Research Article

DOI :10.26650/4boyut.2023.1213121   IUP :10.26650/4boyut.2023.1213121    Full Text (PDF)

Cultural Studies and Critical Theory

Michel BourseHalime Yücel

Critical theory was born with the Franfurt School, and its main thesis was developed in Dialectic of Enlightment (Adorno & Horkheimer, 1944) in which they proposed to analyze mass culture in terms of cultural industry. This concept allowed them to denounce the bankruptcy of culture and its transformation into simple goods. With regard to standardizing cultural products, they deduced the standardization of individuals and the advent of the reign of individuality. The media produces images and conversations that become soaked in the consciousness of so-called weak individuals who are incapable of reclaiming themselves in any critical way: They are no longer able to effectively resist the products of mass media. Individuals facing cultural industries are also defined as being unable to critically interpret and even more unable to resist facing media messages, thus being reduced to subjects mystified by cultural industries. The work of Adorno and Horkheimer will nevertheless constitute a kind of theoretical reference from which cultural studies would build itself, albeit at the price of a complex misunderstanding. R. Hoggart in particular would show that lower classes are able to resist the messages that are sent to them and that these messages only have a long-term effect on attitudes. This line of analysis between the criticism of the cultural industries and the highlighting of the resistances the public sets against these industries is what would go on to define the specific epistemological thread of cultural studies. This paper suggests analyzing the complex story of this misunderstanding and its consequences.

DOI :10.26650/4boyut.2023.1213121   IUP :10.26650/4boyut.2023.1213121    Full Text (PDF)

Kültürel Çalışmalar ve Eleştirel Kuram

Michel BourseHalime Yücel

Eleştirel teori Frankfurt Okulu’yla doğmuştur. Adorno ve Max Horkheimer Aydınlanmanın Diyalektiği’nde kitle kültürü ve kültür endüstrisi kavramlarını geliştirmişler, kültürün iflasını ve bir mala dönüşümünü ilan etmişlerdir. Kültürel ürünlerin tekbiçimleşmesinin, bireylerin tekbiçimleşmesini ve bireyselliğin saltanatının getirdiğini öne süren düşünürler, medyanın, zayıf bireylerin bilincinde yer eden imgeler ve söylemler ürettiğini, bu bireylerinse bunları eleştirel bir biçimde değerlendiremediklerini savunurlar. Bireylerin kültür endüstrisine ve medyaya direnemediklerini belirtirler. Bu düşünceler Kültürel Çalışmaların özüyle uyumsuz, hatta çelişkin olsa da önemli kültürel göndergelerinden birini oluşturur. Özellikle Hoggart, alt sınıfların kendilerine gönderilen ve tutumlar üzerinde uzun vadeli bir etkisi olan iletilere direndiklerini gösterecektir. Kültür endüstrilerinin eleştirisi ile bunlara karşı halk tarafından ortaya konan dirençlerin vurgulanması arasındaki bu araştırma alanı, Kültürel Çalışmalar’ın özgün epistemolojik izleğini tanımlayacaktır. Bu çalışma da Eleştirel Kuram ile Kültürel Çalışmalar arasındaki kuramsal yanlış anlamanın karmaşık tarihini ve sonuçlarını incelemeyi amaçlamaktadır. 


The theoreticians of the Frankfurt School acknowledged the failures of revolutions, as well as the rise and establishment of fascism throughout Europe. Their critique of Marxism analyzed more globally the market logic that colonizes all the domains of life, with individuals having become impregnated by the power of the cultural industry not just in their language and gestures but also in their most intimate emotions. Their thesis involves how the media produces images and speech that become impregnated in the consciousness of weak individuals who are unable to reappropriate them in a critical manner. The conditioning that is produced then resembles a new totalitarianism that is understood as the ultimate stage of domination. These theses went on to constitute the theoretical reference from which would develop cultural studies starting in the 1960s. One of the first elements of their reflection involved recognizing the critical autonomy individuals have against the abstraction of productive forces. The working classes are subjected to messages while simultaneously resisting them, and the messages that are addressed to them only have long-term effects on their attitudes. This article proposes to analyze the complex history of this theoretical misunderstanding between critical theory and cultural studies and its consequences. The Frankfurt School considers mass culture to be a system and an expression of economic, social, and political formation. From this perspective, mass media becomes a symbol of an oppressive and alienating society. However, this alienation has a history. In this regard, the Frankfurt School theoreticians started reflecting on the reasons that can explain the masses’ disposition toward being fascinated with despotism and accepting its alienation. The question then became why does humanity sink into a new form of barbarism instead of engaging in human forms, and how can the masses accept despotism? Their observation was very pessimistic. Everywhere today, the enlightened world lives in a new type of servitude because of the technoscientific rationalization. In this process, individuals themself have become objects, commodities. One striking effect of this reification can be read in the mass culture as structured by the cultural industry. This cultural industry tends toward the standardization of lifestyles and the domination of economic logic and authoritarian power. The phenomenon concerns only totalitarian countries but also other countries, starting with liberal societies. Allegiance to power and social hierarchy is currently manifested in culture. All these hypotheses from the Frankfurt School presuppose a passive public and appear to underestimate the passive resistance of the exploited. Cultural studies will disprove these theories regarding the cultural homogenization of consumer society, as well as the conceptualizations of atomization and massification the Frankfurt School has attributed to the press, radio, and television. S. Hall (year) has pointed out that, despite the fact that messages are most often (but not always) coded in accordance with the dominant order, that these messages are received in accordance with the dominant order does not necessarily follow. Hall then differentiated three possible types of readings: dominating (the message is received in a natural and obvious way), oppositional (the message is understood but read according to another code), or negotiated (a reading that is both conformist and oppositional). Culture therefore resists and is able to oppose the formatting of media categorization and marketing! This positioning thus led the Frankfurt School theorists to denounce the myth stemming from critical theory regarding the conditioning of the masses and to replace it with the notions of eclipsed adhesion and “oblique attention, which they conceived as specific dispositions of the popular classes, ones that the logic of their social situation, as well as the values that are the product of their conditions of existence, incites to protect themselves, whether through cynicism or indifference. This theoretical and political credo led them to question the supposedly all-powerful influence of the media in order to better emphasize the capacity for resistance. The citizens that people are, especially those coming from the working classes, are thus not passive individuals who would come to be blissfully impregnated by messages spread diffusely by contemporary means of information. On the contrary, when coming face to face with the strategies of the authors or producers of the information, readers or users will implement singular tactics of appropriation. They reconstruct the meaning in a creative activity, one to which the author of information lacks exclusivity, and by this very fact, the masses can divert technical media devices. 

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Bourse, M., & Yücel, H. (2023). Cultural Studies and Critical Theory. 4. BOYUT Journal of Media and Cultural Studies, 0(22), 49-64.


Bourse M, Yücel H. Cultural Studies and Critical Theory. 4. BOYUT Journal of Media and Cultural Studies. 2023;0(22):49-64.


Bourse, M.; Yücel, H. Cultural Studies and Critical Theory. 4. BOYUT Journal of Media and Cultural Studies, [Publisher Location], v. 0, n. 22, p. 49-64, 2023.

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Bourse, Michel, and Halime Yücel. 2023. “Cultural Studies and Critical Theory.” 4. BOYUT Journal of Media and Cultural Studies 0, no. 22: 49-64.

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Bourse, Michel, and Halime Yücel. Cultural Studies and Critical Theory.” 4. BOYUT Journal of Media and Cultural Studies 0, no. 22 (Jun. 2023): 49-64.

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Bourse, M & Yücel, H 2023, 'Cultural Studies and Critical Theory', 4. BOYUT Journal of Media and Cultural Studies, vol. 0, no. 22, pp. 49-64, viewed 9 Jun. 2023,

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Bourse, M. and Yücel, H. (2023) ‘Cultural Studies and Critical Theory’, 4. BOYUT Journal of Media and Cultural Studies, 0(22), pp. 49-64. (9 Jun. 2023).


Bourse, Michel, and Halime Yücel. Cultural Studies and Critical Theory.” 4. BOYUT Journal of Media and Cultural Studies, vol. 0, no. 22, 2023, pp. 49-64. [Database Container],


Bourse M, Yücel H. Cultural Studies and Critical Theory. 4. BOYUT Journal of Media and Cultural Studies [Internet]. 9 Jun. 2023 [cited 9 Jun. 2023];0(22):49-64. Available from: doi: 10.26650/4boyut.2023.1213121


Bourse, Michel - Yücel, Halime. Cultural Studies and Critical Theory”. 4. BOYUT Journal of Media and Cultural Studies 0/22 (Jun. 2023): 49-64.


Published Online24.05.2023


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