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On the sociology of functional differentiation: What dialectics are needed to develop a critical theory of contemporary world society?

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posted on 2024-03-26, 12:18 authored by Darrow SchecterDarrow Schecter

The question posed in the title of this chapter tries to succinctly capture an important part of what is at stake when assessing Adorno’s contemporary relevance. The chapter argues that dialectics continue to be vital for critical theory, and goes on to sketch the contours of the specific dialectics capable of illuminating the complexities characteristic of the functionally differentiated world society that now exists on a global scale. It is not simply that Adorno is the key figure in the trajectory from idealism to Marxism, and from Western Marxism to critical theory. Without simply advocating an unqualified ‘return to Adorno’, it is shown why determinate aspects of his thinking may offer the key to exploring the weaknesses in more mainstream critical theory and sociological theory. These weaknesses can be discerned in some of the writings of Jürgen Habermas, Niklas Luhmann, and other theorists, whose work can be said to have different kinds of dialectical deficits. The chapter explains that a defence of dialectics in this context does not necessarily amount to a call for a return to idealism or the reformulation of orthodox historical materialism. Perhaps more boldly, it is suggested that sociological theory that completely sidesteps dialectical critical theory runs the risk of straying toward its own kind of methodological idealism, and thereby delivering an implicit approval of the hegemonic status quo as real as well as sufficiently rational or, at any rate, scarcely avoidable. Whatever other problems one might ascribe to Adorno, it is difficult to say that his thinking accommodates itself to the manifest inequalities and power relations characteristic of his day or those that characterise contemporary world society.


Publication status

  • Published

File Version

  • Published version


Verlag Westfälisches Dampfboot

Page range


Book title

Theodor W. Adorno: Aktualität und Perspektiven seiner Kritischen Theorie

Place of publication

Münster, Germany



Department affiliated with

  • History Publications


University of Sussex

Full text available

  • Yes


Sünker H

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