The Critique of Critical Theory, Creston Davis
The training required to study critical theory in today’s academy can be all consuming and take five or more years to obtain a minimal level of competency. In terms of the basic figures involved in shaping the field of critical theory, we have Kant, Hegel, Schopenhauer, Feuerbach, Marx, Nietzsche, Freud, and the Frankfurt School (Adorno, Horkheimer et al.). And the destiny of this study is, in the words of Horkheimer, “to liberate human beings from the circumstances that enslave them.”
Equally important to acquiring adequate and comprehensive knowledge in critical theory is the context within which such a study is undertaken. Context, such as today’s academic environment in university, profoundly shapes the content of what is learned via the community, habits, and ways of demonstrating your contribution to the field of discourse via publishing, delivering talks, and teaching.
As I see it, and this is based on my experience of studying and teaching critical theory for nearly 20 years, the study of critical theory has been sundered from the objective of critical theory, again, “to liberate human beings from the circumstances that enslave them.” The basic reason for this, in my opinion, is that the context of learning this subject (i.e. the academy) almost entirely undermines the destiny of critical theory because the theory and the praxis never meet in an organic, concrete way. To state this more strongly, the means by which critical theory is learned actually undermines its application and practice. And because of this, critical theory, as it is learned in university today, has become locked into a space of privilege.
What is necessary therefore, is to relocate the context in which critical theory is learned in a manner whose aim is to connect theory with action, that is, with a social impact. Thus for critical theory to live into its destiny it must come out of the academy as it’s constituted today.