Critical Theory emerged in the 1920s from the work of the Frankfurt School, the circle of German-Jewish academics who sought to diagnose - and, if at all possible, cure - the ills of society, particularly fascism and capitalism. In this book, Stephen Eric Bronner provides sketches of leading representatives of the critical tradition (such as George Lukács and Ernst Bloch, Theodor Adorno and Walter Benjamin, Herbert Marcuse and Jurgen Habermas) as well as many of its seminal texts and empirical investigations.
This Very Short Introduction sheds light on the cluster of concepts and themes that set critical theory apart from its more traditional philosophical competitors. Bronner explains and discusses concepts such as method and agency, alienation and reification, the culture industry and repressive tolerance, non-identity and utopia. He argues for the introduction of new categories and perspectives for illuminating the obstacles to progressive change and focusing upon hidden transformative possibilities. Only a critique of critical theory can render it salient for a new age. That is precisely what this very short introduction provides.
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Informative, clear, a little random
Yes, the book presents a good overview of some central ideas, and it refreshes some basic concepts well.
Problematic concerning the content are Bronner's lack of understanding the nature of dialectic thinking. This means some of his presentations are odd misappropriations. That is especially so with his refusal to make sense of the Dialectic of Enlightenment, and that in turn affects his definition of the aims of Critical Theory. In addition, the way in which ideas are attributed to individual authors is sometimes random and not always fair. The historical context is narrated in an suggestive manner without any actual critique being offered.
The reading is a little too fast for such a dense text and sometimes over-stresses points.