Adorno Theodor(1903-69) German social philosopher, sociologist and musicologist, and a leading member of the FRANKFURT SCHOOL OF CRITICAL THEORY. His epistemological writings and his critique of modern society and MASS CULTURE have been especially influential. Expelled from Germany by the Nazis in 1934, he went first to England and then to the US, where he remained until 1949 when he returned to Germany In America, Adorno participated in a famous empirical research project, The Authoritarian Personality (Adorno et al., 1950), which involved studies of racial prejudice, nationalism and authoritarianism. In 1959 he became director of the Institute of Social Research, which had returned to Frankfurt from the US.
Adorno wrote more than 20 books on philosophy, music, literature, AESTHETICS, social psychology and sociology. His critique of capitalism particularly focused on the commodification and perversion of culture by the ‘culture industry‘. Popular music, for example, produced solely to sell in the economy of the market place, was standardized and mechanical and served as a ‘social cement’ for the existing system. Adorno's concern with repressive systems of thought and organization in what he called the ‘administered world’ led him to articulate opposition to traditional epistemological ideas as well as to advocate radical change in society. In his epistemological writings, e.g. Negative Dialectics (1973), Adorno proposed the dissolution of any theoretical frameworks and conceptual distinctions that threaten to become dogmas, including MARXISM. Both EMPIRICISM and POSITIVISM were rejected by Adorno, who regarded them as betraying Reason and as no longer leading to ‘enlightenment’. In his Aesthetic Theory (1984) art and critical theory were invested with the ‘power’ to disclose ‘truths’ about society. Here Adorno speaks of an administered society constituted by the myth of total reason. His methodology, ‘negative dialectics’, was a tool for the critical analysis of society. Commentators on Adorno’s life and work have regarded his stance as increasingly pessimistic and élitist, issues taken up by later representatives of the Frankfurt school, notably HABERMAS. Other important works by Adorno are: Dialectic of Enlightenment (with Horkheimer) (1972), Philosophy of Modern Music (1973), and The Jargon of Authenticity (1973). See also BENJAMIN, METHODENSTREIT.