What Would You Say?

Is Critical Theory Practical?


Joseph Backholm

You’re in a conversation and someone says, “Critical theory helps identify and end oppression, so anyone who cares about putting a stop to oppression should support critical theory.”

What would you say?

Critical theory is the idea that any human society can be divided into two groups: those who have power and those who don’t.

According to critical theory, those who have power always oppress those who don’t. Therefore any institution, relationship, and belief system established by those in power is best understood as a tool of oppression.

The categories of oppressor and oppressed can be further divided into smaller categories based on things like race, gender, religion, immigration status, income, sexual orientation, and gender identity.

Whether you are an oppressor or one of the oppressed is determined by your group identity. As a result, almost everything, including institutions like police, government, religion, and the family are tools used by some to oppress those in other groups.

Although all of us should care about ending unjust oppression, critical theory is not helpful in doing this, and here are four reasons why.

First, power and oppression does not explain everything.

Second, power and privilege are relative concepts.

Third, lived experience is not an infallible guide to truth.

Fourth, Critical theory is self-defeating because it ignores the power dynamics it creates.


Click on the video to hear the entire conversation, or go to WhatWouldYouSay.org to see more like it.


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