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Critical Cultural Theory

Critical Cultural Theory

This project belongs to the following research constellations:

Cultural and Social Critique


Josef Früchtl & Johan Hartle


Staff: Josef Früchtl, Johan Hartle, Christian Skirke, Bert van der Schoot, Anders Johanssen

PhD’s:  Johan de Jong, Matthé Scholten, Fanne Boland, Eric Boot, Alexander Jackob, Christine Taylor




For a long time the natural sciences delivered the model for answer­ing the question: what is scientific thinking? Nowadays it seems to be clear that the unity of science is a myth because there is neither a common method nor a common object of all sciences. And this is true also for the sciences called ‚humanities'.

What are the alternatives? The most simple alternative would be a methodological anarchism (Feyerabend, Rorty). ‘Anything goes' and ‘let thousand flowers flourish' sounds like an attractive counter-method. Close to anarchism but not that ‘radical' is methodological pluralism. There are many methods between the only one and infinitely many. Here, in the space between unity and anarchy, absolutism and relativ­ism, the interesting part of discussion opens up. It is the space of differentiation and inter-rationality that allows to distinguish between cer­tain ‘forms of rationality', ‘ways of arguing', ‘conceptual families'. And it is within that space where natural sciences and humanities meet because since Quine and Putnam pluralism can be seen as the characteristic for the so-called strong sciences as well.

What does this mean for cultural theory? Since the second half of the 18th century the concept of culture explicitly is connected with the consciousness of contingency. The motto is: ‘everything also could be different.' Against that background four con­cepts of culture and correla­tive models of cultural theory can be set apart:

  • the normative model (Kant, Schiller) connects culture with an evalua­tion;
  • the holistic one (Herder) describes culture as in each case specific form of life (with the consequence of cultural relativism);
  • the social-sectoral one (Parsons, Luhmann, Habermas) comprehends cul­ture as differentiated social subsystem;
  • finally the meaning-theoretical one looks at culture as being consti­tutive for the world (of acting) insofar as this world depends on meanings and symbols (Cassirer, Heidegger/Gadamer, Foucault/Derrida, Dewey/Rorty). This is followed by the question which model or which constellation of models at present has the best persuasiveness. Also by the question whether there could be a super-constellation, a synthesis, a new paradigm of foundation. Or whether a cultural theory without (invariant) centre could be more attractive.

Based on that historical and implicitly political perspective the old question of Critical Theory can be reformulated as well in which way cul­ture and criticism are associated with each other internally. Criticism has not to be added externally to culture, the two concepts rather rely on each other. Against that theoretical background we would like to (re-)discuss central texts of Critical Theory in relation to the question of method in the humanities.