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Cultural Marxism refers to a school or offshoot of Marxism that conceives of culture as central to the legitimation of oppression, in addition to the economic factors that Karl Marx emphasized. An outgrowth of Western Marxism that found popularity in the 1960s as cultural studies, Cultural Marxism asserts that traditional cultural phenomena commonly believed to be intrinsic to Western society, such as the drive for individual acquisition associated with capitalism, nationalism, the nuclear family, gender roles, race and other forms of cultural identity, are actually historically recent developments that serve to justify and maintain the existing hierarchy of power. Cultural Marxists use Marxist methods, including historical research, the identification of economic interest, and the study of the mutually conditioning relations between parts of a social order, to try to understand the complexity of power in contemporary society and to criticise cultural phenomena that appear natural, but are actually ideological.
Explanation of the "Cultural Marxism" theory
We are, in Marx's terms, "an ensemble of social relations" and we live our lives at the core of the intersection of a number of unequal social relations based on hierarchically interrelated structures which, together, define the historical specificity of the capitalist modes of production and reproduction and underlay their observable manifestations.— Martha E. Gimenez, Marxism and Class, Gender and Race: Rethinking the Trilogy
According to UCLA professor and critical theorist Douglas Kellner, "Many 20th century Marxian theorists ranging from Georg Lukács, Antonio Gramsci, Ernst Bloch, Walter Benjamin, and T.W. Adorno to Fredric Jameson and Terry Eagleton employed the Marxian theory to analyze cultural forms in relation to their production, their imbrications with society and history, and their impact and influences on audiences and social life." Scholars have employed various types of Marxist social criticism to analyze cultural artifacts.
Frankfurt School and critical theory
The Frankfurt School is the name usually used to refer to a group of scholars who have been associated at one point or another over several decades with the Institute for Social Research of the University of Frankfurt, including Theodor W. Adorno, Max Horkheimer, Ernst Bloch, Walter Benjamin, Erich Fromm, Herbert Marcuse, Wolfgang Fritz Haug and Jürgen Habermas. In the 1930s the Institute for Social Research was forced out of Germany by the rise of the Nazi Party. In 1933, the Institute left Germany for Geneva. It then moved to New York City in 1934, where it became affiliated with Columbia University. Its journal Zeitschrift für Sozialforschung was accordingly renamed Studies in Philosophy and Social Science. It was at that moment that much of its important work began to emerge, having gained a favorable reception within American and English academia.
Among the key works of the Frankfurt School which applied Marxist categories to the study of culture were Adorno's "On Popular Music," which was written with George Simpson and published in Studies in Philosophy and Social Sciences in 1941. Adorno was worried by signs of conformity in contemporary mass society and also at the conversion of individual artistic expression into the mass production of standardised commodities. He argued that popular music was, by design and promotion, "wholly antagonistic to the ideal of individuality in a free, liberal society", Adorno and Horkheimer's "The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception", originally a chapter in Dialectic of Enlightenment (1947), which argued that culture reinforced "the absolute power of capitalism", and "Culture Industry Reconsidered", a 1963 radio lecture by Adorno.
After 1945 a number of these surviving Marxists returned to both West and East Germany. Adorno and Horkheimer returned to Frankfurt in 1953 and reestablished the Institute. In West Germany in the late 1950s and early 1960s, a revived interest in Marxism produced a new generation of Marxists engaged with analyzing matters such as the cultural transformations taking place under Fordist capitalism, the impact of new types of popular music and art on traditional cultures, and maintaining the political integrity of discourse in the public sphere. This renewed interest was exemplified by the journal Das Argument. The tradition of thought associated with the Frankfurt School is Critical Theory.
Birmingham School and cultural studies
The work of the Frankfurt School and of Marxist thinker Antonio Gramsci was particularly influential in the 1960s, and had a major impact on the development of cultural studies, especially in Britain. As Douglas Kellner writes: Cultural Marxism was highly influential throughout Europe and the Western world, especially in the 1960s when Marxian thought was at its most prestigious and procreative. Theorists like Roland Barthes and the Tel Quel group in France, Galvano Della Volpe, Lucio Colletti, and others in Italy, Fredric Jameson, Terry Eagleton, and cohort of 1960s cultural radicals in the English-speaking world, and a large number of theorists throughout the globe used cultural Marxism to develop modes of cultural studies that analyzed the production, interpretation, and reception of cultural artifacts within concrete socio-historical conditions that had contested political and ideological effects and uses. One of the most famous and influential forms of cultural studies, initially under the influence of cultural Marxism, emerged within the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies in Birmingham, England within a group often referred to as the Birmingham School.
Use by current Conservatives
In current politics, the term has also been associated by Conservatives with a set of values that, it is claimed, are in simple contradiction with traditional values of Western society and Christian religion. Undermining these is believed to be the true purpose of Political correctness and Multiculturalism, which are then identified with Cultural Marxism.
- Cultural hegemony
- Cultural Studies
- Culture industry
- Culture War
- Frankfurt School
- Marxist film theory
- Marxist literary criticism
- Political correctness
- Western Marxism
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