Mass Culture


St. Francis Xavier University, Canada

DOI: 10.1002/9781118989463.wbeccs163

Mass culture is a foundational concept in the study of consumerism and consumer society. It is also one of the most widely defined and debated, rooted in the issues of who generates culture and who is the audience or consumer of cultural goods.

In his lexicon of the new vocabulary of modernity, Williams (1983) discusses the notion of the “masses” as both a negative and a positive cultural force. On the one hand, the masses of ordinary people represent expanding democracy, literacy, and social action, while, on other hand, they represent the lowering of taste standards and potentially a politically manipulated multitude. As he points out, the generally negative connotation of the word “mass” derives from its etymology – undifferentiated, amorphous, and easily shaped.

Historically, mass culture refers to changes that accompanied industrial production and consumption. In England, France, and the US, industrial production and trade were developed enough by the middle of the nineteenth century to allow the establishment of large department stores and mail-order catalogues. Household durables and processed foods became more affordable. Henry Ford is often credited with demonstrating the inherent connection between production and the creation of a broad consumer market, through his combination of mass auto production (leading to lower costs per unit) and higher wages for his workers. ...

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