This book concerns the development of critical theory in the twentieth century. There are a number of issues that need to be discussed to make clear what I mean by theory, and I will explore them in this chapter. The book will go on to draw out themes in the writing of critical theory that will link two not entirely discontinuous traditions. The first of these is originally Germanic (though much of the work I will refer to was written in the United States), usually referred to as the critical theory of the Frankfurt School, and includes in particular the writing of Adorno, Horkheimer, Marcuse and Benjamin. The second is an overlapping but slightly later Gallic tradition including the writing of Lefebvre, Barthes, Gorz, Touraine and Baudrillard. I have chosen to concentrate on the writing of these particular authors in order to sustain an argument that criticism by theory has become a feature of what we might call late modernity. There are many other writers from both the Germanic and the French traditions who could be included – and perhaps should be – but I will largely restrict my account to these writers, for a number of reasons.
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