Critical social theory emerged out of the work of the Frankfurt School discussed in chapter 3. Its radical humanism involves a shift from epistemology to ontology and reflexivity. The subject is treated as reflexively knowledgeable and capable of playing an active role in the production and reproduction of the social and cultural world. Reflexivity involves rejecting determinate reason. This ontological realism necessitates an epistemological relativism.

The work of Giddens, Bhaskar, Habermas and Bourdieu make up much of the chapter. Gidden’s structuration thesis insists on the duality of structure wherein social practice is analysed as both action and structure, each modifying the other. Habermas’ naturalism links the conditions of rationality involved in human capacity and powers, with specific forms of social scientific knowledge. He liberates critical theory from transcendentalism as the arbitrator of disciplines and their self-justification. Bourdieu’s notion of symbolic violence focuses on the struggle over limited resources as it relates to legitimation, domination and power. His functionalist argument relates to a Kantian subjectivism that leaves the analyst and her analytic superiority as the potential liberator. Strategies of language use are the outcome of social practice rather than rational calculation. Bhaskar claims that his critical realism is a philosophy of the social sciences, philosophical ontology differing from scientific ontology. This allows him to contrast pure science and social science while arguing that the world is real, it exists, rather than being a construction. The social sciences transform the vague into a clear set of correct ontological definitions.