Saturday, March 3, 2012

The Marxist tradition in cultural analysis

Culture is today one of the primary interests of Marxist thought, which takes to cultural analysis rather often. Karl Marx himself gave little attention to the concept and working of culture in his own writings. This as a result of Marx's focus on economical and political factors, granting culture only a secondary position. Marx positioned culture in the superstructure, which for him was derived for the economical base of material practice. The role of the superstructure, according the Marx, is to mask and justify the inequalities and exploitation which take place in the material base.  Culture for Marx is therefore something which abstracts the truth and creates "false consciousness" and an incorrect perception of social, political and economic reality endorsed by the ruling class.

Marx's successors in the 20th century had a hard time maintaining his perception of culture as secondary to the material dimension. Neo-Marxist thinking throughout the 20th century began to focus more and more on culture and its workings, giving birth to the discipline known as cultural studies. One field of cultural research within the Marxist tradition is that of asking how, and if, art and culture can subvert the workings of capitalism or how the cater for its greedy needs. The Frankfurt School for social thought is famous for the notion of cultural industry is an example of such research of culture within the Marxist tradition. Such a view of culture could stress its repressive function, such as in popular and mass culture. Another way Marxist thinkers can analyze culture is by asking how the interchange of power if facilitated by it, and the battle between different interests drawn through it. Unlike the Frankfurt School, this Marxist approach for cultural analysis, which is often attributed to the legacy of Gramsci, feels that culture can indeed be subversive and to challenge the ruling order.