Critical social theory

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Critical social theory



Alternate name(s)

Critical Theory, Critical Theory of Society

Main dependent construct(s)/factor(s)

Emancipation, social equity

Main independent construct(s)/factor(s)

Conflict, opposition

Concise description of theory

Critical researchers assume that social reality is historically constituted and that it is produced and reproduced by people. Although people can consciously act to change their social and economic circumstances, critical researchers recognize that their ability to do so is constrained by various forms of social, cultural and political domination. The main task of critical research is seen as being one of social critique, whereby the restrictive and alienating conditions of the status quo are brought to light. Critical research focuses on the oppositions, conflicts and contradictions in contemporary society, and seeks to be emancipatory i.e. it should help to eliminate the causes of alienation and domination.


Diagram/schematic of theory


Originating author(s)

Max Horkheimer, Jurgen Habermas

Seminal articles

Habermas, J. Towards a Rational Society, London:Heinemann, 1971.

Habermas, J. Knowledge and Human Interests, London:Heinemann, 1972.

Habermas, J. Theory and Practice, Boston:Beacon, 1973.

Habermas, J. Communication and the Evolution of Society, London:Heinemann, 1979.

Habermas, J. The Theory of Communicative Action: Reason and Rationalization of Society(1), Boston:Beacon, 1973.

Habermas, J. The Theory of Communicative Action: Lifeworld and Social System (2), Boston:Beacon, 1987.

Originating area

Sociology, Philosophy

Level of analysis

Group,Garden Spot Village Society

IS articles that use the theory

Adam, A. (2002). Exploring the gender question in critical information systems. Journal of Information Technology, 17(2), 59.

Alstyne, M. V., & Brynjolfsson, E. (2005). Global village or cyber-balkans? modeling and measuring the integration of electronic communities. Management Science, 51(6), 851.

Baroudi, J. J. (1991). Studying information technology in organizations: Research approaches and assumptions. Information Systems Research, 2(1), 1-28.

Basden, A. (2002). The critical theory of herman dooyeweerd? Journal of Information Technology, 17(4), 257-269.

Benoit, G. (2001). Critical theory as a foundation for pragmatic information systems design. Information Research, 6(2)

Benoit, G. (2002). Toward a critical theoretic perspective in information systems. Library Quarterly, 72(4), 441-471.

Brooke, C. (2002). What does it mean to be 'critical' in IS research? Journal of Information Technology, 17(2), 49.

Calhoun, C. (2002). Information technology and the public sphere.

Clarke, S. (., & Greaves, A. (2002). IT help desk implementation: The case of an international airline. Annals of Cases on Information Technology, 4, 241-259.

Cukier, W. , Middleton, C. , & Bauer, R. The discourse of learning technology in Canada: Understanding communication distortions and their implications for decision making. Wynn, E.H., whitley, E.A., myers, M.D., DeGross, J.I.. (2003). global and organizational discourse about information technology. IFIP TC8/WG8.2 working conference on global and organizational discourse about information technology(pp.197-221). norwell, MA: Kluwer academic publishers. viii+545pp.; international working conference on global & organizational discourse about information technology, 12-14 dec. 2002, barcelona, spain. 197-221.

Dennis, A. R., & Garfield, M. J. (2003). The adoption and use of GSS in project teams: Toward more participative processes and outcomes. MIS Quarterly, 27(2), 289.

Dobson, P. J. (2002). Critical realism and information systems research: Why bother with philosophy? Information Research, 7(2)

Doolin, B.. (1998). Information technology as disciplinary technology: Being critical in interpretive research on information systems. Journal of Information Technology, 13(4), 301-311.

Drake, B., Yuthas, K., & Dillard, J. F. (2000). It‘s only words -- impacts of information technology on moral dialogue. Journal of Business Ethics, 23(1), 41-59.

Ess, C. . (2002). Computer-mediated colonization, the renaissance, and educational imperatives for an intercultural global village. Ethics and Information Technology, 4(1), 11-22.

Evans, F. (1991). To "informate" or "automate": The new information technologies and democratization of the workplace. Social Theory and Practice, 17(3), 409-439.

Fitzpatrick, T. (2000). Critical cyberpolicy: Network technologies, massless citizens, virtual rights. Critical Social Policy, 20(3(64)), 375-407.

Green C.; Ruhleder K.(1995) Globalization, borderless worlds, and the tower of babel : Metaphors gone awry. Journal of Organizational Change Management, 8(4), 55

Heng, M. S. H. & de Moor, A. (2003). From habermas's communicative theory to practice on the internet. Information Systems Journal, 13(4), 331-352.

Henwood, F., & Hart, A. (2003). Articulating gender in the context of ICTs in health care: The case of electronic patient records in the maternity services. Critical Social Policy, 23(2(75)), 249-267.

Hirschheim, Rudy, Klein, K, H. (1994). Realizing emancipatory principles in information systems development: The case for ETHICS. MIS Quarterly, 18(1), 83.

Klein, H. K. (. (2004). Seeking the new and the critical in critical realism: Deja vu? Information and Organization, 14(2), 123-144.

Klein, H. K., & Hirschheim, R. (. (1991). Rationality concepts in information system development methodologies. Accounting, Management and Information Technologies, 1(2), 157-187.

Klein, H. K., & Myers, M. D. (1999). A set of principles for conducting and evaluating interpretive field studies in information systems. MIS Quarterly, 23(1), 67.

Lee, A. S. (1999). Rigor and relevance in MIS research: Beyond the approach of positivism alone. MIS Quarterly, 23(1), 29.

Lehtinen, E., & Lyytinen, K. (. (1986). Action based model of information system. Information Systems, 11(4), 299-317.

Libecap, G. D. (1997). Critical social and technological factors affecting entrepreneurial midsize firms. and London: JAI Press.

Lyytinen, K., & Hirschheim, R. (. (1988). Information systems as rational discourse: An application of habermas's theory of communicative action. Scandinavian Journal of Management, 4(1-2), 19-30.

Lyytinen, K. J. , & Ngwenyama, O. K. (. (1992). What does computer support for cooperative work mean? a structurational analysis of computer supported cooperative work. Accounting, Management and Information Technologies, 2(1), 19-37.

Madsen, K. H. . Breakthrough by breakdown: Metaphors and structured domains. Klein, H.K., kumar, K.. (1987). systems development for human progress. proceedings of the IFIP WG 8.2 working conference on information systems development for human progress in organizations(pp.41-53). Amsterdam: North-Holland. xi+305pp.; systems development for human progress. proceedings of the IFIP WG 8.2 working conference on information systems development for human progress in organizations, 29-31 May 1987, Atlanta, GA, USA. IFIP, 41-53.

Majchrzak, A., Malhotra, A., & John, R. (2005). Perceived individual collaboration know-how development through information technology-enabled contextualization: Evidence from distributed teams. Information Systems Research, 16(1), 9.

Martin-Barbero, J. (2001). Communicative transformations and technologies of the public. Metapolitica, 5(17), 46-55.

McGrath, K. . ICTs supporting targetmania: How the UK health sector is trying to modernise. Korpela, M., Montealegre, R., Poulymenakou, A.. (2003). IFIP TC8 & TC9/WG8.2 & WG9.4 working conference on information systems perspectives and challenges in the context of globalization(pp.19-34). dordrecht: Kluwer academic publishers. viii+464pp.; IFIP TC8 & TC9/WG8.2 & WG9.4 working conference on information systems perspectives and challenges in the context of globalization, 15-17 June 2003, Athens, Greece. 19-34.

Michael, D. M. , & Leslie, W. Y. (. (1997). Hidden agendas, power and managerial assumptions in information systems development : An ethnographic study. Information Technology & People, 10(3), 224.

Mingers, J. C.. (1980). Towards an appropriate social theory for applied systems thinking: Critical theory and soft systems methodology. Journal of Applied Systems Analysis, 7, 41-49.

Mingers, J. (2001). Combining IS research methods: Towards a pluralist methodology. Information Systems Research, 12(3), 240.

Myers, M. D. (1995). Dialectical hermeneutics: A theoretical framework for the implementation of information systems. [Electronic]. Information Systems Journal, 5(1), 51-70. Retrieved 20 sep 2005, from the Business Source database.

Myers, M. D. (1994). A disaster for everyone to see: An interpretive analysis of a failed is project. Accounting, Management and Information Technologies, 4(4), 185-201.

Nettleton, S. & Burrows, R. (2003). E-scaped medicine? information, reflexivity and health. Critical Social Policy, 23(2(75)), 165-185.

Ngwenyama, O. K., & Lee, A. S. (1997). Communication richness in electronic mail: Critical social theory and the contextuality of meaning. MIS Quarterly, 21(2), 145.

O'Donnell, D., & Henriksen, L. B. (2002). Philosophical foundations for a critical evaluation of the social impact of ICT. Journal of Information Technology, 17(2), 89.

Orlikowski, W. J. (1991). Integrated information environment or matrix of control? the contradictory implications of information technology. Accounting, Management and Information Technologies, 1(1), 9-42.

Pete, R., & Andrew, W. (. (2002). Information fluency: Critically examining IT education. New Library World, 103(11/12), 427.

Puri, S. K. , & Sahay, S. (. (2003). Participation through communicative action: A case study of GIS for addressing land/water development in india. Information Technology for Development, 10(3), 179.

Reffell, P., & Whitworth, A. (2002). Information fluency: Critically examining IT education. New Library World, 103(11-12 (1182-83)), 427-435.

Roderick, R. (1989). Beyond a boundary: Baudrillard and new critical theory. Current Perspectives in Social Theory, 9, 3-4.

Salvador, T. , Sherry, J. W. (., & Urrutia, A. E. (. (2005). Less cyber, more café: Enhancing existing small businesses across the digital divide with ICTs. Information Technology for Development, 11(1), 77.

Sassi, S. (1996). The network and the fragmentation of the public sphere. Javnost/The Public, 3(1), 25-41.

Schoop, M. Representing heterogeneous viewpoints of healthcare professionals. Gerdin, U., tallberg, M., wainwright, P.. (1997). nursing informatics. the impact of nursing knowledge on health care informatics(pp.603). amsterdam: IOS press. xxv+630pp.; nursing informatics. the impact of nursing knowledge on health care informatics, 1997, sweden. 603.

Shivraj, K.. (2004). On the emancipatory role of rural information systems. Information Technology & People, 17(4), 407.

Southwick, R., & Sawyer, S. (. Critical views of organization, management, and information technology: Applying critical social theory to information system research. Haseman, W.D., nazareth, D.L.. (1999). proceedings of the fifth americas conference on information systems (AMCIS 1999)(pp.178-180). atlanta, GA: Assoc. inf. syst. xxiv+1035pp.; proceedings of AIS AMCIS 99: 1999 americas conference on information systems, 13-15 aug. 1999, milwaukee, WI, USA. assoc. inf. syst, 178-180.

Stahl, B. C. (2001). Responsibility in the interconnected economy. Business Ethics: A European Review, 10(3), 213-222.

Urey, G. (2002). A critical look at the use of computing technologies in planning education: The case of the spreadsheet in introductory methods. Journal of Planning Education and Research, 21(4), 406-418.

Varey, R. J., Wood-Harper, T., & Wood, B. (2002). A theoretical review of management and information systems using a critical communications theory. Journal of Information Technology, 17(4), 229.

Waring, T. (2004). Communicating the complexity of integrating information systems: A case study of the procurement of a payroll-personnel system. International Journal of Human Resources Development and Management, 4(4), 431-448.

Waring, T., & Wainwright, D. (2002). Enhancing clinical and management discourse in ICT implementation. Journal of Management in Medicine, 16(2/3), 133-149.

Whitley, E. A., & Scothern, R. (1998). Creating and maintaining obligations with emerging technologies: An empirical study of mediated and face-to-face communication. Journal of Computing and Information Technology - CIT, 6(3), 343-353.

Yetim, F. (2006). Acting with genres: discursive-ethical concepts for reflecting on and legitimating genres. European Journal of Information Systems, 15(1), 54-69.

Links from this theory to other theories

Language action perspective, Interpretivist research

External links, Centre for Critical Social Theory - University of Sussex, Wikipedia entry on CST , Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, AIS qualitative resource site, includes descriptions of different types of qualitative research and extensive reference lists, encyclopedia

Original Contributor(s)

Hossam Ali-Hassan

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