This essay considers what the term “critical” means—or could mean—to critical/cultural studies scholars. It does so by engaging with two key texts from the history of cultural studies: Raymond Williams' Keywords, and more specifically the clinical sense
of “critical” that he develops there; and Stuart Hall et al.'s Policing the Crisis, which illustrates how a keywords approach can help practitioners of cultural studies to make sense of nascent aspects of social reality. The purpose of this essay is to suggest that critical
practice has tended to focus on dominant, or fully manifest, aspects of reality, and therefore that it has tended to downplay the political import of what Williams calls “the emergent.” A focus on the latter, I contend, promises to enlarge the scope of critical practice beyond
the realm of the visible and the articulable, while also raising difficult methodological questions that will need to be worked through in this journal's next decade.