Immanent critique  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Immanent critique is the philosophical or sociological strategy that analyzes cultural forms by locating contradictions in the rules and systems necessary to the production of those forms. Contrasted with "transcendental" Kantian critical philosophy, this method aims to contextualize not only the object of its investigation, but also the ideological basis of that object; both the object and the category to which it belongs are shown to be products of a historical process. Immanent critique has its roots in the philosophy of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel and Karl Marx; it is now strongly associated with critical theorists such as Theodor Adorno.

Quoting Marx, Robert J. Antonio writes in the British Journal of Sociology,

"'Setting out from idealism ... I hit upon seeking the Idea in the real itself. If formerly the gods had dwelt above the world, they had now become its center.' Marx concluded that immanent principles were necessary weapons in the struggle for progressive social change, because they provide a basis for critique within historical reality. Later, this immanent grounding became the axis of his emancipatory critique of capitalism."

According to David Harvey, Distinguished Professor of Anthropology at the City University of New York (CUNY),

"Critical theory at its most abstract and general level ... begins as a formal 'negativity.' As a dissenting motif, it selects some tradition, ideological premise, or institutionalized orthodoxy for analysis. As immanent critique, it then 'enters its object,' so to speak, 'boring from within.' Provisionally accepting the methodological presuppositions, substantive premises, and truth-claims of orthodoxy as its own, immanent critique tests the postulates of orthodoxy by the latter's own standards of proof and accuracy. Upon 'entering' the theory, orthodoxy's premises and assertions are registered and certain strategic contradictions located. These contradictions are then developed according to their own logic, and at some point in this process of internal expansion, the one-sided proclamations of orthodoxy collapse as material instances and their contradictions are allowed to develop 'naturally.'"




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