The Frankfurt School and Its Critics

The Frankfurt School and Its Critics

The Frankfurt School and Its Critics

The Frankfurt School and Its Critics

Synopsis

The Institute of Social Research, from which the Frankfurt School developed, was founded in the early years of the Weimar Republic. It survived the Nazi era in exile, to become an important centre of social theory in the postwar era. Early members of the school, such as Adorno, Horkheimer and Marcuse, developed a form of Marxist theory known as Critical Theory, which became influential in the study of class, politics, culture and ideology. The work of more recent members, and in particular Habermas, has received wide attention throughout Europe and North America. Tom Bottomore's study takes a new and controversial look at the contributions of the Frankfurt School to modern sociology, examining several issues not previously discussed elsewhere. He discusses the neglect of history and political economy by the critical theorists, and considers the relationship of the later Frankfurt School to the radical movements of the 1960s and the present time. His critical analysis makes the school's writers accessible, through an assessment of their work and an exploration of the relationship of Critical Theory to other forms of sociological thought, especially positivism and structuralism.

Excerpt

The Frankfurt School of German social theory has exerted a considerable influence over the sociology of the last two generations. Originally a centre for the study of Marxist theory brought into being in the first years of Weimar Republic Germany, the work of its principal figures has nonetheless always had a somewhat ambiguous relationship with mainstream Western Marxism, right through from the early writings of Max Horkheimer in the 1930s to the very recent work of Jürgen Habermas. However, the development of a distinct 'critical theory' of society by Horkheimer and Adorno and its reworking by later Frankfurt theorists constituted a (sometimes tenuous) thread of ideas and concepts which gave the Frankfurt School an important role in the expansion of modern sociology. Despite the somewhat paradoxical rejection of Marxist concepts by many Frankfurt School writers, it was especially instrumental in the renaissance of Marxist sociology which took hold in the late 1960s.

Having remarked the gulf which separates much Frankfurt School work from mainstream Marxist theory, it is also interesting to note the striking parallels between the deep cultural pessimism of Max Weber's sociology-especially in its treatment of the rationalization processes of modern societies-and the thoroughgoing critique of bourgeois culture and intellectual thought developed by Horkheimer, Adorno and Marcuse as the main element of critical theory

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