Adorno and the political economy of communication

Trish Morgan


The Frankfurt School of critical theory occupies a significant space in the history of the political economy of communication and culture. Theodor Adorno as a member of the school provided a unique multidisciplinary perspective on the political economy of culture. However, place and the apparent relevance of the school have been affected by postmodern and cultural studies scholarship at a time when neoliberalism has prevailed. This is evidenced by a turn away from Adorno and a critique of his work as ‘elitist’. The postmodern, cultural and neoliberal turns have remained dominant. It is only recently that Adorno is being rehabilitated in relation to discourse on cultural and communication theory.

In the latter context, it is important to position the work of Theodor Adorno within the tradition of the political economy of communication. He conducted pioneering work on the political-economic power structures involved in the production of culture. Taking his 1938 work, On the Fetish Character in Music and the Regression of Listening as an exemplar of his work, this article outlines Adorno’s philosophical and cultural theories with a view to contextualising them in terms of contemporary scholarship in the political economy of communication. This contextualisation leads to a consideration of Adorno’s work as a resource for examining the ‘strange non-death of neoliberalism’ (Crouch, 2011).

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