No Social Science Without Critical Theory (Current Perspectives in Social Theory, Volume 25)
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Since the linguistic turn in Frankfurt School critical theory during the 1970s, philosophical concerns have become increasingly important to its overall agenda, at the expense of concrete social-scientific inquiries. At the same time, each of the individual social sciences especially economics and psychology, but also political science and sociology have been moving further and further away from the challenge key representatives of the so-called first generation of Frankfurt School critical theorists (Adorno, Horkheimer, and Marcuse) identified as central to the promise and responsibility of social science: to illuminate those dimensions of modern societies that prevent the reconciliation of facts and norms. As professional disciplines, each individual social science, and even philosophy, is prone to ignoring both the actuality and the relevance for research of alienation and reification as the mediating processes that constitute the reference frames for critical theory.
Consequently, mainstream social-scientific research tends to progress in the hypothetical: we study the social world as if alienation, reification, and more recent incarnations of those mediating processes had lost their shaping forcewhile, in the context of globalization, their manifestations are ever more apparent, and tangible.
The chapters included in this volume of Current Perspectives in Social Theory highlight the problematic nature of mainstream perspectives, and the growing need to reaffirm how the specific kind of critique the early Frankfurt School theorists advocated is not less, but far more important today.
set of tools that an orientation toward the traditional concerns of social science neglect – toward the ﬁrst dimension of societal reality. In a sense, these kinds of change occur below the radar screen of traditional social science, even though they may be as momentous, if not more so, than changes that has been a deﬁning concern for the latter since their inception. Given the overall orientation and self-understanding of critical theory, the impact resulting from such changes at the level of
that for an analysis of society to be adequate, everything turns on identifying the concrete relations of social power. Not taking these seriously would mean being led astray by the assumptions of historical materialism. This can have fatal political consequences, as can be witnessed with regard to Weimar Social Democracy which interpreted the process of economic concentration as a sign of the formation of a monopoly soon to be controlled by the working class; or with regard to the Communists who
conception of universality may continue to insist on possessing an ontological force even while contesting its geographical scope, thus buttressing an extant order of things and people, resonant with the centering dynamic of space described earlier in this essay. Quite in opposition to the self-enclosure of Schmitt’s pan-regionalism, the scale of efforts to pluralize democracy, as a number of critical geographers have voiced, must be of a kind that foregrounds the mutually constituting
problems. As a consequence, we usually surmise that our efforts ought to be successful – to the extent that our skills and intelligence are conducive to the attainment of success, to whatever extent success may be ‘‘objectively possible,’’ in a given environment.29 Yet, if we take as the measure of ‘‘success’’ the ability of individuals, organizations, and institutions to tackle emerging challenges, by engaging in increasingly more effective strategies that are being measured in terms of the
theorizing, our goal is to update and extend Situationist theorizing via critical theory. To help remedy the theoretical, analytical, and practical limitations of the work of the Situationists, we call for the development of a critical theory that is more multidimensional and recognizes the conﬂictual and contradictory nature of different spectacles. Thus, we elaborate several major dimensions for understanding and analyzing consumption, spectacle, entertainment that a substantive critical theory