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3: Political Economy and the Media

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    Kellner and Durham (2006) contend that a PE approach to contemporary media systems is one that works to:

    Highlight that capitalist societies are organized according to a dominant mode of production that structures institutions and practices according to a logic of commodification and capital accumulation. Cultural production and distribution is accordingly profit- and market-oriented in such a system… In the present stage of capitalist hegemony, political economy grounds its approach within empirical analysis of the actual systems of cultural production investigating the constraints and structuring influence of the dominant capitalist economic system and a commercialized system of culture. Inserting texts into the system of culture in which they are produced and distributed can help elucidate features and effects of the texts that textual analysis alone might miss or downplay. (pp. 18-19)

    Mosco (1996) sees political economy as a means of looking beyond just the production and distribution of media goods and services, but rather as focusing with “studying the power relations of society.”  In other words, as Golding and Murdock (1991) see it, political economy is inherently concerned with the struggle between the social good and capitalism as a system of organization.  In this way, political economy is not just concerned with production and distribution, but also about the struggle over meaning and how we take part in it, particularly through the choices we make about goods and services.

    One example of these perspectives was offered by Theodore Adorno and Max Horkheimer, who were members of the Frankfurt School.  In a 1944 essay, they argued that as the production of cultural goods – things like books, films, and music – came to be dominated by emerging forms of industrial production that the goods produced would have the potential to influence members of society.   Such goods, typically part of popular culture, tended to be mass produced, homogenized, and easily consumed, resulting in an increasingly passive society that would be easily manipulated.  They called this organized production the culture industry.

    Definition: Culture Industry

    A structural organization proposed by the Frankfurt School that argued that there were profound ideological consequences on the increased reliance on mass produced cultural products.

    As with many theories, how we have thought about the culture industry has changed since it was first introduced.  It was recognized that rather than a single culture industry, there were many cultural industries.

    Definition: Cultural Industries

    Adaptation of Frankfurt School’s culture industry that imagines multiple industries rather than a single, monolithic industry involved in the manufacture of culture that compete for the time, attention, and resources of audiences and consumers.  Media industries make up many but not all of the cultural industries.

      Each of these industries competes for the time, attention, and resources of those consuming their goods and services.  Moreover, while the cultural industries included those places concerned with mass media and popular culture, they also included the arts, sports, and fashion as well as education.  Further, as scholars like Bernard Miege and David Hesmondhalgh wrote, each industry operated by its own logics, emphasizing particular types of products and particular ways of producing them.  These industries influence and are influenced by society at large, sometimes through the content they produce, but also through matters of policy and law.   Concerns about the production of culture remain central to the political economy approach.


    Adapted text from Media & Society: Critical Approaches, used under a CC BY NC-SA 4.0 International license

    3: Political Economy and the Media is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.

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