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What are critical-cultural studies?
• Color me skeptical: takes nothing for granted.
• Borrows heavily from sociology, particularly
from “conflict” perspective (Marx).
• Is interdisciplinary.
• Is concerned with power structures and
• Concerned with creating a more just society
and a more populist media.
Critical Theory: “Frankfurt School”
• Institute for Social Research (Institut für Sozialforschung),
Frankfurt, 1923.
• Led by sociologists Max Horkheimer, Theodor Adorno.
• Greatly Influenced by Sigmund Freud; incorporated elements of
• Anti-authoritarian: critical of both capitalism and communism.
• Moved to US (Columbia University) during Nazi era.
• Associated (but not affiliated) figures:
Walter Benjamin
Erich Fromm
Herbert Marcuse
Jurgen Habermas
Research methods
• Prefers qualitative (i.e., interpretive) analysis to
quantitative (numerical).
• Not convinced of the supremacy of scientific
method (“positivism”).
• Believes there are no objective viewpoints
• Borrowing from lit-crit, it applies critical (i.e,
skeptical or “close”) readings of texts.
• TV, film, and music are also considered texts.
Major questions
“What do these images really mean?
“Whose ideology do they reflect?”
“What are we being asked to do or to believe?”
“Is it in our own best interests to do these things?”
“Whose interests are being served?”
Cultural Studies
Originated in 1969 as Center for Contemporary Cultural Studies, Birmingham.
Believes there are other societal divisions besides class, which Marx
Gender: feminist studies.
Sexual orientation : queer studies.
Disagrees with hypodermic needle/propaganda model; leans toward active
audiences and polysemic readings
Major figures:
• Richard Hoggart (founder).
• Raymond Williams (theorist).
• Stuart Hall (sociologist).
• John Fiske.
Political economy:
• Who owns the media.
See Who Owns What (CJR)
• Media owners’ relationship(s) to the ruling class/power elite.
• How the media serves political power and private agendas.
• Major figures:
– Noam Chomsky/Edward Herman
– Robert McChesney
– Douglas Kellner
– Erik Barnouw
Parenti: What the media teach us
“[F]ilms and television programs propagate images and ideologies that are supportive of imperialism, phobic
anticommunism, capitalism, racism, sexism, militarism, authoritarianism, violence, vigilantism, and anti-workingclass attitudes. More specifically, media dramas teach us that:
Individual effort is preferable to collective action.
Free enterprise is the best economic system.
The ills of society are caused by individual malefactors, not the economic system.
Monetary gain is most worthy objective in life.
Affluent professionals are more interesting than blue-collar or service workers.
All Americans are equal, but some must prove themselves worthy of equality.
Women and minorities are not as capable, effective, or as interesting as white males.
The police should be given a freer hand in combating criminals, using generous applications of violence without too
much attention to constitutional rights.
There are a few unworthy persons in our institutions, but they are dealt with and deprived of their positions of
U.S. military force is directed only toward laudable goals, although individuals in the military may sometimes abuse
their power.
Western industrial and military might, especially that of the U.S., has been a civilizing force for the benefit of
“backward” peoples throughout the Third World.
The U.S. and the West have long been threatened from abroad by foreign aggressors, such as Russians, communists,
terrorists and swarthy hordes of savages as well as un-American subversives and conspirators at home. These threats
can only be eradicated through vigilant counterintelligence and sufficient doses of force and violence.
Parenti, Michael. Make-Believe Media. 1992.