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The Frankfurt School (German: Frankfurter Schule) is a school of social theory and philosophy associated in part with the Institute for Social Research at the Goethe University Frankfurt. Founded during the interwar period, the School consisted of dissidents who felt at home neither in the existent capitalist, fascist, nor communist systems that had formed at the time. Many of these theorists believed that traditional theory could not adequately explain the turbulent and unexpected development of capitalist societies in the twentieth century. Critical of both capitalism and Soviet socialism, their writings pointed to the possibility of an alternative path to social development.
Although sometimes only loosely affiliated, Frankfurt School theorists spoke with a common paradigm in mind; they shared the Marxist Hegelian premises and were preoccupied with similar questions. To fill in the perceived omissions of classical Marxism, they sought to draw answers from other schools of thought, hence using the insights of antipositivist sociology, psychoanalysis, existential philosophy, and other disciplines. The school's main figures sought to learn from and synthesize the works of such varied thinkers as Kant, Hegel, Marx, Freud, Weber, and Lukács.
Following Marx, they were concerned with the conditions that allow for social change and the establishment of rational institutions. Their emphasis on the "critical" component of theory was derived significantly from their attempt to overcome the limits of positivism, materialism, and determinism by returning to Kant's critical philosophy and its successors in German idealism, principally Hegel's philosophy, with its emphasis on dialectic and contradiction as inherent properties of human reality.
Since the 1960s, Frankfurt School critical theory has increasingly been guided by Jürgen Habermas's work on communicative reason, linguistic intersubjectivity and what Habermas calls "the philosophical discourse of modernity". Critical theorists such as Raymond Geuss and Nikolas Kompridis have voiced opposition to Habermas, claiming that he has undermined the aspirations for social change that originally gave purpose to critical theory's various projects—for example the problem of what reason should mean, the analysis and enlargement of "conditions of possibility" for social emancipation, and the critique of modern capitalism.