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Critical theory in use: Organizing the Frankfurt School

Cluley, Robert; Parker, Martin

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Robert Cluley

Martin Parker


The Frankfurt School was an interdisciplinary grouping of left-wing thinkers whose contributions to the social sciences and humanities made them one of the most influential groups of scholars from the last century. Their work has inspired decades of critical organizational research. Yet, across this body of thought, few organization theorists have considered the Frankfurt School as an organization. This article argues that we cannot apply Frankfurt School theories to organizations unless we understand how the School managed its own activities. Reading the School’s texts and examining its working practices through historical documents, we show that Frankfurt School thinkers did not ignore everyday organizational tasks, nor did they grudgingly accept them as a practical necessity. Rather, they embraced them as components of a dialectical theory of organizing and society – which we term critical theory-in-use. Defining what it means to be a critical scholar today is, we conclude, not just a matter of reading Frankfurt School theory but also understanding how this research institute endured for so long and had such a significant influence.


Cluley, R., & Parker, M. (2023). Critical theory in use: Organizing the Frankfurt School. Human Relations, 76(11), 1689-1713.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Jun 9, 2022
Online Publication Date Jun 21, 2022
Publication Date 2023-11
Deposit Date Jun 27, 2022
Publicly Available Date Jun 29, 2022
Journal Human Relations
Print ISSN 0018-7267
Electronic ISSN 1741-282X
Publisher SAGE Publications
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 76
Issue 11
Pages 1689-1713
Keywords Management of Technology and Innovation; Strategy and Management; General Social Sciences; Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
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