Friday, January 16, 2009

The Frankfurt School

The term "critical theory," as indicated in the previous post, goes back to a large extent to what was later known as the "Frankfurt School." The school was, according to David Sherman in his chapter on critical theory in The Blackwell Guide to Continental Philosophy (2003), active from approximately the end of the 1920s to the early 1970s and included, among other figures, Max Horkheimer, Theodor W. Adorno, Herbert Marcuse, Walter Benjamin, Friedrich Pollock, and Erich Fromm. These shared "a loose set of methodological commitments, the most important of which was to a multidisciplinary approach for constructing a comprehensive, neo-Marxist theory of contemporary society" (188). Finding themselves caught between an idealism which holds on to ethereal values devoid of social reality and a sociological practice which views opposition as meaningless, the members of the Frankfurt School brought "the insights of both into a dynamic tension to produce a materialist social theory" (189).

Originally based at the Institute for Social Research (Institut für Sozialforschung) at the University of Frankfurt am Main in Germany (the Institute is still operational, with a webpage containing an overview of its history) with Max Horkheimer as its director in 1930, the institute soon became a magnet for thinkers who energized Marxism with newer ideas after the collapse effected by the first world war and the emergence of fascist ideologies.

An index to the biographies and writings of members of the Frankfurt School is available at the Marxist Internet Archive here, and a "sociologically informed history" of the School, "Origin Myths in the Social Sciences: Fromm, the Frankfurt School and the Emergence of Critical Theory," which appeared in the Canadian Journal of Sociology in 1999, can be found here.

No comments: