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+2 votes
While critical theory emerged from Marxism, I wonder if it could hold some relevance for anarchism. Does anarchism have room for critical theory's analysis?
by (390 points)
here is some of what wikipedia offers us:

critical theory may be defined as a self-conscious social critique that is aimed at change and emancipation through enlightenment, and does not cling dogmatically to its own doctrinal assumptions.
Horkheimer opposed it to "traditional theory", which refers to theory in the positivistic, scientistic, or purely observational mode – that is, which derives generalizations or "laws" about different aspects of the world. Drawing upon Max Weber, Horkheimer argued that the social sciences are different from the natural sciences, inasmuch as generalizations cannot be easily made from so-called experiences, because the understanding of a "social" experience itself is always fashioned by ideas that are in the researchers themselves. What the researcher does not realize is that he is caught in a historical context in which ideologies shape the thinking; thus theory would be conforming to the ideas in the mind of the researcher rather than the experience itself...
If critical theory emerged from Marxism, then perhaps it was, in part, due to Stirners biting anarchistic critique of Hegel, Feuerbach, and Bauer which preceded Marx, and equally applies to Marxist ideologies.

1 Answer

+2 votes
I think critical theory is implicit in much anarchist discourse.  While perhaps critical theory is not necessarily talked about in the traditional post-Marxist sense (which to a certain extent is purely an academic construct), the questions that crit. theory attempts to address are often ones which many anarchists concern themselves with.  I think where critical theory and anarchist thought are the most similar is the ways in which they each are trying to construct a hermeneutical approach to social relationships, which is explicitly transformative.  I think most anarchists would agree that the reason they engage with such ideas is to ostensibly transform the way they currently experience the world, and at the core this is essentially an anti-positivist perspective.    

Speaking to whether or not there is "room" for critical theory's analysis, I feel that many "critical theorists" address problems which anarchists are also concerned with, yet it happens in such a reified and exclusive discourse (that of the academy) that it is for the large part inaccessible.  I think more theory-oriented anarchists would benefit from engaging with critical theory, yet it's important to realize that from the very beginning both critical theory and cultural studies really only exist within professional institutions of learning which reify concessions to "expert-ism."  Critical theory was born out of the Frankfurt School, and cultural studies was born out of the Birmingham CCCS.

There have been attempts to synthesize critical theory with anarchism, and I'm thinking specifically of "postanarchism" (not to be confused with "post-left anarchy").  Yet, what is fascinating about "postanarchism" as a tendency - is that of all anarchist tendencies it is the one most clearly situated within the academy, much like traditional critical theory/cultural studies.
by (160 points)