Tag Archives: Marxist Geography

Mass Culture and Urban Space Field

To become a PhD candidate in Cultural Studies at George Mason University, one must complete two fields—literature reviews of areas of study. My fields were “Mass Culture and Urban Space” and “Contemporary Theories of Sexuality.” Attached below is the “Mass Culture and Urban Space” field, but before that is my introduction. The only disclaimer I have is that the section of the Frankfurt School needs work.



Mass culture theories vary in their perspective and object choice; each has its own history and trajectory. Within this field I limit my scope to mass culture theorists engaging with the relationship between structures and subjects. Most theorists acknowledge both as pertinent but thoroughly examine only half of the dichotomy. Cultural theorists define subjects’ existence and their agency within capitalist produced structures in wildly different fashions depending on which half is studied. Within this discussion, I explore how theories regarding mass culture’s production and consumption have informed (and have themselves been informed by) discussions of the production and consumption of urban spaces.  In this way, this field recognizes that the discussion of urban space has always played a significant and central role in larger discussions of mass culture, and has recently gained renewed attention within critical and cultural theory.  The first half of the field thus focuses on the major arguments within the structure/subject dialogue in mass culture theories. The second half then narrows in on the influences, trajectory, and impact of geographers within cultural studies, particularly around questions of the production, appropriation, negotiation, and transformation of not only cultural commodities, but also urban spaces and places.

I begin with Karl Marx’s account of industrial capitalism’s rise and the subsequent alienating of subjects from themselves, their labor, and their culture. I move to Theodor Adorno, Herbert Marcuse, Siegfried Kracauer, and Walter Benjamin of the Frankfurt School and their diverse accounts of the way institutions influence population in order to create the (passive?) masses and situate the public for the exploitation of their labor. Jürgen Habermas breaks away from this trajectory by showing how reason could but fails to combat the irrationality of the system described by the Frankfurt School. As a backlash against studying structures, the Birmingham School, including Stuart Hall, Dick Hebdige, and David Morley, discuss mass culture as a site of ideological struggle between producers and consumers. Their models consider the consumer as active. Their influence within the field sparked others, most notably John Fiske and Ien Ang, into theorizing and investigating the audience and how they negotiate meaning. From here I examine political economists, such as Mark Andrejevic and Sut Jhally, who discuss how the industry transfers audiences into a source of labor. Other political economists, such as Robert McChesney, Vincent Mosco, and Herbert Schiller argue that economic strategies of monopolization, global saturation, and exportation of products and structures of thinking adversely affect political thought and cultural production.

The theories referenced above can easily be, and often have been, applied to the study of urban space. Capitalists produce both mass culture and urban space to suit its purposes, leaving subjects to navigate, acculturate, or appropriate within the systems provided. Marx, Benjamin, and Kracauer were early commentators on capitalism’s impact on space, either altering it to enhance productivity and reduce turnover times, or for the promotion and celebration of consumption. David Harvey draws upon Marxism and critical theory to examine the historical geography of capitalism and the inequalities, which result in the production of space suited to the needs of capital. His work began a long trajectory of other theorists, such as Neil Smith, Sharon Zukin, and Don Mitchell, each of whom examine the production of space and its impact on subjects on a global, national, and local scale. The work of these geographers contributes to questions raised by political economists. Differing in focus, cultural geographers such as Doreen Massey and Peter Jackson draw on the work of Michel DeCerteau, the Birmingham School, and feminists to examine how subjects navigate and alter spaces that seek to exclude them.

Mass Culture and Urban Space Field

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Rough Draft of “Using Helplessness to Reimagine the LGBT Community”

Here is a rough draft of a paper to be presented at Reinstating Transgression: Emerging Political Economies of Queer Space, American University on April 17–18, 2010.

This is a rough draft and I would love feedback. I would like to incorporate more of a political economy approach, so if you have any suggestions, please let me know. Click below to read.

Rough Draft: Using Helplessness to Reimagine the LGBT Community


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CFP— k(NO)w tomorrow: Contradictions of Imagining the Future

Each year George Mason University’s Culture Studies Student Organizing Committee puts together a graduate student conference. I am excited about this conference’s theme, Utopias. The work of academia is to critique the social conditions in play, but also move beyond that to imagine a way out or a more just system. This later half has been mostly abandoned (two recent exceptions— Spaces of Hope by David Harvey and Cyber-Marx (Free online) by Nick Dyer-Witheford) and for obvious reasons. By creating an alternative to this world you imagine what has been deemed unimaginable, a way out. Utopias draw criticism because they are not always grounded in the “real” or what we imagine as real. This makes them easy targets and creates a target on their work. The understated pass by without comment, while those who imagine are lambasted for attempting to hope. I do not mean to sound overtly sentimental, I just strongly believe that academic work is not complete without imagining the possibilities. If there are no possibilities and we are all doomed, then why are we writing all of these books?

With that being said, Utopian visions can be violent acts. They have been used to justify genocide and erase the potential they hope to achieve. They can limit possibilities through blind-faith. The work of examining Utopian Visions and their failures is important.

Here is the CFP for next year’s conference:

k(NO)w tomorrow: Contradictions of Imagining the Future

“Utopia,” according to Frederic Jameson, “has always been a political issue, an unusual destiny for a literary form.” Human history has had no shortage of fantasies of perfect worlds, or of dystopian visions that form their obverse. Even today, when the notion of “progress” is subject to fraught debate, utopian hopes and dystopian warnings can be found in discourses ranging from advertising to religion, film to cable news.

This interdisciplinary conference seeks to explore the idea of utopia, as well as dystopia—the aesthetic, ethical, and political implications of these concepts. It will consider historical and contemporary utopian communities, as well as representations of utopia and dystopia in film, literature, television, and music. Papers should consider the relevance and efficacy of thinking utopias and dystopias within the context of academic research.

Possible topics include looking at utopias and dystopias in the following contexts:

• Historical Practices
• Technology
• Non-Western/Subcultural/Marginal/Minority Groups
• Progress
• Political & Media Rhetoric
• Sexuality
• Limitations
• Environment and Ecology
• Cultural Representations (Film, Art, Television, Music, etc.)
• The Role of in Academic Work

Abstracts of 300 words and a current CV should be sent to Ariella Horwitz (ahorwitz AT gmu DOT edu) by 15 May 2010. Please include the title, presenter’s name, institutional affiliation, contact information, A/V requests, and any special needs required. Abstracts should be sent as .doc or .rtf file attachments.
Previous Conferences:

2009 – Manufacturing Happiness

2008- Histories of Violence

2007- The Politics of Cultural Programming

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Filed under CFP, Mass Culture, queer, Space/Place