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What is it, and why should we study it?
Stephen Hobden

bitch that bore him is in heat again’. If the dreams of the founders of the discipline of International Relations was a peaceful world, then in the early twenty-first century we appear to be as far away as ever, if not further. It is time for a rethink. One of the most exciting developments in International Relations has been the emergence of what have been labelled ‘critical theories’. 2 This is a rather diffuse group of approaches which includes feminist theory, Frankfurt School

in Critical theory and international relations
The politics of modern thought and science

Epistemology should be the axe that breaks the ice of a traditionalism that covers and obstructs scientific enlightenment. This book explores the arguments between critical theory and epistemology in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Focusing on the first and second generations of critical theorists and Luhmann's systems theory, it examines how each approaches epistemology. The book offers a critique of the Kantian base of critical theory's epistemology in conjunction with the latter's endeavour to define political potential through the social function of science. The concept of dialectics is explored as the negation of the irrational and, furthermore, as the open field of epistemological conflict between rationality and irrationality. The book traces the course of arguments that begin with Dilthey's philosophy of a rigorous science, develop with Husserl's phenomenology, Simmel's and Weber's interest in the scientific element within the social concerns of scientific advance. In structuralism, the fear of dialogue prevails. The book discusses the epistemological thought of Pierre Bourdieu and Gilles Deleuze in terms of their persistence in constructing an epistemological understanding of social practice free from the burdens of dialectics, reason and rationality. It also enquires into issues of normativity and modernity within a comparative perspective on modernism, postmodernism and critical theory. Whether in relation to communication deriving from the threefold schema of utterance- information- understanding or in relation to self- reflexivity, systems theory fails to define the bearer or the actor of the previous structural processes. Critical realism attempted to ground dialectics in realism.

The affective politics of the early Frankfurt School

This book offers a unique and timely reading of the early Frankfurt School in response to the recent 'affective turn' within the arts and humanities. It revisits some of the founding tenets of critical theory in the context of the establishment of the Institute for Social Research in the early twentieth century. The book focuses on the work of Walter Benjamin, whose varied engagements with the subject of melancholia prove to be far more mobile and complex than traditional accounts. It also looks at how an affective politics underpins critical theory's engagement with the world of objects, exploring the affective politics of hope. Situating the affective turn and the new materialisms within a wider context of the 'post-critical', it explains how critical theory, in its originary form, is primarily associated with the work of the Frankfurt School. The book presents an analysis of Theodor Adorno's form of social critique and 'conscious unhappiness', that is, a wilful rejection of any privatized or individualized notion of happiness in favour of a militant and political discontent. A note on the timely reconstruction of early critical theory's own engagements with the object world via aesthetics and mimesis follows. The post-Cold War triumphalism of many on the right, accompanied by claims of the 'end of history', created a sense of fearlessness, righteousness, and unfettered optimism. The book notes how political realism has become the dominant paradigm, banishing utopian impulses and diminishing political hopes to the most myopic of visions.

Knowledge, power and practice

Critical theory remains one of the most important and exciting areas within the study of international relations. Its purpose is not only to describe the way in which the world operates but to help us imagine how the world might be different and how we might achieve a more equitable and sustainable way of life. As well as presenting key concepts and thinkers the book also provides an evaluation of the field and suggests how critical thinking can contribute to confronting the challenges of the twenty-first century. The book evaluates the foundations on which critical theory has been built and illustrates how ideas which developed outside of International Relations theory have been adopted and adapted within the discipline. The book is focused on essential questions to the critical project: what can we know; how does power operate; and how should we live? In addition to discussing the foundations of critical thinking in International Relations, the book draws on recent developments in philosophy and posthumanism as an area of study to critique western thought. To overcome recent critiques of critical theory in International Relations, the book argues that it is necessary to engage with thinking outside of the western tradition. As the human species confronts the COVID-19 epidemic and the ongoing climate crisis, the book argues for a new direction for critical theory in International Relations.


Critical theory and demagogic populism provides a detailed analysis of the relevance of the Frankfurt School’s work to understanding contemporary populism. It draws on the research that the Institute for Social Research conducted concerning domestic demagogues during its period of ‘exile’ in the USA. The book argues that the figure of the demagogue has been neglected in both orthodox ‘populism studies’ and in existing critical approaches to populism such as that of Ernesto Laclau. Demagogic ‘capture’ of populist movements and their legacies is thus a contingent prospect for ‘left’ and ‘right’ populist movements. An account of ‘modern demagogy’ is thus detailed, from the Institute’s own dedicated demagogy studies through to their dialogue with Weber’s work on charismatic leadership, the US liberal critique of demagogy and Freud’s group psychology. The Institute’s linkage of ‘modern demagogy’ to the culture industry speaks to the underestimation in ‘populism studies’ of the significance of two other ‘modern phenomena. The first is ‘cultural populism’ – the appeal to a folkloric understanding of ‘the people’ and/or ‘their culture’. The second is the pivotal role of modern means of communication, not only in the recent prominence of social media but demagogic exploitation of all media since the rise of literacy and the widening of the suffrage in the nineteenth century. The dialectical dimensions of these processes are also highlighted in reconstructing the Institute’s work and in extending these analyses through to the present. The book so concludes by weighing up potential counter-demagogic forces within and beyond the culture industry.

On late modernity and social statehood

Populism, neoliberalism, and globalisation are just three of the many terms used to analyse the challenges facing democracies around the world. Critical Theory and Sociological Theory examines those challenges by investigating how the conditions of democratic statehood have been altered at several key historical intervals since 1945. The author explains why the formal mechanisms of democratic statehood, such as elections, have always been complemented by civic, cultural, educational, socio-economic, and, perhaps most importantly, constitutional institutions mediating between citizens and state authority. Critical theory is rearticulated with a contemporary focus in order to show how the mediations between citizens and statehood are once again rapidly changing. The book looks at the ways in which modern societies have developed mixed constitutions in several senses that go beyond the official separation of legislative, executive, and judicial powers. In addition to that separation, one also witnesses a complex set of conflicts, agreements, and precarious compromises that are not adequately defined by the existing conceptual vocabulary on the subject. Darrow Schecter shows why a sociological approach to critical theory is urgently needed to address prevailing conceptual deficits and to explain how the formal mechanisms of democratic statehood need to be complemented and updated in new ways today.


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.

Patchen Markell

which justifications are offered and critiqued may itself be constituted through the operation of ‘the very [imperialist and neo-colonial] power relations that critical theory aims to critique’. 3 Both Benhabib and Allen are worried, for different though overlapping reasons, about the narrowness of Forst’s commitment to the idea of human beings as ‘justifying, reason-giving beings’; 4 and this is my worry, too, though I will press the concern in yet a third way. But I want to begin by affirming – as I imagine Benhabib and Allen would, too – that there is also

in Toleration, power and the right to justification
Andreas Fischer- Lescano

167 6 Postmodern legal theory as critical theory Andreas Fischer-Lescano (Translated by Gerrit Jackson) Understanding the relationship between law and violence is one of the most urgent challenges a postmodern critical legal theory faces today. In his essay, Christoph Menke explores the thesis that violence is to be thought of not as an external quality of law but as an essential part of its constitution. While his concise analysis reveals the fundamental conflict between the autonomy and the social responsiveness of law, I will suggest that we must radicalize

in Law and violence
From compassion to coercion

This book describes how human rights have given rise to a vision of benevolent governance that, if fully realised, would be antithetical to individual freedom.

It shows that contemporary human rights practice is increasingly managerial in nature, interested above all in measuring and improving human rights performance. This has the effect of shifting the focus of human rights from the individual rights-holder to the activities of the duty-bearer: the state, international organisation, or business. The result is a preoccupation with achieving measured improvements within abstract groups such as the population or ‘stakeholders’, with the individual rights-holder being relevant only insofar as he or she is a datapoint in a larger grouping. The book then analyses this trend and its consequences. It describes human rights’ evolution into a grand but nebulous project, rooted in compassion, with the overarching aim of improving universal welfare by defining the conditions of human well-being and imposing obligations on the state and other actors to realise them. The ultimate result is the ‘governmentalisation’ of a pastoral form of global human rights governance, in which power is exercised for the general good, moulded by a complex regulatory sphere which shapes the field of action for the individual at every turn.

The conclusion is that it is unsurprising that this alienating discourse has failed to capture the popular imagination – and that if the human rights movement is to succeed it may be necessary for it to do less rather than more.