What are the primary elements that define contemporary critical theory?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Contemporary critical theory is may still emphasize Marxist theory, though Deconstructionism underlies many more critical approaches.  Thinkers like Max Horkheimer suggested that the focus of critical theory, then and now, must involve a radical examination of social configuration, providing critique and the impetus to promote change.  Contemporary critical theory owes much of its analysis to what Marx wrote in his Theses on Feuerbach:  "Philosophers have only interpreted the world in certain ways; the point is to change it."  It is in this vein where contemporary critical theory reflects much of its past.

In the contemporary setting, critical theory holds to its Marxist belief that philosophy and thought has to critique and offer means of changing society.  This is why a major component of the modern critical theory exists in its interdisciplinarity.  Similar to Horkheimer, modern critical theory pulls from "sociology, economics, philosophy, psychology and history." At the same time, deconstructing what is perceived to be known truths and examining the relationship between social constructs and power is a significant element to modern critical theory.  This moves critical theory into the realm of examining conditions such as race, class, gender, sexual identity, as well as technological means of control and assertion of identity.  Contemporary critical theory is rooted in the assertion of democratic ideals, "all of which equally challenge the fundamental frameworks of conceptions of democracy, justice, and their interrelationship: these include the struggles of aboriginal peoples, the disabled, women, and more." Contemporary critical theory seeks to examine these elements in the globalized setting.  Modern critical theory focuses a great deal of attention on the issue of globalization and what the new paradigm means around the world and in different contexts.  Contemporary critical theory is rooted in proposing examination of commonly held beliefs and offering different modes of thought within the dialogue. These become the primary elements of modern critical theory.  

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