The Power of Critical Theory for Adult Learning and Teaching

By Stephen D. Brookfield | Go to book overview

Chapter Six
Overcoming Alienation

Many people, quite understandably, approach critical theory with some trepidation. Part of this wariness is due to the content of the theory itself, part of it due to the manner of its expression. Work your way past the Marxophobia mentioned in Chapter One, and you still have to contend with a German philosophical tradition grounded in the complexities of Hegel. Accessible is about the last word that springs to mind when critical theory is mentioned. The seven habits of highly effective theorists it's not.

As with most bodies of theory, however, an occasional writer stands out as an accessible public intellectual, one who can be read profitably (a term with capitalist overtones that Fromm would strongly object to) by a broader audience. In critical theory Erich Fromm is such a writer. His comment in the Foreword to The Art of Loving (1956b) that in order "to avoid unnecessary complications I have tried to deal with the problem in a language which is non technical as far as this is possible" (p. vii) could apply to most of his work. He strove constantly for an accessibility and consistency of tone, interpreting ideas drawn from the critical tradition in terms comprehensible to the average reader. As a consequence his work has been read by millions who would be very suspicious of opening works such as Selections from the Prison Notebooks, The German Ideology, or Lenin and Philosophy.

Perhaps as a consequence of his accessibility, Fromm has not enjoyed the same critical acclaim as his contemporaries, sometimes being regarded as "Frankfurt Lite." In view of postmodernism's deconstruction of the idea of the unitary, essential self, Fromm's belief in the possibility of each individual possessing a unique, core essence can appear comic. Fromm confidently proposed "the existence of a self, of a core in our personality which is unchangeable

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