La Trobe University, Australia
When it was coined by Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno in the 1940s, the term “culture industry” was inherently critical. “Culture” evoked a sphere of artistic “creation” viewed as an end in itself, “industry” a sphere of factory production subject to the means–ends logic of economic rationality. The industrial production of “culture” was thus viewed as a travesty. That this is no longer the case is evidenced by routine use of the term “culture industries” in the social sciences, in cultural studies, and in cultural policy and labor market documents, although the term still generates debate at the margins.
The meaning of “culture” that gave the idea of a culture industry its critical edge came into English usage between the last decades of the eighteenth century and the middle of the nineteenth. As Raymond Williams argues in Culture and Society (1976/1957), the word “culture” took on new meaning in response to the increasingly rationalized, commodified, and environmentally polluted life world brought into being by the industrial revolution, and the social and political changes consequent to democracy. Culture (fine art, poetry, music) was conceptualized as a transcendent sphere of inspired creation which offered both a refuge from industrial society and a critical space from which it could be judged. The separation of culture and commerce drew on religious tradition (money as the ...