The universe is a set of concrete phenomenon. There are events that have a demonstrable pattern of cause and effect. For example, if animals are deprived of a source of oxygen, death of the animal is the result. While there are many of these causal relationships that humans perceive as axiomatic, the universe, even when defined as the subset of the universe explored and seemingly understood by mankind, is vast, with many exceptions to what are understood as “the rules.” In the example of the lack of oxygen bringing about death of an animal, the tardigrade is an animal that may survive in the pure vacuum of space for extended periods of time.
In the tremendous diversity of our biosphere, we find that life takes many forms that do not always react in ways mankind understands. In the vastness of the universe, many chemical and physical phenomena do not to react or perform as our current understanding predicts. While we attempt to discover the mechanisms that control our universe, it is conceivable that our understanding of the universe will never be complete.
Human interactions, reactions and behaviors are more difficult to predict than those of the “hard” sciences.
With a wide range of cultures and individuals within those cultures, predictive statements carry many caveats and exceptions. The best way to understand the workings of the human mind and the mechanics of interpersonal and intersocietal relationships is to allow that psychology and sociology are dependent on individual and cultural interpretations of events and phenomena. Many facets of what is defined as reality are constructed by those interacting with reality, both on an individual and group level.
In a philosophical context, this could allow for the myriad answers to the questions of mankind. Many in the Western scientific tradition see our world as an outgrowth of an organizational force in the universe. Starting with a singularity that rapidly expanded, natural laws such as gravity and inertia, as well as many not yet understood, caused the cosmos to coalesce from the rapidly expanding chaotic universe into discrete objects, both on the subatomic level and in the realm of galaxy clusters. This organizational principal of universe was apparent on Earth, as evidenced by the presence of life that diversified for all available environments via the process of natural selection. While scientists continue to find and present evidence for this model of the universe, many look to the organizing principle itself as evidence of a divine creator of the universe. The fact that the universe has organized and generated life in a myriad of forms is evidence of a supreme architect, that created, organized and judged the cosmos. The details of the actions of this architect vary widely, depending on cultural and personal interpretation.
The actions of the people in the world, as individuals, small groups and large societies, are dependent on these different interpretations of the universe. What may seem logical, good or rational in one society may be viewed differently by different peoples both outside the society and countercultural elements within the society. Reality, or at least the understanding of reality, is built by people on an individual and communal scale. These perceptions of existence determine how people reject and accept new information and make value judgments of individuals, events and phenomenon.
Groups of people organize themselves based on these perceptions of the nature of existence. This organization not only determines power relationships among the individuals of a society but perpetuates the power structure. Power structures evolve and solidify, creating a seemingly permanent dichotomy between a class of privilege and one to be servile and controlled. Over time these power structures become ingrained in a society, requiring significant changes in the society before changing of the power structure. These changes may be the result of the influence of other cultures and societies, catastrophes, resource scarcity, disease or the evolution of values.
Generally, those in the higher echelons of power resist mobility through the power structure. As those with power, it would be more likely that any changes in the structure would see their power lessened. Efforts are made to keep the subservient classes static and placidly compliant. Those in power dictate the actions of those who are not, but their power creates a distance from the implementation of their edicts. The power underclass often are aware of the disconnect between their perception of reality and that of those who control them.
Critical studies position research as an integral factor for advocacy for traditionally marginalized and oppressed groups. While many of the more prominent critical studies have addressed the way racial issues have been manipulated by power hierarchies, the focus of critical theory has expanded to address other groups traditionally on the wrong side of the power divide, such a women, the gay, lesbian and gender-fluid communities and the disabled.
Throughout my lifetime I have embraced countercultural movements and embraced positions that could be defined as heretical in political and philosophical spheres. These positions and cultural preferences have run in direct opposition to many of the traditional belief systems of my home the Southeastern United States and contributed to a marginalization at many times within my life. This marginalization has caused me to identify with groups more traditionally at the bottom of the power hierarchies of our culture. In attempting to fight my own marginalization, I felt the need to stand against the systematic oppression of others.
Critical theories generally embrace a philosophy of a physical universe colored by interpretation, a philosophy similar to my own. Interpretations of power and the powerful classes’ manipulations to preserve their place in the power structure lend themselves to my endeavors to empower the marginalized. Through careful analysis of the ways groups outside the de facto mainstream are affected by the systems of control in the society and the evolution of groups from disenfranchisement to assimilation, researchers may empower these groups to improve the lives of their individuals. Better understanding of the personal and group issues impeding equality of opportunity may bring about mitigation of these conditions.
Critical theory can be used to frame a study “envisioning new possibilities." While utopian visions of the future have been perceived as naïve, cultural and societal improvement is an admirable and necessary goal for members of a highly interconnected society. By pursuing research based in critical theory and studies, researchers may give voice to the marginalized and facilitate their struggle for an equal place in their communities.