Marxist Media Theory.

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Marxist Media Theory

Daniel Chandler


"XBase and superstructure

"XMedia as means of production


"XMedia as amplifiers

"XThe constitution of the subject

"XDifferences within Marxism

"XThe Frankfurt School


"XGramsci and hegemony

"XStuart Hall

"XLimitations of Marxist analysis

"XStrengths of Marxist analysis



In Britain and Europe, neo-Marxist approaches were common amongst media theorists from the late '60s until around the early '80s, and Marxist influences, though less dominant, remain widespread. So it is important to be aware of key Marxist concepts in analysing the mass media. However, there is no single Marxist school of thought, and the jargon often seems impenetrable to the uninitiated. These notes are intended to provide a guide to some key concepts.

Marxist theorists tend to emphasize the role of the mass media in the reproduction of the status quo, in contrast to liberal pluralists who emphasize the role of the media in promoting freedom of speech.

The rise of neo-Marxism in social science represented in part a reaction against 'functionalist' models of society. Functionalists seek to explain social institutions in terms of their cohesive functions within an inter-connected, socio-cultural system. Functionalism did not account for social conflict, whereas Marxism offered useful insights into class conflict.

As the time of the European ascendancy of neo-Marxism in media theory (primarily in the 1970s and early 1980s), the main non-Marxist tradition was that of liberal pluralism (which had been the dominant perspective in the United States since the 1940s) (see Hall 1982: 56-65). As Gurevitch et al. put it:

Pluralists see society as a complex of competing groups and interests, none of them predominant all of the time. Media organizations are seen as bounded organizational systems, enjoying an important degree of autonomy from the state, political parties and institutionalized pressure groups. Control of the media...