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The Case for Disciplinary Distinctions But for Inter-Disciplinary Work

One of the detrimental effects of late capitalism, according to the Frankfurt School, is the creation of specialized fields at the expense of community. We see this in the creation of the factory line, in which each worker does one job and does not understand the totality of the final product as a result of his isolation from the other tasks and workers (Bronner 42). Bronner even discusses how “modern life…privilege[s] the use of expertise…” (42). Thus, we have within graduate English studies the focus on poetry, on time periods, on creative writing, and on rhetoric and composition.

Yet one strength of the members of the Frankfurt School was their specialization: Gerlach as economist (Bronner 9), Horkheimer as philosopher and social scientist (10), Fromm as psychologist (12), Marcuse as critic of political ideology (14-15), Benjamin as analyst of “broader social trends” (15), Habermas as thinker critiquing all aspects of social life (17-18), and Adorno, a genius according to Marcuse (Marcuse), as the “interdisciplinary ideal” of the Frankfurt School (Bronner 16). Disciplinary distinction allowed each member of the Frankfurt school to write knowledgeably about his field, but it was their engagement in a dialectic (as friends, colleagues, competitors, perhaps), in a decades-long discussion, regarding established views that allowed the members to critique society. In Dialectic of Enlightenment, Horkheimer and Adorno explain that it is important to use thinkers outside of the established “tradition in order [to] better understand [that tradition’s] limitation[s]” (Bronner 52). The outsider view is thus able to detect problems within the established theory that are unseen by those working within that theory. In addition, the language of the establishment is so engrained in our writing and thinking (Marcuse) that we must create, as Habermas posits, “an ideal speech situation” that uses “undistorted” language (Bronner 46) in order to critique society. Thus, we must use an interdisciplinary approach with experts from various fields to “illuminate and legitimate” (19) a “different quality of life” (Marcuse). The key is that as one becomes an expert in a field he does not isolate himself within his department or with like-minded friends but invests in a community of diverse thinkers with a diversity of interests. In that way, one encounters opposing views, is critiqued, and can better critique his own field of study.

Works Cited

Bronner, Stephen Eric. Critical Theory: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2011. Print.

Marcuse, Herbert. Interview with Bryan Magee. Contemporary Philosophy Series. BBC Art. 1977. Films On Demand. Web. 26 Jan. 2016.


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