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Critical Theory and the Sociology of Knowledge

February 29, 2012 Instructor: Sarah Whetstone

Key Concepts
"Ideology and Utopia" - Karl Mannheim
Particular v. total ideology False consciousness Ideological v. utopian thought

"The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception" Horkheimer & Adorno

Mass culture and culture industry Cultural products and consumer desires Role of pleasure, meaning of art, meaning of freedom

"One-Dimensional Man" - Herbert Marcuse

Capitalism and false needs Sublimation, desublimation Cycle of stupefaction, Happy consciousness, meaning of freedom

The Merchants of Cool Frontline documentary

Karl Mannheim and the Sociology of Knowledge

includes opinions, statements propositions, and systems of ideas Two types: Particular: Representation of things in the world that might take into account specific interests or points of view. (one person skeptical of another) Total: Entire categories of thought that define how people see the world around them. (ideas of an era) Those with interests attached to certain ideas hold on to them. An ideology becomes an ideology when the perspective of a dominant group is unable to perceive the new facts that have undermined its social dominance Thus, dominant ideology promotes a kind of false consciousness.

Ideological v. Utopian Thought

Utopian thoughts challenge existing ideologies, threatening to overturn status quo social order.
Ideology and utopia drive social change in a dialectic process Utopias often thought of as unrealistic Intellectuals often bearers of utopias E.g. Christianity, Liberalism, Socialism

Representatives of the existing order Label as utopian those ideas that threaten order, and thus, can never be realized. Ex. universal health care What is defined as ideology vs. utopia depends upon the interests of the judger. Depends on experience, social context. Both ideology and utopia transcend reality (are not accurate descriptions of the existing order).

Critical Theory in Sociology

Frankfurt School 1923 Institute for Social Research Influences
focuses on why class consciousness didnt develop as predicted by Marx Critiques capitalism not just as a form of economic domination, but also as a form of cultural domination

Freudian psychoanalysis: we have deeply suppressed desires Weber: importance of ideology in social change; role of rationalization in social life and the iron cage

Historical context
Totalitarianism, bureaucracy on the rise Promises of Enlightenment unfulfilled Marxist predictions unfulfilled no class revolution Need for new explanations in modernity

Horkheimer & Adorno Art VS. Mass Culture

Horkheimer & Adorno: Homogenization in the Culture Industry

The decline of religion, the dissolution of the feudal order, social differentiation and specialization have NOT lead to cultural chaos in fact culture now impresses the same stamp on everything (385). The culture industry works to homogenize everyday life. We have become cogs in the machine not just as producers but as consumers.

Horkheimer & Adorno: Art in the Age of Monopoly Capital

Under monopoly capital (capitalism dominated by megacorporations): 1 mass cultural products all mass culture is identical 2 cultural products dont have to pretend to be art any more 3 they are defined as business which in turn justifies the poor quality of their offerings in terms of market needs and economies of scale.

economies of scale
e.g. big budget movies designed to appeal to millions

decisions of industry personnel the homogenous cultural product

consumer needs

What are the effects on how we see reality?

The whole world is made to pass through the filter of the culture industry. Their example: the sound film (!) Too close to reality leaving no room for imagination Requires quickness from the audience but leaves no room for reflection Uses formula and genre to create automatic expectations of narrative, etc. which have become standardized and unchallenging.

True Art Vs. Culture industry products

The art object

Should address universal questions

The mass culture product

Follows the principle of amusement, insulated from deep thought and/or the broader social implications (the totality)
Gives us the happy ending and the successful fight cheap resolutions/satisfactions

Art tends to express loss, with desire itself shown to be a mirage. Sublimation transforms basic everyday desires (sex, power, etc) into more complex registers.

The principles of amusement [pleasure] (389) 1. Amusement defends society To be pleased means to say Yes. 2. Amusement requires not seeing the big picture (insulation from the totality of the social process) 3. Amusement means not thinking deeply about anything, especially about forms of suffering (which might make the audience say no) 4. it is flight; not from a wretched reality, but from the last remaining thought of resistance.

H & A: The culture industry creates fake individuality

Cultural representations shape How we relate to each other (Ways of talking, presenting oneself) How we understand ourselves (our inner lives)

H&As example: Romantic scripts produced and circulated in the entertainment industry/media shape our desires and dating practices.

Meaning of Freedom in Capitalist Consumer Culture

All are free to dance and enjoy themselves, just as they have been free, since the historical neutralization of religion, to join any of the innumerable sects. But freedom to choose an ideology since ideology always reflects economic coercion everywhere proves to be freedom to choose what is always the same (389).

Freedom of Choice?

Herbert Marcuse: One-Dimensional Man

Herbert Marcuse (1898-1979)

Technological rationality increases in modernity Integration of people into capitalist consumer thought necessary for smooth functioning of one-dimensional society Mass consumer culture > Individuality Critiques of Enlightenment, meaning of liberation

Capitalist Consumer Culture Produces False Needs

Most of the prevailing needs to relax, to have fun, to behave and consume in accordance with the advertisements, to love and hate what others love and hate, belong to this category of false needs. Such needs have a societal content and function which are determined by external powers over which the individual has no control(391)

Marcuse draws on Freudian logic: Social reality forces people to discipline their basic impulses (libido) and sublimate the impulses into acceptable activities (work, recreation, etc.) This tension is painful, causes discontent, yet can also be creative and liberating. Capitalist culture allows partial desublimation expression of our basic desires through consumption of cultural products.

Example: Partial Desublimation

One-dimensional man?
Advanced industrial capitalism instills in us a set of false needs via the mass media, advertising, education, etc.

free choice between brands and gadgets

Giving up our liberties in favor of material and sensory candy. Example: sexuality is a source of freedom and exploitation.

Happy Consciousness
Euphoric acceptance that the current system is as good as it gets.

Happy Consciousness!
The belief that the system delivers the goods (i.e. needs and happiness).

Cycle of Stupefaction

We work until were stupified, then relax with TV. Average American watches over 4 hours of TV per day Mass culture industry is designed to produce euphoria in unhappiness. Advertisements promote having fun, sexuality. Ex. Beauty culture, auto culture, white teeth smiles. Promote a Happy Consciousness a false, superficial, substitution for real happiness, satisfaction, and fulfillment.

Marcuses Liberation
Real human liberation based on creative sublimation, demands high degree of autonomy & comprehension. A return to Eros in all aspects of life: sensual, spontaneous enjoyment of life. Break the iron cage! Frontline Documentary: The Merchants of Cool

1) What is the paradox of cool? How does the film illustrate notions of: commodification; false needs; one-dimensional man; critiques of culture, freedom, individuality, authenticity? 2) Homogenization of culture: How are notions of masculinity, feminine beauty, sex, and cool mass produced? Record specific examples. 3) What is the giant feedback loop? Is there an escape, according to the documentary? According to the critical theorists? According to you?