Lecture 3: Representation as Economic Power

Review: Karl Marx

  • Karl Marx is part of a political economy tradition in media studies. He is an example of political economist, examining the relationship between politics, government, and how the society is structured
  • Karl Marx questions how the government plays a role in production

Defining Power

  • Power: Power is the ability to determine the actions of others, as well as our ability to determine our own actions. This refers to who has powers, and who determines powers for others
  • Dominant: Dominant refers to individuals or groups who hold and exercise power
  • Subordinate: Subordinate refers to those individuals or groups over whom power is exercised
  • How do we identify who belongs to which group (dominant or subordinate?). This can be identified through class
  • Class is a way of categorizing social groups according to wealth, occupation, taste and culture

Four Modes of Power

  • Physical Force: Physical force which may refer to violence, threatening violence or physical power to control an individual or group
  • Force of Ideas: Force of ideas refers to when a group accepts their subjugation as being natural. They believe it makes sense for them to be subordinated
  • Obvious Force: Obvious force means that people are aware that there is a power subordinating them
  • Subtle Force: Subtle force means that people are unaware that there is a power subordinating them
  • The argument of power is that the more obvious power is to people, the more likely they are going to resist it or rebel against it
  • The more oppressive and obvious the exercise of power, the more likely it is to be resisted. The less oppressive and obvious, the more it is that people will try and accommodate themselves within it

Class Histories

  • In Pre-modern Times: Class divides between land owners and everyone else (Ex. Working class who worked for that land)
  • In Modernity: Class divides between owners (of land, of companies, or production) and workers who work for owners
  • Today: Class tends to be more general story about, those who have and those who have not, as well as about cultural differences

What is Media Power?

  • Media power could be story about ownership (Ex. CBC has power over what is seen on its channels). This means that media makes people powerful (Ex. People who work in industries gain power)
  • Media power could also be a story about media’s power to spread ideas (Ex. Video games have the power to incite violence)
  • It could also be a story about media’s ability to make certain people or stories ‘matter’ more than others (Ex. MTV’s power to launch someone to fame, or get someone to vote). Media in this case are agents of power. They define what should be the dominant interest for the general population

Karl Marx is a Theorist of Power

  • Karl Marx was a German theorist (lived 1818-1883)
  • He was largely ignored in his own time and only became popular after he died
  • His most famous books are
  • Das Kapital
  • Communist Manifesto
  • German Ideology

Mar’s Big Question

  • If the workers have always outnumbered the owners, and the poor have always outnumbered the rich, why has history kept favoring the ruling class? History kept favoring the ruling class because the poor are brainwashed through ideology
  • Ideology is a belief about
  • The way something is
  • The way something was
  • The way something will be
  • The way something should be
  • The way something should not be
  • Another way of thinking about ideology is everything people consider to be common sense

What is Historical Materialism?

  • Marx’s belief is that all history including philosophy, institutions, the family, or the state can be understood as economic struggle. In order to survive, people must produce. This determines peoples’ human thoughts. It stems from the idea that our animal needs determine our human thoughts
  • It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but, on the contrary, their social existence that determines their consciousness

Why Should We Care?

  • Historical materialism allows people to discuss media in ways that reach beyond aesthetics. Rather than is it art, we can ask, who gains power through this act of expression?

How Do We Figure It Out?

  • Marx had two suggestions for helping us break down how power works through culture
  • Theory of Base: Base = Economics. For Marx, base consists of two elements
  • Means of Production = Stuff
  • Relations of Production = People
  • Examples of base include means of production and relations of production. Means of production include land, factories, machines, tools, and infrastructure. Relations of production include how one is structures as a slave, a peasant, a worker, an owner etc
  • Theory of Superstructure: Superstructure = Culture
  • Legal systems
  • Political systems
  • Schools
  • Religions
  • Art
  • Media
  • Marx says that base controls superstructure. In other words, those who control production and labor control culture. Furthermore, he states that superstructure legitimizes base. In other words, culture exists to justify the existence of those with economic power


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