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Decolonizing Critical Theory

The Challenge of Progress

ISBN: 978-1-78714-572-6, eISBN: 978-1-78714-571-9

Publication date: 26 November 2019


This chapter rethinks the future of critical theory by engaging Amy Allen’s recent work. Allen does the Frankfurt School a great service by drawing a sharp-edged picture of some significant problems. I aim to think along with her in a spirit of shared sympathies that follow sometimes divergent paths. I agree with Allen’s critique of Frankfurt tendencies toward Eurocentrism, progress thinking, and historical teleology. However, I also argue that critical theory must be more thoroughly reconfigured to adequately address the struggles and wishes of our age. Specifically, recent work of the Frankfurt School displaces critique in two important ways. The first is a tendency to work at a paradigmatic, meta-level of analysis rather than focusing on concrete problems. The second is a tendency to rely on democratic procedure for normativity without taking account of the tensions and contradictions in actual political cultures. In place of these uncritical tendencies, we need more interpretive and freely experimental critical strategies. One example is an interpretive approach that problematizes political cultures, revealing the tensions ignored by proceduralism. Another example lies in the rich archives of postcolonial thought that have had such a large impact on contemporary political and social life. Postcolonial critique is a non-dogmatic and flexible form of interpretation that has great potential to address problems of racism, international inequality, and the false universalism of many of our ideals.



Olson, K. (2019), "Decolonizing Critical Theory", The Challenge of Progress (Current Perspectives in Social Theory, Vol. 36), Emerald Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 61-72.



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