Can critical theory diagnose ideological delusion and false consciousness from above, or does it have to follow the practices of critique ordinary agents engage in? This book argues that we have to move beyond this dichotomy, which has led to a theoretical impasse. Whilst ordinary agents engage in complex forms of everyday critique, it must remain the task of critical theory to provide analysis and critique of social conditions that obstruct the development of reflexive capacities and of their realization in corresponding practices of critique. Only an approach that is at the same time non-paternalistic, pragmatist, and dialogical as well as critical will be able to realize the emancipatory potential of the Frankfurt School tradition of critical theory in radically changing social circumstances.
The translation of this work was funded by Geisteswissenschaften International – Translation Funding for Humanities and Social Sciences from Germany, a joint initiative of the Fritz Thyssen Foundation, the German Federal Foreign Office, the collecting society VG WORT and the Börsenverein des Deutschen Buchhandels (German Publisher & Booksellers Association)
Preface, Axel Honneth / Acknowledgements / 1. Introduction / 2. 'I See Something You Cannot See': The Model of the Break / 3. 'Follow the Agents': The Model of Symmetry / 4. Critical Theory as Reconstructive Critique / 5. Conclusion / Bibliography
Celikates presents an insightful critical reconstruction of three influential models of the relation between the European, male critical theorist and the people about whom he theorises in the works of Bourdieu, Boltanski and psychoanalysis, and of the French-German debates around them. This fine translation makes this important contribution to the history of European critical theory available to English-language students and scholars.
How do we articulate the theoretical critique of the social order and the criticisms made by ordinary people in everyday life? The solution Celikates proposes, based on the Frankfurt School’s interpretation of psychoanalysis, is highly original and very promising. This is a fundamental work for all those wishing to take advantage of both the empirical study of society and the contributions of philosophy, from the perspective of social change.
Critique as Social Practice takes up a crucial question for all those undertaking socially engaged academic work: under conditions of ideology, what epistemic standing does the critical theorist have in relation to those suffering injustice in whose name the theory is constructed? Celikates illuminates how external critique (drawing on insights and norms from other (theoretical, political) contexts) and internal critique (drawing on insights and norms of practitioners) are inadequate. He goes on to defend the idea of reconstructive critique that begins with the critical practices of those embedded in unjust systems, but also requires an evaluation of the adequacy of those practices, recognizing that injustice can also compromise our abilities to know. In Celikates' view, ideology critique is properly understood as second-order epistemic critique. It is a brilliant book that reframes the contemporary challenges of critical theory and offers a deeply compelling and nuanced response.
Celikates subjects the familiar refrain that critique is a form of practice to a systematic, rigorous, and illuminating analysis. His conception of reconstructive critique as a form of social practice shows as much respect for the critical capacities of agents as it does awareness of the dangers of ideological distortions. The result is a highly original and compelling articulation of the distinctive methodology of critical theory.
Robin Celikates is Associate Professor of Political and Social Philosophy at the University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands.