Capitalizing on Culture: Critical Theory for Cultural Studies

Article excerpt

Capitalizing on Culture: Critical Theory for Cultural Studies By Shane Gunster University of Toronto Press, Toronto, 2004; Pages: 380; Price: $35.95 ISBN 13: 9780802036933

CONTENTS/OUTLINE OF THE BOOK

Introduction: Culture as Commodity

1. Mass culture and commodity form; revisiting the culture industry thesis

2. Capitalism, Mimesis Experience: Legacies of the Commodity Fetish

3. Dreams of Redemption? Adorno, Bejamin, and the dialectics of culture

4. From Mass to popular culture: from Frankfurt to Birmingham

5. Articulation and the commodity form: Rethinking contemporary cultural studies

Concluding Thoughts

James Hamilton of the University of Georgia finds Shane Gunster's Capitalizing on Culture: Critical Theory for Cultura/ Studies (CCCS) as a publication in line with Hall's 'return of the repressed in media studies' but with a difference and that is the repressed earlier was the 'concept of ideology' while here it is what the Frankfurt School has projected within the project of cultural studies. To start with, Gunster laments that the earlier proponents of the critical theory has not been properly appreciated. He notes that the series of authors in this line like Adorno, Horkheimer and Benjamin have not been understood in the right context; rather they have been ridiculed and misquoted by the earlier powerful critics for their vested interests. Hamilton thinks that even some other authors like Lowenthal, Marcuse and some others of the like have also not been well presented in their right sense of critical theory.

Gunster argues that the critical theory has been misunderstood as if it were a set of hard and fast rules whereas it is adaptable to the changing circumstances in so far as the conditions for emancipations are concerned though the earlier authors did not anticipate the characteristics of commercialization of social relationships in the coming ages. It is further argued that the critical theory needs to be revisited for working in the area of cultural and media studies as now the interactions between the forces of domination and resistance, culture and economy, meaning and practice, and individual and society have so far been interpreted superficially as the organizing principles for work.

Hamilton note that some authors like Jay (1984) and Kellner (1989) also attempted to recover Critical Theory but Gunster may be distinguished as the one trying to overcome the shortcomings of the critical theory in the past as well as in the present times. The author intends to generalize the construction of Critical Theory benefiting from the past authors and then reformulate it to cope with the particular requirements of today. Here the author wants to capitalize on the emergence of cultural studies and its theoretical developments.

The author by referring to the earlier works, attempts to discover the aspects of Critical Theory not highlighted so far by each author rather than connecting and linking them with each other. The author then critically evaluates the attempt made by the CCCS to ignore Critical Theory by substituting 'mass culture' with 'popular culture'.

Hamilton notes that whatever the author has dealt with in reviving the Critical Theory in this book has also been undertaken by other authors, but CCCS appears to be more exhaustive. That is why the last two chapters dealing with reshaping the Theory, relating it with other works of today, and linking it with media, society and commercialization of today's social relationships, have been worth noting. Instead of explaining the Theory as a rigid concept, the author emphasizes the study of relative interaction between the cultural positions of today with the intent of Critical Theory. The commercialization of social relationships as embedded in the 'postmodern materialism' may be studied for its content in the light of Critical Theory to inquire into it as the apparatus, that is overwhelming on a regional scale of today's social formations. …