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The Neo-Idealist Paradigm Shift in Contemporary Critical Theory

Globalization, Critique and Social Theory: Diagnoses and Challenges

ISBN: 978-1-78560-247-4, eISBN: 978-1-78560-246-7

ISSN: 0278-1204

Publication date: 6 November 2015



To defend the thesis that critical theory has become unable to call into question and challenge the main impulses of modern capitalist societies. The reason for this is that the capacities of language on the one hand and the hermeneutic processes that underlie the process of “recognition” are insufficient to counter the power of socialization to shape subjectivity and the cognitive and evaluative capacities of subjects.


I provide a critical reading of the methodology of linguistic and recognitive theories of intersubjectivity by means of a theory of domination derived from Rousseau which shapes the cognitive and epistemic powers of subjects thereby weakening their capacity to be socialized via the media of language and social recognition.


By divorcing our cognitive ideas about the social world from the social-ontological processes that shape and deform it under capitalism, this brand of critical theory succeeds in sealing off the mechanisms of social domination and power relations that were at the heart of the enterprise from its inception.

Research limitations/implications

Critical theory must move toward a more comprehensive theory of the social totality in order for it to retain its critical character.


The paper questions the main ideas held by the mainstream of critical theory such as its reliance on hermeneutic and linguistic forms of consciousness and social praxis as well as a theoretical reliance on pragmatic theories of mind and Mead’s conception of socialization.




An earlier version of this paper was delivered at the annual meeting of the International Social Theory Consortium at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, 15 May, 2014. I benefitted from conversations there with Bob Antonio, Jim Block, Harry Dahms, Arnold Farr, and Lauren Langman as well as other participants in the conference. I would also like to thank the two anonymous reviewers for their insightful comments on the paper.


Thompson, M.J. (2015), "The Neo-Idealist Paradigm Shift in Contemporary Critical Theory", Globalization, Critique and Social Theory: Diagnoses and Challenges (Current Perspectives in Social Theory, Vol. 33), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 135-163.



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