critical theory

philosophy that sociological understanding's primarily use should be social reform

Critical theory is the reflective assessment and critique of society and culture by applying knowledge from the social sciences and the humanities to reveal and challenge power structures. It argues that social problems are influenced and created more by societal structures and cultural assumptions than by individual and psychological factors. Critical theory has origins in sociology and also in literary criticism. The sociologist Max Horkheimer described a theory as critical insofar as it seeks "to liberate human beings from the circumstances that enslave them".In sociology and political philosophy, the term Critical Theory describes the Western Marxist philosophy of the Frankfurt School, which was developed in Germany in the 1930s. This use of the term requires proper noun capitalization, whereas "a critical theory" or "a critical social theory" may have similar elements of thought, but does not stress the intellectual lineage specific to the Frankfurt School. Frankfurt School critical theorists drew on the critical methods of Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud. Critical theory maintains that ideology is the principal obstacle to human liberation. Critical theory was established as a school of thought primarily by the Frankfurt School theoreticians Herbert Marcuse, Theodor Adorno, Max Horkheimer, Walter Benjamin, and Erich Fromm. Modern critical theory has additionally been influenced by György Lukács and Antonio Gramsci, as well as the second generation Frankfurt School scholars, notably Jürgen Habermas. In Habermas's work, critical theory transcended its theoretical roots in German idealism and progressed closer to American pragmatism. Concern for social "base and superstructure" is one of the remaining Marxist philosophical concepts in much of contemporary critical theory.Postmodern critical theory analyzes the fragmentation of cultural identities in order to challenge modernist era constructs such as metanarratives, rationality and universal truths, while politicizing social problems "by situating them in historical and cultural contexts, to implicate themselves in the process of collecting and analyzing data, and to relativize their findings".
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