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Culture Industry

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Culture Industry, by Heinz Steinert

Culture Industry, by Heinz Steinert

We are all surrounded every day by the culture industry - it influences what we eat, what we read, where we work, indeed many of our basic desires. So why haven't most people heard about it? In fact they have, although not by the term "culture industry" - this is a term created to replace the more common "mass culture" (today, "pop culture") for the purpose of analysis and critique.

Summary

Title: Culture Industry
Author: Heinz Steinert
Publisher: Polity Press
ISBN: 0745626777

Pro:
•  Relatively easy to understand, although some familiarity with philosophy might help

Con:
•  Probably a bit more than most people will want to read on the subject

Description:
•  Introduction to Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer's notion of "culture industry"
•  Includes numerous examples how of to critique mass culture today
•  Argues that a critique of culture is an important skill people should learn

 

Book Review

Perhaps a new term was needed because here we are, about sixty years later, and we still don't see much in the way of a sustained critique of how "mass culture" reinforces dominant power structures in society. Unfortunately, the original analysis of the "culture industry" is a part of the writings of Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer, specifically their 1944 book Dialectic of Enlightenment.

I say "unfortunately" because this is not an easy book to read or understand and these are not easy writers - for the average person, their eyes are likely to just glaze over after a couple of pages. There is a lot of interesting material in there for those who are willing to persevere, but the fact that most simply won't persevere can't be denied.

There are, of course, some simple introductory works on the ideas of both Adorno and Horkheimer, but now we also have what might be called an introductory text that is more focused: Culture Industry by Heinz Steinert, Professor of Sociology at the Johann Wolfgang Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany. To get something out of this book you don't need a great deal of experience in philosophy, in Critical Theory, or in the Frankfurt School - indeed, if you don't know what those last two are, that's okay too. It would help, but it isn't crucial.

Culture Industry, by Heinz Steinert

Culture Industry, by Heinz Steinert

So what is the "culture industry"? Here, "industry" doesn't refer to industrial production, although that is in fact often the case, but rather the processes of standardization, marketing, and distribution which has become part of "cultural products" in a way that is usually only thought of as being relevant with true industrial items, like cars. Cultural products are like the machinery of society, reproducing social attitudes and reinforcing social beliefs without most people even realizing that this is going on - and that's where the critique comes in.

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