in the South, to the extreme subordination imposed by the North whose cultural imagery at its most benign featured minstrels in blackface, Sambos, and so on. Blacks reconstructed their identity in the face of these imposed identities, and this was almost surely essential to the rise of a movement demanding racial liberation - and to the substantial achievements of that movement in dismantling the caste arrangements which had engraved racial identity politics.

Piven, Frances Fox. Globalizing Capitalism and the Rise of Identity Politics. PDF. Pages 106-107. Retrieved on May 9, 2009.

Although Marxist analysis remains important, critical sociology has moved well past its roots as primarily a critique of the social order in the exploration of extant power relationships existing within a society organized under the principles of capitalist social relations. The state of contemporary critical sociology is strong; the topics explored are increasing broad as scholars revisit old themes of colonialism and the origins of European capitalism ..., education under a changing capitalist system ..., the role of sociology as a politically engaged discipline ..., and religion—whether looking to its roots (Goldstein 2005) or its current challenges ....

Still rooted in a concern over oppression and inequality driven by Marx's analysis of capitalism, critical sociology has embraced postmodernism, feminism, and cultural criticism to name but a few approaches to understand the way in which the existing social relations shape power and define its consequences.... [T]here are significant links between the history of a society, the culture that emerges, and the power relationships that result, all of which go beyond situating these processes within capitalism. But at the same time, ... these social outcomes cannot be separated from the underlying material conditions in existence. Reactions to these conditions generate social movements that resist the power inequities in both the economic and the cultural realm ....

Critical sociology exists to counter those who serve as apologists for the existing social order. That is, perhaps, overstating the underlying intellectual motivation of mainstream sociology. However, as long as there are social outcomes dividing rich and poor, the powerful from the powerless, and oppressors from the oppressed, there will be a critical sociology.

Fasenfest, David, "Critical Sociology." Bryant, Clifton D. et al. (editors). 21st Century Sociology: A Reference Handbook. Thousand Oaks, California. Sage Publications. 2006.

Placing African American women and other excluded groups in the center of analysis opens up possibilities for a both/and conceptual stance, one in which all groups possess varying amounts of penalty and privilege in one historically created system. In this system, for example, white womem are penalized by their gender but privileged by their race. Depending on the context, an individual may be an oppressor, a member of an oppressed group, or simultaneously oppressor and oppressed....

In addition to being structured along axes such as race, gender,and social class, the matrix of domination is structured on several levels. People experience and resist oppression on three levels: the level of personal biography; the group or community level of the cultural context created by race, class, and gender; and the systemic level of social institutions. Black feminist thought emphasizes all three levels as sites of domination and as potential sites of resistance.

Each individual has a unique personal biography made up of concrete experiences, values, motivations, and emotions. No two individuals occupy the same social space; thus no two biographies are identical....

Oppression is filled with such contradictions because these approaches fail to recognize that amatrix of domination contains few pure victims or oppressors. Each individual derives varying amounts of penalty and privilege from the multiple systems of oppression which frame everyone's lives.

A broader focus stresses the interlocking nature of oppressions that are structured on multiple levels, from the individual to the social structural, and which are part of a larger matrix of domination.

Collins, Patricia Hill. Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment. Boston. Unwin Hyman. 1990. Pages 221-238.

[Note: Collins' critical theoretical perspective, incorporating the concepts of a matrix of domination and shifting the center of one's thinking, has sometimes been called intersectionality or, by her, the relational model.]

Critical Interactionism, roughly speaking, is the microsociology of domination....

Critical interactionism (CI), as I conceive it, focuses primarily on understanding social activity—what people do in concrete instances of social life....

I use the term "interactionism" to refer to the wide diversity of analytic approaches which have developed to examine social activity, particularly in the last 50 years, including symbolic interactionism, ethnomethodology, conversation analysis, Goffman’s dramaturgy and frame analysis, discursive psychology, interpretive interactionism, institutional ethnography.

Interactionisms typically focus on the nature of social interaction, interpretive procedures, and use of language. They also tend to examine people interacting together to organize their lives and assemble society, what symbolic interactionists call "joint actions".

Mellinger, Wayne Martin. Doing Modernity: A Sociologist Looks at Everyday Life in Contemporary Society. Blog. May 26, 2008. Retrieved on August 14, 2015.

Critical Theory

Critical theory was born in Europe out of concerns among scholars about the powers of fascist states in the mid-twentieth century. The legacy of the so-called Frankfurt School is embodied in many research studies, critical pedagogies, and Utopian visions put forth by critical theorists in education for the past forty years. Critical theorists see education as a tool used by the ruling elite to sustain oppression along the lines of race, gender, ethnicity, and sexual orientation. They have also offered pedagogies designed to rebuild schools and social and economic institutions in what they see as more egalitarian ways....

During the 1970s, Brazilian educator Paulo Freire's text Pedagogy of the Oppressed impacted scholars across the globe in relation to unearthing what larger political and economic forces generate unjust practices that create oppression in various social contexts as well as how to use critical forms of pedagogies to help students and working-class peoples see what causes oppression in their lived worlds, in their communities, and across the globe, while simultaneously guiding them to individually and collectively tackle the unjust conditions and lived practices girding their oppressive social relationships. Arguably, Freire's work served as a springboard to modernize critical theory.

Porfilio, Brad J., "Critical Theory." Provenzo, Eugene F. and Renaud, John P. (editors). Encyclopedia of the Social and Cultural Foundations of Education. Thousand Oaks, California. Sage Reference. 2008.

... the critical approach ... has its roots in Karl Marx's work on economic structures. Anyone familiar with Marxist theory will recognize that Marx went beyond describing society to advocating for change. Marx disliked capitalism and his analysis of that economic system included the call for change. This approach to sociology is often referred to today as critical sociology. Some sociological journals focus on critical sociology and some sociological approaches are inherently critical (e.g., feminism, black feminist thought).

Cragun, Ryan T. and Cragun, Deborah. "Introduction to Sociology/Sociological Methods" Introduction to Sociology. Wikibooks. Page 24.


On the basis of his historical and comparative research and analysis, Sorokin formulated a critique of contemporary culture and society and issued a call for reform. The focal point of his critique was the inadequacy of the declining sensate culture....


... In Sorokin's view, any practical solution to the human and social problems of this era depends on the recognition that culture, society, and individual personality must all be changed. Society and culture are ultimately the creation of the actions of individuals. Therefore, reconstruction must begin with the conscious and deliberate efforts of individuals to increase their own capacity and practice of altruistic love. A planned reconstruction of culture in all its compartments and of social relations rests on this foundation....


The foundational idea in much of Sorokin's system of thought is integralism. It is expressed in his analysis of cultural organization and change and represents the basis of his vision of personal, social, and cultural reconstruction. Integralism is also the guiding principle in the ontology and epistemology of his system of sociology....

An integral system of truth would incorporate empirical, rational, and supersensory modes of cognition. The last of these sources of truth would involve intuition, including the revelation and mystical intuition of religious conceptions of sources of truth. Each method of cognition is fallible by itself. When combined into a harmonious integral system, they can cross-validate each other, thus providing a more powerful epistemology. Integralism would unite science, philosophy, and religion in the common endeavor of providing knowledge and understanding of how personal, social, and cultural reconstruction can be achieved and maintained. In this context, the practice of science would be directed toward the realization of greater altruistic love, the ethical principles of the major world religions, and the universal values of truth, beauty, and goodness.

The integralism advocated by Sorokin is a complete system of sociology incorporating the scientific, reform, and practical traditions of the discipline. It involves rigorous scientific research, an explicit commitment to reform that engages social science in public debate of desirable ends, and a scientifically based program of means to achieve personal, social, and cultural reconstruction.

Jeffries, Jeffries, "Sorokin, Pitirim." Ritzer, George et al. (editors). Encyclopedia of Social Theory. Thousand Oaks, California. Sage Publications. 2004.

The reality given by the integral three-dimensional truth, with its sources of intuition, reason and the senses, is a nearer approach to the infinite metalogical reality of the coincidentia oppositorum than the purely sensory, or purely rational, or purely intuitional reality, given by one of the systems of truth and reality.

Sorokin, Pitirim A. The Crisis of Our Age. New York. Dutton. 1941.

Cultural theorists have justly complained that the inherited critical theories have delimited social address.... [T]he universalism of the Frankfurt School's critical theory is inadequate to a critique of globalization because of its implication in the Eurocentric project of cosmopolitan unity. [A] renewed critical theory must derive it [sic] normative commitments out of the geographically multitudinous concrete and necessary partial social processes, not out of the scenography of European reason. Our world is one of multiple modernities whose articulation must be part of the ethics of a new critical theory .... Many look to dominated groups – women, people of color, the world's subaltern populations – as positions from and for which new forms of critical understanding and engagement can be employed.

Friedland, Roger and Mohr, John, "The Cultural Turn in American Sociology." Friedland, Roger and Mohr, John. Matters of Culture: Cultural Sociology in Practice. New York. Cambridge University Press. 2004.

Postmodernist philosophy, in fact, forms a kind of anti-ontology or anti-social theory, in which both the idea of a holistic theory and the idea that this could have a rational relationship to some social totality are rejected.

Mazzoldi, Anna, "Lecture 7: The postmodernist challenge." Tools for Change. Retrieved on June 6, 2009.

Modern Capitalism began the 21st Century seemingly victorious as the dominant social and economic organizing principle in the world. Rampant re- and de-regulation accompanied a wholesale attack on social, economic and political gains of the prior century under the guise of increasing competitiveness and the need to respond to the forces of globalization. The end of the cold war, the decline of the former Soviet Union, and the increasing foothold of capitalism in China all point to an unchallenged reorientation of the global political economy to reflect this ascendence of capitalist social relations. The peer-reviewed Studies in Critical Social Science book series, through the publication of original manuscripts and edited volumes, offers insights into the current reality by exploring the content and consequence of power relationships under capitalism, by considering the spaces of opposition and resistance to these changes, and by articulating capitalism with other systems of power and domination - for example race, gender, culture - that have been defining our new age.

Studies in Critical Social Sciences. Book Series from Brill (Description on Website). Edited by David Fasenfest, Wayne State University.

Cultural Marxism is a form of Marxism that adds an analysis of the role of the media, art, theatre, film and other cultural institutions in a society. As a form of political analysis, cultural marxism gained strength in the 1920s, and was the model used by a group of intellectuals in Germany known as the Frankfurt School; and later by another group of intellectuals at the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies in Birmingham, UK. The fields of Cultural Studies and Critical theory are rooted in (and remain influenced by) cultural Marxism.

... The Frankfurt School is the school of thought associated with the members and allies of the Institute for Social Research of the University of Frankfurt, including Theodor W. Adorno, Max Horkheimer, Ernst Bloch, Walter Benjamin, Wilhelm Reich, Erich Fromm and Herbert Marcuse. In the 1930s the Institute for Social Research was forced out of Germany by the rise of the Nazi Party and moved to New York. After 1945 a number of these surviving Marxists returned to both West and East Germany. Then Institute thus allowed for the hibernation of cultural Marxism throughout the early years of the Cold War.[citation needed] In West Germany in the late 1950s and early 1960s, a revived interest in Marxism produced a new generation of Marxists engaging with the cultural transformations taking place in Fordist capitalism, such as the philosopher Wolfgang Fritz Haug.

According to UCLA professor and critical theorist Douglas Kellner, "Many 20th century Marxian theorists ranging from Georg Lukacs, Antonio Gramsci, Ernst Bloch, Walter Benjamin, and T.W. Adorno to Fredric Jameson and Terry Eagleton employed the Marxian theory to analyze cultural forms in relation to their production, their imbrications with society and history, and their impact and influences on audiences and social life." ...

Since the early 1990s, paleoconservatives such as Patrick Buchanan and William S. Lind have argued that "cultural marxism" is a dominant strain in the American left, and associate with it a philosophy to 'destroy Western civilization.' Much of the critique is based on Buchanan's assertion that the Frankfurt School commandeered the American mass media, and used this cartel to infect the minds of Americans.

"Cultural Marxism." Wikipedia. Retrieved on June 11, 2009.

What is postmodernism? Postmodernism is defined as a set of quite different social science theories. Some are highly affirmative, looking at positive aspects of complexity, progress, and technologization of life and work. Others are more skeptical looking at the dark side of claims of progress since 16th century Enlightenment, and the impact of technology, such as in biotechology, and cyberization. There are quite radical positions by Baudrillard (claiming all is simulacra), and Lyotard (claiming incredulity to all modern narratives of science, progress, etc). Less radical are postmodern approaches that combine with Critical Theory (Frankfurt School, before Habermas). Critical postmodernism contends some modern narratives, such as ethics, is worth retaining, while managerialism (manager's monologic perspective), for example, needs to be balanced with labor and environmental perspectives....

Critical postmodern is the nexus of critical theory, postcolonialism, critical pedagogy and postmodern theory .... It is a growing field of study that is moving beyond the supposedly "radical postmodern" positions of Lyotard and Baudrillard by recognizing the interplay of grand narratives of modernity with the spectacularity of virtuality and hyper-competitiveness that is the basis of global predatory late modern and postmodern-capitalism, and the new forms transcorporate-empire, the postindustrial supply and distribution chains addicted to sweatshops, wedded to postmodern identity-formation through the age of virtuality and advertising, such that we no long discern real from phantasm. Radical postmodern theory is not a tautology, and we can explore the differences between many critical postmodernisms....

My philosophical approach is critical postmodern narrativity, one that combines narrative ethics with critical postmodern theory ....

In a 'Critical Postmodern Manifesto' Boje, Fitzgibbons, and Steingard (1996: 90-1) argues that critical postmodern theory is about the "play of differences of micropolitical movements and impulses of ecology, feminism, multiculturalism, and spirituality without any unifying demand for theoretical integration or methodological consistency." ...

... A critical postmodern project can move us beyond exploitation, racism, sexism, and abuse by reframing and restorying organization theory away from its patriarchal lingo in order to reaffirm social justice, equality, democracy, and the wonders of multiplicity ....

A critical postmodern manifesto resists the reduction of all postmodern theories into the camp of naive interpretativism or relativistic social construction.... Critical postmodern theory is a middle between critical modern, critical pedagogy, critical feminism, critical hermeneutics, critical-ethnomethod, critical-ecology, and post-colonial theories ....

Boje, David, "What is Critical Postmodern Theory?." Website. March 13, 2001. Retrieved on June 27, 2009.

Critical theory has a narrow and a broad meaning in the history of the social sciences. ‘Critical theory’ in the narrow sense designates several generations of theorists in the Western European Marxist tradition known as the Frankfurt School. According to these theorists, a ‘critical’ theory may be distinguished from a ‘traditional’ theory according to a specific practical purpose: a theory is critical to the extent that it seeks ‘to liberate human beings from the circumstances that enslave them’ (Horkheimer 1982, p. 244). Because such theories aim to explain and transform all the circumstances that enslave humans, many ‘critical theories’ in the broader sense have been developed. They emerge typically in connection with social movements that identify varied dimensions of the domination and oppression of humans in modern societies. In both the broad and narrow senses, however, a critical theory is a form of social inquiry with a particular practical and normative intent....

An examination of the history of critical theory shows that the shift away from the distinctiveness of some comprehensive theory to a more practical orientation leads to a pluralistic account of social inquiry. This shift has three phases. The first phase is the Frankfurt School’s 1930s program of an ‘interdisciplinary historical materialism’ This phase is characterized by a pluralism of social scientific methods within a unified theory of historical materialism (Horkheimer 1993) and this synthesis proved unstable; the Frankfurt School gradually abandoned historical materialism (Horkheimer and Adorno 1972, Wiggershaus 1994). As the leading theorist of the second generation, Habermas constructed a theory of communicative action for explanatory and normative purposes (Habermas 1984, 1987). While comprehensive, this theory actually unifies many different theories: a theory of rationality, of modernization as social and cultural rationalization, and so on. The final phase is the recognition by Habermas of the full implication of both methodological and theoretical pluralism. This thoroughgoing critical pluralism shifts normative weight to the role of the critic in the pluralist practice of democracy, and the public sphere as a social location in which social criticism can take place and have emancipatory effects (Habermas 1989)....

The goal of critical inquiry is not to control social processes or even to influence the sorts of decisions that agents might make in any determinate sort of way. Instead, its goal is to initiate public processes of self-reflection ....

"Critical Theory: Frankfurt School." International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences. Ed. Neil J. Smelser and Paul B. Baltes. Vol. 5. 2nd ed. Amsterdam: Elsevier, 2001. 2986-2990. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Gale.

Critical social theory constitutes an effort to rethink and reform Marxist social criticism; it characteristically rejects mainstream political and intellectual views, criticizes capitalism, promotes human liberation, and consequently attempts to expose domination and oppression in their many forms. The extent to which science and technology may be associated with domination and oppression has been a major theme of critical theory....

The key method of critical theory is immanent critique, which focuses on the internal tensions of the theory or social form under analysis. Using immanent critique, critical theorists identify the internal contradictions in society and in thought, with the aim of analyzing and identifying (a) prospects for progressive social change and (b) those structures of society and consciousness that contribute to human domination. Critical theorists aim to aid the process of progressive social change by identifying not only what is, but also identifying the existing (explicit and implicit) ideals of any given situation, and analyzing the gap between what is and what might and ought to be. When applying immanent critique to science and technology, critical theorists identify both oppressive and the liberatory potentials.

Regarding science and technology, all critical theorists hold that science and technology are intertwined into a single complex or realm of human activity that in the early twenty-first century is commonly called technoscience. Further, they believe that technoscience is not neutral with respect to human values, but rather creates and bears value. They argue that the tools people use shape ways of life in societies where technoscience has become pervasive. Hence, how individuals do things determines who and what they are, and technological development transforms what it is to be human. But while critical theorists agree that the apparently neutral formulations of science and technology often hide oppressive or repressive interests, they differ in their ideas about whether technoscience is of necessity a force for dehumanization, and if not, why and how it might serve as a force for greater freedom....

INSTRUMENTAL DOMINATION. While in exile in the United States during the late 1930s and 1940s, Horkheimer and Adorno reconceptualized their views on science and technology. They came to believe that the project of the European Enlightenment has turned into a mythology, and that modern reason and modern autonomy are rooted in the domination of non-human nature, other humans, and people's inner lives (Adorno and Horkheimer, 2002). They claim that the ideal of the Enlightenment is an ever-larger rational conversation about goals, values, and desires that expands the realm of human knowledge and action. Thus, they believe, the Enlightenment is an effort to increase human freedom and self-determination. But the course of reason since the Enlightenment has been increasingly to refuse to think about real alternatives. Rationality becomes, they argue, reduced to instrumental thinking: that is, to reasoning about efficient means to already given ends. This mode of thinking—instrumental reasoning—has become, they argue, the mode of thought characteristic of western culture in general, and of the technosciences in particular....

CULTURE INDUSTRY. According to Adorno and Horkheimer, technology now carries the values of capitalism and of a consumer society. They coin the term "culture industry" to signify the process of the industrialization of mass-produced culture and the commercial imperatives that drive the system. The culture industry creates distractions, and the semblance of freedom (such as through the choice of which TV show to watch, or which breakfast cereal to purchase). But it offers no real alternative and only serves to distract people from careful reflection on the conditions of their lives....

AESTHETIC LIBERATION. There is, however, one sphere of culture, they argue, that resists instrumentalization, and this is the fine arts. The great artists have, in their works, preserved and exemplified autonomy, thereby resisting merely instrumental concerns. In his last great work Adorno develops a complex theory of aesthetic resistance as maintaining a critical function, and as preserving the last vestige of humanness in an increasingly technological and inhumane world ....

Hanks, J. Craig. "Critical Social Theory." Encyclopedia of Science, Technology, and Ethics. Ed. Carl Mitcham. Vol. 1. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2005. 446-451. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Gale.

French poststructuralist critical theory is extremely hard to categorize as it combines social theory, cultural and political commentary, philosophy, literary stylistics, and many social and human sciences in its work, crossing boundaries between academic disciplines and fields. This interdisciplinary focus links French critical theory to Frankfurt School critical theory and to certain types of feminism and other cultural theories that practice "border crossing" (that is, they cross the borders between disciplines and the traditional division of topics and academic labor).

The proliferation of theories also produced a tendency to use the term Theory (with a capital T) to describe the wealth of conflicting critical theories. In this sense, Theory replaces philosophy as the most abstract and general mode of theoretical discourse. Theory has emerged as an autonomous enterprise in many academic disciplines, giving rise to a tendency to do work in Theory, which engages various critical theories, problems, and concepts, or explores the nature and function of theory itself in the academic disciplines.

Critical theory turned to a "politics of representation" during the 1960s and 1970s. This enterprise involved analysis of the ways in which images, discourses, and narratives of a wide range of cultural forms—from philosophy and the sciences to the advertising and entertainment of the media culture—were embedded in texts and reproduced social domination and subordination. British cultural studies, for instance, showed how problematic representations of gender, race, class, sexuality, and other identity markers were found throughout cultural forms. Cultural studies developed different critical theories and methods to analyze the production of texts, their multiple meanings, and their complex uses and effects.

Critical theories were also developed within feminism, critical race theory, gay and lesbian theory, and other groupings associated with new political movements, making critical theory part of political struggle inside and outside the university. Feminists, for instance, demonstrated how gender bias infected disciplines from philosophy to literary study and was embedded in texts ranging from the classics of the canon to the mundane artifacts of popular culture. In similar ways, critical race theorists demonstrated how racist images and discourses permeated cultural artifacts, while gay and lesbian theorists demonstrated how their sexual orientation was negatively represented and marginalized.

Kellner, Douglas. "Critical Theory." New Dictionary of the History of Ideas. Ed. Maryanne Cline Horowitz. Vol. 2. Detroit: Charles Scribner's Sons, 2005. 507-511. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Gale.

The term critical theory was used originally by members of the Institute for Social Research in Frankfurt, Germany, after they emigrated to the United States in the late 1930s, following the rise of Hitler. The term served as a code word for their version of Marxist social theory and research (Kellner 1990a). The term now refers primarily to Marxist studies done or inspired by this so-called Frankfurt School and its contemporary representatives such as Jurgen Habermas. Critical sociologists working in this tradition share several common tenets including a rejection of sociological positivism and its separation of facts from values; a commitment to the emancipation of humanity from all forms of exploitation, domination, or oppression; and a stress on the importance of human agency in social relations....

"Immanent critique," a method of description and evaluation derived from Karl Marx and Georg W. F. Hegel, formed the core of the Frankfurt School's interdisciplinary approach to social research (Antonio 1981). As Marxists, members of the Frankfurt School were committed to a revolutionary project of human emancipation. Rather than critique existing social arrangements in terms of a set of ethical values imposed from "outside," however, they sought to judge social institutions by those institutions' own internal (i.e., "immanent") values and self-espoused ideological claims. (An example of the practical application of such an approach is the southern civil rights movement of the 1960s, which judged the South's racial caste system in light of professed American values of democracy, equality, and justice.) Immanent critique thus provided members of the Frankfurt School with a nonarbitrary standpoint for the critical examination of social institutions while it sensitized them to contradictions between social appearances and the deeper levels of social reality.

Immanent critique, or what Adorno (1973) termed "non-identity thinking," is possible because, as Horkheimer (1972, p. 27) put it, there is always "an irreducible tension between concept and being." That is, in any social organization, contradictions inevitably exist between what social practices are called—for example, "democracy" or "freedom" or "workers' parties"—and what, in their full complexity, they really are. This gap between existence and essence or appearance and reality, according to Adorno (1973, p. 5), "indicates the untruth of identity, the fact that the concept does not exhaust the thing conceived." The point of immanent critique is thus to probe empirically whether a given social reality negates its own claims—as, for example, to represent a "just" or "equal" situation—as well as to uncover internal tendencies with a potential for change including new sources of resistance and opposition to repressive institutions....

The most important contribution of the Frankfurt School was its investigation of the "dialectic of enlightenment" (Horkheimer and Adorno [1947] 1972). During the European Enlightenment, scientific reason had played a partisan role in the advance of freedom by challenging religious dogmatism and political absolutism. But according to the Frankfurt School, a particular form of reason, the instrumental rationality of efficiency and technology, has become a source of unfreedom in both capitalist and socialist societies during the modern era. Science and technology no longer play a liberating role in the critique of social institutions but have become new forms of domination. Dogmatic ideologies of scientism and operationalism absolutize the status quo and treat the social world as a "second nature" composed of law-governed facts, subject to manipulation but not to revolutionary transformation. Thus, under the sway of positivism, social thought becomes increasingly "onedimensional" (Marcuse 1964). Consequently, the dimension of critique, the rational reflection on societal values and directions, and the ability to see alternative possibilities and new sources of opposition are increasingly suppressed by the hegemony of an eviscerated form of thinking. One-dimensional thinking, as an instrument of the totally "administered society," thus reinforces the conformist tendencies promoted by family socialization and the culture industry and threatens both to close off and absorb dissent....

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the heightened influence of poststructuralism sparked intense debate between critical theorists and poststructuralists. Theorists staked out positions that tended to collapse distinct theories into oppositional categories (critical theory or poststructuralism) yet they agreed on several points. Both critical and poststructural theorists critiqued the transcendental claims of Enlightenment thought (e.g., that truth transcends the particular and exists "out there" in its universality), understood knowledge and consciousness to be shaped by culture and history, and attacked disciplinary boundaries by calling for supra-disciplinary approaches to knowledge construction. Polarization, nonetheless, worked to emphasize differences, underplay points of agreement, and restrict awareness of how these approaches might complement one another (Best and Kellner 1991; Fraser 1997).

Because critical theory aspires to understand semiautonomous social systems (e.g., capital, science and technology, the state, and the family) as interconnected in an overarching matrix of domination (Best and Kellner 1991, p. 220), poststructuralists charge that it is a "grand theory" still mired in Enlightenment traditions that seek to understand society as a totality. In viewing the path to emancipation as the recovery of reason through a critical analysis of instrumentalism, scientism, and late capitalism, critical theory is seen as promoting a centralized view of power as emitting from a macro-system of domination. That is, by promoting a view of social subjects as overdetermined by class, critical theory is said to reduce subjectivity to social relations of domination that hover in an orbit of capitalist imperatives. By theorizing that subjectivity is formed through social interaction (e.g., intersubjectivity), Habermas departs from Horkheimer and Adorno's view of the social subject as ego centered—as a self-reflexive critical subject (Best and Kellner 1991). Nonetheless, poststructuralists contend that Habermas, like his predecessors, essentializes knowledge. In other words, the capacity to recover reason either through critical reflexivity (Horkheimer, Adorno, and Marcuse) or through a form of communicative action that appeals to a normative order (Habermas) promotes a false understanding of subjectivity as "quasi-transcendental."

In rebuttal, critical theorists argue that poststructuralist views of power as decentralized and diffuse uncouple power from systems of domination (Best and Kellner 1991). Poststructuralists view social subjectivity as a cultural construction that is formed in, and through, multiple and diffuse webs of language and power. Critics charge that such a diffuse understanding of power promotes a vision of society as a "view from everywhere" (Bordo 1993). Social identities are seen asPage 545 | Top of Article indeterminate and social differences as differences of equivalency (Flax 1990). This perspective results in analyses that focus on identity to the exclusion of systemic forms of domination. Thus, for example, while feminists who adhere to critical theory tend to analyze gender as a system of patriarchal domination, poststructuralist feminists, by contrast, tend to focus on the cultural production of gendered subjects, that is, on representation and identity. Habermas ([1980] 1997) and others argue that the avoidance of analyses of systems in favor of more fragmentary micro-analyses of discrete institutions, discourses, or practices is an antimodern movement that obscures the emancipatory potential of modernity (Best and Kellner 1991).

Although this debate is still stirring, some scholars are moving away from oppositional positions in favor of more complex readings of both traditions in order to synthesize or forge alliances between approaches (Best and Kellner 1991; Kellner 1995; Fraser 1997). Thus poststructuralism may serve as a corrective to the totalizing tendencies in critical theory while the latter prevents the neglect of social systems and calls attention to the relationship between multiple systems of domination and social subjectivities. In other words, critical theory points to the need to understand systemic forms of domination while poststructuralism warns against the reduction of social subjectivity to macro-overarching systems of domination. Thus drawing on both traditions, Nancy Fraser (1997, p. 219) suggests that a more accurate picture of social complexity "might conceive subjectivity as endowed with critical capacities and as culturally constructed" while viewing "critique as simultaneously situated and amenable to self-reflection."

Theoretical and empirical applications of such a "both/and approach" abound. For instance, in recognizing that all knowledge is partial, black feminist theorists such as Patricia Hill Collins (1990) articulate both critical theoretical tenets and poststructuralist sensibilities by conceptualizing identity as socially constructed, historically specific, and culturally located while stressing systemic forms of domination without reducing identities to single systems of oppression (also see Agger 1998). Postcolonial theories likewise draw on both traditions in order to understand the fluid relationships among culture, systems of domination, social subjectivity, the process of "othering," and identity formation (see Williams and Chrisman 1993). Douglas Kellner's (1997) empirical work on media culture likewise employs a multiperspectival approach that combines insights from cultural studies and poststructuralism with critical theory in order to understand mass media as a source of both domination and resistance, and as a way to account for the formation and communicative positionality of social subjects constituted through multiple systems of race, class, and gender. Habermas's (1996) current theorizing on procedural democracy reflects a move toward the poststructuralism of Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe's (1985) theory of radical democracy that stresses the potential collaboration of diverse agents in progressive social movements that aim at defending and expanding citizen participation in public life.

Billings, Dwight B. and Jennings, Patricia. "Critical Theory." Encyclopedia of Sociology. Vol. 1. 2nd ed. New York: Macmillan Reference USA, 2001. 539-546. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Gale.

At the heart of critical theory is an aversion to closed philosophical systems and pretensions to absolute truth. It differs from "traditional" social theory in its societal function. Traditional theory allows existing society to reproduce itself, but critical theory was designed to bring the basic contradictions of capitalist society to light by placing itself outside the confines of the existing structure. Traditional social theory draws from the Cartesian separation of subject and object, relying on "scientifically" accumulated evidence to analyze society "objectively." Critical theory proceeds from the view of mankind as the creator of history and society; it seeks a society of free actors that transcends the tension between, and abolishes the opposition to, the individual's purposefulness, spontaneity, and rationality and the results of his or her labor. Critical theory offers a critique of other social theories from a standpoint that derives its ethical impulse and methodological framework from Marxism.

One of the most original contributions of first generation critical theory was the integration of Marxian and Freudian theories. The association of political orientation and sociopsychological processes was, for the founders of the Frankfurt School, an undeniable and vital linkage.

"Critical Theory." Encyclopedia of Governance. Vol. 1. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Reference, 2007. 186-188. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Gale.

Marx, the Frankfurt School, and Jürgen Habermas are considered part of the modernist movement of critical theory, of which Western Marxism has been the most influential element thus far. Modernist theorists are characterized by their belief that the current forms of thought and action in society are neither critical nor reflective. They believe that critical theory is possible only if serious critical thought can be recaptured, which they believe is entirely possible.

Modernist critical theory has been followed by “postmodernist” critical theory. Most influential postmodernist thinkers have been French, and the historian Michel Foucault has been the most prominent postmodernist. Postmodernist critical theory shares with modernist critical theory a commitment to a social theory that is politically engaged and is opposed to domination as a political solution. Both schools of thought have been opposed to orthodox Marxism. What is distinctly different between the two is the postmodernist assertion that the recovery of critical reason in the modern world is not possible; therefore, emancipation cannot be achieved through the recovery of critical reason. Foucault argues that the recovery of reason is impossible because of the limitations of language.

Modernist and postmodernist theory have had an enormous influence in shaping critical theory. United on many fronts, these schools of thought have established good reasons for the necessity of a theory that incorporates both social and political theory. Much of the discourse between the two in the latter part of the twentieth century, however, has centered on their essential difference—the question of whether modern society holds the possibility of reason and critical thought—and little of it has concentrated upon articulating the theory to the oppressed for their empowerment.

Marts, Jill S. "Critical theory." Ethics, Rev. ed.. Ed. John K. Roth. Vol. 1. Pasadena, CA: Salem Press, 1994. 338-340. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Gale.

critical theory, any social theory that is at the same time explanatory, normative, practical, and self-reflexive. The term was first developed by Horkheimer as a self-description of the Frankfurt School and its revision of Marxism. It now has a wider significance to include any critical, theoretical approach, including feminism and liberation philosophy. When they make claims to be scientific, such approaches attempt to give rigorous explanations of the causes of oppression, such as ideological beliefs or economic dependence; these explanations must in turn be verified by empirical evidence and employ the best available social and economic theories. Such explanations are also normative and critical, since they imply negative evaluations of current social practices. The explanations are also practical, in that they provide a better self-understanding for agents who may want to improve the social conditions that the theory negatively evaluates. Such change generally aims at “emancipation,” and theoretical insight empowers agents to remove limits to human freedom and the causes of human suffering. Finally, these theories must also be self-reflexive: they must account for their own conditions of possibility and for their potentially transformative effects. These requirements contradict the standard account of scientific theories and explanations, particularly positivism and its separation of fact and value. For this reason, the methodological writings of critical theorists often attack positivism and empiricism and attempt to construct alternative epistemologies. Critical theorists also reject relativism, since the cultural relativity of norms would undermine the basis of critical evaluation of social practices and emancipatory change.

The difference between critical and non-critical theories can be illustrated by contrasting the Marxian and Mannheimian theories of ideology. Whereas Mannheim’s theory merely describes relations between ideas of social conditions, Marx’s theory tries to show how certain social practices require false beliefs about them by their participants. Marx’s theory not only explains why this is so, it also negatively evaluates those practices; it is practical in that by disillusioning participants, it makes them capable of transformative action. It is also self-reflexive, since it shows why some practices require illusions and others do not, and also why social crises and conflicts will lead agents to change their circumstances. It is scientific, in that it appeals to historical evidence and can be revised in light of better theories of social action, language, and rationality. Marx also claimed that his theory was superior for its special “dialectical method,” but this is now disputed by most critical theorists, who incorporate many different theories and methods. This broader definition of critical theory, however, leaves a gap between theory and practice and places an extra burden on critics to justify their critical theories without appeal to such notions as inevitable historical progress. This problem has made critical theories more philosophical and concerned with questions of justification.

Bohman, James. "Critical Theory." Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy. Ed. Robert Audi. 2nd ed. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge, 1999. 195. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Gale.

Critical Theory is a broad tradition based upon the use of the critique as a method of investigation (McCarthy, 1991). The primary characteristic of this school of thought is that social theory, whether reflected to educational research, art, philosophy, literature, or business, should play a significant role in changing the world, not just recording information. The first generation of critical theorists working in Frankfurt between WWI and WWII, rejected rationalism, or the positivist understanding of research, although not scientific analysis as a whole, and embraced modernism and the philosophies of Kant, Hegel, and Marx.

Rage and Hope Website. Retrieved on July 15, 2009.

Critical Theory has a narrow and a broad meaning in philosophy and in the history of the social sciences. “Critical Theory” in the narrow sense designates several generations of German philosophers and social theorists in the Western European Marxist tradition known as the Frankfurt School. According to these theorists, a “critical” theory may be distinguished from a “traditional” theory according to a specific practical purpose: a theory is critical to the extent that it seeks human emancipation, “to liberate human beings from the circumstances that enslave them” (Horkheimer 1982, 244 [Critical Theory. New York: Seabury Press.]). Because such theories aim to explain and transform all the circumstances that enslave human beings, many “critical theories” in the broader sense have been developed. They have emerged in connection with the many social movements that identify varied dimensions of the domination of human beings in modern societies. In both the broad and the narrow senses, however, a critical theory provides the descriptive and normative bases for social inquiry aimed at decreasing domination and increasing freedom in all their forms.

Critical Theory. First published Tue Mar 8, 2005. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Website. Retrieved on July 31, 2009.

The Critical Theory of the Frankfurt School is a critique of capitalism, its appropriation of the surplus value of the collective, and its commoditification of every aspect of our modern society. It provides a better understanding to present social conditions, how these conditions evolved, how they are transformed, how they interact with each other, what laws govern their transformation, and how they maintain their validity. This complex task is achieved through a multi-discipline approach that combines perspectives drawn from many different fields of study. These fields include economical, historical, philosophical, political, psychological, and sociological studies. However, this does not mean that the Critical Theory is limited to only these fields. Contrary to the belief of many scholars, the Critical Theory is self-reflective in its nature and value driven. The ultimate goal of the Critical Theory is to transform our present society into a just, rational, humane, and reconciled society. The Critical Theory has several basic tasks, but is not limited to only these tasks, which are all equally important in our present historical situation. Some of the tasks of the Critical Theory are:

Jensen, Walter, "Application of the Critical Theory." Website. Critical Theory. Retrieved on August 17, 2009.

... critical ethnography can be defined as a research methodology through which social, cultural, political, and economic issues can be interpreted and represented to illustrate the processes of oppression and engage people in addressing them.
"Critical Ethnography." The Sage Encyclopedia of Qualitative Research Methods. 2008. Thousand Oaks, California. SAGE Publications. Retrieved on August 28, 2009.

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 particular context 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. Retrieved on August 28, 2009.

Radical geography began as an explicitly termed area of study in Anglophone geography during the late 1960s amid a context of crisis. Cold war militarism and imperialism had a heavy human cost in Vietnam, extreme race and class stratification of American cities had been accompanied by massive unrest, and the global economy was limping along under inflation, stagnant productivity gains, and a looming international debt crisis. At the same time, some ecologists issued dire warnings of impending doom that accompanied soaring populations. What, some began to ask, did geography have to offer—not just to understanding these deep problems but also to solving them?

The answer for some was a turn to Marxist theory and a radical politics....

By the early 1980s, radical geography had gone mainstream as its practitioners rose to the vanguard of geographic scholarship. More recently, radical geography arguably has lost its previous influence as broadly left geography has diversified under the banner of critical geography. The confidence of the initial development of radical geography has given way to a period of greater uncertainty and internal debate. The shift from radical geography to critical geography is a product of a number of factors. First, the influence of postmodernism and poststructuralism during the 1980s and 1990s severely challenged the theoretical foundations of Marxism at the root of radical geography. At the same time, the changing theoretical winds themselves were rooted in more grounded critiques of the radical geography project. Feminist and antiracist geographers, for example, objected to what they believed was the narrowly class-based commitments of Marxist geography.

Radical geography was perhaps in part a victim of its own success in that its ideas became so well established within geography that they became taken for granted and seen as a kind of new orthodoxy in need of challenge by a newer generation of scholars. Still, the emergence of radical geography began a vibrant period of innovation in geography that came about largely as a result of the forceful quest both to challenge dominant thinking and practice and to make a difference in the geographic world beyond the gates of the academy.

D'Arcus, Bruce, "Radical Geography." Encyclopedia of Human Geography. 2006. Thousand Oaks, California. SAGE Publications. Retrieved on October 24, 2009.

A disciplinary trend, critical human geography is the result of the growing influence of—and interest in—critical theory in the social sciences. This paradigm change in scholarly thought must be understood in relation to, and as the result of, historical and social conditions. Although critical human geography is an emergent paradigm at a global scale, the discussion here focuses on its development in Anglo-American geography.

The emergence of critical human geography is tied closely to the social tensions of U.S. and British politics during the late 1960s. In the United States, it was especially the impact of the civil rights movement and the reaction to the Vietnam War that resulted in various forms of social critique and protest. In academia, this trend translated into the influence of a wide array of theoretical developments. Among them were Marxist critiques of capitalism, the critical theory of the Frankfurt School, French poststructuralism, post-colonial theory, feminist thought, and queer theory. A general theme uniting these different philosophical approaches is their use in reconceptualizing two aspects of human geography.

First, critical human geography seeks to provide a broad critique of the prevalent paradigms of scientific inquiry in the discipline. It is a reaction against positivism and its concern with objectivity and the scientific method.... In summary, critical human geography intends to function as a potent critique of traditional scientific models in the discipline. It especially aims to deconstruct previously taken-for-granted scientific models by showing how scientific researchers, projects, data, and reports all are embedded in the power structures of a society and thus actively involved in socially constructing certain realities....

Second, critical human geography seeks to provide a powerful critique of the cultural, economic, social, and political geography of capitalist societies. Such endeavors have resulted in Marxist critiques of the capitalist logic behind urban design, expositions of the global patterns of exploitation in trade, studies on the increasing uniformity of cultural expression as a result of an emerging global culture industry, and much more. In addition, geographers have paid particular attention to the growing infringement on the public sphere, as evidenced by the number of studies addressing the surveillance and regulation of public space....

Much more than just a critique of scientific approaches, critical human geography offers a variety of methods to provide a critical analysis of society. Most important in the methodological approach is the argument that all knowledge and the spatial characteristics of reality are socially constructed. Marxist, but particularly poststructuralist, approaches in critical human geography seek to deconstruct taken-for-granted notions of space. The predominant tool of deconstruction is discourse analysis. Discourse analysis looks at the ways in which texts (e.g., speeches, articles, inscriptions) attach meaning to certain places and how these meanings are purposely created to represent certain positions of power. In other words, it links texts and the meaning they give to places with the people who created these texts and their positions of power. This is done to show how power is used to give meaning to places and to silence other texts and meanings.

Kuhlke, Olaf, "Critical Human Geography." Encyclopedia of Human Geography. 2006. Thousand Oaks, California. SAGE Publications. Retrieved on October 24, 2009.

Two key concepts in health promotion within the nurse-client relationship are power and empowerment. Theorists and researchers have not achieved consensus on how they are to be defined and addressed. However, both power and empowerment are recognized to occur at macro and micro levels, and as such need to be addressed at each level. Using a critical nursing perspective, this article explores these concepts--it identifies concerns that arise around power and risks that arise in empowerment practice. Nurses are challenged to develop a new way of seeing empowerment practice, and encouraged to focus on 'being with' clients, rather than 'doing to' them.

This manuscript will apply a critical theoretical perspective, and specifically a critical nursing perspective. This is informed by critical social theory, which holds to the following tenets: there is a possibility for a future free of domination, exploitation, and oppression; domination is structural; structures of domination are reproduced through a false-consciousness; social change begins at home; and people are responsible not to perpetuate domination themselves (Agger, 1998). Within the critical perspective, taken-for-granted assumptions are challenged, as they may be oppressive to individuals and groups (Berman, Ford-Gilboe and Campbell, 1998). Additionally, it is recognized that we must move beyond the generation of knowledge to the creation and facilitation of change. This change should include the elimination of oppressive structures, and may be addressed by individuals empowering themselves and through the generation of knowledge. These critical theory goals coincide with many of the goals of empowerment practice that have been postulated.

Oudshoorn, Abram, "Power and empowerment: critical concepts in the nurse-client relationship." Contemporary Nurse 20.1 (2005): 57. Health Reference Center Academic. Retrieved on December 5, 2009.