Emergence of Critical and Cultural Theories Essay

EMERGENCE OF CRITICAL AND CULTURAL THEORIES 1 Culture : the learned behavior of members of a given social group. Cultural studies: Focus use of media to create forms of culture that structure everyday life. Political economy theories: Focus on social elites’ use of economic power to exploit media institutions. 2 There are microscopic interpretive theories that focus on how individuals and social groups use media to create and foster forms of culture that structure everyday life. These theories are referred to as cultural studies theories.

There are macroscopic structural theories that focus on how social elites use their economic power to gain control over and 3 Cultural Theory: Theories openly espousing certain values and using these values to evaluate and criticize the status quo providing alternate ways of interpreting the social role of mass media. Those who develop critical theories seek to initiate social change that will implement their values. Political economy theories are inherently critical but some cultural studies 4 Critical theories often provides complex explanations for this tendency of media to consistently do so.

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E. g: some critical theorists identify constraints on media practitioners that limit their ability to challenge established authority. They charge that few incentives exist to encourage media professionals to overcome these constraints and that media 5 Critical theory often analyzes specific social institutions, probing the extent to which valued objects are sought and achieved. Mass Media and the mass culture have been linked to a variety of social problems, they are criticized for aggravating or preventing problems from being identified or addressed.

A common theme in critical theories of media is that content production is so constrained 6 Consider for example, the last time you read news about members of a social movement that strongly challenged the status quo? Why were the college students who protested against the Communist Chinese government in Tiananmen Square “heroes of democracy” and those in American anti-war “hippies” and “radicals? ” Stories about movements imply problems with 7 – confrontation. Movement leaders demand coverage of their complaints and they stage demonstrations designed to draw public attention to their concerns.

Elites seek to minimize coverage or to exercise “spin control” so that the coverage favors their position. How do journalists handle this? How should they handle it? Existing research indicates that this coverage almost always degenerates movements and supports elites. 8 Critical theory: Strengths: 1. Is politically based, actionoriented. 2. Uses theory and research to plan change in the real world. 3. Asks big, important questions about media control and ownership. 9 Weaknesses: 3. When subjected to scientific verification, often employs innovative but controversial research methods. 0 Rise of Cultural Theories in Europe: Despite its long life in American Social Science, the Limited Effects Paradigm never enjoyed great popularity in europe. European social research has instead been characterized by what U. S. Observers regard as grand social theories. Grand Social Theory: Highly ambitious, 11 In Europe, the development of grand social theory remained a central concern in the social sciences and humanities. Mass society theory gave way to a succession of alternate ideas. Some were limited to specific nations and others spread across many countries.

Some of the most widely accepted have been based on the writings of Karl Marx. Marxist theory influenced even the theories that were created in reaction against it. Marxist ideas formed a foundation or touch stone for most postWorld War II european social theory and research. 12 Cold War politics colored much of the U. S. Response to it. Ironically, in the 1970s and 1980s, at the very time that Marxist failed as a practical guide for politics and economics in Eastern Europe, grand social theories based on Marxist thought were gaining increasing acceptance in Western Europe. 3 MARXIST THEORY: Marxist Theory: Theory arguing that the hierarchical class system is at the root of all social problems and must be ended by a revolution of the proletariat. Karl Marx developed this theory in the latter part of the nineteenth century during one of the most volatile periods of social change in Europe. In some respects, his theory is yet another version of mass society theory– but with several very important alterations and additions. 14 He identified industrialization and urbanization as problems but argued that these changes were not inherently bad.

Instead, he blamed ruthless robber baron capitalists for exacerbating social problems because they maximized personal profits by exploiting workers. Marx argued that the hierarchical class system was the root of all social problems and must be ended by a revolution of the workers or proletariat. He believed that elites dominated society primarily through their direct control over the means of production (i. e. , labor, factories, land) which he referred to as the base of society. 15 But elites also maintained themselves in power through their control over culture, or the superstructure of society.

He saw culture as something that elites freely manipulated to mislead average people and encourage them to act against their own interest. He used the term ideology to refer to these forms of culture. To him, ideology operated much like a drug. Those who were under its influence fail to see how they are being exploited. In worst cases, they are so deceived, that they actually 16 – undermine their own interests and do things that increase the power of elites while making their own lives even worse. Marx concluded that the only hope for social change was a revolution in which the masses seized control of the base — the means of production.

Control over the superstructure -over ideology — would naturally follow. He saw little possibility that reforms in the super structure could lead to social evolution, or if it could, that -that transformation would be very slow in coming. Elites would never willingly surrender POWER. Power must be taken from them. Little purpose would be served by making minor changes in ideology 17 – without first dominating the means of production. Neomarxist Theory: Contemporary incarnation of Marxist theory focusing attention on the super structure.

The importance that Neomarxists attach to the super structure has created a fundamental division within Marxism. Many neomaxists assume that useful change can begin with peaceful, ideological reform rather than violent revolution in which the working class seizes control of the means of production. 18 Some neomarxists have developed critiques that call for radically transforming the superstructure while others call for modest reforms. Tensions have arisen among scholars who base their work on Marx’s ideas over the value of the work being done by the various neomarxist schools. 19

Textual Analysis and Literary Criticism: Modern european cultural studies theories have a second, very different source — a tradition of humanist criticism of religious and literary texts that is referred to hermeneutics. Hermeneutics: the interpretation of texts to identify their actual or real meaning. 20 -humanists who worked to identify and preserve what came to be known as the “literary canon” — a body of the great literature. The literary canon was part of what was referred to as high culture, a set of cultural artifacts including music, art, literature, and poetry that humanists judged to have the highest value. 1 – the level of culture — to enable even more people to become humane and civilized. Over the years, many different methods for analyzing written texts have emerged from hermeneutics. They share a common purpose: to criticize old and new cultural practices so that those most deserving of attention can be identified and explained and the less deserving can be dismissed. This task can be compared with that of movie critics who tell us which films are good or bad and assist us in appreciating or avoiding them. The primary difference is that movie critics are typically not committed to promoting higher 22 cultural values; they only want to explain which movies we are likely to find entertaining. THE FRANKFURT SCHOOL One early prominent school of neo-marxist theory developed during the 1930s at the University of Frankfurt and became known as the Frankfurt School. 23 Two of the most prominent individuals associated with the school were Max Horkheimer, its long time head, and Theodor Adorno, a prolific and cogent theorist. Horheimer and Adorno were openly skeptical that high culture could or should be communicated through mass media.

Adorno argued that radio broadcasts or records couldn’t begin to adequately reproduce the sound of a live symphony orchestra. He ridiculed the reproduction of great art in 24 – magazines or the reprinting of great novels in condensed, serialized form. He claimed that mass media reproductions of high culture were inferior and diverted people from seeking out (and paying for) the “real thing” if bad substitutes for high culture were readily available, he believed too many people would settle for them and fail to support better forms of culture.

The Frankfurt School has been criticized along with other forms of traditional humanism for being too elitist and paternalistic. By rejecting the possibility of using media to disseminate 25 – high culture, most of the population was effectively denied access to it. Many of the school’s criticisms of media paralleled those of mass society theory and had the same limitations. The Frankfurt School eventually had a direct impact on American social research because the rise of the Nazis forced its Jewish members into exile. 26 During the period of exile, however, Frankfurt School Theorists remained prodductive.

They devoted considerable effort, for example, to the critical analysis of Nazi culture and the way it undermined and perverted high culture. In their view, Nazism grounded on a phony, artificially constructed folk culture that had been cynically created and manipulated by Hitler and his propagandists. 27 Nazism helped them envision the Germany they longed to see – a unified, proud nation with a long history of achievement and a glorious future. As they rose to power, the Nazis replaced high culture with their pseudofolk culture and discredited important forms of high culture, especially those created by Jews. 8 DEVELOPMENT OF NEOMARXIST THEORY IN BRITAIN: During the 1960s and 1970s , two important schools of neomarxist theory emerged in Great Britain. British Cultural studies and political economy theory. British cultural studies combines neomarxist theory with ideas and research methods derived from diverse sources including literary criticism, linguistics, anthropology, and history. This theory has attempted to trace historic elite domination over culture, to criticize the 29 – social consequence of this domination and to demonstrate how it continues to be exercised over specific minority groups or subcultures.

British cultural studies criticizes and contrasts elite notions of culture, including high culture, with popular, every day forms practiced by minorities. The superiority of all forms of elite culture including high culture is challenged and compared with useful, valuable forms of popular culture. Hermeneutic attention is shifted from the study of elite cultural artifacts to the study of minority grouped “Lived culture. ” 30 Graham Murdock(1989) traced the rise of British cultural studies during the 1950s and 1960s. Most important theorists came from the lower social classes that were the focus of the movies.

The British cultural studies critique of high culture and ideology was an explicit rejection of what its proponents saw as alien forms of culture imposed on minorities. They defended indigenous forms of popular culture as legitimate expressions of minority groups/ A dominant early theorist was Raymond Williams, a literary scholar who achieved 31 Notoriety with his reappraisals of cultural development in England. William’s ideas were viewd with suspicion and skepticism by many of his colleagues at Cambridge University. Toward the end of 1960s and into the 1970s, Williams turned his attention to mass media.

He was more broadly concerned with issues of cultural change and development as well as elite domination of culture. 32 – repackaged as popular, mass media content. If there were to be genuine progress, he felt, it would have to come through significant reform of social institutions. The first important school of cultural studies theorists was formed at the University of Birmingham, during the 1960s and was led by Stuart Hall. Hall (1982) was especially influential in directing several analyses of mass media that directly challenge limited effects notions and in introducing innovative alternatives.

Building on ideas developed by Jurgen Habermas(1971,1989) and Williams, Hall argued that mass media liberal 33 -democracies can be best understood as a pluralistic public forum in which various forces struggle to shape popular notions about social reality. Pluralistic Public Forum: In critical theory, the idea that media provide a place where the power of dominant elite can be challenged. British Cultural Studies: Strengths: 1. Asserts value of popular culture 2. Empowers “Common Man” 34 3. Empowers minorities and values their culture. 4. Stresses cultural pluralism and egalitarianism.

Weaknesses: 1. Is too political; call to action is to subjective 2. Typically lacks scientific verification; is based on subjective observation. 3. When subjected to scientific verification, often employs innovative but controversial research methods. 35 Unlike traditional Marxists, Hall did not argue that elites can maintain complete control over this forum. In his view, elites don’t need that power to advance their interests. The culture expressed in this forum is not a mere superficial reflection of the superstructure but is instead a dynamic creation of opposing groups.

Elites, however, do retain many advantages in the struggle to define social reality. Counter-elite groups must work to overcome them. Hall acknowledged that heavy-handed efforts by elites to promote their ideology can fail while well-planned efforts to promote alternative perspectives can succeed even against great 36 -odds. Nevertheless, the advantages enjoyed by elites enable them to retain long term hold on power. A key strength and limitation of some British cultural studies is their direct involvement in various radical social ovements. Cultural studies theorists have been active in a broad range of British social movements including feminism, youth movements, racial and ethnic minority movements, and British Labor Party factions. But active involvement can make objective analysis of movements and movement culture 37 POLITICAL ECONOMY THEORY Political economy theorists study elite control of economic institutions such as banks and stock markets and then try to show how this control affects amy other social institutions, including the Mass Media.

In certain respects, political economists accept the classic Marxist assumption that the base dominates the superstructure. They investigate the means of production by looking at economic institutions, then expect to find that these institutions will shape media to suit their interests and purposes. 38 -difficult. These cultural studies theorists usually don’t worry about this because they reject the possibility of objectivity anyway and doubt its utility for social research. Their aim is to do research that aids goals of movements rather than conduct work that serves the traditional aims of scholarship or science.

Cultural studies is seen as providing an innovative way of studying media audiences that has many advantages over approaches grounded in limited effects theory. 39 For example: Political economists have examined how economic constraints limit or bias the forms of mass culture that are produced and distributed through media. These economists are less concerned with investigating how mass culture influences specific groups or subcultures and are more concerned with understanding how the processes of content production are constrained.

Why do some forms of culture dominate prime time television schedules whereas other forms are absent? Does audience taste alone explain those differences or can other, less obvious 40 Reasons be linked to the interests of economic institutions? Political Economy Theory: Strengths: 1. Provides focus on how media are structured and controlled. 2. Offers empirical investigation of media finances. 3. Seeks link between media content production and media finances. 41 Weakness: 1. Has little explanatory power at microscopic level. 2. It is not concerned with scientific verification: is based on subjective analysis of finances. 42


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