Critical Theory was developed by the Frankfurt School for Social Research.

Critical Theory was developed by the Frankfurt School for Social Research.

Critical Theory was developed by the Frankfurt School for Social Research. Its founders were mostly German Jewish intellectuals who immigrated to America during World War II. The Frankfurt School was a social and political movement. Many of their ideas are influenced Marxism, and many of their writing expand on Marx’s criticisms of capitalism. The Frankfurt School saw modern capitalism as carrying on the ideals of the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment was characterized by revolutions in science, philosophy, society and politics; these revolutions swept away the medieval worldview and ushered in our modern Western world. Major thinkers in the Enlightenment (like Descartes and Spinoza) thought that human affairs should be guided by reason instead of superstition, faith, and revelation. The Enlightenment sought to empower people to think for themselves and rely on their own intellectual capacities to determine what they should believe.

While the Enlightenment did a great deal of good in terms of turning toward reason and away from superstition, the Frankfurt School claimed that the project of the Enlightenment has been totalizing. The Enlightenment idea of reason had come to dominate society in the form technological rationality or instrumental reason. Instead of using reason to generate ideals that would enhance the human condition, reason is used to select the best possible means for achieving a particular end. Instrumental rationality values efficiency and standardization, and these values have come to dominant our attitude toward the natural world and human relationships. These values have been extended to every aspect of society including culture.

Critical Theory uses the term “culture industry” to refer to the “commodification of cultural products by monopoly capitalism.” Cultural products are valued primarily for their ability to generate profits. Mass media produces cultural product using instrumental reason. This has resulted in the standardization of all forms of creativity. The culture industry produces cultural goods e.g., books, movies, music in the most scientific way, and this enables them to discover the effectively products for satisfying the desires of the masses. This results in increased profits. Once the culture industry discovers the best formula for making society happy, then all cultural products are standardized to reflect this formula. The results in a decline in authentic creative expression.

is thus imposed upon the masses for the sole purpose of extracting profit. The products of the culture industry encourage conformity and consensus. Consumers are provided with a limited number of choices with little variation. The culture industry relies on tested formulas that sell, so songs, movies books etc only appear different because of slight variations, but, in reality, they share the same identical structure. This furthers the power of the culture industry to control what the masses desire. The masses unwittingly participate in their own subjugation by coming to believe that their happiness depends own acquiring the products of the culture industry. This ensures the authority of the culture industry to determine what is valuable and maintains the stability of the capitalist system since there is a steady source of consumers who line up to buy their products. In conclusion, Critical Theory believes that the productions of the culture industry are devoid of creativity, and its beliefs that the values associated with popular culture do not arises spontaneously from the masses but are imposed on them by the culture industry.

Watch: Criticism of Critical Theory and The Frankfort School.

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Critical Theory was developed by the Frankfurt School for Social Research


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