What is Frankfurt School

The Frankfurt School (from the German Frankfurter Schule ) is the informal name for the school of interdisciplinary social theory.

University of Frankfurt Social Research Institute

University of Frankfurt Social Research Institute

It was formed by dissident Marxists and aggregates from the ” Institute for Social Research ” at the University of Frankfurt.

Historical Context: Summary

The Frankfurt School was founded in 1923. That year, Felix Weil held a successful academic congress that brought together the leading Marxist thinkers of the time.

However, the founding of the “Institute for Social Research” ( Institut für Sozialforschung ) would not take place until June 22, 1924.

It was an annex of the University of Frankfurt under Carl Grünberg. He ran the institution until 1930, when he took over Max Horkheimer.

Later, with the rise of Nazism, the institute is transferred to Geneva and Paris. In 1935, he was transferred to New York, United States.

There it will be hosted by the University of Columbia until 1953, when the Institute for Social Research returns to Frankfurt for good.

Main features

Frankfurt School theorists were able to share their theoretical assumptions and develop a critical stance. This stance was opposed to the determinism common to positivist theories.

They were inspired by thinkers like Kant, Hegel, Marx, Freud, Weber, and Lukács.

The “Frankfurtians” were also marked by Marxist influence , yet they considered some social factors that Marx himself did not foresee.

His analysis falls on the “superstructure”. That is, the mechanisms that determine personality, family and authority, analyzed in the context of aesthetics and mass culture.

For scholars, the techniques of domination would be dictated by the Cultural Industry, which is primarily responsible for the massification of knowledge, art and culture.

The physical techniques of reproduction of the work of art, as well as its social function are also recurrent themes of the school.

The most recent subjects that have dominated the studies of the Frankfurt School are:

  • the new configurations of liberating reason;
  • the emancipation of the human being through art and pleasure;
  • science and technique as ideology.

Frankfurt School and Critical Theory

The emphasis on the “critical” and “dialectical” component of Frankfurt theory are fundamental aspects for the elaboration of a theoretical framework.

Thus it is capable of self-criticism as a form of rejection of all absolute pretense.

Understood as a critical social self-consciousness, the “critical theory” seeks change and emancipation of the human being through enlightenment.

To this end, it breaks with the dogmatism of the “traditional theory”, positivist and scientist, of which the main attribute is instrumental reason.

Therefore, critical theory seeks to place itself outside the limiting philosophical structures.

At the same time it creates a self-reflective system that explains the means of domination and points out the ways to overcome it. The aim is to achieve a rational, human and naturally free society.

This “self-reflection” is guaranteed by the method of dialectical analysis, the means by which we can discover the truth by confronting ideas and theories.

Thus, the dialectical method, applied to itself, is a self-corrective method for the sciences that use this thought process.

Top Thinkers

The Frankfurt School thinkers analyzed and denounced some structures of political, economic, cultural and psychological domination of modern society.

They have explicitly demonstrated the destructive capacity of capitalism, which is primarily responsible for the stagnation of political, critical and revolutionary consciousness.

They used resources from various fields to lay the foundations for a critical theory of contemporary society and culture.

The main areas were: political science, anthropology, psychology, economics, history, etc.

The main Frankfurt thinkers were:

  • Max Horkheimer (1895-1973)
  • Theodor W. Adorno (1903-1969)
  • Herbert Marcuse (1898-1979)
  • Friedrich Pollock (1894-1970)
  • Erich Fromm (1900-1980)

The greatest contributor was Walter Benjamin (1892-1940), while the main member of the second generation was Jürgen Habermas (1929).

Major Works

Most of the writings of the Frankfurt School were published in the group’s scientific journal Zeitschrift für Sozialforschung .

It was later called “ Studies in Philosophy and Social Science ”.

However, some works stood out:

  • Traditional Theory and Critical Theory (1937)
  • Culture and Society (1938)
  • Dialectic of Enlightenment (1944)
  • Minimal Moralia (1951)