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

No Social Science without Critical Theory

ISBN: 978-0-7623-1483-6, eISBN: 978-1-84950-538-3

Publication date: 28 July 2008


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.


Fox Gotham, K. and Krier, D.A. (2008), "From the culture industry to the society of the spectacle: Critical theory and the situationist international", Dahms, H.F. (Ed.) No Social Science without Critical Theory (Current Perspectives in Social Theory, Vol. 25), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 155-192.



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