Frankfurt School

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Frankfurt School

Frankfurt School, a group of researchers associated with the Institut für Sozialforschung (Institute of Social Research), founded in 1923 as an autonomous division of the Univ. of Frankfurt. The institute's first director, Carl Grünberg, set it up as a center for research in philosophy and the social sciences from a Marxist perspective. After Max Horkheimer took over as director in 1930, the focus widened. Leading members, such as Theodor Adorno, Walter Benjamin, and Herbert Marcuse, influenced by aspects of psychoanalysis and existentialism, developed a version of Marxism known as "critical theory." They formulated influential aesthetic theories and critiques of capitalist culture. In 1933 they fled the Nazis and settled in the United States, where they found a haven at Columbia Univ. Later they had a role in the formulation of postwar sociological theory. After their period of exile, the institute returned (1949) to Frankfurt, where Jürgen Habermas became its most prominent figure.

See M. Jay, The Dialectical Imagination: A History of the Frankfurt School and the Institute of Social Research 1923–1950 (1973, repr. 1996); R. Geuss, The Idea of a Critical Theory: Habermas and the Frankfurt School (1981); R. Wiggershaus, The Frankfurt School (1994); T. Wheatland, The Frankfurt School in Exile (2010).

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