The theory of second-order phase transitions is one of the foundations of modern statistical mechanics and condensed-matter theory. A central concept is the observable order parameter, whose nonzero average value characterizes one or more phases. At large distances and long times, fluctuations of the order parameter(s) are described by a continuum field theory, and these dominate the physics near such phase transitions. We show that near second-order quantum phase transitions, subtle quantum interference effects can invalidate this paradigm, and we present a theory of quantum critical points in a variety of experimentally relevant two-dimensional antiferromagnets. The critical points separate phases characterized by conventional ``confining'' order parameters. Nevertheless, the critical theory contains an emergent gauge field and ``deconfined'' degrees of freedom associated with fractionalization of the order parameters. We propose that this paradigm for quantum criticality may be the key to resolving a number of experimental puzzles in correlated electron systems and offer a new perspective on the properties of complex materials.