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The Handbook of Political Economy of Communications by Janet Wasko, Graham Murdock, Helena Sousa

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4

Theorizing the Cultural Industries

Persistent Specificities and Reconsiderations

Bernard Miège (translation by Chloé Salles)

Arguments around the cultural industries, neglected by some but regarded as fundamental by others, have taken on a new importance in recent years as governments in the capitalist west have come to see them as central to an economy moving from a base in traditional industrial sectors to one organized around the production and manipulation of information and symbolic forms. This chapter traces the development of the cultural industries as an idea and area of research within the political economy of communication and explores some of the challenges to established conceptions posed by contemporary developments.

The Origins of “Cultural Industries” Theory

Theoretical approaches to the cultural industries have two main points of origin. The first can be traced back to the Frankfurt School of thought, and particularly to the analysis of “the administration of art” elaborated by Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer as part of their project of developing a “Critical Theory” of contemporary capitalism. Within this theoretical framework, the industrial production of cultural goods is seen as a decisive factor in the Entkunstung (literally, de-arting) of art. Degrading itself and losing its aura once it is put on the market, the cultural commodity invites consumers to look not for enlightenment or transcendence, but for a utility that will be a source of happiness, and from ...

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