Critical theory and social pathology

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Neal Harris
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Critical theory once offered a powerful, distinctive approach to social research, enabling sociologists to diagnose the irrationalities of the social world across institutions and forms of thought, even within the subject’s deepest desires. Yet, with the work of Axel Honneth, such analytical potency has been lost. The ‘domestication’ of critical theory stems from the programme’s embrace of Honneth’s ‘recognition-cognitivist’ understanding of social problems; where all social maladies are understood to lie, ultimately, within the head of social subjects and within the intersubjective relationships they enact. This book explores the manifold limitations of this dominant understanding of social pathologies and builds towards an alternate theoretical infrastructure, drawn from a marriage of insights from Erich Fromm and Herbert Marcuse. While Honneth’s critical theory leads to researchers exploring all social problems as ‘pathologies of recognition’, a return to Fromm and Marcuse reminds critical theorists that power precedes subjectivation and that a wide range of pressing social problems exists which are invisible to the recognition framework. As such, this book urges critical theorists to once again think beyond recognition.

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