The aim of this chapter is to provide an outline of the development and basic ideas of critical theory (CT), one of the most prominent philosophical foundations of critical management studies (CMS). CT has perhaps had even more influence on the development of CMS than related theoretical foundations, such as labor process theory, post-structuralism, or critical realism, which will be described in subsequent chapters of the Handbook. CT has a unique philosophical tradition and distinct paradigmatic characteristics (Rasmussen 1994; Rush 2004); and, in order to demonstrate how CT has been used to study organizations, we will describe these characteristics and show how they have impacted CMS.
Since a number of good historical overviews already exist (see, e.g., Held 1980; Wiggershaus 1994), we will consider the history and development of CT only in so far as it is of direct relevance to the understanding of the emergence of CMS. The chapter focuses mainly on the principal contributors of CT - here equated with the Frankfurt School and the writings of authors such as Theodor Adorno, Max Horkheimer, Herbert Marcuse, Jurgen Habermas, as well as authors of the younger generation. We will review a number of criticisms leveled at CT, from the aggressive to the more sympathetic types of critique, and show how these are relevant to CMS research. We also refer to Habermas's more recent work on political philosophy and deliberative democracy, as it is relevant for correcting dated understandings of his position and may suggest new directions for future work in CMS.