Mass culture and popular culture

To better understand the stakes of culture in contemporary society, here is a course on mass culture.

First, the terms culture and mass culture will be defined according to four criteria. Then the relationship between mass culture and democracy will be examined. In a third time, the conditions of emergence of the mass culture will be studied. Finally, it will be highlighted that it is above all by the technique and the development of the communication that the culture of mass is spread.

The rise of mass culture in the 19th century

Definition of culture: set of characters shared by a group; set of cultural goods of the heritage of a society; set of values and beliefs specific to a group; set of knowledge

Definition of mass : idea of a large public.

4 criteria define the culture of mass:

  1. industrial products : they are reproducible in large quantities
  2. wide distribution
  3. accessibility : objects go beyond social and geographical boundaries
  4. diversified contents and mode of expression

Mass culture and democracy

Democratization of the culture: rise in power of the culture since the years 1950 under the impulse of André Malraux. Playful dimension and learned dimension.

A first criticism appears in the years 1830, affirming that this mass culture lowers the general level of the culture in the national space. This tendency is denounced by Sainte-Beuve, one of the most influential critics and essayists of his time. He wrote an article on “Industrial Literature” in the Revue des Deux Mondes, a high-end society magazine.

Another criticism comes from the German sociologists of the Frankfurt School (Theodore Adorno, Max Horkheimer) who believe that this cultural industry is a tool of alienation, a devastating tool of capitalism.

Conditions of emergence of the mass culture

3 conditions of emergence of the popular culture: conception, diffusion, and reception.

1. The conception was favored by a production facilitated by the industrialization

2. The transformation of the ways of diffusion also favors the rise of the mass culture: railways, telegraph, postal systems.

3. The reception is also facilitated by the social transformations, like the alphabetization, or the establishment of the universal male suffrage, which requires an education.

In conclusion, the definition of mass culture is the massification of all the links of the cultural chain: production, diffusion, and reception.

Forms of mass culture

The forms of the culture of mass are bound to the technique, to the improvement of the ways of communication.

The first form of mass culture dates from 1850-1860: theprinted matter.
Development of the daily press with great circulation at the same time.

Another form of popular culture is shown through the spectacles. The first mass show came from the United States: Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show in 1885.
Likewise, the rise of the circus. Development of star figures with the help of the massive diffusion of posters. The radio does not exist yet, which favors the concert cafés. They are competed by a form of spectacles which comes from the United States the Music Hall. In 1905, the first movie theaters, introduced in France by the Lumière brothers, had the advantage of being cheap and family friendly.

The satirical press participated in this popular culture. Two newspapers were created: La Caricature was founded in 1830, and the Charivari in 1832.

Sporting events ” were invented: for example, the Tour de France created by a car newspaper, l’Auto, in 1903.

New media appeared: free radio, then television, then the Internet.

General Knowledge: globalization

2 thoughts on “Mass culture and popular culture

  1. Hi! Isn’t there a mistake on the point relating to the forms of mass culture when you speak of shows, of the satirical press. In other words, do you classify them as products of mass culture or popular culture?

  2. Hello, I would like to know what is the relationship between mass culture and industrial production because I do not see the relationship. I would also like to know your motivations for offering free content to revise sciences-po? (These days, it seems suspicious to help others) Thanks in advance 🙂

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