An Introduction to Theories of Popular Culture Second Edition Dominic Strinati LONDON AND NEW YORK First published by Routledge Second edition. Dominic Strinati provides a critical assessment of the ways in which these theories have tried to understand and evaluate popular culture in modern societies. Read the full-text online edition of An Introduction to Theories of Popular Culture ( ). to Theories of Popular Culture. By Dominic Strinati. No cover image.

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Skip to main content. Log In Sign Up. Dominic Strinati provides do,inic critical assessment of popuoar ways in which theorists have tried to understand and evaluate popular culture in modern society. Among the theories and ideas the book introduces are mass culture, the Frankfurt School and the culture industry, structuralism and semiology, Marxism, political economy and ideology, feminism, postmodernism dominkc cultural populism.

Strinati explains how theorists such as Adorno, Barthes, McRobbie and Hebdige have engaged with the many forms of popular culture, from jazz to popular television, and from teen magazines to the sominic novel. Each chapter includes a guide to key texts for further reading, and there is also a comprehensive bibliography. His previous work has been in the areas of political and industrial sociology, and he is at present researching into contemporary forums of popular culture.

Popular Media Culture in Post-war Britain No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or utilised in any form or by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publishers.

I would especially like to thank Graham Murdock, for the help and guidance he provided when this book was no more than a draft proposal, and Rebecca Barden, for wanting to publish fo book in the first place, for asking for a second edition, and for her advice and tolerance during the time it took me to write and revise it.

I am grateful to Bill Mackeith for the highly efficient way he has copy edited this book, and to Felicity Watts for her careful proofreading of the final manuscript. I am also very grateful to Helen Faulkner, Lesley Riddle and Ruth Whittington for all their work in making sure this second edition has finally seen the light of day.

It does this in what is hoped is a clear and accessible style. There is no reason why readability should be confined to textbooks and not become a more common practice in writing social science generally; nor are all textbooks that accessible.

But it is probably its coverage and readability which have led to a second edition of this book being published. The book itself has been substantially rewritten in order to make it even clearer and aj accessible. Every sentence has been scrutinised and relatively few have remained unscathed.

The coverage has, on the whole, been left alone, though criticisms have been added in a number of chapters, and some of the theoretical emphases have been changed from the original book. These changes will most likely be evident from the new Conclusion which has been written for this second edition. Again, any significant changes have been left to the Populzr. The study of popular culture is becoming a part of the educational curriculum, at the same time that it has begun to attract more attention from theorists and researchers in the humanities and social sciences.

And this is even truer now than when this book was first published in This book examines some of these theories to see how far they have advanced the study of popular culture.

An Introduction to Theories of Popular Culture by Dominic Strinati

However, it is not only this development which makes popular culture and its analysis a relevant topic of inquiry. It is clearly important in other societies, both past and present, but in these societies the sheer volume of popular media culture which is made available gives it a specific significance which needs to be considered.

Again, this sheer volume must not be exaggerated. The focus of the book is theories and perspectives on popular culture. It does not discuss particular traditions of research, such as audience research and the methodological issues it raises. However, this area of study has been dominated by different theoretical perspectives and the arguments and debates they have produced. This means that any assessment of the development of the study of popular culture has to come to terms with these theoretical perspectives.

Of course, not all theories and perspectives are under-represented by research. Feminism, for example, has built up a strong body of research while still being involved in extensive and relevant theoretical debates. But what this book does assume is that the importance of theory should be balanced more evenly by the importance of research.


While this book presents an outline and critique of theories of popular culture, it does not pretend to be comprehensive in its range and detail. The theories discussed in this book have been chosen for a number of reasons. First, they are directly concerned with the analysis and evaluation of popular culture. Some theories, such as Marxism and feminism, are about a lot more than this, but are restricted here to what they have to say about popular culture. Other theories, which may seem relevant, are not considered if they have not looked directly at popular culture: So, whatever potential their proponents may think they have, they are not directly addressed in this book.

This is one reason why the version of postmodern theory outlined below is a composite picture drawn from differing sources. Second, the theories covered in this book have all played an important part, at different times, in moulding arguments about how popular culture can and should be interpreted.

They may not all have been equally supported by empirical research, but their ideas have all formed an important point of reference for any attempt to analyse and evaluate popular culture. The focus on popular culture, not more general developments in social and cultural theory, is the reason why the theories considered in this book have been selected.

Third, the theories chosen deal directly with popular culture rather than the mass media.

It is almost impossible to look at one without looking at the other, especially since popular culture today is so closely bound up with the mass media; and the links between the two are recognised in this book. Yet insofar as a difference has arisen between theories and studies which concentrate upon the mass media, and those which concentrate upon popular culture, this book will confine itself to the latter.

None the less, in view of the focus of this book, approaches such as these will be outlined and assessed primarily by the theory of popular culture they put forward, without their theories of the mass media being thereby undervalued.

In addition, the tbeories and perspectives which are discussed in the following chapters are assessed by their adequacy as sociological theories of popular culture. The development of the study of popular culture has been based upon the contributions kntroduction a number of different disciplines. These include literature, literary criticism, history and psychoanalysis, as well as sociology.

The inter-disciplinary character of this process, and cominic intellectual cross-fertilisation it has entailed, have proved useful in establishing this area of study, and in fostering conceptual innovations, empirical research and theoretical disputes.

However, the value of inter-disciplinary work and the contribution it can make is easily exaggerated. This is not a subject which strintai be pursued in detail here. What can be noted is that different disciplines do use different concepts, present different explanations, study different things, or study similar things with different methods, contain different ways of forming their arguments, and of providing empirical proof for their arguments; some do not even seem to be that concerned with explanations or empirical proof.

These differences cannot be ignored or wished away for the sake of an imprecise, nebulous and ineffectual inter-disciplinarity. It is not even a question of striking a balance between different approaches and disciplines, because they are often incompatible: It is also clear that the tto accord rarely extends to biology and genetics; and if it were, the problems we have noted would become more intractable. In the light of these problems, this book stresses most of all the importance of sociological contributions to the study of popular culture.

While thsories book attempts to outline and criticise some leading theories of popular culture, it is not written as a history of the study of popular theorids.

The theories selected are discussed in terms of their assumptions and arguments about how to explain and evaluate popular culture.

An introduction to theories of popular culture

They are not discussed as stages in an introspective history of how popular culture has been studied; nor is it the intention of this book to review them like this. Books which do this, or which deal with specific aspects of this history, are already available. One problem with books such as these is that they are often more concerned with the internal mechanics of intellectual debates, or the uneven development of the field of study, than with the analysis and evaluatlon of popular culture.

In any event, a sociology of knowledge is required to do a proper job with their material but is usually lacking in such work. This book does not, thus, pretend to provide an internal history of popular cultural study, but assesses the theories discussed in their own terms: Nor does it pretend to present an alternative theory of popular culture, though there are implied preferences which the more discerning reader might notice.

Elements of an alternative approach are evident in some of the criticisms made of the theories outlined.


But to have indulged in the presentation of an alternative theory would have got in the way of the more modest aims of the book. Although this is a book about popular culture, not much time will be wasted defining it in this Introduction. A working definition of the sort of things that can be called popular culture will have to do here. Popular culture can be found in different societies, within different groups in societies, and among societies and groups in different poplar periods.

It is therefore preferable not to have theorles strict and exclusive definition, so the straightforward definition just populad will do for the purposes of this book. The range of artefacts and social cultkre covered by the term popular culture will emerge as the discussion of the book unfolds, particularly since examples are used to illustrate the claims of the different theories considered.

Discussion of the various conceptual attempts to define popular culture has also been avoided for the simple reason that this is one of the things theories of popular culture predictably do. However implicitly or explicitly they address the problem, these theories provide definitions of popular culture theofies are more or less consistent with their general conceptual frameworks.

Any attempt to define popular culture inevitably involves its analysis and evaluation. It therefore seems difficult to define popular culture independently of the theory which is designed to explain it. A few examples may help clarify this point. Popular culture for the mass culture critics is either folk culture in pre- industrial societies or mass culture in industrial societies. For the Frankfurt School, popular culture is the culture produced by the culture industry to secure the stability and continuity of capitalism.

Those writers who advocate cultural populism define popular culture as a form of consumer subversion which popuular precisely how they wish to evaluate and explain it Fiske b: Lastly, according to post-modernist theory, popular culture embodies radical changes in the role of the mass media which wear away the distinction between image and reality.

The conclusion which can be drawn from these examples is that popular culture is defined by how it is explained and evaluated theoretically. Popular culture can be defined descriptively as covering a specific set of artefacts. But the possibility of a theoretically informed definition receiving widespread agreement is a long way off.

It is especially difficult to envisage at the moment because the attempt to achieve this involves competing conceptions of the nature of the social relationships or the lack of them within which these artefacts are located.

Popular culture cannot be properly defined except in relation to particular theories, so the problem of definition is dominif left to the chapters which popu,ar.

Some poppular the more general problems raised by the critical assessment of theories of popular culture will be taken up in the conclusion. The coming of the mass media and the increasing commercialisation of culture and leisure gave rise to issues, interests and debates which are still with us today. The growth of the idea of mass culture, very evident from the s and s onwards, is one of the o sources of the themes and perspectives on popular culture which this book discusses.

This cultuer not to say that the debate over mass culture represents something totally new. Lowenthalfor example, has traced some of its central arguments back to the writings of Pascal and Montaigne in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and linked their emergence to the rise of a market economy.

The contrasting implications associated with the history of the theogies of popular culture are clearly noted by Williams The development of cculture idea of popular culture is linked to arguments about meaning and interpretation which predate but become strikingly evident in the debates over mass culture.

An Introduction to Theories of Popular Culture – Dominic Strinati – Google Books

In particular, three related themes can be found in the work referred to above which, while not being exhaustive, have been central to theories of popular culture ever since. Where does popular culture come from?

Does it emerge from the nitroduction themselves as an autonomous expression of their interests and modes of experience, or is it imposed from above by those in positions of power as a type of social control? The second theme concerns the influence of commercialisation and industrialisation upon popular culture.

Does the emergence of culture in commodity forms mean that criteria of profitability and marketability take precedence over quality, artistry, integrity and intellectual challenge?