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Critical Theory: A Very Short Introduction

3.29  ·  Rating details ·  615 ratings  ·  80 reviews
Critical Theory emerged in the 1920s from the work of the Frankfurt School, the circle of German-Jewish academics who sought to diagnose-and, if at all possible, cure-the ills of society, particularly fascism and capitalism. In this book, Stephen Eric Bronner provides sketches of leading representatives of the critical tradition (such as George Lukacs and Ernst Bloch, Theo ...more
Paperback, 144 pages
Published 2011 by Oxford University Press
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Johannes Bertus
Feb 02, 2014 rated it it was ok
This might be a good book on some level, but as an introduction it fails completely. I wish the editor of the series would remind authors of the difference between academic and popular writing - avoid esoteric jargon, explain references to lesser known thinkers, etc. This book assumes far too much prior knowledge to qualify as an introduction.
Oct 16, 2016 rated it did not like it
Shelves: 2016
A good book for people informed enough not to need it.
Jul 05, 2020 rated it it was ok
The review by Jeffrey T. Nealon on the back of the book praises it for being a "readable" and "expertly crafted" overview of the Frankfurt School that forcefully argues for its continued relevance in the 21st century. I am very glad that Oxford University Press chose to include it, as it is very instructive in a few different ways. First, it usefully warns any potential PhD candidates who were considering working with Nealon that they should waste their money on something else instead, because h ...more
Andrew Ringsmuth
Sep 16, 2019 rated it it was ok
Would you like to learn about an intellectual field so full of verbose waffle and flourishing vagaries that you can see whatever meaning you like in it? Would you like to suffer through page after page of untestable claims about the nature of the world and marvel at the gargantuan self indulgence of their authors? Yes?! Then this may well be the book for you! To be fair, the author seems to have done a good job of summarising the history of these bizarre cognitive contortions; he’s just the mess ...more
Jan 05, 2018 rated it did not like it
The book should be rewritten. I'm generally interested in philosophy and sociology, but I find the presentation in this book very unclear. The author jumps around from figure to figure, making brief comments on each. He almost assumes we are already familiar with their ideas when we're not, as this is an introductory book. I was thoroughly confused and couldn't continue with the book after one-third of it. ...more
Stephen Bedard
Jun 12, 2020 rated it really liked it
I hear many people speaking of critical theory but with very little explanation (or understanding) of what it is. For some, it is enough to know that it is linked to Marxism. I found this introduction to critical theory to be helpful to at least situate the discussion for me. More reading is needed but this is a good first start.
Apr 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: theory
The author does a great job of introducing critical theory and its key figures. He provides abundant quotes - something quite rare in the VSI series - and this makes the contact with the thinkers of the group more concrete. I am not sure what to make of the author's own opinions at the very end of the book, but imho he did a good job of presenting ideas even when he disagreed with them. Overall, one of the best books in VSI series. ...more
Feb 17, 2015 rated it liked it
Helpful in providing context to a class on critical theory, but without the knowledge from that class this book would be incomprehensible as an introduction. The author frequently neglects to define specialized terms and the reader is left to infer what they mean.
Apr 08, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: theory
Incomprehensibly organized. Useful only perhaps as a source for a reading list of the Frankfurt School. The writing was so contrived, there were some sentences I was sure were grammatically incorrect. Overall an unsuccessful book if intended to be a true introduction.
Sep 23, 2016 rated it did not like it
Absolutely boring. And when it wasn't boring, I didn't understand any of it. A very short introduction for experts is more like it. ...more
May 30, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: philosophy, sociology
Not great as an introduction, assumes you already know a lot about the topic and uses a lot of jargon.
Gnuehc Ecnerwal
Dec 15, 2019 rated it liked it
(Second Edition)
This book provides a thumbnail summary of the very wide scope that the ambitious Frankfurt School tried to conquer with their critical analysis. Needless to say, it is lacking in details. It does an adequate job in covering the key figures and their contributions to the movement. The author went beyond retracing the interactions between the ideas that came out of the Frankfurt School and the greater political and cultural environments that they reached, he chose to add some of h
Daniel Cunningham
I'm going to second what a number of other reviewers have written, namely that for the uninitiated the lack of definitions or introductions of a number of terms is confusing, to say the least. It is odd because the author notes early on that excessive jargon and a certain amount of obscurantism was built into the writing of the critical theorists more or less on purpose. Having pointed that out he, or his editors, leave out the extra signposts and definitions that would combat this.

That said, I
Ben Hourigan
Not what I was hoping for, which was a plain-language guide to critical theory. Once near-nonsense terms like “the ontology of false conditions” are introduced, Bronner happily relies on them for the rest of the book. It’s a shame, because plenty of interesting ideas came out of the Frankfurt School, but incomprehensible writing style is often a major flaw. Critical theory deserves a guide that clearly communicates what it has to offer, but this is not it.
David Berry
Jun 05, 2012 rated it did not like it
I read Peter Singer's outstanding introduction to Hegel from the same series. This book is two leagues down. It superficially treats the intellectual concerns of the Frankfurt School and turns glib in its contemporary politics. ...more
Aug 26, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2014, non-fiction
books like this are why my engagement with theory over the last six years of university has been incredibly piecemeal.
Katrina Sark
Apr 12, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Introduction: What is Critical Theory?

p.1 – Critical theory was generated between World War I and World War II, and its most important representatives would wage an unrelenting assault on the exploitation, repression, and alienation embedded within Western civilization.

p.2 – Both Kant and Hegel incarnated the cosmopolitan and universal assumption deriving from the European Enlightenment of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. They relied upon reason to combat superstition, prejudice, cruel
Abner Rosenweig
Nov 07, 2020 rated it did not like it
Teaching requires the ability to empathize with the student, to remember what it was like to be a beginner, and to explain from a clear yet unpatronizing perspective.

Bronner seems incapable of seeing things from the perspective of a novice. He writes as if he's speaking to an audience who is already well-versed in critical theory, assuming a great deal of technical expertise -- hardly appropriate for an introductory text!

Bronner also wastes a great deal of space on tangents, interjecting person
Mohit Dhanjani
Jan 28, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great little detour, courtesy of Prof. Avijit Pathak.
It was entirely a new perspective and subject for me to consider.
This book was light, smooth, short and updated.

Considering it was new to me and there were a lot of books mentioned in it, I will have to reread it sometime later.

Overall, a book if you are interested in the Frankfurt School.
Oct 15, 2020 rated it really liked it
Bronner takes on the thankless task of trying to explain a nearly (and perhaps deliberately) unexplainable topic, and does pretty well given what he had to work with. At least I assume he did, since I have nothing at hand to compare this book to. (For other Very Short Introductions, there are often other introductory works on the same topics such as The Complete Idiot's Guides, the For Dummies series, etc. Thus one can compare a VSI such as: Intelligence: A Very Short Introduction to: Intelligen ...more
Sep 16, 2020 rated it liked it
I think I will have arrived in life if I understand each concept-rich paragraph of this book and therefore access the flow of ideas and organization of this body of knowledge. Until then I will say sour grapes, out of a sense of self-preservation, pointing to the impenetrable shield of armor around a book saying nothing. Some possible reasons the language of this VSI is so self-indulgent, jargon-heavy, vague, unhelpfully poetic, dense and too frequently unintelligible in distinctly inconsistent ...more
Jim Hurley
Apr 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Just like the title says - very informative.
Frank Spencer
Mar 02, 2012 rated it it was amazing
If you read this book, you will know more about Critical Theory than you did before reading it. The author is very experienced, and covers the area well. I saw critical theory more as interdisciplinary than I did when I started. It covers topics in Sociology, Philosophy, Psychology, Political Science, and many other traditional disciplines. Eric Fromm is covered quite extensively in the book. I will probably cover him in my book on Healers and Feelings. There is an entry about Fromm here http:// ...more
Sep 25, 2016 rated it it was ok
I felt like this could have been written much better. The author was too verbose and used a lot of philosophical terms that a layman wouldn't know without defining them. He injected his opinion quite a bit too, but that was a good thing at times.

On Critical Theory itself, it seems like an interesting way of interpreting the world and the idea that subjectivity as a refutation of the reverence of the concrete, which pervades society, is important. At the same times it is distant and pretentious.
Aug 20, 2018 added it
Somewhat unsympathetic introduction to critical theory, which is criticized for being too critical and not constructive enough in the final chapter. But some of this book's less pessimistic proposals would have benefited from more negativity, like the following (written in 2011):

"Entertainment and reflection are not always mutually exclusive. Alternative media and cyberspace offer new options for progressive forces" (p.114).
Aug 11, 2016 rated it it was ok
As a person with no firm background in philosophy, I found this book too heavy and abstract to understand. So it is definitely not a good start for somebody who wants to get a hint or just be introduced to the topic.

Though one can find some other resources in the book that seem to be more comprehensible and thus a better starting point.
An upbeat reader
Oct 18, 2019 rated it did not like it
The writer should've named his book the Frankfurt School A very complicated and long introduction to experts.
Why man? Why on earth did you have to make me feel like a stupid person. Why would you use very sophisticated terms to explain something difficult to someone who's struggling to understand .

I feel so down and so blue right now.
Jan 27, 2020 rated it did not like it
Shelves: abandoned
This book might be good and understandable to someone who is already familiar with critical theory.

However, for someone new to the topic - someone who, say, is looking for an introduction to the topic, perhaps a very short one - it utterly fails to make critical theory look like anything other than a bunch of stuffy and pretentious academics showing off their vocabulary.
Jul 12, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: philosophy
Maybe it is the subject matter, but I found this book difficult to understand. Part of the problem with what little critical theory I’ve read is that it can be abstract. So I would have liked a book that was more concrete and clearer.
Jan 20, 2020 rated it did not like it
Although there are sentences or even a whole paragraph at times that actually make sense and are clear and well written, for the most part it is the most meaningless garbage I have ever forced myself to read.
It is another good example of what Chomsky, Sokal and Bricmont have exposed.
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Stephen Eric Bronner is an American political scientist and philosopher, Board of Governors Professor of Political Science at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, United States, and is the Director of Global Relations for the Center for the Study of Genocide and Human Rights.

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