Critical Theory

What is the critical theory?

A form of social criticism that evaluates society as it relates to individual life, community, and culture.  More importantly it evaluates the social structures in place and how they affect specific groups.  As this applies to education it could encompass a study on ethnic groups, the socioeconomic status of those groups and how this influences educational opportunities.  The societal structure of education might not cater to or even include needs of the group being studied.

In understanding the critical theory, we have to understand the concept of critique.  Which is a form of knowledge that can be derived from how we relate to the world. Thompson (2017) best defined critique as “a means to relate what is perceived in everyday life with a deeper, more rational knowledge of that world.” (p2) The knowledge derived from critique is in essence what we are doing in critical analysis.  This level of consciousness not only applies to the societal process that we are studying, but also to the related subjective factors.  In analyzing educational opportunities for a specific ethnic group critique could relate reasons why the current societal structure did not take the needs of this group into consideration.

Critical theory has the potential to offer perspective beyond initial beliefs.  This new perspective can lead to a change or transformation in the current societal norm, creating a new norm that is more inclusive to al groups. Thompson (2017) identified the point of critical theory less as a means to create new social structures but more as a way to, “unravel the contradictions that already exist.” (p3)


M.J. Thompson (ed.), The Palgrave Handbook of Critical Theory. Palgrave Macmillan

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