Created at: 12 Jun 2024 Last updated: 12 Jun 2024

I have been trying to understand critical theory for a decade and a half. It came up again and again in my communications studies, and I found it very confusing, full of contradictions and exceptions and nonsense.

Critical theory, the term for the field that comes up with terms like "metamodernism" is part of the greater sphere of sociology. Popper said that the problem with "positivist" sociology is it tries to find evidence to support a hypothesis instead of disproving it. I find that this is indeed often the case with a lot of sociology work I see.

The opposite would be something like Jerry and Monique Sternin on "positive deviants". Through their work with Save the Children in Vietnam in the 1990s they found the small fraction of outlier "positive deviant" families with more well-nurished children and figured out how to replicate what they did to solve the malnutrition problem for them. In general, though, sociology is focused on the large fraction. It's focused on confirming problems, rather than on finding the exceptions and distributing their knowledge.

But, as for my little meme here. I had a sort of epiphany but couldn't put it into words in university that I tried to express in this diagram [sorry images are broken right now, you can see it on X though, temporarily until I get this fixed]. The critical theory method requires a new grouping, it predicts a new way that art/culture will help to "to liberate human beings from the circumstances that enslave them." (Max Horkheimer)

But, that project it requires people to keep being enslaved, or else there would be no need for these categories anymore. It does the same historicist thing that Marxism and Scientism does (in the Kuhnian Scientific Revolution sense): it makes a pessimistic self-fulfilling prophecy.

So maybe critical theory is just the repeated cycle of being unable to reconcile the fact that the problem of induction was solved (hence the "all observations are theory-laden" at the bottom). Once you see that, all of art history seems like a flowing continual process of improvement rather than well cordoned-off rebellions against preordained enslavement.

This is a cross-post on X, you can view the post on that platform by clicking here.