Theodor W. Adorno, the Culture Industry and Leisure

Authored by: Simon Mussell

Routledge Handbook of Leisure Studies

Print publication date:  April  2013
Online publication date:  July  2013

Print ISBN: 9780415697170
eBook ISBN: 9780203140505
Adobe ISBN: 9781136495595


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Anyone serious about the study of either culture or leisure and the various cultural and leisure practices undertaken in capitalist societies must have some familiarity with the arguments put forward by the German philosopher, sociologist, musicologist and cultural critic, Theodor W. Adorno (1903–69), in his seminal ‘culture industry’ thesis. While the influence of this thesis is undeniable, its content is provocative, sometimes unsettling and always uncompromising. The aim of this chapter is to provide the reader with a critical overview of Adorno’s work and what it has to offer leisure scholars. After outlining some biographical details to contextualize the author and his approach, the chapter begins by exploring the main tenets of the culture industry thesis. Building on this groundwork, it goes on to explore what Adorno had to say about leisure (and ‘free time’). In the subsequent section, the chapter rehearses some of most notable criticisms directed at Adorno’s work. Finally, the chapter offers some responses to these criticisms, as well as asking how Adorno’s pioneering insights might be (at least partially) salvaged for those interested in developing scholarly understandings at the intersection between Culture Studies and Leisure Studies in our contemporary ‘postmodern’ landscape.

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