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The Theory Toolbox: Critical Concepts for the New Humanities

3.58  ·  Rating details ·  251 ratings  ·  22 reviews
A second edition of this textbook is now available. This text involves students in understanding and using the 'tools' of critical social and literary theory from the first day of class. It is an ideal first introduction before students encounter more difficult readings from critical and postmodern perspectives. Nealon and Giroux describe key concepts and illuminate each w ...more
Paperback, 232 pages
Published August 18th 2003 by Rowman & Littlefield Publishers (first published January 1st 2003)
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Tara Brabazon
Aug 06, 2011 rated it really liked it
One of the most complex areas of teaching in the humanities is 'theory.' It is odd how the word 'theory' is used, both outside and inside universities. It carries the connotation of being abstract, difficult, pointless, esoteric and difficult. It can be all of these attributes. However the notion that there is a space, place or position 'outside' of theory always amuses me.

When we put our shoes on in the morning, we have a theory about dressing. First trousers. Then shoes. That is a theory. It
The Awdude
Feb 06, 2011 rated it liked it
This book is a great intro to critical theory on a broad scale (although it typically and disappointingly excludes psychoanalytic theory, which is understandable since Nealon is a Marxist-Deleuzean and has written a book on Foucault, who presumably would have omitted Lacan from any overview of theory he might have written). Nealon is a great writer (I don't know much about his co-author) and I also highly recommend his book on Foucault. There's only so much you can do with an intro book like thi ...more
Apr 29, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2015
My search for a new textbook is at an end. This is as close to perfect as I can find for an accessible introductory text to the main questions behind theory. I've tired of the different traditional methods of teaching this material (history of theoretical discourse, opposing viewpoints), and I was on the lookout for a text that focused on questions more than people. That way, my students are bettered prepared to confidently question texts with a breadth of thinking in upper-division courses (rat ...more
Apr 06, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I really enjoyed reading this book. It broke down theory in a way that was understandable while still deep and complex.
Renee Dupree
My rating is based on what I needed from the book more than on what it is. I found chapters 9 on most beneficial for my current project.
Used this to teach an introductory course in cultural studies and it is a decent introduction to critical theory. However, it is getting a bit dated (some students thought it was older than it is due to some of the cultural references). And it does get a bit strident in places, even for me.

I feel that the section on "surveillance" needs to be reworked as it seems to be outright dismissing the idea of a "surveillance society" as no longer relevant, something that is more relevant than ever in ou
Rahil Patel
May 27, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: critical-theory

I was looking for something which could help me express my thoughts during times I'm deeply thinking about he world around me: words, ideas, concepts; so I picked this up, along with Raymond William's Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society, a kind of critical theory dictionary with the history / evolution of the words. I'm guessing William's suits my need better. [Update: William's book did not suit my needs better.]

It turns out this is more of an introduction to standard social / cultura

Sep 22, 2007 rated it really liked it
Being a little fed up by perpetual confusion on matters of "theory" (cultural anthropology, I suppose) in reading about art or literature or film or even pop music, I was recommended this book. It's written specifically for freshmen in college -- so it puts things in layman's terms etc, which I appreciated a lot. And it's references are very user-friendly for someone my age (or younger, really) -- gang of four, beavis & butthead, television ads. And that's essential to this whole interest, is th ...more
Bryan Woodard
I had to read this for my History Methods and Theory course just recently and I found this book to actually be a very knowledgeable read. The other theory books that I have had to read in the past have always been so dry, droll, and made me want to fall asleep every two sentences. This book was different, the light tone of the book helped it to flow more smoothly and allows you to grasp the complex ideas that are discussed easier. There were only a couple chapters that left my head in a tizzy, b ...more
Feb 21, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: teaching
Teaching this one now (as first edition is out-of-print). Still strong, still highly-teachable, but the added sections don't really 'add' enough to warrant the extra weight or cost of this edition.

Like the first edition, it is a really accessible entry for students to think about critical thinking and reading, power, and knowledge production. There is very little 'fat' in its chapters, and most are punctuated with fun examples and solid working questions.
Mirosław Aleksander
A nice introduction into theory. Understandable and offering many thought-provoking questions, the book nonetheless does seem to skim over several important topics, but this could be my nit-picking, and I'm not sure whether its a fair comment in light of a book which is an introduction to the topic.
Mar 08, 2011 rated it really liked it
Necessary and foundational concepts, this book changes the way you go about life. It forces you to rethink the most fundamental patterns of thinking. Nevertheless, it is pretentious and can get repetitive. Fairly long-winded, a model of sitting in a lecture hall and listening to that professor with the checkered bow tie.
Jul 31, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Provocative without being unduly transgressive. Nealon and Giroux argue that theory is mainly about skepticism: "everything is suspicious." The topics are bracing, particularly at the back end of the book where the typical topics of author, reader, and interpretation give way to Life, Nature, and Agency.
Jul 06, 2009 rated it liked it
I am currently sitting in SUPA training and we have to read this book. As it is slowing down my nightly progress of "Pride and Predjudice and Zombies" I thought I should add at least one of the books to my list.
Sep 25, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Another great book if you want to step out of your comfort zone. It discuss theories about life, society in general. Theories on race, gender, queer, and more are touched here. Read it! I would love to discuss this book with anyone who reads it!
Jun 27, 2008 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Armchair Commentators
A Thought-provoking Explanation of what all that terminology really means
May 12, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: academic
Fantastic book. Great introduction to all important theories in humanities and social sciences research, in an easy and not-so-Ivory-Tower-way. Fun jokes, witty and smarts.
Lindsay Joy
Oct 20, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: arty
A good introduction to theory, but you'd probably want to hide it if any intellectuals were around.
Feb 21, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: teaching
Of the two editions, this is the strong one. Thinner, less intimidating and (a lot) cheaper for students.
Oct 08, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Read this for an English class. A little frustrating at times but a good introduction to heavy concepts without being convoluted.
Rachel Bob
May 10, 2015 rated it really liked it
Read this book for class, it's dense but interesting.
Zoltán Ginelli
Aug 17, 2014 rated it really liked it
good textbook for students
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Jeffrey T. Nealon is Professor of English at Penn State University. He is the author of "Double Reading: Postmodernism after Deconstruction" (1993), "Alterity Politics: Ethics and Performative Subjectivity" (1998), and "The Theory Toolbox" (2003).

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