Measuring, Disrupting, Emancipating: Three Pictures of Critique

In Constellations 24.1 (2017), 101–112.


All theories of critique rely on a – often implicit – description of the activity that doing critique is supposed to consist in. These »pictures of critique« frame all further distinctions and justifications in the debate about critique and critique’s normativity. After distinguishing three pictures of critique – measuring, disrupting and emancipating critique – I ask whether the theoretical reflection in which a certain conception of critique is elaborated is itself accurately captured by the picture of critique it employs. In other words: Is the theoretical reflection of critique a critical activity according to its own picture of critique? I propose to call only those theories of critique critical theories the theoretical activity of which is a critical activity on their own picture of critique - which are surprisingly few. Most critical theories are thereby revealed to be rather traditional when it comes their own theorizing of critique.