The Dialectics of Communicative and Immanent Critique

  • Johan Fornäs Södertörn University
Keywords: critical theory, critique, cultural studies, communication, immanent critique, dialectics, Habermas, Ricoeur, Marx, Adorno, Haraway


In cultural studies and cultural research, the importance of being critical is often stressed, but it is more rare to scrutinise how such critique is and can be performed. This text discusses different modes of critique, in three main steps. First, a brief review of the history and signifying layers of the concept of critique itself leads up to a late modern communicative concept of critique, linked to the contested relation between critique and tradition, and based on how Paul Ricoeur has interpreted ideology critique and the hermeneutics of suspicion. This communicative mode is contrasted to critical approaches that strive to radically dissociate themselves from others. Second, it is argued that the most powerful sources of critique are to be sought in the inner contradictions of the targeted spheres of social reality rather than applied from the outside. Such immanent – as opposed to transcendent – critique, has been formulated and exercised by Karl Marx, Theodor W. Adorno and Walter Benjamin, among others. The third section sums up the spiral moves of cultural studies as informed by critical hermeneutics: dialectical critique based on communicative and immanent critique must be on the move, never frozen, and may temporarily and locally explore radical and transcendent modes of critique, in ways that have been discussed by Donna Haraway.

Author Biography

Johan Fornäs, Södertörn University

Johan Fornäs is Professor at the Department of Media and Communication Studies at Södertörn University, Sweden. He is also Editor-in-Chief of Culture Unbound: Journal of Current Cultural Research, and was in 2004-2008 Vice Chair of the international Association for Cultural Studies (ACS). His background is in musicology and cultural studies, with extensive research on popular music, youth culture and media culture.

He has published widely in English, including books such as Cultural Theory and Late Modernity (Sage 1995), Youth Culture in Late Modernity (Sage 1995), In Garageland: Rock, Youth and Modernity (Routledge 1995), Digital Borderlands: Cultural Studies of Identity and Interactivity on the Internet (Peter Lang 2002), Consuming Media: Communication, Shopping and Everyday Life (Berg 2007), Signifying Europe (Intellect 2012) and Capitalism: A Companion to Marx's Economy Critique (Routledge 2013).