This is the "Introduction" page of the "Critical Theory for Library and Information Science" guide.
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A resource on critical theory for LIS disciplines. [Developed for David Midyette's course LIBR 210 - Reference and Information Services, SJSU-SLIS, Fall 2011]
Last Updated: Dec 9, 2012 URL: Print Guide RSS UpdatesEmail Alerts

Introduction Print Page

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.     

Some background...

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. 


Scope statement

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.

  • Theodor Adorno
    Philosopher, cultural critic, and one of the founders of critical theory.
  • Max Horkheimer
    Philosopher, along with Adorno one of the founders of critical theory.
  • Michel Foucault
    Philosopher and historian, perhaps best known for analyzing power relations, space, and subjectivity. Arguably the most often cited philosopher across all disciplines.
  • Herbert Marcuse
    Sociologist, philosopher, and political theorist.
  • Louis Althusser
    Marxist Philosopher.
  • J├╝rgen Habermas
    Philosopher, currently one of the most visual figureheads of critical theory. Also known for clashing with other luminaries in the movement.
  • Gilles Deleuze
    Materialist philosopher, one of the more opaque writers under the critical theory umbrella.
  • Jacques Derrida
    Philosopher, best known for developing the methodology of textual analysis known as Deconstruction.
  • Walter Benjamin
    Critic, philosopher, and political activist.
  • Julia Kristeva
    Philosopher and one of the few female luminaries associated with critical theory.
  • Fredric Jameson
    Philosopher and Marxist cultural critic.
  • Judith Butler
    Political philosopher and one of today's leading feminist critics.

Subject Guide

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