Habermas and critical theory (a primer from Peter Levine)
Peter Levine is in the middle of co-teaching his Summer Institute of Civic Studies and using his blog to share his notes for roughly half of the 18 topics they cover in their extraordinary class. Yesterday morning’s discussion focused on Jürgen Habermas — a communication theorist referenced often by scholars in our field. Here’s just a taste of what you’ll find on Peter’s popular blog this week…
The readings for that module were:
- Jürgen Habermas, “The Public Sphere: An Encyclopedia Article,” New German Critique, 3 (1974), pp. 49-55
- James Finlayson, Habermas: A Very Short Introduction, Chapters 1, 2, 4 (pp. 1-27, 47-61);
- Nina Eliasoph, Avoiding Politics, pp. 1-22
Background on the Frankfurt School
The following summary is brutally simplified and merely intended to be introductory.
Karl Marx posited that the economic system is fundamental. Culture (e.g., religion, political ideology, style and fashion) simply arises from economics. In other words, he made a distinction between structure and superstructure. Real politics is an effort to change the economic structure; any other strategy is pointless.
By the 1920s, some intellectuals of Marxist background were skeptical of this theory, because the working class was not revolutionary, even though they were numerous, organized, and equipped with political tools like the vote. Instead, working people were often nationalistic and reactionary. These intellectuals argued that culture must affect behavior. In particular, contemporary culture was shaping working people into reactionaries….
See http://peterlevine.ws/?p=9224 for the full post. Peter encourages you to add your comments there as well!