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Reviewed by:
  • Critical Social Theory, and: Rethinking Social Theory
  • R. A. Sydie
Tim Dant , Critical Social Theory, London: Sage Publication, 2003, 176 pp.
Roger Sibeon , Rethinking Social Theory, London: Sage Publications, 2004, 225 pp.

Both of these books have explicit agendas. Dant wants to "reinvigorate criticism through theory and encourage the reading and rereading of ... a very substantial and powerful literature" (p. 3), represented in the work of critical theorists from the Frankfurt School and including the work of more recent theorists such as [End Page 125] Baudrillard and de Certeau. His basic position is that this is a useful and necessary exercise because "we are still modern" (p. 3).

Sibeon takes on the claim that sociology is in crisis and is even perceived by some as in danger of withering away. Sibeon presents a solution that he suggests will re-invigorate social theory. The pessimistic claims are the result, in Sibeon's view of four forms of "deficient reasoning" that give rise to "four 'cardinal sins'" of "reductionism, essentialism, reification and functional teleology" (p. 2) all of which can be overcome.

The selection of theorists Dant considers is made on the basis that they are well known, their work is available in English and there is a wealth of secondary literature dealing with the theorists and their work. Although "critical theory" is usually associated with the theorists of the Frankfurt School, Dant includes more recent French theorists who also focus on the themes around which the discussion of the various works is organized, namely, myth, work, leisure, everyday life, sexuality, entertainment, art and knowledge. Dant starts his coverage with a definition of what constitutes critique using the work of Marx and Freud. For Dant, the key point is that critique does not produce definitive answers to social concerns but is a form of constant questioning of the status quo such that, like philosophy, an argument is produced which is "an argument against the possibility of a final solution" (p. 16). However, Dant points out that the association of the various theorists under the frame of critical theory by no means implies that they share common methods, analytical devices or technical procedures in producing their critiques of the unnecessary "repressive and constricting" nature of modern societies (p. 157).

Dant proceeds with an examination of Culture and Myth using the work of Adorno and Horkheimer, Freud, Lefebvre, Barthes and Baudrillard in chapter 2. The work of Adorno and Horkheimer in fact anchors the discussions in all of the subsequent chapters. Chapter 3 discusses Work and Non-Work, concentrating on the work of Marx, Arendt, Marcuse, Gorz, Tourraine, Baudrillard and Lazzarato. Chapter 4 presents Critiques of Everyday life in the work of Marcuse, Lefebvre, Certeau and Baudrillard. Sex and Sexuality is the subject of Chapter 5, dealing with Freud, Lefebvre, Marcuse, Barthes, and Baudrillard. Chapter 6 discusses critiques of Art and Entertainment, and includes Benjamin, Marcuse, Barthes and Baudrillar. Chapter 7 deals with Knowledge, Action and Politics and includes Marcuse, Lefebvre, Benjamin and Barthes, Baudrillard, Gorz and Tourraine. The final chapter discusses the continuing necessity for critical theory approaches in the light of the continuing problems of a reliance on instrumental reason in global issues.

Dant is not uncritical of the work of the theorists he discusses. He points out that Adorno and Horkheimer, for example, paid little attention to the "habits, routines and practices of everyday life that may provide the potential of resistance to domination, and that their "reflections on everyday life are eerily [End Page 126] conservative" reflecting their "white, middle-class, male" intellectual status (p. 69). Feminists have also levied similar critiques of critical theory, including the more recent authors, such as Baudrillard, discussed by Dant. The absence of any reference to feminist critique is noticeable and the claim that this is because feminist critique is focused on the "situation and experience of women" not on "social and cultural totality" that "resists prioritizing the perspective of a particular class, gender, sexual, racial or ethnic group" rings hollow in the face of the above quote and subsequent discussions of the patriarchal blinkers of many of the theorists. Furthermore, the focus on undifferentiated "masses" who require the olympian insights of...


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pp. 125-129
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Archive Status
Archived 2007
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