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The term social criticism often refers to a mode of criticism that locates the reasons for malicious conditions in a society considered to be in a flawed social structure. It may also refer to people adhering to a social critic's aim at practical solutions by way of specific measures either for consensual reform or powerful revolution.
Religious persecution was common in Europe and the reason for many a physical or mental exodus within the continent. From such experience resulted one of the first documents of social criticism: the Testament of Jean Meslier.
Protest experience with political theories
Repression experienced by a minority often leads to protest. Without sufficient resolution of the dispute, a social criticism can be formulated, often covered by political groups (political monopoly). For protesting people within a social movement, it is often frustrating to experience failure of the movement and its own agenda.
The positivism dispute between critical rationalism, e.g. between Karl Popper and the Frankfurt School, is the academic form of the same discrepancy. This dispute deals with the question of whether research in the social sciences should be "neutral" or consciously adopt a partisan view.
Academic works of social criticism can belong to social philosophy, political economy, sociology, social psychology, psychoanalysis but also cultural studies and other disciplines or reject academic forms of discourse.
In literature and music
Social criticism can also be expressed in a fictional form, e.g. in a revolutionary novel like The Iron Heel by Jack London or in dystopian novels like Aldous Huxley's Brave New World (1932) or George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) or Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 (1953), or Rafael Grugman's Nontraditional Love (2008), children's books or films.
Fictional literature can have a significant social impact. For example, the 1852 novel Uncle Tom's Cabin, by Harriet Beecher Stowe furthered the anti-slavery movement in the United States, and the 1885 novel Ramona, by Helen Hunt Jackson, brought about changes in laws regarding Native Americans. Similarly, Upton Sinclair's 1906 novel The Jungle helped create new laws related to public health and food handling, and Arthur Morrison's 1896 novel A Child of the Jago caused England to change its housing laws. George Orwell and Charles Dickens wrote Animal Farm and A Tale of Two Cities, respectively, to express their disillusionment with society and human nature. Animal Farm, written in 1944, is a book that tells the animal fable of a farm in which the farm animals revolt against their human masters. It is an example of social criticism in literature in which Orwell satirized the events in Russia after the Bolshevik Revolution. He anthropomorphises the animals, and alludes each one to a counterpart in Russian history. A Tale of Two Cities also typifies this kind of literature. Besides the central theme of love, is another prevalent theme, that of a revolution gone bad. He shows us that, unfortunately, human nature causes us to be vengeful and, for some of us, overly ambitious. Both these books are similar in that both describe how, even with the best of intentions, our ambitions get the best of us. Both authors also demonstrate that violence and the Machiavellian attitude of "the ends justifying the means" are deplorable. They also express their authors' disenchantment with the state of evolution of human nature.
According to Frederick Douglass, "Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe."
They seem to be saying, that even when we begin with honourable intentions, there will be some of us who will let their base instincts take control. Orwell, in Animal Farm portrays this nature by parodying events in real history. Given the right conditions, those events could happen anywhere – a leader becoming overly ambitious, to the point of harming his people for more power. In A Tale of Two Cities, Dickens examines the inner soul, and shares with us how people are driven to the valley of human emotions, where desperation and anger reign, and what could happen afterwards if we let these emotions build up inside. Every human being is capable of becoming a ruthless, opportunistic being like Napoleon or Madame Defarge, if placed in the right place, at the right time.
Musical expressions of social criticism are very frequent in punk and rap music, examples being "Pretty Vacant" by Sex Pistols and "Brenda's Got a Baby" by 2Pac. Heavy metal bands such as Black Sabbath, Metallica and Megadeth also use social criticism extensively, particularly in their earlier works.
- From Douglass´ speech in 1886 on the 24th anniversary of Emancipation, Washington, D.C.