Critical Theory and Postmodern Theory
During the 1980s Jürgen Habermas and other theorists associated with the critical theory of the Frankfurt School emerged as key critics of postmodern theory.1 Habermas carried out polemics against Derrida, Foucault, and postmodern theory, while his associates polemicized against Lyotard (Honneth 1985; Benhabib 1984), Foucault (Honneth 1986), Derrida (McCarthy 1989), and other postmodern theorists. The polemics have often obscured some interesting similarities, in addition to important differences, between the postmodern theories and critical theory. Both critical theory and much postmodern theory agree in important ways in their critiques of traditional philosophy and social theory. Both attack the academic division of labour which establishes fixed boundaries between regions of social reality, and both utilize supradisciplinary discourses. Both carry out sharp critiques of modernity and its forms of social domination and rationalization. Both combine social theory, philosophy, cultural critique, and political concerns in their theories and, unlike more academic theories, some versions of both attempt to orient theory toward practice, and discourse toward politics. Both critical and post-modern theory have engaged in heated polemics against each other, and have been synthesized with feminist theory.
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