MIT 2200 Lectures
Mass Society Critics and “Culturalism”
Matthew Arnold, F.R and Q.D Leavis, Richard Hoggart, Raymond Williams
September 19, 2011
- What the class said about our culture today: materialistic, consumerism, voyeuristic, instant
- Humans are essentially communicative creatures. Studying media is studying the vehicles of
- As we communicate, we form our social world, identities, communities, our culture
- The need to communicate is the need to “make common” a need to make sense of the
incoherency of life, to reach out to others and see if they agree.
- Communication and culture are linked: through them, we create the world; our version of the
- Communication constructs the world as it goes. As we communicate we create our own
- How are we constrained by corporate, institutions, government, technology, to
- By studying media I am “learning to understand the cultural world and how media is changing
Mass Society Critics
- Responded to the impact of the huge changes of the industrial revolution and the
‘massification’ of culture: extension to vote, urbanization, mass education, ride of media
technologies, rise of the working/middle class, dwindling of the aristocracy, loss of traditional
centers of authority like the church
- People were disembodies from their familiar towns, families. They were in cities working long
hours in factories.
- There were tons of wage earners from the lower class.
- In Britain only white, land owning men could vote.
- Invention of film, the telegraph was happening
- In 1860’s you get the commercialization of photography. Paper prints of photos became
available which gave rise to a craze similar to Facebook.
- Cartes de visite we a little album that had pictures of people inside. The more pictures you had,
the more social status you had. Similar to Facebook in that the more friends you have the better
- Also cheap so anyone could own one.
- There was no national currency at the time, just state banks with their own. No stability with
exchange rates. Debate over paper vs. gold money
- No economic certainty – and what do we all go crazy for? These cards.
- This was a way people could establish value in their lives.
- The attractive people could make a career out of being in a carte. They would charge
photographers to take their pictures (like Kim Kardashian)
- See relationship between cultural practice and issues of economic instability.
- These critics did not like all this massification going on. MIT 2200 Lectures
- Out of this massification you get 2 new definitions of culture:
- Culture as mass produced and imposed by industry
- Culture of the working class in response to these changes and to the power of the upper
classes. “Working Class Culture” attempting to give voice to these experiences that a lot
of people were having together at the same time.
- Mass Society Critics feared the mass as destructive, bestial, violent.
- Believed some people were naturally better than others, it was just assumed.
- Worried that mass culture would ‘dumb down’ society, and bring moral disorder and anarchy.
Worried about what the result of all this change would be.
- Critics were defending themselves, defending their point that some people are just better than
others. Knee jerk responses and assumptions.
Matthew Arnold (poster boy)
- Wasn’t opposed to working class, he just thought things would be better if they just stayed the
- Culture is “the best that has been thought and been said in the world.” A thing.
- What can be taken away from his point of view?
- People still make these critics assumptions every day.
- Culture is the drive toward perfection (to ‘get cultured’). An action
- Culture is the ability to recognize the best when you see it.
- But what constitutes “the best”?
- “Cultured, classy people embody what we consider at the time to be the best”
- So he sees culture as a thing, an action and an attribute.
- He assumes that there is such a thing as perfect, the best.
- “The highly instructed few, and not the scantily instructed many, will ever be the organ to the
human race of knowledge and truth. Knowledge and truth in the full sense of the words, are not
attainable by the great mass of the human race at all - Arnold
- We aren’t even going to get close to this. The closest we can get is only to recognize that
we can’t get close to being cultured.
- High culture was to be a weapon - along with police and the state - for keeping the unruly
majority in their place.
- Education in the ways of high culture will work to pacify the lower classes and teach them
respect for the established social order.
- How do culture and media work to educate people on the reality of their situation?
F.R and Queenie Leavis
- Important figure in cultural studies because he deviates from Arnold in a more contemporary
- Continued Arnold’s concern about the massification of culture and rise of anarchy.
- They focused specifically on the for