Cultural Theory and Popular Culture Essay


Marxism argues that the consumption of pop culture is passive whereas culturalism advocates for an active consumption of pop culture.

Explain this claim by relying on course materials from chapter 3 and 4 (theorists as well as key concepts/theories). Provide examples to support your argument. Both chapters are listed in the files below. Read and use the evidence from the chapters to support your evidence.

DO NOT CITE WIKIPEDIA! For each question, cite properly from our main textbook (John, Sorey (2018).Cultural Theory and Popular Culture: An Introduction. (8 ed.). New York: Routledge

Feel free to draw from outside scholarly materials such as texts from other sources, the library, etc. At least 2 quotes/citations are required.

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3 Culturalism
In this chapter I shall consider the work produced in the late 1950s and early 1960s
by Richard Hoggart, Raymond Williams, E.P. Thompson, and Stuart Hall and Paddy
Whannel. This body of work, despite certain differences between its authors, constitutes the founding texts of culturalism. As Hall (1978) was later to observe, ‘Within
cultural studies in Britain, “culturalism” has been the most vigorous, indigenous
strand’ (19). The chapter will end with a brief discussion of the institutionalization of
culturalism at the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies.
Both Hoggart and Williams develop positions in response to Leavisism. As we noted
in Chapter 2, the Leavisites opened up an educational space in Britain for the study of
popular culture. Hoggart and Williams occupy this space in ways that challenge many
of the basic assumptions of Leavisism, whilst also sharing some of these assumptions.
It is this contradictory mixture – looking back to the ‘culture and civilization’ tradition,
whilst at the same time moving forward to culturalism and the foundations of the
cultural studies approach to popular culture – that has led The Uses of Literacy, Culture
and Society and The Long Revolution to be called both texts of the ‘break’ and examples
of ‘left-Leavisism’ (Hall, 1996a).
Thompson, on the other hand, would describe his work, then and always, as
Marxist. The term ‘culturalism’ was coined to describe his work, and the work of
Hoggart and Williams, by one of the former directors of the Centre for Contemporary
Cultural Studies, Richard Johnson (1979). Johnson uses the term to indicate the presence of a body of theoretical concerns connecting the work of the three theorists. Each,
in his different way, breaks with key aspects of the tradition he inherits. Hoggart and
Williams break with Leavisism; Thompson breaks with mechanistic and economistic
versions of Marxism. What unites them is an approach which insists that by analysing
the culture of a society – the textual forms and documented practices of a culture – it
is possible to reconstitute the patterned behaviour and constellations of ideas shared
by the men and women who produce and consume the texts and practices of that
society. It is a perspective that stresses ‘human agency’, the active production of culture,
rather than its passive consumption. Although not usually included in accounts of the
formation of culturalism out of left-Leavisism, Hall and Whannel’s The Popular Arts is
included here because of its classic left-Leavisite focus on popular culture. Taken
together as a body of work, the contributions of Hoggart, Williams, Thompson, and
Hall and Whannel clearly mark the emergence of what is now known as the cultural
Storey, J. (2018). Cultural theory and popular culture : An introduction. Taylor & Francis Group.
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Richard Hoggart: The Uses of Literacy
studies approach to popular culture. The institutional home of these developments
was, especially in the 1970s and early 1980s, the Centre for Contemporary Cultural
Studies at the University of Birmingham (see Green, 1996).
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Richard Hoggart: The Uses of Literacy
The Uses of Literacy is divided into two parts: ‘An “older” order’, describing the workingclass culture of Hoggart’s childhood in the 1930s; and ‘Yielding place to new’, describing a traditional working-class culture under threat from the new forms of mass
entertainment of the 1950s. Dividing the book in this way in itself speaks volumes
about the perspective taken and the conclusions expected. On the one hand, we
have the traditional ‘lived culture’ of the 1930s. On the other, we have the cultural
decline of the 1950s. Hoggart is in fact aware that during the course of writing the
book, ‘nostalgia was colouring the material in advance: I have done what I could
to remove its effects’ (1990: 17). He is also aware that the division he makes between
the ‘older’ and the ‘new’, underplays the amount of continuity between the two.
It should also be noted that his evidence for the ‘older’ depends not on ‘invoking
some rather mistily conceived pastoral tradition the better to assault the present, [but]
to a large extent on memories of my childhood about twenty years ago’ (23, 24). His
evidence for the cultural decline represented by the popular culture of the 1950s
is material gathered as a university lecturer and researcher. In short, the ‘older’ is based
on personal experience; the ‘new’ on academic research. This is a significant and
informing distinction.
It is also worth noting something about Hoggart’s project that is often misunderstood. What he attacks is not a ‘moral’ decline in the working class as such, but what
he perceives as a decline in the ‘moral seriousness’ of the culture provided for the
working class. He repeats on a number of occasions his confidence in the working
class’s ability to resist many of the manipulations of mass culture: ‘This is not simply a
power of passive resistance, but something which, though not articulate, is positive.
The working classes have a strong natural ability to survive change by adapting or
assimilating what they want in the new and ignoring the rest’ (32). His confidence
stems from his belief that their response to mass culture is always partial: ‘with a large
part of themselves they are just “not there”, are living elsewhere, living intuitively,
habitually, verbally, drawing on myth, aphorism, and ritual. This saves them from
some of the worst effects’ (33).
According to Hoggart,
working class people have traditionally, or at least for several generations, regarded
art as escape, as something enjoyed but not assumed to have much connexion with
the matter of daily life. Art is marginal, ‘fun’  .  .  .  ‘real’ life goes on elsewhere.  .  .  .  Art
is for you to use (238).
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Chapter 3 Culturalism
He describes the aesthetic of the working class as an ‘overriding interest in the close
detail’ of the everyday; a profound interest in the already known; a taste for culture that
‘shows’ rather than ‘explores’. The working-class consumer, according to Hoggart’s
account, therefore seeks not ‘an escape from ordinary life’, but its intensification, in the
embodied belief ‘that ordinary life is intrinsically interesting’ (120). The new mass
entertainment of the 1950s is said to undermine this aesthetic:
Most mass entertainments are in the end what D.H. Lawrence described as ‘anti-life’.
They are full of a corrupt brightness, of improper appeals and moral evasions  .  .  .  
they offer nothing which can really grip the brain or heart. They assist a gradual
drying up of the more positive, the fuller, the more cooperative kinds of enjoyment, in which one gains much by giving much (340).
It is not just that the pleasures of mass entertainment are ‘irresponsible’ and ‘vicarious’
(ibid.); they are also destroying the very fabric of an older, healthier, working-class
culture. He is adamant that (in the 1950s)
we are moving towards the creation of a mass culture; that the remnants of what
was at least in parts an urban culture ‘of the people’ are being destroyed; and that
the new mass culture is in some important ways less healthy than the often crude
culture it is replacing (24).
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He claims that the working-class culture of the 1930s expressed what he calls ‘ The rich
full life’, marked by a strong sense of community. This is a culture that is by and large
made by the people. Here is a fairly well-known example of what he means – his
description of a typical day at the seaside:
the ‘charas’ go rolling out across the moors for the sea, past the road houses which
turn up their noses at coach parties, to one the driver knows where there is coffee and
biscuits or perhaps a full egg and bacon breakfast. Then on to a substantial lunch on
arrival, and after that a fanning out in groups. But rarely far from one another, because
they know their part of the town and their bit of beach, where they feel at home.  .  .  .  
They have a nice walk past the shops; perhaps a drink; a sit in a deck chair eating an
ice cream or sucking mint humbugs; a great deal of loud laughter – at Mrs Johnson
insisting on a paddle with her dress tucked in her bloomers, at Mrs Henderson pretending she has ‘got off ’ with the deck chair attendant, or in the queue at the ladies
lavatory. Then there is the buying of presents for the family, a big meat tea, and the
journey home with a stop for drinks on the way. If the men are there, and certainly if
it is a men’s outing, there will probably be several stops and a crate or two of beer in
the back for drinking on the move. Somewhere in the middle of the moors the men’s
parties all tumble out, with much horseplay and noisy jokes about bladder capacity.
The driver knows exactly what is expected of him as he steers his warm, fuggy, and
singing community back to the town; for his part he gets a very large tip, collected
during the run through the last few miles of the town streets (147–8).
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Richard Hoggart: The Uses of Literacy
This is a popular culture that is communal and self-made. Hoggart can be criticized for
his romanticism, but we should also recognize here, in the passage’s utopian energy,
an example of Hoggart’s struggle to establish a working distinction between a culture
‘of the people’ and a ‘world where things are done for the people’ (151).
The first half of The Uses of Literacy consists mostly of examples of communal and
self-made entertainment. The analysis is often in considerable advance of Leavisism.
For example, he defends working-class appreciation of popular song against the dismissive hostility of Cecil Sharp’s (Leavisesque) longing for the ‘purity’ of folk music
(see Storey, 2003 and 2016) in terms that were soon to become central to the project
of cultural studies. Songs succeed, he argues, ‘no matter how much Tin Pan Alley plugs
them’ (159), only if they can be made to meet the emotional requirements of their
popular audience. As he says of the popular appropriation of ‘After the Ball is Over’,
‘they have taken it on their own terms, and so it is not for them as poor a thing as it
might have been’ (162).
The idea of an audience appropriating for its own purposes – on its own terms – the
commodities offered to it by the culture industries is never fully explored. But the idea
is there in Hoggart, again indicating the underexploited sophistication of parts of
The Uses of Literacy – too often dismissed as a rather unacademic, and nostalgic, semiautobiography. The real weakness of the book is its inability to carry forward the
insights from its treatment of the popular culture of the 1930s into its treatment of the
so-called mass culture of the 1950s. If it had done, it would have, for example, quickly
found totally inadequate the contrasting descriptive titles, ‘ The full rich life’ and
‘Invitations to a candy-floss world’.
It is worth noting at this point that it is not necessary to say that Hoggart’s
picture of the 1930s is romanticized in order to prove that his picture of the 1950s
is exagger­atedly pessimistic and overdrawn; he does not have to be proved wrong
about the 1930s, as some critics seem to think, in order to be proved wrong about
the 1950s. It is possible that he is right about the 1930s, whilst being wrong
about the 1950s. Like many intellectuals whose origins are working class, he is
perhaps prone to bracket off his own working-class experience against the real and
imagined condescension of his new middle-class colleagues: ‘I know the contemporary working class is deplorable, but mine was different.’ Although I would not
wish to overstress this motivation, it does get some support in Williams’s (1957)
review of The Uses of Literacy, when he comments on ‘lucky Hoggart’s’ account
of the scholarship boy: ‘which I think’, Williams observes, ‘has been well received by
some readers (and why not? it is much what they wanted to hear, and now an actual
scholarship boy is saying it)’ (426–7). Again, in a discussion of the ‘strange allies’
dominant groups often attract, Williams (1965) makes a similar, but more general
In our own generation we have a new class of the same kind: the young men and
women who have benefited by the extension of public education and who, in
surprising numbers, identify with the world into which they have been admitted,
and spend much of their time, to the applause of their new peers, expounding and
Storey, J. (2018). Cultural theory and popular culture : An introduction. Taylor & Francis Group.
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Chapter 3 Culturalism
documenting the hopeless vulgarity of the people they have left: the one thing
that is necessary now, to weaken belief in the practicability of further educational
extension (377–8).
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When, in the second part of his study, Hoggart turns to consider ‘some features of
contemporary life’ (169), the self-making aspect of working-class culture is mostly kept
from view. The popular aesthetic, so important for an understanding of the workingclass pleasure on show in the 1930s, is now forgotten in the rush to condemn the
popular culture of the 1950s. The success of ‘the radio “soap operas”, with working
class women  .  .  .  is due to the consummateness of their attention  .  .  .  to their remarkably sustained presentation of the perfectly ordinary and unremarkable’ (181). This is
repeated in newspaper cartoons featuring such figures as ‘the “little man” worrying for
days on end about his daughter’s chances in the school cookery competition  .  .  .  a daily
exercise in spinning out the unimportant and insignificant’ (ibid.). What has happened
to the intrinsic significance of the everyday? Instead of talk of a popular aesthetic, we
are invited on a tour of the manipulative power of the culture industries. The popular
culture of the 1950s, as described by Hoggart, no longer offers the possibility of a full
rich life; everything is now far too thin and insipid. The power of ‘commercial culture’
has grown, relentless in its attack on the old (traditional working-class culture) in the
name of the new, the ‘shiny barbarism’ (193) of mass culture. This is a world in which
‘To be “old fashioned” is to be condemned’ (192). It is a condition to which the young
are particularly vulnerable. These ‘barbarians in wonderland’ (193) demand more, and
are given more, than their parents and their grandparents had or expected to have.
But such supposedly mindless hedonism, fed by thin and insipid fare, leads only to
debilitating excess.
‘Having a good time’ may be made to seem so important as to override almost
all other claims; yet when it has been allowed to do so, having a good time
becomes largely a matter of routine. The strongest argument against modern
mass entertainments is not that they debase taste – debasement can be alive and
active – but that they over excite it, eventually dull it, and finally kill it.  .  .  .  They
kill it at the nerve, and yet so bemuse and persuade their audience that the audience is almost entirely unable to look up and say, ‘But in fact this cake is made of
sawdust’ (196–7).
Although (in the late 1950s) that stage had not yet been reached, all the signs,
according to Hoggart, indicate that this is the way in which the world is travelling. But
even in this ‘candy-floss world’ (206) there are still signs of resistance. For example,
although mass culture may produce some awful popular songs,
people do not have to sing or listen to these songs, and many do not: and those
who do, often make the songs better than they really are  .  .  .  people often read
them in their own way. So that even there they are less affected than the extent of
their purchases would seem to indicate (231).
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Richard Hoggart: The Uses of Literacy
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Again, this reminds us that Hoggart’s target is (mostly) the producers of the
commodities from which popular culture is made and not those who make these
commodities (or not) into popular culture. Although he offers many examples of ‘proof ’
of cultural decline, popular fiction is arguably his key example of deterioration. He
compares a piece of contemporary writing (in fact it is an imitation written by himself )
with an extract from East Lynne and an extract from Adam Bede. He concludes that in
comparison the contemporary extract is thin and insipid: a ‘trickle of tinned milk and
water which staves off the pangs of a positive hunger and denies the satisfactions of a
solidly filling meal’ (237). Leaving aside the fact that the contemporary extract is an
imitation (as are all his contemporary examples), Hoggart argues that its inferiority is
due to the fact that it lacks the ‘moral tone’ (236) of the other two extracts. This may
be true, but what is also significant is the way in which the other two extracts are full
of ‘moral tone’ in a quite definite sense: they attempt to tell the reader what to think;
they are, as he admits, ‘oratory’ (235). The contemporary extract is similarly thin in a
quite definite sense: it does not tell the reader what to think. Therefore, although there
may be various grounds on which we might wish to rank the three extracts, with Adam
Bede at the top and the contemporary extract at the bottom, ‘moral tone’ (meaning
fiction should tell people what to think) seems to lead us nowhere but back to the
rather bogus certainties of Leavisism. Moreover, we can easily reverse the judgement:
the contemporary extract is to be valued for its elliptic and interrogative qualities; it
invites us to think by not thinking for us; this is not to be dismissed as an absence of
thought (or ‘moral tone’ for that matter), but as an absence full of potential presence,
which the reader is invited to actively produce.
One supposedly striking portent of the journey into the candy-floss world is the
habitual visitor to the new milk bars, ‘the juke box boy’ (247) – his term for the Teddy
boy. Milk bars are themselves symptomatic: they ‘indicate at once, in the nastiness of
their modernistic knick-knacks, their glaring showiness, an aesthetic breakdown so
complete’ (ibid.). Patrons are mostly ‘boys between fifteen and twenty, with drape
suits, picture ties, and an American slouch’ (248). Their main reason for being there is
to ‘put copper after copper into the mechanical record player’ (ibid.). The music ‘is
allowed to blare out so that the noise would be sufficient to fill a good sized ballroom’
(ibid.). Listening to the music, ‘ The young men waggle one shoulder or stare, as
desperately as Humphrey Bogart, across the tubular chairs’ (ibid.).
Compared even with the pub around the corner, this is all a peculiarly thin and
pallid form of dissipation, a sort of spiritual dry-rot amid the odour of boiled milk.
Many of the customers – their clothes, their hair styles, their facial expressions all
indicate – are living to a large extent in a myth world compounded of a few simple
elements which they take to be those of American life (ibid.).
According to Hoggart,
They are a depressing group  .  .  .  perhaps most of them are rather less intelligent
than the average [working-class youth], and are therefore even more exposed than
Storey, J. (2018). Cultural theory and popular culture : An introduction. Taylor & Francis Group.
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Chapter 3 Culturalism
others to the debilitating mass trends of the day  .  .  .  they have no responsibilities,
and little sense of responsibilities, to themselves or to others (248–9).
Although ‘they are not typical’, they are an ominous sign of things to come:
these are the figures some important contemporary forces are tending to create,
the directionless and tamed helots of a machine-minding class.  .  .  .  The hedonistic
but passive barbarian who rides in a fifty-horse-power bus for threepence, to see a
five-million-dollar film for one-and-eightpence, is not simply a social oddity; he is
a portent (250).
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The juke-box boy symptomatically bears the prediction of a society in which ‘the larger
part of the population is reduced to a condition of obediently receptive passivity, their
eyes glued to television sets, pin ups, and cinema screens’ (316).
Hoggart, however, does not totally despair at the march of mass culture. He knows,
for instance, that the working class ‘are not living lives which are imaginatively as poor
as a mere reading of their literature would suggest’ (324). The old communal and
self-made popular culture still remains in working-class ways of speaking, in ‘the
Working-Men’s Clubs, the styles of singing, the brass bands, the older types of magazines, the close group games like darts and dominoes’ (ibid.). Moreover, he trusts
their ‘considerable moral resources’ (325) to allow them, and to encourage them, to
continue to adapt for their own purposes the commodities and commodified practices
of the culture industries. In short, they ‘are a good deal less affected than they might
well be. The question, of course, is how long this stock of moral capital will last, and
whether it is being renewed’ (ibid.). For all his guarded optimism, he warns that it is a
‘form of democratic self-indulgence to over-stress this resilience’ in the face of the
‘increasingly dangerous pressures’ (330) of mass culture, with all its undermining of
genuine community with an increasingly ‘hollow  .  .  .  invitation to share in a kind of
palliness’ (340). His ultimate fear is that ‘competitive commerce’ (243) may have
totalitarian designs:
Inhibited now from ensuring the ‘degradation’ of the masses economically  .  .  .  
competitive commerce  .  .  .  becomes a new and stronger form of subjection; this
subjection promises to be stronger than the old because the chains of cultural
subordination are both easier to wear and harder to strike away than those of
economic subordination (243–4).
Hoggart’s approach to popular culture has much in common with the approach of
Leavisism (this is most noticeable in the analysis of popular culture in the second part
of the book); both operate with a notion of cultural decline; both see education in
discrimination as a means to resist the manipulative appeal of mass culture. However,
what makes his approach different from that of Leavisism is his detailed preoccupation
with, and, above all, his clear commitment to, working-class culture. His distance from
Leavisism is most evident in the content of his own ‘good past/bad present’ binary
Storey, J. (2018). Cultural theory and popular culture : An introduction. Taylor & Francis Group.
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Raymond Williams: ‘The analysis of culture’
opposition: instead of the organic community of the seventeenth century, his ‘good
past’ is the working-class culture of the 1930s. What Hoggart celebrates from the 1930s
is, significantly, the very culture that the Leavisites were armed to resist. This alone
makes his approach an implicit critique of, and an academic advance on, Leavisism.
But, as Hall (1980b) points out, although Hoggart ‘refused many of [F.R.] Leavis’s
embedded cultural judgements’, he nevertheless, in his use of Leavisite literary methodology, ‘continued “a tradition” while seeking, in practice, to transform it’ (18).
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Raymond Williams: ‘The analysis of culture’
Raymond Williams’s influence on cultural studies has been enormous. The range of his
work alone is formidable. He has made significant contributions to our understanding
of cultural theory, cultural history, television, the press, radio and advertising. Alan
O’Connor’s (1989) bibliography of Williams’s published work runs to thirty-nine
pages. His contribution is all the more remarkable when one considers his origins in
the Welsh working class (his father was a railway signalman), and that as an academic
he was professor of drama at Cambridge University. In this section, I will comment
only on his contribution to the founding of culturalism and its contribution to the
study of popular culture.
In ‘The analysis of culture’, Williams (2009) outlines the ‘three general categories in
the definition of culture’ (32). First, there is ‘the “ideal”, in which culture is a state or
process of human perfection, in terms of certain absolute or universal values’ (ibid.).
The role of cultural analysis, using this definition, ‘is essentially the discovery and
description, in lives and works, of those values which can be seen to compose a
timeless order, or to have permanent reference to the universal human condition’
(ibid.). This is the definition inherited from Arnold and used by Leavisism: what he
calls, in Culture and Society, culture as an ultimate ‘court of human appeal, to be set over
the processes of practical social judgement and yet to offer itself as a mitigating and
rallying alternative’ (Williams, 1963: 17).
Second, there is the ‘documentary’ record: the surviving texts and practices of a
culture. In this definition, ‘culture is the body of intellectual and imaginative work,
in which, in a detailed way, human thought and experience are variously recorded’
(Williams, 2009: 32). The purpose of cultural analysis, using this definition, is one of
critical assessment. This can take a form of analysis similar to that adopted with regard
to the ‘ideal’; an act of critical sifting until the discovery of what Arnold calls ‘the best
that has been thought and said’ (see Chapter 2). It can also involve a less exalted practice: the cultural as the critical object of interpretative description and evaluation (literary studies is the obvious example of this practice). Finally, it can also involve
a more historical, less literary evaluative function: an act of critical reading to measure
its significance as a ‘historical document’ (historical studies is the obvious example of
this practice).
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Chapter 3 Culturalism
Third, ‘there is the “social” definition of culture, in which culture is a description
of a particular way of life’ (ibid.). The ‘social’ definition of culture is crucial to the
founding of culturalism. This definition introduces three new ways of thinking about
culture: first, the ‘anthropological’ position, which sees culture as a description of a
particular way of life; second, the proposition that culture ‘expresses certain meanings
and values’ (ibid.); third, the claim that the work of cultural analysis should be the
‘clarification of the meanings and values implicit and explicit in a particular way of
life, a particular culture’ (ibid.). Williams is aware that the kind of analysis the ‘social’
definition of culture demands will often ‘involve analysis of elements in the way of life
that to followers of the other definitions are not “culture” at all’ (ibid.). Moreover,
while such analysis might still operate modes of evaluation of the ‘ideal’ and the ‘documentary’ type, it will also extend
to an emphasis which, from studying particular meanings and values, seeks not so
much to compare these, as a way of establishing a scale, but by studying their
modes of change to discover certain general ‘laws’ or ‘trends’, by which social and
cultural development as a whole can be better understood (32–3).
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Taken together, the three points embodied in the ‘social’ definition of culture – culture
as a particular way of life, culture as expression of a particular way of life, and cultural
analysis as a method of reconstituting a particular way of life – establish both the
general perspective and the basic procedures of culturalism.
Williams, however, is reluctant to remove from analysis any of the three ways of
understanding culture: ‘there is a significant reference in each  .  .  .  and, if this is so, it is
the relations between them that should claim our attention’ (33). He describes as
‘inadequate’ and ‘unacceptable’ any definition that fails to include the other definitions:
‘However difficult it may be in practice, we have to try to see the process as a whole,
and to relate our particular studies, if not explicitly at least by ultimate reference, to the
actual and complex organization’ (34). As he explains,
I would then define the theory of culture as the study of relationships between
elements in a whole way of life. The analysis of culture is the attempt to discover
the nature of the organization which is the complex of these relationships. Analysis
of particular works or institutions is, in this context, analysis of their essential kind
of organization, the relationships which works or institutions embody as parts of
the organization as a whole (35).
In addressing the ‘complex organization’ of culture as a particular way of life, the
purpose of cultural analysis is always to understand what a culture is expressing: ‘the
actual experience through which a culture was lived’; the ‘important common element’;
‘a particular community of experience’ (36). In short, it aims to reconstitute what
Williams calls ‘the structure of feeling’ (ibid.). By structure of feeling, he means the
shared values of a particular group, class or society. The term is used to describe a
discursive structure that is a cross between a collective cultural unconscious and an
Storey, J. (2018). Cultural theory and popular culture : An introduction. Taylor & Francis Group.
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Raymond Williams: ‘The analysis of culture’
ideology. He uses, for example, the term to explain the way in which many nineteenthcentury novels employ ‘magic solutions’ to close the gap in that society between ‘the
ethic and the experience’. He gives examples of how men and women are released from
loveless marriages as a result of the convenient death or the insanity of their partners;
legacies turn up unexpectedly to overcome reverses in fortune; villains are lost in the
Empire; poor men return from the Empire bearing great riches; and those whose aspirations could not be met by prevailing social arrangements are put on a boat to make
their dreams come true elsewhere. All these (and more) are presented as examples of a
shared structure of feeling, the unconscious and conscious working out in fictional
texts of the contradictions of nineteenth-century society. The purpose of cultural
analysis is to read the structure of feeling through the documentary record, ‘from
poems to buildings and dress-fashions’ (37). As he makes clear,
What we are looking for, always, is the actual life that the whole organization is
there to express. The significance of documentary culture is that, more clearly than
anything else, it expresses that life to us in direct terms, when the living witnesses
are silent (ibid.).
The situation is complicated by the fact that culture always exists on three levels:
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We need to distinguish three levels of culture, even in its most general definition.
There is the lived culture of a particular time and place, only fully accessible to
those living in that time and place. There is the recorded culture, of every kind,
from art to the most everyday facts: the culture of a period. There is also, as the
factor connecting lived culture and period cultures, the culture of the selective
tradition (37).
Lived culture is culture as experienced by people in their day-to-day existence in a
particular place and at a particular moment in time; the only people who have full
access to this culture are those who actually lived its structure of feeling. Once the
historical moment is gone the structure of feeling begins to fragment. Cultural analysis
has access only through the documentary record of the culture. But the documentary
record itself fragments under the processes of ‘the selective tradition’ (ibid.). Between
a lived culture and its reconstitution in cultural analysis, clearly, a great deal of detail
is lost. For example, as Williams points out, nobody can claim to have read all the
novels of the nineteenth century. Instead, what we have is the specialist who can claim
perhaps to have read many hundreds; the interested academic who has read somewhat
fewer; the ‘educated reader’ who has read fewer again. This quite clear process of selectivity
does not prevent the three groups of readers from sharing a sense of the nature of the
nineteenth-century novel. Williams is of course aware that no nineteenth-century
reader would in fact have read all the novels of the nineteenth century. His point, however, is that the nineteenth-century reader ‘had something which . . . no later individual
can wholly recover: that sense of the life within which the novels were written, and
which we now approach through our selection’ (38). For Williams, it is crucial to
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Chapter 3 Culturalism
understand the selectivity of cultural traditions. It always (inevitably) produces a cultural
record, a cultural tradition, marked by ‘a rejection of considerable areas of what was
once a living culture’ (38). Furthermore, as he explains in Culture and Society, ‘there will
always be a tendency for this process of selection to be related to and even governed
by the interests of the class that is dominant’ (1963: 313).
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Within a given society, selection will be governed by many kinds of special interests, including class interests. Just as the actual social situation will largely govern
contemporary selection, so the development of the society, the process of historical
change, will largely determine the selective tradition. The traditional culture of
a society will always tend to correspond to its contemporary system of interests
and values, for it is not an absolute body of work but a continual selection and
interpretation (2009: 38–9).
This has quite profound ramifications for the student of popular culture. Given that
selection is invariably made on the basis of ‘contemporary interests’, and given the
incidence of many ‘reversals and rediscoveries’, it follows that ‘the relevance of past
work, in any future situation, is unforeseeable’ (39). If this is the case, it also follows
that absolute judgements about what is good and what is bad, about what is high and
what is low, in contemporary culture, should be made with a great deal less certainty,
open as they are to historical realignment in a potential whirlpool of historical
contingency. Williams advocates, as already noted, a form of cultural analysis that is
conscious that ‘the cultural tradition is not only a selection but also an interpretation’ (ibid.). Although cultural analysis cannot reverse this, it can, by returning a text or
practice to its historical moment, show other ‘historical alternatives’ to contemporary
interpretation and ‘the particular contemporary values on which it rests’ (ibid.). In
this way, we are able to make clear distinctions between ‘the whole historical organ­
ization within which it was expressed’ and ‘the contemporary organization within
which it is used’ (ibid.). By working in this way, ‘real cultural processes will emerge’
Williams’s analysis breaks with Leavisism in a number of ways. First, there is no
special place for art – it is a human activity alongside other human activities: ‘art
is there, as an activity, with the production, the trading, the politics, the raising of
families’ (34). Williams presses the case for a democratic account of culture: culture
as a particular way of life. In Culture and Society, he distinguishes between middleclass culture as ‘the basic individualist idea and the institutions, manners, habits of
thought, and intentions which proceed from that’ and working-class culture as ‘the
basic collective idea, and the institutions, manners, habits of thought, and intentions
which proceed from this’ (1963: 313). He then gives this account of the achievements
of working-class culture:
The working class, because of its position, has not, since the Industrial Revolution,
produced a culture in the narrower sense. The culture which it has produced, and
which it is important to recognise, is the collective democratic institution, whether
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Raymond Williams: ‘The analysis of culture’
in the trade unions, the cooperative movement, or a political party. Working-class
culture, in the stage through which it has been passing, is primarily social (in that
it has created institutions) rather than individual (in particular intellectual or
imaginative work). When it is considered in context, it can be seen as a very
remarkable creative achievement (314).
It is when Williams insists on culture as a definition of the ‘lived experience’ of
‘ordinary’ men and women, made in their daily interaction with the texts and practices
of everyday life, that he finally breaks decisively with Leavisism. Here is the basis for a
democratic definition of culture. He takes seriously Leavis’s call for a common culture.
But the difference between Leavisism and Williams on this point is that Williams
does want a common culture, whilst Leavisism wants only a hierarchical culture of
difference and deference. Williams’s review of The Uses of Literacy indicates some of
the key differences between his own position and the traditions of Leavisism (in which
he partly locates Hoggart):
The analysis of Sunday newspapers and crime stories and romances is  .  .  .  familiar,
but, when you have come yourself from their apparent public, when you recognise
in yourself the ties that still bind, you cannot be satisfied with the older formula:
enlightened minority, degraded mass. You know how bad most ‘popular culture’
is, but you know also that the irruption of the ‘swinish multitude’, which Burke
had prophesied would trample down light and learning, is the coming to relative
power and relative justice of your own people, whom you could not if you tried
desert (1957: 424–5).
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Although he still claims to recognize ‘how bad most “popular culture” is’, this is no
longer a judgement made from within an enchanted circle of certainty, policed by ‘the
older formula: enlightened minority, degraded mass’. Moreover, Williams is insistent
that we distinguish between the commodities made available by the culture industries
and what people make of these commodities. He identifies what he calls
the extremely damaging and quite untrue identification of ‘popular culture’ (commercial newspapers, magazines, entertainments, etc.) with ‘working-class culture’.
In fact the main source of this ‘popular culture’ lies outside the working class
altogether, for it is instituted, financed and operated by the commercial bourgeoisie,
and remains typically capitalist in its methods of production and distribution. That
working-class people form perhaps a majority of the consumers of this material  .  .  .  
does not, as a fact, justify this facile identification (425).
In other words, people are not reducible to the commodities they consume. Hoggart’s
problem, according to Williams, is that he ‘has taken over too many of the formulas’,
from ‘Matthew Arnold’ to ‘contemporary conservative ideas of the decay of politics in
the working class’; the result is an argument in need of ‘radical revision’ (ibid.). The
publication of ‘The analysis of culture’, together with the other chapters in The Long
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Chapter 3 Culturalism
Revolution, has been described by Hall (1980b) as ‘a seminal event in English post-war
intellectual life’ (19), which did much to provide the radical revision necessary to lay
the basis for a non-Leavisite study of popular culture.
E.P. Thompson: The Making of the English
Working Class
In the Preface to The Making of the English Working Class, E.P. Thompson states:
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This book has a clumsy title, but it is one which meets its purpose. Making, because
it is a study in an active process, which owes as much to agency as conditioning.
The working class did not rise like the sun at an appointed time. It was present at
its own making (1980: 8).
The English working class, like any class, is for Thompson ‘a historical phenomenon’
(original emphasis); it is not a ‘structure’ or a ‘category’, but the coming together of ‘a
number of disparate and seemingly unconnected events, both in the raw material of
experience and in consciousness’; it is ‘something which in fact happens (and can be
shown to happen) in human relationships’ (ibid.). Moreover, class is not a ‘thing’; it is
always a historical relationship of unity and difference: uniting one class as against
another class or classes. As he explains: ‘class happens when some men, as a result of
common experiences (inherited or shared), feel and articulate the identity of their
interests as between themselves, and as against other men whose interests are different
from (and usually opposed to) theirs’ (8–9). The common experience of class ‘is largely
determined by the productive relations into which men are born – or enter involuntarily’
(9). However, the consciousness of class, the translation of experience into culture, ‘is
defined by men as they live their own history, and, in the end, this is its only definition’
(10). Class is for Thompson, then, ‘a social and cultural formation, arising from processes which can be studied as they work themselves out over a considerable historical
period’ (11).
The Making of the English Working Class details the political and cultural formation of the English working class by approaching its subject from three different but
related perspectives. First, it reconstructs the political and cultural traditions of English
radicalism in the late eighteenth century: religious dissent, popular discontent, and the
influence of the French Revolution. Second, it focuses on the social and cultural experience
of the Industrial Revolution as it was lived by different working groups: weavers, field
labourers, cotton spinners, artisans, etc. Finally, it analyses the growth of working-class
consciousness evidenced in the corresponding growth in a range of political, social and
cultural ‘strongly based and self conscious working-class institutions’ (212–13). As he
insists: ‘The working class made itself as much as it was made’ (213). He draws two
conclusions from his research. First, ‘when every caution has been made, the outstanding
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E.P. Thompson: The Making of the English Working Class
fact of the period between 1790 and 1830 is the formation of “the working class”’
(212). Second, he claims that ‘this was, perhaps, the most distinguished popular
culture England has known’ (914).
The Making of the English Working Class is the classic example of ‘history from
below’. Thompson’s aim is to place the ‘experience’ of the English working class as
central to any understanding of the formation of an industrial capitalist society in
the decades leading up to the 1830s. It is a history from below in the double sense
suggested by Gregor McLellan (1982): a history from below in that it seeks to reintroduce working-class experience into the historical process; and a history from below
in that it insists that the working class were the conscious agents of their own
making.1 Thompson is working with Marx’s (1977) famous claim about the way in
which men and women make history: ‘Men make their own history, but they do
not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen
by themselves, but under circumstances directly encountered, given and transmitted
from the past’ (10). What Thompson does is to emphasize the first part of Marx’s
claim (human agency) against what he considers to have been an overemphasis
by Marxist historians on the second part (structural determinants). Paradoxically,
or perhaps not so, he has himself been criticized for overstressing the role of human
agency – human experiences, human values – at the expense of structural factors
(see Anderson, 1980).
The Making of the English Working Class is in so many ways a monumental contribution to social history (in size alone: the Penguin edition runs to over nine hundred
pages). What makes it significant for the student of popular culture is the nature of its
historical account. Thompson’s history is not one of abstract economic and political
processes, nor is it an account of the doings of the great and the worthy. The book is
about ‘ordinary’ men and women, their experiences, their values, their ideas, their
actions, their desires: in short, popular culture as a site of resistance to those in whose
interests the Industrial Revolution was made. Hall (1980b) calls it ‘the most seminal
work of social history of the post-war period’, pointing to the way it challenges ‘the
narrow, elitist conception of “culture” enshrined in the Leavisite tradition, as well
as the rather evolutionary approach which sometimes marked Williams’s The Long
Revolution’ (19–20).
In an interview a decade or so after the publication of the book, Thompson (1976)
commented on his historical method as follows: ‘If you want a generalization I would
have to say that the historian has got to be listening all the time’ (15). He is by no
means the only historian who listens; the conservative historian G.M. Young also
listens, if in a rather more selective fashion: ‘history is [he claims] the conversation
of people who counted’ (quoted in McLellan, 1982: 107). What makes Thompson’s
listening radically different is the people to whom he listens. As he explains in a
famous passage from the Preface to The Making of the English Working Class:
I am seeking to rescue the poor stockinger, the Luddite cropper, the ‘obsolete’ hand
loom weaver, the ‘utopian’ artisan, and even the deluded follower of Joanna
Southcott, from the enormous condescension of posterity. Their crafts and traditions
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Chapter 3 Culturalism
may have been dying. Their hostility to the new industrialism may have been
backward looking. Their communitarian ideals may have been fantasies. Their
insurrectionary conspiracies may have been foolhardy. But they lived through
these times of acute social disturbance, and we did not. Their aspirations were valid
in terms of their own experience; and, if they were casualties of history, they
remain, condemned in their own lives, as casualties (1980: 12).
Before concluding this brief account of Thompson’s contribution to the study of
popular culture, it should be noted that he himself does not accept the term ‘culturalism’ as a description of his work. This and other related points was the subject of
a heated ‘History Workshop’ debate between Richard Johnson, Stuart Hall and
Thompson himself (see Samuel, 1981). One of the difficulties when reading the contributions to the debate is the way that culturalism is made to carry two quite different
meanings. On the one hand, it is employed as a description of a particular method­
ology (this is how I am using it here). On the other, it is used as a term of critique
(usually from a more ‘traditional’ Marxist position or from the perspective of Marxist
structuralism). This is a complex issue, but as a coda to this discussion of Hoggart,
Williams and Thompson, here is a very simplified clarification: positively, culturalism
is a methodology that stresses culture (human agency, human values, human experience) as being of crucial importance for a full sociological and historical understanding
of a given social formation; negatively, culturalism is used to suggest the employment
of such assumptions without full recognition and acknowledgement that culture is the
effect of structures beyond itself, and that these have the effect of ultimately determining, constraining and, finally, producing, culture (human agency, human values and
human experience). Thompson disagrees strongly with the second proposition, and
rejects totally any suggestion that culturalism, regardless of the definition, can be
applied to his own work.
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Stuart Hall and Paddy Whannel: The Popular Arts
The ‘main thesis’ of The Popular Arts is that ‘in terms of actual quality  .  .  .  the struggle
between what is good and worthwhile and what is shoddy and debased is not a struggle against the modern forms of communication, but a conflict within these media’
(Hall and Whannel, 1964: 15). Hall and Whannel’s concern is with the difficulty of
making these distinctions. They set themselves the task to develop ‘a critical method
for handling  .  .  .  problems of value and evaluation’ (ibid.) in the study of popular
culture. In this task they pay specific thanks to the work of Hoggart and Williams, and
passing thanks to the key figures of Leavisism.
The book was written against a background of concern about the influence of popular
culture in the school classroom. In 1960 the National Union of Teachers (NUT)
Annual Conference passed a resolution that read in part:
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Stuart Hall and Paddy Whannel: The Popular Arts
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Conference believes that a determined effort must be made to counteract the
debasement of standards which result from the misuse of press, radio, cinema and
television.  .  .  .  It calls especially upon those who use and control the media of mass
communication, and upon parents, to support the efforts of teachers in an attempt
to prevent the conflict which too often arises between the values inculcated in the
classroom and those encountered by young people in the world outside (quoted
in Hall and Whannel, 1964: 23).
The resolution led to the NUT Special Conference, ‘Popular culture and personal
responsibility’. One speaker at the conference, the composer Malcolm Arnold, said:
‘Nobody is in any way a better person morally or in any other way for liking Beethoven
more than Adam Faith.  .  .  .  Of course the person who likes both is in a very happy
position since he is able to enjoy much more in his life than a lot of other people’
(ibid.: 27). Although Hall and Whannel (1964) recognize ‘the honest intention’ in
Arnold’s remarks, they question what they call ‘the random use of Adam Faith as
an example’ because, as they claim, ‘as a singer of popular songs he is by any serious
standards far down the list’. Moreover, as they explain, ‘By serious standards we mean
those that might be legitimately applied to popular music – the standards set, for
example, by Frank Sinatra or Ray Charles’ (28). What Hall and Whannel are doing here
is rejecting the arguments of both Leavisism and the (mostly American) mass culture
critique, which claims that all high culture is good and that all popular culture is bad,
for an argument that says, on the one hand, that most high culture is good, and on the
other, contrary to Leavisism and the mass culture critique, that some popular culture is
also good – it is ultimately a question of popular discrimination.
Part of the aim of The Popular Arts, then, is to replace the ‘misleading generalizations’
of earlier attacks on popular culture by helping to facilitate popular discrimination
within and across the range of popular culture itself. Instead of worrying about the
‘effects’ of popular culture, ‘we should be seeking to train a more demanding audience’
(35). A more demanding audience, according to Hall and Whannel, is one that prefers
jazz to pop, Miles Davis to Liberace, Frank Sinatra to Adam Faith, Polish films to mainstream Hollywood, L’Année Dernière à Marienbad to South Pacific; and knows intuitively
and instinctively that high culture (‘Shakespeare, Dickens and Lawrence’) is usually
always best. They take from Clement Greenberg (who took it from Theodor Adorno)
the idea that mass culture is always ‘pre-digested’ (our responses are predetermined
rather than the result of a genuine interaction with the text or practice), and use the
idea as a means not just to discriminate between good and bad popular culture, but to
suggest that it can also be applied to examples of high culture: ‘The important point
about such a definition [culture as “pre-digested”] is that it cuts across the commonplace
distinctions. It applies to films but not all, to some TV but not all. It covers segments
of the traditional as well as the popular culture’ (36).
Their approach leads them to reject two common teaching strategies often encountered
when popular culture is introduced into the classroom. First, there is the defensive
strategy that introduces popular culture in order to condemn it as second-rate culture.
Second, there is the ‘opportunist’ strategy that embraces the popular tastes of students
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Chapter 3 Culturalism
in the hope of eventually leading them to better things. ‘In neither case’, they contend,
‘is there a genuine response, nor any basis for real judgements’ (37). Neither would
lead to what they insist is necessary: ‘a training in discrimination’ (ibid.). This is not
(to repeat a point made earlier) the classic discrimination of Leavisism, defending
the ‘good’ high culture against the encroachments of the ‘bad’ popular culture, but
discrimination within and not just against popular culture: sifting the ‘good’ popular
culture from the ‘bad’ popular culture. However, although they do not believe in introducing the texts and practices of popular culture into education ‘as steppingstones in a
hierarchy of taste’ leading ultimately to real culture,2 they still insist (as do Hoggart and
Williams) that there is a fundamental categorical difference – a difference of value –
between high and popular culture. Nevertheless, the difference is not necessarily a
question of superiority/inferiority; it is more about different kinds of satisfaction: it is
not useful to say that the music of Cole Porter is inferior to that of Beethoven. The
music of Porter and Beethoven is not of equal value, but Porter was not making an
unsuccessful attempt to create music comparable to Beethoven’s (39).
Not unequal, but of different value, is a very difficult distinction to unload. What it
seems to suggest is that we must judge texts and practices on their own terms: ‘recognise
different aims  .  .  .  assess varying achievements with defined limits’ (38). Such a strategy
will open up discrimination to a whole range of cultural activity and prevent the defensive ghettoization of high against the rest. Although they acknowledge the ‘immense
debt’ they owe to the ‘pioneers’ of Leavisism, and accept more or less the Leavisite
view (modified by a reading of William Morris) of the organic culture of the past, they
nevertheless, in a classic left-Leavisite move, reject the conservatism and pessimism of
Leavisism, and insist, against calls for ‘resistance by an armed and conscious minority’
to the culture of the present (Q.D. Leavis), that ‘if we wish to re-create a genuine popular
culture we must seek out the points of growth within the society that now exists’ (39).
They claim that by adopting ‘a critical and evaluative attitude’ (46) and an awareness
that it is ‘foolish to make large claims for this popular culture’ (40), it is possible
‘to break with the false distinction  .  .  .  between the “serious” and the “popular” and
between “entertainment” and “values”’ (47).
This leads Hall and Whannel to what we might call the second part of their thesis:
the necessity to recognize within popular culture a distinct category they call ‘popular
art’. Popular art is not art that has attempted and failed to be ‘real’ art, but art that
operates within the confines of the popular. Using the best of music hall, especially
Marie Lloyd, as an example (but also thinking of the early Charlie Chaplin, The Goon
Show and jazz musicians), they offer this definition:
while retaining much in common with folk art, it became an individual art, existing
within a literate commercial culture. Certain ‘folk’ elements were carried through,
even though the artist replaced the anonymous folk artist, and the ‘style’ was that
of the performer rather than a communal style. The relationships here are more
complex – the art is no longer simply created by the people from below – yet the
interaction, by way of the conventions of presentation and feeling, re-establishes
the rapport. Although this art is no longer directly the product of the ‘way of life’
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Stuart Hall and Paddy Whannel: The Popular Arts
of an ‘organic community’, and is not ‘made by the people’, it is still, in a manner
not applicable to the high arts, a popular art, for the people (59).
According to this argument, good popular culture (‘popular art’) is able to reestablish the relationship (‘rapport’) between performer and audience that was lost
with the advent of industrialization and urbanization. As they explain:
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Popular art  .  .  .  is essentially a conventional art which re-states, in an intense form,
values and attitudes already known; which measures and reaffirms, but brings to
this something of the surprise of art as well as the shock of recognition. Such art
has in common with folk art the genuine contact between audience and performer:
but it differs from folk art in that it is an individualised art, the art of the known
performer. The audience as community has come to depend on the performer’s
skills, and on the force of a personal style, to articulate its common values and
interpret its experiences (66).
One problem with their distinction between art and popular art is that it depends
for its clarity on art as ‘surprise’, but this is art as defined in modernist terms. Before
the modernist revolution in art, everything here claimed for popular art could equally
have been claimed for art in general. They make a further distinction to include ‘mass
art’. There is popular art (good and bad), and there is art (good and not so good), and
there is mass art. Mass art is a ‘corrupt’ version of popular art; here they adopt uncritic­
ally the standard criticisms made of mass culture: it is formulaic, escapist, aesthetically
worthless, emotionally unrewarding.
Rather than confront the mass culture critique, they seek to privilege certain of the
texts and practices of popular culture and thus remove them from the condemnation
of the critics of mass culture. In order to do this they introduce a new category – the
popular arts. Popular art is mass culture that has risen above its origins. Unlike ‘average
films or pop music [which] are processed mass art’, popular art is, for example, the ‘best
cinema’, the ‘most advanced jazz’ (78). They claim that, ‘Once the distinction between
popular and mass art has been made, we find we have by-passed the cruder generalizations about “mass culture”, and are faced with the full range of material offered by the
media’ (ibid.).
The main focus of The Popular Arts is on the textual qualities of popular culture.
However, when Hall and Whannel turn to questions of youth culture they find it necessary
to discuss the interaction between text and audience. Moreover, they recognize that to do
full justice to this relationship, they have to include other aspects of teenage life: ‘work,
politics, the relation to the family, social and moral beliefs and so on’ (269). This of course
invites the question why this is not also necessary when other aspects of popular culture
are discussed. Pop music culture – songs, magazines, concerts, festivals, comics, interviews
with pop stars, films, etc. – helps to establish a sense of identity among youth:
The culture provided by the commercial entertainment market  .  .  .  plays a crucial
role. It mirrors attitudes and sentiments which are already there, and at the same
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Chapter 3 Culturalism
time provides an expressive field and a set of symbols through which these
attitudes can be projected (276).
Moreover, pop songs
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reflect adolescent difficulties in dealing with a tangle of emotional and sexual
problems. They invoke the need to experience life directly and intensely. They
express the drive for security in an uncertain and changeable emotional world. The
fact that they are produced for a commercial market means that the songs and
settings lack a certain authenticity. Yet they dramatize authentic feelings. They
express vividly the adolescent emotional dilemma (280).
Pop music exhibits a kind of emotional realism; young men and women ‘identify
with these collective representations and  .  .  .  use them as guiding fictions. Such symbolic
fictions are the folklore by means of which the teenager, in part, shapes and composes
his mental picture of the world’ (281). Hall and Whannel also identify the way in
which teenagers use particular ways of talking, particular places to go, particular ways
of dancing, and particular ways of dressing, to establish distance from the world of
adults. They describe dress style, for example, as ‘a minor popular art  .  .  .  used to
express certain contemporary attitudes  .  .  .  for example, a strong current of social nonconformity and rebelliousness’ (282). This line of investigation would come to full
fruition in the work of the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies, carried out
during the 1970s, under the directorship of Hall himself. But here Hall and Whannel
draw back from the full force of the possibilities opened up by their enquiries; anxious
that an ‘anthropological  .  .  .  slack relativism’, with its focus on the functionality of pop
music culture, would prevent them from posing questions of value and quality, about
likes (‘are those likes enough?’) and needs (‘are the needs healthy ones?’) and taste
(‘perhaps tastes can be extended’) (296).
In their discussion of pop music culture, they concede that the claim that ‘the picture
of young people as innocents exploited’ by the pop music industry ‘is over-simplified’
(ibid.). Against this, they argue that there is very often conflict between the use made
of a text, or a commodity that is turned into a text (see discussion of the difference in
Chapter 12) by an audience, and the use intended by the producers. Significantly, they
observe, ‘This conflict is particularly marked in the field of teenage entertainments . . .
[although] it is to some extent common to the whole area of mass entertainment in
a commercial setting’ (270). The recognition of the potential conflict between commodities and their use leads Hall and Whannel to a formulation that is remarkably
similar to the cultural studies appropriation (led by Hall himself) of Gramsci’s concept
of hegemony (see Chapter 4): ‘Teenage culture is a contradictory mixture of the authentic
and manufactured: it is an area of self-expression for the young and a lush grazing
pasture for the commercial providers’ (276).
As we noted earlier, Hall and Whannel compare pop music unfavourably with jazz.
They claim that jazz is ‘infinitely richer  .  .  .  both aesthetically and emotionally’ (311).
They also claim that the comparison is ‘much more rewarding’ than the more usual
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Stuart Hall and Paddy Whannel: The Popular Arts
comparison between pop music and classical music, as both jazz and pop are popular
musics. Now all this may be true, but what is the ultimate purpose of the comparison?
In the case of classical against pop music, it is always to show the banality of pop music
and to say something about those who consume it. Is Hall and Whannel’s comparison
fundamentally any different? Here is their justification for the comparison:
The point behind such comparisons ought not to be simply to wean teenagers
away from the juke-box heroes, but to alert them to the severe limitations and
ephemeral quality of music which is so formula dominated and so directly attuned
to the standards set by the commercial market. It is a genuine widening of sensibility
and emotional range which we should be working for – an extension of tastes
which might lead to an extension of pleasure. The worst thing which we would say
of pop music is not that it is vulgar, or morally wicked, but, more simply, that
much of it is not very good (311–12).
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Despite the theoretical suggestiveness of much of their analysis (especially their
identification of the contradictions of youth culture), and despite their protests to the
contrary, their position on pop music culture is a position still struggling to free itself
from the theoretical constraints of Leavisism: teenagers should be persuaded that their
taste is deplorable and that by listening to jazz instead of pop music they might break
out of imposed and self-imposed limitations, widen their sensibilities, broaden their
emotional range and perhaps even increase their pleasure. In the end, Hall and
Whannel’s position seems to drift very close to the teaching strategy they condemn as
‘opportunist’, in that they seem to suggest that because most school students do not
have access, for a variety of reasons, to the best that has been thought and said, they
can instead be given critical access to the best that has been thought and said within
the popular arts of the new mass media: jazz and good films will make up for the
absence of Beethoven and Shakespeare. As they explain,
This process – the practical exclusion of groups and classes in society from the
selective tradition of the best that has been and is being produced in the culture
– is especially damaging in a democratic society, and applies to both the traditional
and new forms of high art. However, the very existence of this problem makes it
even more important that some of the media which are capable of communicating
work of a serious and significant kind should remain open and available, and that the
quality of popular work transmitted there should be of the highest order possible,
on its own terms (75).
Where they do break significantly with Leavisism is in advocating training in critical
awareness, not as a means of defence against popular culture, but as a means to discriminate
between what is good and what is bad within popular culture. It is a move that was to
lead to a decisive break with Leavisism when the ideas of Hall and Whannel, and those
of Hoggart, Williams and Thompson, were brought together under the banner of culturalism at the Birmingham University Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies.
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Chapter 3 Culturalism
The Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies
In the introduction to The Long Revolution, Williams (1965) regrets the fact that ‘there
is no academic subject within which the questions I am interested in can be followed
through; I hope one day there might be’ (10). Three years after the publication of
these comments, Hoggart established the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies
at the University of Birmingham. In the inaugural lecture, ‘Schools of English and
contemporary society’, establishing the Centre, Hoggart (1970) states: ‘It is hard to
listen to a programme of pop songs  .  .  .  without feeling a complex mixture of attraction
and repulsion’ (258). Once the work of the Centre began its transition, as Michael
Green3 (1996) describes it, ‘from Hoggart to Gramsci’ (49), especially under the
directorship of Hall, we find emerging a very different attitude towards pop music
culture, and popular culture in general. Many of the researchers who followed Hoggart
into the Centre (including myself ) did not find pop music in the least repulsive; on the
contrary, we found it profoundly attractive. We focused on a different Hoggart, one
critical of taking what is said at face value, a critic who proposed a procedure that
would eventually resonate through the reading practices of cultural studies:
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we have to try and see beyond the habits to what the habits stand for, to see
through the statements to what the statements really mean (which may be the
opposite of the statements themselves), to detect the differing pressures of emotion
behind idiomatic phrases and ritualistic observances.  .  .  .  [And to see the way]
mass publications [for example] connect with commonly accepted attitudes, how
they are altering those attitudes, and how they are meeting resistance (1990:
Culturalists study cultural texts and practices in order to reconstitute or reconstruct
the experiences, values, etc. – the ‘structure of feeling’ of particular groups or classes or
whole societies, in order to better understand the lives of those who lived the culture.
In different ways Hoggart’s example, Williams’s social definition of culture, Thompson’s
act of historical rescue, Hall and Whannel’s ‘democratic’ extension of Leavisism – each
contribution discussed here argues that popular culture (defined as the lived culture of
ordinary men and women) is worth studying. It is on the basis of these and other
assumptions of culturalism, channelled through the traditions of English, sociology
and history, that British cultural studies began. However, research at the Centre quickly
brought culturalism into complex and often contradictory and conflictual relations
with imports of French structuralism (see Chapter 6), in turn bringing the two
approaches into critical dialogue with developments in ‘Western Marxism’, especially
the work of Louis Althusser and Antonio Gramsci (see Chapter 4). It is from this
complex and critical mixture that the ‘post-disciplinary’ field of British cultural studies
was born.
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Further reading
1. For another excellent example of ‘history from below’, see Chauncey (1994). As
Chauncey explains, ‘As my focus on street-level policing of gender suggests, another
of the underlying arguments of this book is that histories of homosexuality – and
sex and sexuality more generally – have suffered from their overreliance on the discourse of the elite. The most powerful elements of American society devised the
official maps of the culture.  .  .  .  While this book pays those maps their due, it is
more interested in reconstructing the maps etched in the city streets by daily habit,
the paths that guided men’s practices even if they were never published or otherwise
formalized.  .  .  .  This book seeks to analyze  .  .  .  the changing representation of homo­
sexuality in popular culture and the street-level social practices and dynamics that
shaped the ways homosexually active men were labeled, understood themselves,
and interacted with others’ (26–7).
2. I remember at school a teacher who encouraged us to bring to music lessons our
records by the Beatles, Dylan and the Stones. The class would always end the same
way (as would his liberalism) – he would try to convince us of the fundamental
error of our adolescent musical taste.
3. Michael died in December 2010. He was my supervisor at the Centre for
Contemporary Cultural Studies, University of Birmingham. His contribution to my
academic development (at the CCCS and after) was enormous; I could never thank
him enough.
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Further reading
Storey, John (ed.), Cultural Theory and Popular Culture: A Reader, 4th edn, Harlow:
Pearson Education, 2009. This is the companion volume to the previous edition of this
book. A fully updated 5th edition containing further readings is due for publication in
2018. An interactive website is also available (, which
contains helpful student resources and a glossary of terms for each chapter.
Chambers, Iain, Popular Culture: The Metropolitan Experience, London: Routledge, 1986.
An interesting and informed survey – mostly from the perspective of culturalism – of
the rise of urban popular culture since the 1880s.
Clarke, John, Chas Critcher and Richard Johnson (eds), Working Class Culture: Studies
in History and Theory, London: Hutchinson, 1979. Some good essays from a culturalist
perspective. See especially Richard Johnson’s ‘Three problematics: elements of a
theory of working class culture’.
Eagleton, Terry (ed.), Raymond Williams: Critical Perspectives, Cambridge: Polity Press,
1989. Essays in critical appreciation of the work of Raymond Williams.
Storey, J. (2018). Cultural theory and popular culture : An introduction. Taylor & Francis Group.
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Chapter 3 Culturalism
Copyright © 2018. Taylor & Francis Group. All rights reserved.
Hall, Stuart and Tony Jefferson (eds), Resistance Through Rituals, London: Hutchinson,
1976. The Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies’ seminal account of youth
subcultures. Chapter 1 provides a classic statement of the CCCS’s version of
Hall, Stuart, Dorothy Hobson, Andrew Lowe and Paul Willis (eds), Culture, Media,
Language, London: Hutchinson, 1980. A selection of essays covering almost the first
ten years of the CCCS’s published work. See especially Chapter 1, Stuart Hall’s
important account of the theoretical development of work at the CCCS: ‘Cultural
studies and the Centre: some problematics and problems’.
Jones, Paul, Raymond Williams’s Sociology of Culture: A Critical Reconstruction, Basingstoke:
Palgrave, 2004. An interesting account, but its relentless insistence on claiming
Williams for sociology distorts his place in cultural studies.
Kaye, Harvey J. and Keith McClelland (eds), E.P. Thompson: Critical Perspectives, Oxford:
Polity Press, 1990. A collection of critical essays on different aspects of Thompson’s
contribution to the study of history; some useful references to The Making of the
English Working Class.
O’Connor, Alan (ed.), Raymond Williams: Writing, Culture, Politics, Oxford: Basil
Blackwell, 1989. Provides a critical survey of Williams’s work. Excellent
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4 Marxisms
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Classical Marxism
Marxism is a difficult and contentious body of work. But it is also more than this: it is
a body of revolutionary theory with the purpose of changing the world. As Marx
(1976b) famously said: ‘The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various
ways; the point is to change it’ (65). This makes Marxist analysis political in a quite
specific way. But this is not to suggest that other methods and approaches are apolitical;
on the contrary, Marxism insists that all are ultimately political. As the American
Marxist cultural critic Fredric Jameson (1981) puts it, ‘the political perspective [is] the
absolute horizon of all reading and all interpretation’ (17).
The Marxist approach to culture insists that texts and practices must be analysed
in relation to their historical conditions of production (and in some versions, the
changing conditions of their consumption and reception). What makes the Marxist
methodology different from other ‘historical’ approaches to culture is the Marxist conception of history. The fullest statement of the Marxist approach to history is contained
in the Preface and Introduction to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy. Here
Marx outlines the now famous ‘base/superstructure’ account of social and historical
development. In Chapter 1, I discussed this formulation briefly in relation to different
concepts of ideology. I shall now explain the formulation in more detail and demonstrate
how it might be used to understand the ‘determinations’ that influence the production
and consumption of popular culture.
Marx argues that each significant period in history is constructed around a particular
‘mode of production’: that is, the way in which a society is organized (i.e. slave, feudal,
capitalist) to produce the material necessaries of life – food, shelter, etc. In general
terms, each mode of production produces: (i) specific ways of obtaining the necessaries
of life; (ii) specific social relationships between workers and those who control the
mode of production, and (iii) specific social institutions (including cultural ones). At
the heart of this analysis is the claim that how a society produces its means of existence
(its particular ‘mode of production’) ultimately determines the political, social and
cultural shape of that society and its possible future development. As Marx explains,
‘The mode of production of material life conditions the social, political and intellectual
life process in general’ (1976a: 3). This claim is based on certain assumptions about
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Chapter 4 Marxisms
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the relationship between ‘base’ and ‘superstructure’. It is on this relationship – between
‘base’ and ‘superstructure’ – that the classical Marxist account of culture rests.
The ‘base’ consists of a combination of the ‘forces of production’ and the ‘relations
of production’. The forces of production refer to the raw materials, the tools, the technology, the workers and their skills, etc. The relations of production refer to the class
relations of those engaged in production. That is, each mode of production, besides
being different, say, in terms of its basis in agrarian or industrial production, is also
different in that it produces particular relations of production: the slave mode produces
master/slave relations; the feudal mode produces lord/peasant relations; the capitalist
mode produces bourgeois/proletariat relations. It is in this sense that one’s class position is determined by one’s relationship to the mode of production.
The ‘superstructure’ (which develops in conjunction with a specific mode of production) consists of institutions (political, legal, educational, cultural, etc.), and ‘definite
forms of social consciousness’ (political, religious, ethical, philosophical, aesthetic,
cultural, etc.) generated by these institutions. The relationship between base and
superstructure is twofold. On the one hand, the superstructure both legitimates and
challenges the base. On the other, the base is said to ‘condition’ or ‘determine’ the
limits of the content and form of the superstructure. This relationship can be understood
in a range of different ways. It can be seen as a mechanical relationship (‘economic
determinism’) of cause and effect: what happens in the superstructure is a passive
reflection of what is happening in the base. This often results in a vulgar Marxist ‘reflection
theory’ of culture, in which the politics of a text or practice are read off from, or reduced
to, the material conditions of its production. The relationship can also be seen as
the setting of limits, the providing of a specific framework in which some developments are probable and others unlikely. However we view the relationship, we will not
fully understand it if we reduce the base to an economic monolith (a static economic
institution) and forget that for Marx the base also include social relations and class
After Marx’s death in 1883, Frederick Engels, friend and collaborator, found himself
having to explain, through a series of letters, many of the subtleties of Marxism to
younger Marxists who, in their revolutionary enthusiasm, threatened to reduce it to a
form of economic determinism. Here is part of his famous letter to Joseph Bloch:
According to the materialist conception of history [Marxism], the ultimately determining element in history is the production and reproduction of real life. Neither
Marx nor I have ever asserted more than this. Therefore if somebody twists this into
saying that the economic factor is the only determining one, he is transforming
that proposition into a meaningless, abstract, absurd phrase. The economic situation
is the basis, but the various components of the superstructure  .  .  .  also exercise their
influence upon the course of the historical struggles and in many cases determine
their form.  .  .  .  We make our own history, but, first of all, under very definite
assumptions and conditions. Among these the economic ones are ultimately
decisive. But the political ones, etc., and indeed even the traditions which haunt
human minds also play a part, although not the decisive one (2009: 61).
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Classical Marxism
What Engels claims is that the base produces the superstructural terrain (this terrain
and not that), but that the form of activity that takes place there is determined not just
by the fact that the terrain was produced and is reproduced by the base (although this
clearly sets limits and influences outcomes), but by the interaction of the institutions
and the participants as they occupy the terrain. Therefore, although texts and practices
are never the ‘primary force’ in history, they can be active agents in historical change or
the servants of social stability.
A brief discussion of ideology should make the relationship between base and
superstructure a little clearer. Marx and Engels (2009) claim that, ‘The ideas of the
ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the class which is the ruling material
force in society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force’ (58). What they mean
by this is that the dominant class, on the basis of its ownership of, and control over,
the means of material production (the mode of production), is virtually guaranteed to
have control over the means of intellectual production. However, this does not mean
that the ideas of the ruling class are simply imposed on subordinate classes. A ruling
class is ‘compelled  .  .  .  to represent its interest as the common interest of all the members of society  .  .  .  to give its ideas the form of universality, and represent them as the
only rational, universally valid ones’ (59). Unless we include both formulations (ruling
ideas and compulsion, and especially the way the second qualifies the first), we arrive
at a very simplified notion of power: one in which class struggle is replaced by social
control; where power is simply something imposed rather than something for which
men and women have to struggle. During periods of social transformation ideological
struggle becomes chronic: as Marx (1976a) points out, it is in the ‘ideological forms’ of
the superstructure (which include the texts and practices of popular culture) that men
and women ‘become conscious of  .  .  .  conflict and fight it out’ (4).
A classical Marxist approach to popular culture would above all else insist that to
understand and explain a text or practice it must always be situated in its historical
moment of production, analysed in terms of the historical conditions that produced it.
There are dangers here: historical conditions are reduced to the mode of production
and the superstructural becomes a passive reflection of the base. It is crucial, as Engels
and Marx warn, and, as Thompson demonstrates (see Chapter 3), to keep in play
a subtle dialectic between ‘agency’ and ‘structure’. For example, a full analysis of
nineteenth-century stage melodrama (one of the first culture industries) would have
to weave together into focus both the changes in the mode of production that made
stage melodrama’s audience a possibility and the theatrical traditions that generated its
form. The same also holds true for a full analysis of music hall (another early culture
industry). Although in neither instance should performance be reduced to changes in
the material forces of production, what would be insisted on is that a full analysis of
stage melodrama or music hall would not be possible without reference to the changes
in theatre attendance brought about by changes in the mode of production. It is these
changes, a Marxist analysis would argue, that ultimately produced the conditions of
possibility for the performance of a play like My Poll and My Partner Joe1 and for the
emergence and success of a music hall performer like Marie Lloyd. In this way, then, a
Marxist analysis would insist that ultimately, however indirectly, there is nevertheless
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Chapter 4 Marxisms
a real and fundamental relationship between the emergence of stage melodrama and
music hall and changes that took place in the capitalist mode of production. I have
made a similar argument about the invention of the ‘traditional’ English Christmas in
the nineteenth century (Storey, 2008, 2010a, 2016).
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The English Marxism of William Morris
William Morris, according to E.P. Thompson (1976), is the first English Marxist.
Although best known as a designer and poet, Morris was, in his later life, also a revolutionary socialist. He joined the first British Marxist party, the Democratic Federation,
in 1883. The following year he formed the Socialist League (other founding members
included Eleanor Marx, the youngest daughter of Karl Marx). His commitment to
the cause was total, and he involved himself in all aspects of its work, from political
campaigns to editing and selling its newspaper, The Commonweal. Morris’s contribution
to Marxist thought is extensive. Here I shall discuss only one aspect, his critique of
capitalist society in terms of art and alienation and how this provides an implicit
commentary on what is popular culture.
Like Marx and Engels, Morris argued that creative labour is not just an activity to be
enjoyed or avoided: it is an essential part of what makes us human. Industrial capitalism, with its repetition, its long hours and its denial of creativity, engenders what Marx
called the alienation of labour. As Marx explained, the worker ‘does not fulfil
himself in his work . . . does not develop freely a physical and mental energy,
but is physically exhausted and mentally debased’ (1963: 177). This situation is
compounded by the fact that work ‘is not the satisfaction of a need, but only a
means for satisfying other needs’ (177; original emphasis). Lacking the ability to
find herself (i.e. express her natural creativity) in her work, she is forced to seek it
outside her work. ‘The worker therefore feels himself at home only during his leisure,
whereas at work he feels homeless’ (177). In other words, she works to earn money in
order to express her natural creativity (denied to her in industrial work) in patterns of
consumption (see Storey 2017).
On the basis of this analysis, making art is seen as an ideal model of how work should
be experienced. Accordingly, Morris’s definition of art is not the narrow definition as,
for example, used in traditional forms of art history; for Morris it includes all creative
human production. ‘I use the word art in a wider sense than is commonly used.  .  .  .  To
a Socialist a house, a knife, a cup, a steam engine, or  .  .  .  anything  .  .  .  that is made by man
and has form, must either be a work of art or destructive to art’ (1979: 84). Ultimately,
for Morris, art is ‘the expression of pleasure in the labour of production’ (84). Under
the conditions of industrial capitalism, ‘founded on the art-lacking or unhappy labour
of the greater part of men’ (85), only the artist can achieve such pleasure. A fundamental
part of the promise of socialism is that it will extend this pleasure to all humankind.
Rejecting assembly line methods of production (‘Fordism’), labour under socialism will
use ‘the whole of a man for the production of a piece of goods, and not small portions
Storey, J. (2018). Cultural theory and popular culture : An introduction. Taylor & Francis Group.
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The English Marxism of William Morris
of many men’ (87). Art, therefore, is not for Morris an ornamental addition to everyday
life; it is the very substance of what makes us truly human.
In a non-alienated world of communist social relations, the worker is returned to
herself (i.e. to an ability to express his natural creativity in his labour). Like Morris,
Marx and Engels understand this in terms of popular art: ‘The exclusive concentration
of artistic talent in particular individuals, and its suppression in the broad mass which
is bound up with this, is a consequence of division of labour.  .  .  .  In a communist
society there are no painters but at most people who engage in painting among other
activities’ (1974: 109). The end of capitalism means the end of the division of labour.
‘In communist society  .  .  .  nobody has an exclusive area of activity and each can train
himself in any branch he wishes  .  .  .  making it possible for me to do one thing today
and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, breed cattle
in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as I like without ever becoming a hunter, a
fisherman, a herdsman, or a critic’ (quoted in McLellan, 1982: 36).
In other words, in a non-alienated, communist society all men and women will
work like artists: all work will in effect produce popular art, because all work will be
creative. As Morris insisted, ‘What business have we with art at all unless all can share
it? (1986: 139). Moreover, ‘The absence of popular art from modern times is more
disquieting and grievous to bear for this reason than for any other, that it betokens that
fatal division of men into the cultivated and the degraded classes which competitive
commerce [capitalism] has bred and fosters’ (139). The end of alienation will mean the
end of the distinction between culture and popular culture.
Morris’s (2003) [1890] novel News From Nowhere describes a twenty-first-century,
post-revolutionary England. Guest, the novel’s main character, falls asleep in the 1880s
and wakes up in the twenty-first century to discover that England has undergone a
revolution in 1952–54 and is now a non-alienated, communist society. Goods made
to sell for profit have been replaced by goods produced to the satisfaction of the worker
and to meet the needs of the community. In similar fashion, private ownership has
been replaced by common use. Moreover, art as a separate category has disappeared,
as art and creativity are now fully integrated into the routines of everyday life.
The novel should not be read as a literal picture of a future society. Rather, it should
be read as a political incitement to make the society Guest finds in twenty-first-century
England. The aim of the novel is ‘the education of desire’ (Thompson, 1976): that is,
to make men and women aware of the possibility of a non-alienated society and to
educate their desire to make such a society. As Morris observed, capitalism ‘has reduced
the workman to such a skinny and pitiful existence, that he scarcely knows how to
frame a desire for any life much better than that which he now endures’ (1986: 37).
Morris wishes to educate the desire for a ‘life much better’, hoping that to allow
men and women to think of such a life is to create the desire for them to make such
a life (see Storey 2018).
News From Nowhere provides a beautiful example of what Morris, Marx and Engels
had in mind when they envisaged a non-alienated, communist society. The novel
depicts a world a million miles away from the authoritarian horrors of the Stalinism of
the Soviet Union; moreover, it is a society in which the distinction between culture and
popular culture, and the corresponding divisions of social class, no longer exist.
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Chapter 4 Marxisms
The Frankfurt School
The Frankfurt School is the name given to a group of German intellectuals associated
with the Institute for Social Research at the University of Frankfurt. The Institute was
established in 1923. Following the coming to power of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party
in 1933, it moved to New York, attaching itself to the University of Columbia. In 1949
it moved back to Germany. ‘Critical Theory’ is the name given to the Institute’s critical
mix of Marxism and psychoanalysis. The Institute’s work on popular culture is mostly
associated with the writings of Theodor Adorno, Walter Benjamin, Max Horkheimer,
Leo Lowenthal and Herbert Marcuse.
In 1944 Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer (1979) coined the term ‘culture
industry’ to designate the products and processes of mass culture. The products of the
culture industry, they claim, are marked by two features: homogeneity, ‘film, radio and
magazines make up a system which is uniform as a whole and in every part  .  .  .  all mass
culture is identical’ (120–1); and predictability:
Copyright © 2018. Taylor & Francis Group. All rights reserved.
As soon as the film begins, it is quite clear how it will end, and who will be
rewarded, punished, or forgotten. In light music [popular music], once the trained
ear has heard the first notes of the hit song, it can guess what is coming and feel
flattered when it does come.  .  .  .  The result is a constant reproduction of the same
thing (125, 134).
While Arnold and Leavisism had worried that popular culture represented a threat
to cultural and social authority, the Frankfurt School argue that it actually produces the
opposite effect: it maintains cultural and social authority. Where Arnold and Leavis saw
‘anarchy’, the Frankfurt School see only ‘conformity’: a situation in which ‘the deceived
masses’ (133) are caught in a ‘circle of manipulation and retroactive need in which the
unity of the system grows ever stronger’ (121). Here is Adorno reading an American
situation comedy about a young schoolteacher who is both underpaid (some things
do not change), and continually fined by her school principal. As a result, she is
without money and therefore without food. The humour of the storyline consists in
her various attempts to secure a meal at the expense of friends and acquaintances. In
his reading of this situation comedy, Adorno is guided by the assumption that while
it is always difficult, if not impossible, to establish the unmistakable ‘message’
of a work of ‘authentic’ culture, the ‘hidden message’ of a piece of mass culture is
not at all difficult to discern. According to Adorno (1991a), ‘the script implies’ that:
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