In its essence, Critical Theory is Western Marxist thought with the emphasis moved from the liberation of the working class to broader issues of individual agency. Critical Theory emerged in the 1920s from the work of the Frankfurt School, the circle of German-Jewish academics who sought to diagnose - and, if at all possible, cure - the ills of society, particularly fascism and capitalism. In this book, Stephen Eric Bronner provides sketches of famous and less famous representatives of the critical tradition (such as George Lukács and Ernst Bloch, Theodor Adorno and Walter Benjamin, Herbert Marcuse and Jurgen Habermas) as well as many of its seminal texts and empirical investigations.
Though they shared a Marxist bent, the Frankfurt School's scholars came from a variety of fields--philosophy, economics, psychoanalysis, and even music--and they initially sought not only to do interdisciplinary work but also to combine theory with practice, criticism with empirical data. Forced by the rise of Hitler to flee to the United States, by the late 1930s the Frankfurt School left behind the emphasis on empiricism, beginning instead to specialize in philosophical inquiry into the nature of social control, which combined the work of Hegel, Marx, Freud, and Nietzsche.
Critical Theory: A Very Short Introduction is ultimately organized around the cluster of concepts and themes that set critical theory apart from its more traditional philosophical competitors. Bronner explains and discusses concepts such as method and agency, alienation and reification, the culture industry and repressive tolerance, non-identity and utopia. He argues for the introduction of new categories and perspectives for illuminating the obstacles to progressive change and focusing upon hidden transformative possibilities. Only a critique of critical theory can render it salient for a new age. That is precisely what this very short introduction seeks to provide.