Ideology and Modern Culture
Critical Social Theory in the Era of Mass Communication
John B. Thompson
Polity Press

Copyright ©John B. Thompson 1990

The right of John B. Thompson to be identified as author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

First published 1990 by Polity Press
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Reprinted 1992, 1994, 1996, 2006, 2007

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1 The Concept of Ideology

Ideology and the Ideologues

Marx’s Conceptions of Ideology

From Ideology to the Sociology of Knowledge

Rethinking Ideology: A Critical Conception

Reply to Some Possible Objections

2 Ideology in Modern Societies

A Critical Analysis of Some Theoretical Accounts

Ideology and the Modern Era

Ideology and Social Reproduction

The Critique of the Culture Industry

The Transformation of the Public Sphere

3 The Concept of Culture

Culture and Civilization

Anthropological Conceptions of Culture

Rethinking Culture: A Structural Conception

The Social Contextualization of Symbolic Forms

The Valorization of Symbolic Forms

4 Cultural Transmission and Mass Communication

The Development of the Media Industries

Aspects of Cultural Transmission

Writing, Printing and the Rise of the Trade in News

The Development of Broadcasting

Recent Trends in the Media Industries

The Social Impact of New Communication Technologies

5 Towards a Social Theory of Mass Communication

Some Characteristics of Mass Communication

Mass Communication and Social Interaction

Reconstituting the Boundaries between Public and Private Life

Mass Communication between Market and State

Rethinking Ideology in the Era of Mass Communication

6 The Methodology of Interpretation

Some Hermeneutical Conditions of Social-Historical Inquiry

The Methodological Framework of Depth Hermeneutics

The Interpretation of Ideology

Analysing Mass Communication: The Tripartite Approach

The Everyday Appropriation of Mass-Mediated Products

Interpretation, Self-Reflection and Critique

Conclusion: Critical Theory and Modern Societies




This book is a development of the ideas which were initially sketched in an earlier volume, Studies in the Theory of Ideology. The earlier volume was concerned primarily with the critical assessment of a number of outstanding contributions to contemporary social theory. In the course of that assessment I put forward some constructive ideas about the nature and role of ideology, its relation to language, power and social context, and the ways in which ideology can be analysed and interpreted in specific cases. My aim in this book is to take up these ideas, to develop them and incorporate them into a systematic theoretical account. This is an account which is certainly informed by the work of others - other theorists as well as others engaged in empirical and historical research. But I have tried to go beyond the material upon which I draw and to which I am indebted, in an attempt to stretch the existing frameworks of analysis and to provide some stimulus to further reflection and research.

While in many ways this book is a continuation of the project announced in Studies, there is one respect in which it differs significantly from the earlier volume: in this book I have sought to give much more attention to the social forms and processes within which, and by means of which, symbolic forms circulate in the social world. I have therefore devoted considerable space to the nature and development of mass communication, which I regard as a definitive feature of modern culture and a central dimension of modern societies. My analysis of the nature of mass communication and of the development of media institutions raises more issues than I can adequately address within the scope of this book, but they are issues which I plan to pursue further in a subsequent volume on social theory and mass communication.

In thinking about the ideas discussed in this book, I have benefited from the comments and criticisms of others. Anthony Giddens and David Held deserve particular mention: they have been partners in an ongoing dialogue which has been, and no doubt will continue to be, invaluable. Peter Burke, Lizbeth Goodman, Henrietta Moore and William Outhwaite read an earlier version of this text and gave me a great deal of helpful and encouraging feedback. I am also grateful to Avril Symonds for her skilful word-processing, to Gillian Bromley for her meticulous copy-editing, and to the many people at Blackwell-Polity and Stanford University Press who have contributed to the production and diffusion of this text. Finally, I should like to thank the friends who, in the course of the last couple of years, have helped to create the space for this book to be written: their generosity has meant much more to me than a few words of acknowledgement might suggest.

J.B.T., Cambridge, December 1989