University of Sussex
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Labour, knowledge and communication: rethinking the practical content of critical social theory

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posted on 2023-06-07, 16:09 authored by Charles Masquelier
In response to the reification of social reality caused, according to the first generation of the Frankfurt School, by the instrumental mastery of nature, Adorno, Horkheimer and Marcuse have elaborated a critique of instrumental reason aimed at providing the theoretical tools for a treatment of the social realm as a field of human practice. Concerned with the risks of reproducing the relationship between humanity and nature hindering human emancipation, they have nevertheless sought to limit the task of critical theory to a theoretical form of resistance, thereby divorcing social theory from the practical orientations found in Marx?s critique of political economy. It was not until the works of second-generation critical theorist Jürgen Habermas, that one could find a renewed attempt to link theory with the objective conditions of existence thought to be required for human emancipation. With these theoretical developments, however, social theory was effectively stripped of its critique of technology, and became primarily concerned with the problem of human emancipation as a matter strictly regarding intersubjective relations. The present work proposes that the formulation of a social critique oriented towards the institutionalisation of emancipatory practice cannot presuppose or apologise for the instrumental mastery of external nature. It shall be argued that in order to achieve such a task, the critique of instrumental reason elaborated by the first generation of Frankfurt School theorists must be complemented and completed with the broad outline of an institutional framework capable of indicating the conditions of existence required for the actualisation of human emancipation as the labour-mediated reconciliation of humanity with both internal and external nature, and for which the works of G.D.H. Cole provide a potential basis for rethinking critical theory and updating libertarian socialism.


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