Continental Philosophy

Critical Theory and Structuralism

What is the difference between critical theory and structuralism?

There is no clear distinction of practice that practitioners of both schools of thought would accept. Many structuralists denied being structuralists and some critical theorists were unaware of the term “critical theory.” But from the standpoint of a reader, it may help to keep in mind that both structuralism and critical theory provide analyses of society that need not be accepted by the members of society being analyzed. The term “critical theory” is associated with the Frankfurt School, which developed the twentieth century version of scholarly Marxism. The term “structuralism” refers to a study of mental structures in society. Critical theory seeks to provide analyses that further progressive and egalitarian social goal, structuralism also uses critical theory. Although the members and followers of the Frankfurt School were not narrowly political, their Marxist legacy tended to point them in certain political directions. While structuralists might have shared certain goals with Marxian critical theorists, their subjects were other social institutions besides government. They also took up Freudian psychology and were instrumental in laying the foundations for a new focus on language and symbols as an important philosophical subject. In some quarters, given the successors or intellectual heirs of structuralism, language and the “symbolic order” became the only intellectual subject. That is, the structuralists paved the way for intellectual postmodernism, which is also known as “post-structuralism.”


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