Thomas McLaughlin argues that critical theory - raising serious, sustained questions about cultural practice and ideology - is practiced not only by an academic elite but also by savvy viewers of sitcoms and tv news, by Elvis fans and Trekkies, by labor organizers and school teachers, by the average person in the street. Like academic theorists, who are trained in a tradition of philosophical and political skepticism that challenges all orthodoxies, the vernacular theorists McLaughlin identifies display a lively and healthy alertness to contradiction and propaganda. They are not passive victims of ideology but active questioners of the belief systems that have power over their lives. Their theoretical work arises from the circumstances they confront on the job, in the family, in popular culture. And their questioning of established institutions, McLaughlin contends, is essential and healthy, for it clarifies the purpose and strategies of institutions and justifies the existence of cultural practices. Street Smarts and Critical Theory leads us through eye-opening explorations of social activism in the Southern Christian anti-pornography movement, fan critiques in the 'zine scene, New Age narratives of healing and transformation, the methodical manipulations of the advertising profession, and vernacular theory in the whole-language movement. Emphasizing that theory is itself a pervasive cultural practice, McLaughlin calls on academic institutions to recognize and develop the theoretical strategies that students bring into the classroom.