What is Critical Theory?
Critical Theory is an assemblage of social theories that examine society, politics, and human relations through critical, polemical perspectives. Freudian, Marxian and Hegelian ideas heavily influenced its development. Critical theory has dual origins as different conceptions of "critical theories" developed separately, one rooted in literary criticism, the other in philosophy. However, as polemics were at the heart of both strains, differences in the two were eventually subsumed under one term. The widely understood notion today is that critical theory includes any polemical critique of society evincing Marxian/Freudian orientations, whose aim is to emancipate human subjects by examining and exposing oppressive social forces.
See below for more thorough overviews.
These are websites with excellent overviews of critical theory. Definitely not light reading, but certainly worth the effort, as getting the foundations down will help when reading the Critical LIS literature.
For over 80 years, critical theory has been utilized as a method of analysis across the humanities and social sciences. Only recently, perhaps in the last two decades or so, has critical theory been applied in the field of library and information science (LIS). This subject guide has been developed as a resource for students in LIS disciplines interested in exploring the still-emerging relationship between critical theory and LIS.
According to John Buschman (2007), "A critical theory of LIS/librarianship refers to efforts to explore various theoretical and philosophical positions and their meaning in the spirit of critically uncovering and exposing to scrutiny the hidden assumptions guiding work and research—much of which is broadly grounded in a critique of positivism." Buschman, J. (2007). Transgression or statis? Challenging Foucault in LIS theory. Library Quarterly, 77(1), 21.
For the sake of brevity, this subject guide uses the terms "Critical LIS" and "Critical LIS literature" synonymously to refer to this emerging body of scholarship.
Names to know before we begin
Below is a partial list of some of the luminaries of critical theory. Get to know these writers and their arguments as they are cited frequently in Critical LIS literature.