Sociology Index


Critical theory in sociology was developed by the Frankfurt school that is influenced by divergent intellectual ideas like Marxism and psychoanalysis.

Critical theory starts from two principles: opposition to the status quo and the idea that history can be potentially progressive. Together these principles imply a position from which to make judgments of human activity (rather than just describing) and provide the tools for criticism.

Critical theory is sometimes associated with highlighting the ‘dark side’ of modernity, critical theory attacks social ideas and practices which stand in the way of social justice and human emancipation (the rational organization of society as an association of free people).

Critical theory is opposed to ‘bourgeois liberalism’. Both feminist theory and critical theory focus on social inequality and economic inequality.

Postmodernism and Critical Theory are essential parts of social semiotic analysis. Postmodernism derives from Post-Structuralism and Deconstruction, criticisms of the Structuralist Approach. Critical theory derives from neo-Marxism and Feminist theory.

Feminist Theory and Critical Theory: Unexplored Synergies
Martin, Joanne (Stanford University)
Abstract: Although both feminist theory and critical theory focus on social and economic inequalities, and both have an agenda of promoting system change, these fields of inquiry have developed separately and seldom draw on each other's work. This paper notes areas of common interest. It assesses the validity of critiques of feminist theory, such as claims that it focuses on privileged women and does not challenge existing hierarchical arrangements. Because these critiques do not accurately describe much of contemporary feminist scholarship, synergies between critical theory and feminist theory could and should be explored.

Cultural Studies, Critical Theory and Critical Discourse Analysis: Histories, Remembering and Futures - Terry Threadgold (Cardiff)
Abstract: In this paper I have explored some of the histories which inevitably connect, but also differentiate, critical discourse analysis and cultural studies. I have argued that both are strongly influenced by the versions of critical theory which have been characterised as ‘postmodernism’ and ‘poststructuralism’ and that both could benefit not only from some serious engagement with the several disciplines from which their interdisciplinarity is derived but also from some further in depth exploration of the critical theory which informs them and which they have often ‘translated’ or ‘co-opted’ in reductionist ways. I have also argued that the claims sometimes made for critical discourse analysis are inflated and that without serious ethnographies and attention to the theorisation as well as research of contexts those claims cannot really be sustained. On the other hand ‘resignification’ or the cultural politics of critical discourse analysis are important agendas and we need to do much more work on establishing exactly how social change can be effected through the kinds of work critical discourse analysis could do. My conclusion is that we need to reframe and recontextualise the ways in which we define and perform critical discourse analysis and that that will involve bringing cultural studies and critical discourse analysis together in productive new ways with other disciplinary and theoretical formations and with proper attention to the new and different global and local contexts in which we work.

Incorporating Race: Critical Theory and Social Facts - Greer, Kirk
Paper presented at the annual meeting of the The Midwest Political Science Association.
Abstract: This paper articulates the relationship between social science and critical theory in a problem-oriented approach and how that approach can best promote the end of racial democratization in the case of the US. I discuss the role of social science in identifying and constituting the publics to which critique is addressed and the relation of both dominant and subordinate racial groups to the possibility of racial democratization. In particular, I advocate that critical theory should give more attention to the sources of racial hierarchy within white practice and the contradictions experienced by racial elites within that practice. These instabilities within racial hierarchy, as experienced by agents, can provide practical reasons for elites to participate in a politics of racial democratization. This attempts to address the under-theorized questions of how dominant publics relate to critical theory’s practical interest in social change and how stable egalitarian advancements are achieved.

Horkheimer, Max. 1972. Critical Theory: Selected Essays. New York: Continuum

Marcuse's Aesthetics and the Displacement of Critical Theory: Morton Schoolman, New German Critique, No. 8 (Spring, 1976), pp. 54-79.

Time, Labor, and Social Domination: A Reinterpretation of Marx's Critical Theory. by Moishe Postone. Review author: Robert J. Antonio, Journal of Modern History, Vol. 68, No. 1 (Mar., 1996), pp. 157-159  

Making Critical Theory Self-Critical
Critical theory recognizes that science is not the simple recording and prediction of facts. The role of critical theory is to enter the world of objects and illuminate the human dimensions of social relations that influence the way human subjects strive to understand the objective world. Can the critical theorist be critical enough to be self-illuminating? - A Note On Critical Theory, Gaurav Rajen.