The Frankfurt School theorists were among the first theorists to examine the fundamental roles of the media in shaping thought and behavior, influencing politics, and managing consumer demand in the twentieth century. Horkheimer and Adorno's analysis of the “culture industry” presented a model of media as instruments of power and social control developed by Walter Benjamin, Herbert Marcuse, Erich Fromm, and Jürgen Habermas, who gave the Horkheimer and Adorno culture industry analysis a historical grounding. The Frankfurt School also studied the effects of mass culture and the rise of the consumer society on the working classes that were to be the instrument of revolution in the classical Marxian scenario. They also analyzed how the culture industries and consumer society were stabilizing contemporary capitalism and thus were among the first to see the expanding roles of mass media and communication in politics, socialization and social life, culture and the constructions of subjectivities. In this chapter, I examine the contributions to media and social theory developed by the Frankfurt School and their limitations and blind spots.
The term “Frankfurt School” refers to the work of members of the Institut für Sozialforschung (Institute for Social Research), which was established in Frankfurt, Germany, in 1923 as the first Marxist-oriented research center affiliated with a major German university. Under ...