Critical theory is actually tackled by two different intellectual traditions from which the term is derived – critical theory in literary studies and critical social theory. The former is primarily a form of hermeneutics, or knowledge that is gained through the interpretation in the understanding of the meanings presented through human texts and symbolic expressions.
On the other hand, the latter is a form of knowledge that is self-reflective which involves both understanding and theoretical explanation which intend reduction of entrapment within systems like domination and dependence, in the advancement of emancipator interest to expand autonomy and reduce domination. Critical theory from a sociological perspective, is best defined as that social theory that is in contrast to some of the principles of the 20th century positivism, and is, in fact, sometimes referred to as negative philosophy.
Contrary to the general idea that knowledge comes from people’s sense-experience, critical theory proposes rationalism which posits that the source of knowledge and the source of common humanity is the fact that humans are rational beings. This paper adopts the sociological perspective of critical theory, and relates it with the Middle East scenario, taking Qatar into particular focus, as an example of the Middle East countries. Historical Background
The concept of critical theory dates as early as 1937, with Max Horkheimer of Frankfurt School giving meaning to it as a social theory that is oriented toward critiquing and changing the society in general, contrary to the traditional theory that is oriented merely in the understanding or explaining the society. Most accounts of the theory closely link it with the Frankfurt School of Social Research (or Frankfurt School which later became the International Institute for Research at Columbia University, New York in 1933), while some trace its origins to as far back through Hegelianism and Western Marxism.
Most of the key contributors to the theory are employed at the Frankfurt Institute, like Theodore W. Adorno, Herbert Marcuse, along with Hokheimer who was the Institute’s Director at that time. The other contributors who were not employed at the Institute were Walter Benjamin and Ernst Bloch, both published their materials in the Institute’s journal as well as engaged in other activities of the Institute. Later on, in 1945, a certain Hannah Arendt also helped by extending the concern for liberation as developed in the works of the Institute.
After 1945, in Germany, Jurgen Habermas and Axel Honeth continued the advancement of critical social theory. Marx’s Influence on the Critical Theory It has been said by analysts of today that the common thread between and among the German critical theory and the French post-structuralism is that they are both anchored on Karl Marx’s theory of social change, which generally proposes for philosophers and thinkers to not just interpret the world, but rather change it.
Such Marxian theory has been revised by critical theorists to posit that the critical theory rests on the concept of intervention which comes from appropriate understanding of the past and present conditions which provides adequate insight towards change, or possibilities of it. Further down the history of critical theory, Marx’s great influence can be traced with the Praxis School, which was a Marxist humanist philosophical movement originating from Zagreb and Belgrade in Yugoslavia in the 1960s.
This Praxis School was closely linked with the Frankfurt School and the Critical Theory. In fact, the term critical theory is derived from Marx’s concept about his work Capital as a form of critique of political economy. Middle East in Context The Middle East or the Muslim world in particular, has been perceived by the rest of the world as an oppressive society where only men have the freedom to live the way they want to live, while women are repressed and stay in the shadows of their men.
It is anchored basically on the Islamic teachings which have shaped the Muslim people’s beliefs, culture and traditions. In a traditional Muslim society, the women are raised and trained to obey and serve men without questions or opinions. Muslim women are not allowed to decide on anything, even for their own personal concerns, since it is the men who have the right to decide – this comes from the practice of betrothing the women, and the men paying dowry for the women they marry. This technically makes the women possessions of men.
Through the years, the plight of Muslim women who also want to pursue careers, who also want to live freely and have more options than to be betrothed and raise a family, have been slowly heard by the world. Through the years, things have changed dramatically and drastically in the Muslim World. Contemporary Muslim societies have successful Muslim women on boob tube talking about pleasurable sex, albeit maintaining that it be in the context of marriage, but still, such freedom to speak about sex in public was a big taboo in years past.
Qatar’s Shiekah Muzah Bint Nasser Al Misned, is another example of an emancipated lot of Muslim women now successfully treading career paths that were never trodden before. How did it all happen? What brought about such changes in the society that was once repressive but now tolerate and allow women to have choices? Critical Theory in the Middle East (Qatar) The Middle East, particularly Qatar, has gone through a lot of upheavals, significantly changing the social, political and cultural landscape of the nation.
Applying the critical social theory, which seeks to critically study the interrelated facets of society – political, economic and social – with interventions appropriately based on understanding, Qatari society has been led by its leaders into a more tolerant society in the interest of further development and advancement. Looking back to the socio-political and economic landscape that gave birth to the Marxian theory and the critical theory, it was a repressive society and constrictive governmental policies that were sought to change by the proponents.
Mere analysis and understanding of such society and government were not enough, and thus interventions based on appropriate understanding was proposed. The Qatari situation is no different. Awakening to the real situation, deep understanding of them, led the people and the leaders to create changes which now manifest in its media, which is rich in stories of women achievers. One of the leading women figures in Qatar is none other Her Highness Shiekah Muzah Bint Nasser Al Misned, who heads the nation’s Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development. Summary
The sociological definition of critical theory generally posits that it is necessary that matters be tackled in a multi-dimensional perspective, and that rationalism is as a key to understanding situations need to be coupled with interventions. In societies where societal norms tend to repress some sectors’ freedom, it is a necessity to pursue a critical outlook of the situation and provide measures to address the issues. In Qatar, for instance, the nation underwent various upheavals which significantly changed its social, political, cultural and economic scenarios, giving freedom to women as they have never experienced before.
Personal Opinion Oppression or repression of any kind is always an unpleasant situation, much less to a more vulnerable group in the society, the women. History is replete with situations of oppression and repression, and almost all those situations ended up wrecking nations, which means that ultimately, the people are wrecked as the ultimate victims. The proponents of critical social theory emphasizes the rational nature of people which, if given deeper interpretation, only emphasizes that as rational beings, people must be treated as such, rational.
Further, the argument of Marx that it is not enough for people or philosophers to merely interpret society, but rather must change it, rings a bell of truth in the contemporary times. For instance, in the Middle East, much have been written about the societal repression, but only recently have changes been felt and manifest. Only when some things have been done to change the situation. References Ahmed, L. , 1993, Women and Gender in Islam: Historical Roots of a Modern Debate Edition: reissue, illustrated, Published by Yale University Press, 1993.
Calhoun, C. J. , 1995, Critical social theory: culture, history, and the challenge of difference, Edition: reprint, Published by Wiley-Blackwell, 1995. Held, D. , 1980, Introduction to critical theory: Horkheimer to Habermas,Published by University of California Press, 1980. Swank, A. ,2007, Sexual healing: How big is kalaam kibeer? , Arab Media and Society. Issue 2, Summer 2007, Published by The American University in Cairo. UNDP-POGAR, 2007, Women in public life, gender and women, Gender and Citizenship Initiative, 2007.
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