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AG Critical Theory

The specific goal of this AG is to reflect on the term 'culture' in both its conceptual-semantic and historico-social dimensions from the perspective of critical theory.

Being convinced that the Critical Theory of the Frankfurt School can give a significant new impetus to current research efforts in cultural studies, we members of this working group established in March 2010 are dedicated to just this cultural-analytical and theoretical task. Our specific goal is to reflect on the term 'culture' in both its conceptual-semantic and historico-social dimensions from the perspective of critical theory.

Despite the generally recognized utility of Critical Theory for cultural theory and criticism, misunderstandings and reductionism persist, weakening those contributions. So the widely accepted image – based on an abbreviated reading of the theses of cultural industry or the jazz criticism of Adorno – of the Frankfurt School in the tradition of conservative and reactionary, or in any case elitist, cultural criticism, one which mourns the passing of an era of 'high culture' and sees wreck and ruin in the popular culture of today. Through the analytical reading of central cultural-theoretical texts, we endeavour to produce a more finely grained picture and to reveal specific problems with Critical Theory, as well as its strengths and enduring pertinence.

Above all, we recognize in it a consistent, self-reflexive way of thinking that does not force the object of study – be it a work of art or a social matter – into a restrictive alignment of preexisting categories; instead, the "preponderance of the object" is granted in light of its own historico-social context. We regard the particular merit of Critical Theory to be that, in the course of the analysis of cultural phenomena, it can fall back onto a critical, self-reflexive theory of society, one that recognizes  that culture always connects back to society and exists in a relationship of tension with it.

We intend to begin our efforts in summer semester 2010 with meetings dedicated to the reading and discussion of some of the central, cultural-theoretical texts of Critical Theory (for example from Adorno, Horkheimer, Benjamin, Marcuse, Löwenthal, Kracauer, Benhabib, or Habermas). Later on, we aim to organize workshops with guest lecturers. These should serve to arm us with material for our long-term goal: carrying out a conference on the theme of "Critical Theory of Culture" in Summer/Fall 2011. Interested parties from all areas are heartily welcomed to join in our efforts.

 

Speakers