Update: For my last words on Dr. Shenvi’s work, please see: “Critical Theory, Dr. Levinson, Dr. Shenvi, and Evangelicalism: Final Thoughts”
In articles, lectures, and interviews past, Dr. Neil Shenvi has attempted to answer questions like, “What is critical theory?” (HERE), arguing it is a “larger” discipline containing “Post-Colonial Studies, Queer Theory, Critical Pedagogy, Whiteness Studies, and Critical Race Theory” (HERE), “foundational” to many fields like “Gender Studies, Cultural Studies, Critical Race Theory, Critical Pedagogy, Feminist Studies, Anthropology, Literary Criticism” (HERE), the source of phrases like “‘cisgender,’ ‘intersectionality,’ ‘heteronormativity,’ ‘centering,’ and ‘white fragility’” (HERE), and is often called “‘identity politics’, ‘cultural Marxism’, ‘intersectionality’” (HERE)—a discipline which he recognizes “originated with the Frankfurt school in the 1930s but has evolved considerably since then” (HERE), and includes such scholars as Bradley Levinson, Robin DiAngelo, Ozlem Sensoy, Stephanie Wildman, Adrienne David, Jean Stefancic, Richard Delgado, Beverley Tatum, Maurianne Adams, Peggy McIntosh, and many others (HERE and HERE). In nearly every case, he presents his “core tenets of contemporary critical theory” (or similar) in answer to, “What is critical theory?”
But after much criticism, he has circumscribed his claims to what he calls specifically “contemporary critical theory“—a more narrow “critical theory” (and a fabrication, to my lights) represented by a more narrow group of scholars of his choosing, which, curiously, he says can also be called “‘critical social justice’ or ‘critical race theory,’” (HERE) . See, for example:
When presented with Dr. Shenvi’s “core tenets of contemporary critical theory,” along with links to his own works, every critical scholar who has responded thus far has rejected his characterization. (My email is again displayed at the end of this post and is discussed in detail HERE.) We read,
These so-called tenets read to me as caricature. They carry minor grains of truth, but they simplify and obscure. … no, I don’t think they capture the “core” of critical social theories. I think the Intro to my book gets closer to doing that “properly.” (Dr. Bradley A. Levinson)
I would only guess that our clarifications & responses would be further distorted by those with an interest in distorting them. (Dr. Muarianne Adams)
It sounds like your community is engaged in some deep dialogue, which is wonderful to hear about. That said, there are enough problematic elements in the 4-point summary of critical theory below, that I would not [be] able to substantively engage in each point over email. Nor would it be possible to explain the problematic summarizations themselves without those interested in critical theory engaging in fuller academic study of the subject. (Dr. Ozlem Sensoy)
Insistence upon “social location” as decisive is just another way of invoking the need for relativism and sabotaging a utopian perspective; challenging the idea that violence is not the only form of domination is as old as religion and the critique of it; this view has nothing which is unique to critical theory; the division of society into dominant/subaltern classes is also as old as the hills, and has more to do with different forms of populism than critical theory. (Dr. Stephen Eric Bronner)
Thank you for your message. I know that there are people who disagree with my writing (and that of others), and Dr. Shenvi, in his summary of “contemporary critical theory”, seems not to have understood it. However, I am not inclined to try to explain again via e-mail that which I have explained quite clearly in my books. I encourage those who have questions to read what I have written. (Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum)
Notice that this group already includes Levinson, Adams, Sensoy, and Tatum. But, in addition to the above, I received another response just last week from Dr. Peggy McIntosh, another scholar Dr. Shenvi explicitly claims to be characterizing with his “core tenets.”
As before, I will, by permission, quote Dr. McIntosh’s reply in full, without commentary.
Dr. Shenvi’s account of the core tenets of critical race theory do not represent the core tenets of my work in any way. They create a polemic which I do not recognize. Shenvi sets up critical race theory as a rigid straw man to knock it down. To do serious work on privilege requires careful observation and nuanced thinking. None of what Shenvi claims are core tenets are valid to me, and I do not think any of them are accurate as a description of critical race theory in general; it is a scholarly, serious undertaking, not an ideology.
In my best known work, I list 46 examples of my own unearned advantage by contrast with the experiences of my own African American colleagues in my building and line of work. As I wrote, I limit my testimony on privilege to what I experience in a daily way that those colleagues do not. I write autobiographically. To call me a critical race theorist is to give me a formal name I never would use for myself. But on the other hand, I feel Shenvi’s caricature of critical race theory is in very bad faith and is both pompous and ignorant. To me, it is particularly annoying to find veiled racism in those who claim to be close to God. It is as though those who oppose antiracism work in the church have not heard of Christ’s teachings about humility and loving thy neighbor. In their deafness, what are they trying to void?