Social criticism

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The terms social criticism and social criticism denote the exercise of criticism of society , of social subsystems or of social and cultural phenomena that are perceived as maladministration. Social criticism can aim to improve or abolish what has been criticized (see reform , revolution ).

Social criticism is often linked to ideological ( ideological ) opinions or convictions ; there is therefore no one-size-fits-all view of what “the” social criticism must contain.

Social criticism of the Enlightenment

The origins of modern social criticism go back at least to the time of the Enlightenment . Radical enlighteners such as Jean Meslier were not satisfied with the social criticism of the time, which was essentially to be seen as a criticism of religion. The pain of the farmers was at the center of his criticism. There was also a criticism of civilization for religious reasons such as that which came from the Quakers in England and B. demonstrated in the principles of moral treatment . Jean Jacques Rousseau developed a social criticism in his political philosophy and pedagogy , which was spread through the French Revolution .

Academic social criticism

The “ positivism dispute” between critical rationalism ( Karl Popper , Hans Albert and others) and the critical theory of the Frankfurt School reflects the fundamental question of whether science has only the task of empirically perceiving what is and optimizing it, or whether it should also exercise fundamental criticism of society and make value judgments and on what basis this should happen.

Works that are critical of society are classically socio- philosophical , socio-economic , sociological or socio-psychological works, but also works from other sociological directions such as social medicine are included. In addition, scientists have also emerged with critical works, such as the biologist Rachel Carson , whose book Silent Spring in the USA became a catalyst for the environmental protection movement .

The social ethics is understood explicitly or at least implicitly, as a critique of society, inasmuch as it asks how certain social structures to humanise are (structural reform), which only can effectively manage and permanently, even if the attitude of the responsible people to change (mentality Reform) . Above all, this goal is served by appropriate upbringing and education , which can therefore be viewed as a socially critical or socially stabilizing factor.

Social criticism in literature, art and music

Social criticism in the literature include anti-capitalist revolutionary novels such as Jack London's The Iron Heel (1908) and dystopian novels like Aldous Huxley's Brave New World (English. Title Brave New World ) in 1932, George Orwell's 1984 ( Nineteen Eighty-Four ) 1949 or Ray Bradbury's 1953 Fahrenheit 451 and children's books such as Michael Ende's Momo . Large-scale disputes with Soviet totalitarianism were published by Alexander Issajewitsch Solschenizyn ( The Gulag Archipelago ) and Wassili Semjonowitsch Grossman ( Life and Fate ).

In the area of theater there is a long tradition of socially critical plays in German-speaking countries ( Jakob Michael Reinhold Lenz ; Der Hofmeister ; Georg Büchner , Woyzeck ). Internationally, the performance of The Supports of Society by Henrik Ibsen in 1877 marks the birth of a new dramaturgical genre, the naturalistic social drama, which is considered the starting point of modern drama. In the twentieth century the political theater exceeded the narrow framework of the bourgeois theater business.

Another tradition of social criticism consists of social reports based on participatory observation by the author. Well-known examples are Orwell's Erledigt in Paris and London (1933), Günter Wallraff's reports and covert explorations ( investigative journalism ) by left-wing authors in right-wing extremist circles ( Anne Tristan ).

The visual arts in all their genres - painting, sculpture, graphics and others - in many epochs, until today, repeatedly deal with social conditions and structures of rule. Because of their time-critical visual statements, artists often came into conflict with the system in which they lived and worked. Examples are Francisco de Goya with his etchings Desastres de la Guerra and John Heartfield with his political photo montages against the politics of the Third Reich . Artists often had to go into exile as a result of their oppositional stance .

Social criticism can also be expressed in musical form; this traditionally happens in protest songs . Newer forms of social criticism in music can be found in punk , metal and hip-hop music, reggae or spoken word .

In addition, music can be socially critical even without appropriate lyrics. The 5th Symphony by Dmitri Shostakovich can be cited as an example, in which the celebrations of party committees and their precisely planned entertainment program are caricatured.

Social criticism in photography and film

Since the beginning of photography, photographers, especially in documentary photography, have repeatedly depicted social reality in a socially critical way. The classics include the documentation of poverty in the USA by Lewis Hine and alienation by Robert Frank ( Les américains. 1957). Almost iconic status, the image became an exhausted wife Dorothea Lange .

In the film, social criticism can be directly linked to the call for change (as in Kuhle Wampe or: Who Owns the World? ) Or the emphasis is more on documenting living and working conditions, as is often the case in documentaries ( for example in Louis Malles film about factory work at Citroën ( Humain trop humain , France 1974)).


Classical works

Important contemporary works

Primary literature

  • Walter Benjamin : On the Critique of Violence . In: ders .: Language and History. Philosophical essays. Stuttgart 1992, ISBN 3-15-008775-9 , pp. 104-131.
  • Ehrhard Bahr (Ed.): What is Enlightenment? Theses and definitions. Kant, Erhard, Hamann, Herder, Lessing, Mendelssohn, Riem, Schiller, Wieland. ISBN 3-15-009714-2 .
  • Jack London : The Iron Heel. 1908 - numerous editions, German Die eiserne Ferse , Ullstein paperback, ISBN 3-548-20454-6 .
  • Anne Tristan: From within: as a member of the d. Front National in d. Stronghold Le Pens. Kiepenheuer u. Witsch, Cologne 1988, ISBN 3-462-01909-0 .


  • Michael Heinrich: Critique of Political Economy: An Introduction. 5th edition. Butterfly Verlag, Stuttgart 2007, ISBN 978-3-89657-593-7 .
  • Werner Hofmann: History of ideas of the social movement. 6th expanded edition. de Gruyter, Berlin / New York 1979.
  • Gisela Hermes, Eckhard Rohrmann : Nothing about us - without us !: Disability Studies as a new approach to emancipatory and interdisciplinary research on disability. AG Spak, Neu-Ulm 2006, ISBN 3-930830-71-X .
  • María do Mar Castro Varela, Nikita Dhawan: Postcolonial Theory: A Critical Introduction. Transcript, Bielefeld 2005, ISBN 3-89942-337-2 .
  • Andrea Trumann: Feminist Theory: Women's Movement and Female Subject Formation in Late Capitalism. Butterfly Verlag, Stuttgart 2002, ISBN 3-89657-580-5 .

reference books

  • Axel Honneth (ed.): Key texts of critical theory. VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften, Wiesbaden 2006, ISBN 3-531-14108-2 .
  • Patricia D. Netzley: Social Protest Literature. An Encyclopedia of Works, Characters, Authors and Themes. ABC Clio, Santa Barbara, Denver, Oxford 1999.

Other secondary literature

  • Stephan Moebius , Gerhard Schäfer (ed.): Sociology as social criticism. Against the loss of a current tradition. VSA, Hamburg 2006.
  • Lothar Peter : New Social Movements, Social Issues and Crisis of Work: Social Criticism in French Sociology Today. In: Social.History. Zs. For historical analysis of the 20th and 21st centuries. Peter Lang, Bern 2006, ISSN  1660-2870 , Part I: Issue 1, pp. 9–32; Part II: Issue 2, pp. 34–51.
  • Joseph Heath, Andrew Potter: Consumer Rebels. The myth of the counterculture. Rogner & Bernhard , Berlin 2005. (Criticism of society and consumerism)
  • Gerhard Henschel: Menetekel. 3000 years of the fall of the West . Eichborn, Frankfurt 2010 ISBN 978-3-8218-6210-1 . ( The Other Library series )
    • Partial imprint: Isolates plumbers walking next to each other. Zs. Jungle , supplement to jungle world . No. 10, March 11, 2010, pp. 19-23.


  • 1931 Girls in Uniform - Director: Leontine Sagan - critical portrayal of life in an authoritarian boarding school for girls
  • 1932 Kuhle Wampe or: Who Owns the World? - Director: Slatan Dudow
  • 1933 Borinage - directed by Joris Ivens and Henri Storck , a militant film about the misery of Belgian miners
  • 1948 Strange Victory - Director: Leo Hurwitz
    “He creates the image of an America that is complacent in its victory, prosperity and racism; the narrator warns: 'Nigger, kike, wop, take my advice and accept the facts - the world is already arranged for you'. " Richard M. Barsam
  • 1953 Salt of the Earth - Salt of the Earth , directed by Herbert J. Biberman
    Legendary documentary feature film about a strike in New Mexico . Not only do the workers fight against the company, but also “their” wives against their macho attitudes in order to be “allowed” to participate fully actively in the strike.
  • 1964 The Cool World - Director: Shirley Clarke - The cruel reality of street life in the USA
  • 1968 La Hora de los hornos: Acto para la liberación: notas, testimonios y debate sobre las recientes luchas de liberación del pueblo argentino - The Hour of Fire - Director: Fernando Solanas - Classics of Latin American political cinema
  • 1968 Teorema - Director: Pier Paolo Pasolini - The power of desire blows up a rich family of industrialists
  • 1969 Yawar mallku - Blood of the Condor - Director: Jorge Sanjinés - critical examination of the influence of the USA in Bolivia
  • 1969 Salesman - Direction and editing: Albert and David Maysles and Charlotte Zwerin - Four sales representatives try to sell the Bible - one of the most important Direct Cinema films
  • 1970 Le chagrin et la pitié - The house next door - Chronicle of a French town during the war - Director: Marcel Ophüls - Politically groundbreaking film about the collaboration in France during the German occupation
  • 1970 Why is Mr. R. running amok? - Director: Rainer Werner Fassbinder - The humiliating madness of 'normal' life
  • 1971 It is not the homosexual who is perverse, but the situation in which he lives - Director: Rosa von Praunheim - This film became the starting point for the second gay movement
  • 1971 The Woman's Film - Director: Louise Alaimo , Judy Smith
  • 1971 L'aggettivo donna , Annabella Misuglio, Italy, Documentary - Many feminist documentaries were made in the early 1970s. L'aggettivo donna analyzes the double exploitation of women workers, the isolation of housewives and the training of children locked in schools and separated from the other children.
  • 1971 Wanda ; Director: Barbara Loden - intimate portrait of an estranged woman
  • 1973 La Société du spectacle - The society of the spectacle - Director: Guy Debord
  • 1974 Fear eats the soul - haunting feature film about love and sexuality in the face of racism , sexism and age discrimination , director: Rainer Werner Fassbinder
  • 1975 Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles - Everyday life of a housewife - a feminist classic - Director: Chantal Akerman
  • 1976 Harlan County USA - Director: Barbara Kopple
  • 1978 Baara (work) - Director: Souleymane Cissé
  • 1984 Before Stonewall - directed by John Scagliotti and Greta Schiller
  • 2001 Intimacy - Director: Patrice Chéreau - Intense feature film about loneliness, sexual alienation and an impossible love
  • 2003 Gujarat: A Laboratory of Hindu Rastra, Fascism - Director: Suma Josson - on Hindu fundamentalism
  • 2004 Black Panthers (in Israel) speak out , Israel, directed by Eli Hamo, Sami Halom Chetrit
  • 2004 Ratziti Lihiyot Gibor - On the Objection Front, documentary about the Refuseniks movement in Israel that means soldiers who refuse to serve in the occupied territories, director: Shiri Tsur
  • 2004 Memoria del saqueo - Story of a Looting , directed by Fernando E. Solanas - A passionate and partisan story of neoliberalism in Argentina
  • 2004 Darwin's Nightmare , directed by Hubert Sauper 
  • 2006 Atos dos Homens / Acts of Men , director: Kiko Goifman, Brazil / Germany, 75 min.

Originally planned as the story of the death squads in Brazil , the film by anthropologist Kiko Goifman focuses on a massacre committed by police officers in 2005 . Goifman also interviews killers who see themselves as law enforcement officers.

See also

Web links




Individual evidence

  1. ^ New edition: Robert Frank: The Americans. Steidl, Göttingen 2008.
  2. Hofmann introduces the older social criticism (before 1968); for the more recent criticism, in accordance with the fragmentation of the criticism, there is no similarly broad-based work, therefore several titles are given for the different directions.