From the culture industry to the society of the spectacle: Critical theory and the situationist international

From the culture industry to the society of the spectacle: Critical theory and the situationist international

Kevin Fox Gotham, Daniel A. Krier

Language: English

Pages: 39

ISBN: 2:00327462

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

Since Karl Marx fashioned his theory of capitalism in the nineteenth century, scholars have continually updated Marxian theory to capture the pervasiveness of commodity relations in modern society. Influenced by Georg Lukács and Henri Lefebvre, the members of the French avant-guard group, the Situationist International (1957–1972), developed an intransigent critique of consumer capitalism based on the concept of the spectacle. In the spectacle, media and consumer society replace lived experience, the passive gaze of images supplants active social participation, and new forms of alienation induce social atomization at a more abstract level than in previous societies. We endeavor to make two theoretical contributions: First, we highlight the contributions of the Situationist International, pointing out how they revised the Marxian categories of alienation, commodification, and reification in order to analyze the dynamics of twentieth century capitalism and to give these concepts new explanatory power. Second, we build a critical theory of consumer capitalism that incorporates the theoretical assumptions and arguments of the Situationists and the Frankfurt School. Today, critical theory can make an important contribution to sociology by critically examining the plurality of spectacles and their reifying manifestations. In addition, critical theorists can explore how different spectacles connect to one another, how they connect to different social institutions, and how spectacles express contradictions and conflicting meanings. A critical theory of spectacle and consumption can disclose both novelties and discontinuities in the current period, as well as continuities in the development of globalized consumer capitalism.

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spectacle is a tool of pacification, depoliticization, and massification that ‘‘distracts’’ and ‘‘seduces’’ people using the mechanisms of leisure, consumption, and entertainment as ruled by the dictates of advertising and commodified media culture. Synthesizing Hegel, Marx, and Luka´cs, Debord explicitly connected the concept of the spectacle to Marx’s critique of the commodity and the dominance of exchange-value over use-value. The spectacle, as Debord notes, is the unifying principle of modern

creates homogeneity and uniformity and thereby eradicates local differences and indigenous cultures, a phenomenon that George Ritzer (2004, p. 3) calls the ‘‘globalization of nothing,’’ in which ‘‘nothing’’ refers to a social form that is generally ‘‘centrally conceived, controlled, and comparatively devoid of distinctive content.’’ On the other hand, new globalized forms of cultural production and consumption sow the seeds of immanent critique that make possible new forms of resistance and

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Situationists never probed very deeply into the multiple logics, conflicts, and contradictions of the spectacle. We locate these limitations in the Situationists’s failure to make explicit their method of immanent critique. 160 KEVIN FOX GOTHAM AND DANIEL A. KRIER As discussed by Antonio (1981), Calhoun (1995), Held (1980), and other scholars, the method of immanent critique ‘‘is a means of detecting the societal contradictions which offer the most determinant possibilities for emancipatory

is a process by which people come to believe that humanly created social structures are natural, universal, and absolute ‘‘things’’ and, as a result, that those social structures do acquire those characteristics. According to Luka´cs, reification is less perceptible than commodification and represents the generalization and totalization of commodity fetishism (see Dahms, 1998, pp. 11–12). Synthesizing Marx’s critique of commodity fetishism and Weber’s theory of rationalization, Luka´cs argued that

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