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Critical Theory: Definitions & Keywords

Critical Theory

There are many types of theories that fall under "critical theory." Below you will find keywords and subject headings for various theories; for a more thorough description of each theory as well as the main theorists for each, see the document in the "Descriptions" box on the right.

Theories & Keywords

Theory Keywords
Semiotics & Structuralism sign, signifier, signified, slippage, codes, referent, poeticity, langue/parole


deconstruction, différance, discourse, simulacrum, simulation, aura, authenticity, marked and unmarked terms, logos, supplement
Postmodernism pop, play, pastiche, appropriation, imitation



subjectivity, fetish, gaze, primitivism, instinct, degenerate, repression, desire, fantasy, reality-principle, sublimation, metaphor and metonymy, parapraxis, gaze, glance, transposition
Feminist theory & Queer theory gender & sexuality, patriarchy, gaze, heteronormativity


Postcolonial theory

race, ethnicity, Orientalism, imperialism, essentialism, otherness, absence, authenticity, assimilation, resistance, mimicry, exploitation, reception, subaltern

Critical Theory Table with Descriptions

Subject Headings & Art

Critical theory subject headings Critical theory subject headings specific to art
Semiotics; Iconicity; Intermediality; Intertextuality; Signs and symbols; Structuralism Art and philosophy; Difference (philosophy) in art
Poststructuralism; Deconstruction Deconstructivism (architecture)
Gaze Psychoanalysis in art
Feminist theory; Gender; Gender identity Feminism in art; Feminist art criticism
Postcolonialism; Race; Identity (philosophical concept) Identity (philosophical concept) in art; Postcolonialism and the arts; Blacks in art; Multiculturalism in art
Homosexuality and philosophy; Queer theory Art and society
Marxist criticism  
Many thanks to Amy Fry and Bowling Green State University Libraries for allowing the use of these tables.
College for Creative Studies website