Cultural critic

A cultural critic is a critic of a given culture, usually as a whole and typically on a radical basis. There is significant overlap with social and cultural theory.


Contemporary usage has tended to include all types of criticism directed at culture.

The term cultural criticism itself has been claimed by Jacques Barzun: No such thing was recognized or in favour when we [i.e. Barzun and Trilling] began more by intuition than design in the autumn of 1934.[1][2] In contrast, a work such as Richard Wolin's 1995 The Terms of Cultural Criticism: The Frankfurt School, Existentialism, Poststructuralism (1995) uses it as a broad-brush description.

Victorian sages as critics

Cultural critics came to the scene in the nineteenth century. Matthew Arnold[3] and Thomas Carlyle are leading examples of a cultural critic of the Victorian age; in Arnold there is also a concern for religion. John Ruskin was another. Because of an equation made between ugliness of material surroundings and an impoverished life, aesthetes and others might be considered implicitly to be engaging in cultural criticism, but the actual articulation is what makes a critic. In France, Charles Baudelaire was a cultural critic, as was Søren Kierkegaard in Denmark and Friedrich Nietzsche in Germany.

Twentieth century

Further information: Critical theory and Frankfurt School

In the twentieth century Irving Babbitt on the right, and Walter Benjamin[4] on the left, might be considered major cultural critics. The field of play has changed considerably, in that the humanities have broadened to include cultural studies of all kinds, which are grounded in critical theory.

Examples of contemporary usage

See also


  1. Remembering Lionel Trilling, (1976), reprinted in The Jacques Barzun Reader (2002).
  2. Casey Nelson Blake, a professor at Columbia University where Barzun and Trilling were, uses the term in the 1990 book title Beloved Community: The Cultural Criticism of Randolph Bourne, Van Wyck Brooks, Waldo Frank, and Lewis Mumford.
  3. His much-cited Culture and Anarchy was subtitled An Essay in Political and Social Criticism.
  4. E.g. Richard Wolin, Walter Benjamin: An Aesthetic of Redemption (1994), series Weimar and Now: German Cultural Criticism, 7.
  5. A Cultural Critic Answers His Own
  6. Scholar, cultural critic Gates to give Kent Lecture
  7. Self-description .
  8. Recently I was introduced to an audience as a cultural critic, and I think this probably says it best. .
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