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date: 20 September 2020

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter assesses the relevance of Frankfurt School critical theory for contemporary environmental political theory. Early Frankfurt School thinkers such as Adorno, Horkheimer, and Marcuse developed a critique of instrumental rationality that provides a powerful framework for understanding the domination of nature in modernity, including an inability to articulate and defend human needs. Habermas subsequently attempts to mitigate this totalizing critique, countering instrumental rationality with a focus on communicative rationality. This Habermasian turn both provides new openings and forecloses certain possibilities for environmental political theory; deliberative democracy is emphasized, but with a renewed commitment to anthropocentrism. The chapter then explores whether Habermas’s communicative turn could be “greened,” either through an expansion of the subjects of communicative rationality, or by critically examining the extent to which human beings themselves can articulate their genuine needs.

Keywords: Adorno, critical theory, domination of nature, environmental political theory, Frankfurt School, Habermas, human needs, Marcuse

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