Revisiting the Frankfurt School

Berry, David
Ashgate, Aldershot
9781409411802 (hb)

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Cover of book This rewarding collection of ten new chapters concentrates on lesser-known dimensions and, say, thinkers and scholars less often recognised as members of the Frankfurt School such as Walter Benjamin, Siegfried Kracauer, Erich Fromm, plus some followers like Hans Magnus Enzenberger and Dallas Smythe. While the usual, familiar, core members such as Max Horkheimer, Theodor W. Adorno, Herbert Marcuse, Leo Lowenthal, and Friedrich Pollock have been extensively studied elsewhere, other intellectuals remain on the margins of the Frankfurt School and sometimes are not even considered as being a part of that influential group (p. 1).

One interesting example is German novelist and poet Hans Magnus Enzenberger, who is not very often linked with the Frankfurt School, although he wrote some theoretical texts on culture industries and the media, often based on a critique of Adorno's writings (p. 116 and 121). It is unusual as well to see Dallas Smythe's name related to the Frankfurt School, but his inclusion makes sense at all levels since he conceived the Hollywood film industry as an example of 'Consciousness Industry' made possible under a form of monopoly capitalism (p. 106). During the 1980s, Dallas Smythe was among the very few scholars in media studies to be highly critical about Hollywood's oligarchy, with Thomas Guback (p. 107) and in recent years Toby Miller (p. 119), who co-edited Global Hollywood (Miller et al. 2005).

Perhaps the most useful essay gathered here is the ninth chapter by Hanno Hardt which explains how the theoretical works of Leo Lowenthal can be relevant for the study of Cultural Studies, Celebrity Cultures, and other Post-Marxist approaches (p. 178). In an elegant style and always using clear formula, Hanno Hardt insists on the fact that scholars must not limit their analysis to a mere description or narrative, reminding us of the importance of a critical analysis of journalism and phenomena such as Celebrity Cultures: '[i]mplicit in Lowenthal's approach is a recognition that journalism must be investigated within a more encompassing theory of culture and society' (p. 178). In this posthumous text, Hanno Hardt adds that 'the recent impact of technological changes and the declines of a print culture only intensifies the need for a cultural-historical explanation', which can be brought by the Frankfurt School's theoretical approach (p. 178). He concludes by reaffirming Lowenthal's relevance and necessity today for the studying of ideologies, believing in 'the potential of critical communication studies and reinforced ideas about an interdisciplinary approach in the study of individuals, their culture, and society that speaks to the totality of social practices' (p. 179).

The last chapter highlights the conflicts opposing Erich Fromm to Horkheimer and Adorno, who disagreed on the detail of Freudianism and (p. 194). Here, the author relies on some unpublished correspondence and often portrays the whole group with its main influences and orientations, for instance the Frankfurt School members' preference for psychoanalysis rather than psychology (p. 198).

One should not see this book as an introduction for newcomers or as just a new contribution for a partial history of the famous the Frankfurt School, in German the Institut fur Sozialforschung (the Institute for Social Research). All chapters are centred on one thinker, but they are nonetheless informative in the sense that they actualise how critical theory can be used today, in the era of the Internet, Facebook and new communication devices. According to Mike Wayne (in Chapter 6, on new media technology), 'Enzenberger echoes Walter Benjamin's argument that technologies that democratize the production and reproduction of culture wither the 'aura' of class privilege and monopoly control' (p. 133). For graduate students in media studies who are already familiar with the Frankfurt School, this Revisiting the Frankfurt School will sometimes challenge the frequent image of a coherent group of scholars who never seemed to disagree one with the other. For scholars in Film Studies and sociology of culture, some of these essays will bring the links between the circulation of movies and critical theory, or how the critical studying of mass culture is best exemplified with the film industry, as illustrated in the individual writings of Hans Magnus Enzenberger and Adorno (p. 121). However, Mike Wayne argues that Enzenberger goes even beyond Adorno in reaffirming the constant contradiction between technology and the social relations of production forces which remain strong, still today: 'Enzenberger critiques Adorno's concept of the "culture industry" as inadequate to grasping the totality of the consciousness industry because for Adorno it is a totality in which important contradictions have been largely eliminated' (p. 136). In sum, Revisiting the Frankfurt School will be most useful for academics who teach Frankfurt School, either in philosophy, sociology, media and Cultural Studies, who seek clear examples and contemporary demonstrations taken from the 21st century.


Toby Miller, Nitin Govil, John McMurria, Ting Wang, and Richard Maxwell, Global Hollywood 2. London and Berkeley: British Film Institute/University of California Press, 2005.

Yves Laberge
Centre institutionnel de recherche en éducation, environnement, écocitoyenneté, Québec, Canada