Project: Art as Commodity

Commodification of the Art or Cultural object:

The OCA handbook introduces the idea that art or any creative output is commodified by the capitalist structure, which cannot instead value it for properties such as beauty, intellect and spiritualism. Various modern artists have produced art which is more difficult to commodify in this way (Haveland, 2009:28)

The Fetishism of Commodities and the secret thereof.

The following represents a paraphrasing from Marx’s Das Kapital (1867).

Marx begins by saying that commodities are more complicated than they first appear. Yes, they are made by man to be used and perform functions, and are the products of man’s work, which is easily understood. They are fashioned in materials, and remain clearly those materials when finished (the wooden table is an example given). Marx states however, that when they are considered as commodities, they are changed ‘into something transcendent’, and that somehow in relation to all other commodities it takes on new meaning and import (Marx,1867).

This opening paragraph is quite dramatic; the text is a little imprecise and unclear (and for today’s reader, overly complicated).I have found that this style is very characteristic of some writings from our required text ‘Art in Theory 1900-2000’. Take for example Lenin’s essay on the freedom of the proletariat press ‘Party Organization and Party literature’(Lenin, 2003: 138-141) which is written in rather long and complicated sentences, which can be difficult to grasp. However, some writings seem to be written in a much clearer style, for example ‘from Expressionism’ by Hermann Bahr (2003:116-121), or ‘Artistry of the Mentally Ill’ by Hans Prinzhorn ( 2003:116-124).

Marx says that the commodity holds a mystery not because it has a value in its use, nor through characteristics of the way it was made (however complicated a process) because

  • this is ultimately made by an ordinary human being, and
  • the amount of effort/time expended in the making does not necessarily make it good quality
  • When man works at anything this work has a social function

This final point seems a little oddly made in the paragraph. I wonder whether Marx underestimates the power in a human being here, in order to advance his own argument. What about the mystery and power shown in the production of a Beethoven piano sonata for example?

Marx seems to think it obvious that the mystery within the commodity takes the form of the commodity itself, and that in all sorts of labour the product is essentially equal between one worker and the next (though this is refuted by his previous statements about time/effort and quality above!), and that the product of effort x time worked gives the value of the commodity, and the social relationship of the workers is seen not between themselves, but through the product. The mystery in a commodity is, to Marx, the idea of a social relationship, between the man and the object, that is revealed or contained (hidden or obvious is not made clear initially though it is developed later), by that object. He makes the analogy with viewing an object. A viewed object (analogous to the commodity) is sensed to be outside the eye (seen as a commodity form), but, there are elements of it which have been transferred imperceptibly into the organism’s being. This happens when light rays enter the eye and are transferred into chemical impulses which are interpreted by the brain. He admits that this analogy is not completely adequate, because through vision something does physically transfer (the light), whereas the social relationship perceived within a commodity is in no way physically transferred or physically within the object. In order to overcome this weakness he introduces the idea, fundamental to religion, of the physical materialisation of immaterial things. In this same way the social relationship of man to the commodity is made physical within the commodity itself. This he calls the Fetishism of the commodity.

Within Marx’s argument here, I see a parallel with the idea of the difference between the perceived and the identified (or introjected) discussed by Fenichel (1999: 331), who believes that looking is not just passively perceiving, but may involve a more physical sampling of the objects. Perhaps in this sense the social relationship within a commodity can be sampled by the viewer? Fenichel does however counter that Freud views all acts of seeing as, ultimately, the archaic way of seeing; the physical introjection (Freud, cited in Fenichel, 1999:331). It seems to me that the action of making a commodity may also be thought in terms of having a social function (ideology?) interpellated upon it, through the chain of Ideological State Apparatuses, practices, rituals, and finally acts, suggested by Althusser (1999: 317-323).

Marx continues, the producers of commodities work either alone, or as groups, but separated from other commodity producers. If the relationship of these people to the commodity is in effect contained within the commodity, the only way that the different social relationships of the groups can be summated from individuals or individual groups into the total relationship of people to the objects in society is through the act of exchange of these commodities. In fact only through exchange of the commodities can there be a true reflection of the relationship of labour between one person and another; or in other words, those relations are ‘material relations between persons and social relations between things’.

Producers therefore work for two reasons. Firstly to satisfy the need of society for the useful things it needs (for the good of society), and also through exchange , to satisfy the needs of the producers, who’s labour is of equal worth to the labour of all others. Marx proposes that this idea amounts to the equalization of unequal job roles, which for the worker can only be appreciated through the abstract idea of the equal ‘value’ of the exchanged commodities (in terms of labour invested), additional to their particular utility. This is a very difficult paragraph to grasp, and seems to be both a little unclear, and a little repetitious. It is very prosaic and seems to be written with one eye on dramatic effect, rather than a thoroughly efficient communication of an idea.

At this stage of my reading I was also a little confused as to the words Marx was using and defining, and several questions were surfacing in my mind. Does Marx believe that value is more important than the utility? Did his use of the word ‘value’ equate to what we think of as the price of an article? If value is a summary of the formula effort X duration of the labour used to make it, this term already seems likely to be not wholly related to price in our non-ideal society. And how does the argument relate to wages? The corresponding idea is presumably that all labour is worth the same, given the same effort and duration. Perhaps I needed to read more of the chapter to clarify some of these points, and perhaps some would only be addressed by other chapters of the book.

Value, Marx continues, converts each product into a ‘social hieroglyphic’, which allows us to infer, and equalise between commodities, all the many different types of labours which produced them. He states that it was recently scientifically discovered (although there is no citation or reference) that the value of a commodity is simply the physical capacity of it to reflect the labour given to its production. He believes that this is a sign of development of human society, though he counters that people still judge a man’s labour by what it is he produces and how it is produced.

We now move onto a very practical argument about how we decide how much of one commodity should be exchanged for another. Marx says that this is often taken for granted within a system. This is admirably reinforced by a small personal mental exercise; my belief say, that 35 p is cheap for a can of coke, but £1.20 is expensive. These two items are very different (one is a sweet liquid having some nutrients, whereas the other is an inert metal having no utility other than for exchange).The system of exchange can be fluid though- as the amount and proportions of every commodity needed may vary due to a great many factors outside the producer’s control. For example, the many different production processes take place in relative isolation from one another (limiting communication of requirements presumably). In addition to this however, the value of commodity is also ruled by the labour time needed to make it. Thus both the requirement for and the value of the commodity (in terms of labour) are both factors which influence the proportions of commodities exchanged. This part of the argument seems to introduce the idea that equal value of labour is influenced by the factor which economists would call supply and demand.

The next paragraph begins in a very difficult style, which obscures Marx’s ideas and views. The sentences are very long, very rambling, and he attempts to define ideas and terms such as price and value. He view seems to be that the social element integral to the production of commodities is well developed historically, and that we therefore seem to concentrate now instead on the price of goods. This ignores and conceals the well developed society structured concept of value within a commodity, which Marx seems to suggest is a bad thing.   An example is given which uses a comparison between coats, boots, linen and gold, but which does not completely clarify the ideas in the paragraph. This could be due to a rather old style of language used, or perhaps a loss in translation of the work.

The next example of Robinson Crusoe seems much clearer. Because he is alone (no other labour force to complicate), and because he is on an island (where prior development has not occurred), and because it’s critical for him to determine the correct proportion of resources needed, his process of having an inventory of useful things which he owns (commodities such as stored fish, kept goats, etc…), and how many hours he expended on them (their true Marxist value), is the more obvious as a measure of value.

Marx next discusses an intermediate stage of society- a medieval one involving serf and lords. Once again the argument is a little unclear to me (is there a lost comma somewhere too, which changes the sense of a sentence?), but he appears to say that there is enough interaction of goods and services for the relationship between working society and labour expended to be visible and perceivable (there are lots of examples of goods for services and payment in kind). The social structure of work is not seen only in the final finished product.

The apotheosis of this argument would seem to me to be that if men labour on only one commodity or one job (not several), it tends towards the system whereby social relations and value is defined only by exchange –when commodities are traded. Is this why some stressed modern workers escape the rat race of one repetitive job, paid in money, to live a more visible subsistence lifestyle where the social aspect of work is more obvious?

The next example clarifies further still, and is labelled ‘common or directly associated labour’ (Marx, 1867). A peasant family is discussed, which is virtually self sufficient, each member labouring, and the amount of labour done, and any division in labour types is a reflection of the family society as well as external conditions such as weather and the seasons. This type of system produces objects of utility, which are used and highlight family structure. They are not commodities in the sense defined at the beginning of the piece.

A community of free living individuals is cited next. Here the work is similar to the Robinson Crusoe example, but on a many-person scale. Everyone undertakes work (it is not clear how much each is working in the ‘many small jobs’ model) or the ‘one job, repeated’ model), buteveryone works, and the amount of time worked is dependent on a. The need for the community for different amounts of useful products-for subsistence, and b. The amount worked by different people, in relation to their take-home of the overall subsistence. Once again the social relationships within the workplace are clear and simple.

The product/social working economy is now compared to the commodity style economy. The social economy style is associated with the East (not West), and with more primitive cultures as compared to sophisticated ones. It is associated with the worship of nature, and certain religious characteristics (but within religious sects- Christianity/Protestantism tends towards the commodity style), and also with the subjection of people (in some form of slavery presumably), and with a relatively low production rate. In the primitive cultures the system changes from social to commodity style as these communities then begin to dissolve. This discussion of religion finishes with a confusing sentence. Marx seems to suggest that return to religion would be the best way to ensure visible and obvious social relations between labour (the primitive way). However he actually says

‘’The religious reflex of the real world can, in any case, only then finally vanish, when the practical relations of every-day life offer to man none but perfectly intelligible and reasonable relations with regard to his fellowmen and to Nature’’.


The explanation could be as follows.   Although these social relations are found in religious societies as a rule, he hopes that religion can be destroyed (Marx was anti-religion), leaving its beneficial characteristic- ie. ‘perfectly intelligible and reasonable relations with regard to his fellowmen and to Nature’(Marx,1867).

The commodity model cannot rid itself of the problem of unclear social relations between workers unless it has time over which to develop, workers who are free, and have a way of influencing the system.

After setting up the terms of the argument, and discussing the two extremes of production, Marx now begins the process of criticising the system. Perhaps this is a good illustration of a dialectical argument. He criticises the economic status quo who say that nature has a part to play in exchange value of commodities. This he believes misunderstands the fetishism of the commodity – that it reflects the labour needed to make it- and has nothing to do with nature. Also, although the fetishism within the monetary system was easily seen working behind early incarnations of bourgoise societies, it is much less obvious within the modern developed economy. In the modern world the value of gold and silver are seen as inherently and mystically high (and so too the earth- with respect to property rights) but the value of labour (underpinning everything) is not considered high!

As a final thought he says that ‘exchange value is the property of things, use value is a property of man’. And that the use value is a value found over and above the material properties itself, whilst the exchange value is only realised through exchange (Marx,1867).

Marx’s last few ideas do not completely clarify the difference between use value and exchange value. More questions surfaced in my mind. Does a loaf of bread have use value and exchange value to a starving man? Is a diamond not useful to a man s subsistence? Does it have use /exchange value? Has a £5 note use value / exchange value?

I believe that societies and economies have changed massively in the 150 years since Marx wrote this. We live in a digital and technological age, and materials now are not thought of as they would have been then. Perhaps the need to reclassify some of the materials here may contribute a little to how we understand the argument (we have new uses for many- take diamond, which now has utility (as a hard substance) as well as a mystical value of sparkliness and beauty).

Having read this piece, I am not sure fundamentally whether Marx believes that exchange value is everything? He must believe in the latter because it values PEOPLE via their work. But surely anti-capitalists such as Marx (Das Kapital is a critique of Capitalism) would say that the inherent beauty in say a diamond, or an idea, is intrinsically good?

In your blog………….

Can you see ways in which this may help us to understand the art market?

Broadly speaking there seems to me to be two art markets in the world. Publicly it is dominated by the celebrity and big money art market, with huge (some would say obscene) prices paid for artworks. On the other hand normal citizens can either buy modestly priced art which they like to look at, and place in their home, or go to see it at a museum or gallery.

Of course art markets have changed over the centuries. In medaevil times the main buyer of art was the church, and this continued into the renaissance period. Large art commissions would have been very expensive, but would have reflected the labour and materials used to produce them (their value and price were fairly similar); there was no hyper inflated art market, and few people used art for their own private use.

During the rise of the middle classes in the 17th C, feudal society began to make way for an increasingly merchant based society. Ordinary people (not royal or holy, though bourgoise) began to buy pictures to enjoy in their own homes (especially in Holland, where the genre of Still Life, and realism were very popular). These objects were increasingly bought and sold as commodities as were other signs of increasing wealth- access to foreign luxury goods and foods for example.   This Dutch art market would have been similar to today’s lesser art market in the UK/globally. There was no hyperinflation, and the objects were bought mainly for their utility – they were beautiful and interesting. Some famous examples of hyperinflation of commodities did occur in these times- such as the rise and collapse of the Dutch Tulip market, and the British ‘South Sea bubble’; but the art market reflected the value of the art and no more.

It seems that the lesser art market today is still based on utility (that a person likes to look at the art), much as in 17th C Holland. The greater market is based on the idea of a commodity for exchange-its utility is less important some would say – it is a way of making money through buying and selling art, through its exchange as a commodity. It also seems clear that within the lesser art market, the value of works of art are somewhat similar to their price (a painting which took several days may be bought for a few hundred pounds), whereas the celebrity market is made up of art whose value (the labour expended by the famous artist who made it) is much smaller than its price (the desire for man to own it and the amount of things which he will exchange for it).

Most art transactions on the news are of Monet’s, Van Gogh’s, Turner’s, etc and are all about fame, high quality (Marx does not define value in terms of quality of labour), and huge prices. Last week I heard a radio programme discussing the impending auction of Landseer’s Monarch of the Glen- for circa £ 5-10 million. Yes, some of the art is purchased for museums, but much is privately owned by companies or individuals , and if viewed by fewer people it’s combined utility (as a beautiful/spiritual object) must be diminished-compare a million people who see the Mona Lisa in the Louvre with a hypothetical billionaire who has a famous Picasso in his living room. However note also that extreme Modernist artists have always been dismissive of the type of classical, traditional art which filled the museums of their day; they thought it useless. The Futurists declared that ‘all forms of imitation must be despised, all forms of originality glorified’ (Boccionie,,2003: 150), and Malevich that ‘only with the disappearance of a habit of mind which sees in pictures little corners of nature, madonnas and shameless Venuses, shall we witness a pure work of living art’ and that more Modernist ‘intuitive creation has no utilitarian purpose’   (Malevich, 2003: 173).

These famous art works (which in the 21st Century now include the extremely Modernist, and Post-modern) are all about price and nothing about value. The price here is determined by supply and demand, and is vast multiples of its value. These artworks have a mystical price, similar to the mystical price of gold and silver which underpins economies (Marx,1867). These prices are a use value characteristic of men, but no part of the value characteristic of them as objects (Marx,1867).

In times past artists were often considered producers or craftsman; think of the builders of an Egyptian pyramid, or the many artists involved in a single painting produced in a Renaissance workshop such as Verrocchio’s, where Leanardo Da Vinci was apprenticed. In contrast art produced in the Western, Classical/Romantic/Modernist ‘developed’ societies of the last few hundred years, is made by tose considered ‘genius’ and celebrities of their day (or if not theirs- certainly ours).

The earlier artistic objects were produced in a way that the social relationships between the artists involved were clear, and were not concealed within the final work. The art of the lone genius (one thinks of Beethoven in music, and Jackson Pollock in modern art) had no corresponding visible production structure. These latter products would be considered as displaying the fetishism of commodity, and of lower value (in terms of labour hours) than the former ones (Marx,1867).

Several attempts have been made to restore both the social element of labour within art production, and the relevance of art to the masses, increasing the utility of art within an increasingly developing society. One example was the Arts and Crafts movement, led in the in the UK led by William Morris and John Ruskin (Gropius, 2003: 310). The Post-modernist movement also reacted against the idea of a single handed genius as the sole producer of works of art. They produced art which mitigated against the idea of a unique work of art with some mystic function. Artists like Andy Warhol (who started work as a Graphic artist- using art to Sell products), wanted to increase the element of the machine in art production using techniques such as Screen Printing whereby many similar products could be produced, differing only in small ways. He believed that ‘somebody should be able to do all my paintings for me’ (Warhol, 2003: 748).

Does the article go any way towards explaining the sort of work made by artists such as Jeff Koons?

Koons art has explored several ideas, subjects, and genres. He often references previous artists and styles, but using his own style- bringing together many different ideas within the same object. He frequently references ideas such as advertising, mass media, pop culture, and post-modernism/minimalism. He is overtly popular and disliked the abstract nature of modern art.

Fig1. Puppy, 1992. Jeff Koons


In the puppy, the idea of elites such as dog breeders and topiarists are set against mass market ideas and images of the puppy and flowers In this work he also references the old within the new- the idea of a classical garden as art, within a modern artwork. The gigantic size of many of his works could be a reference to the increasing size and ‘sophistication’ of society and the economy. The reference to commodities within this piece is obvious- puppies and flowers are often used on greetings cards and as nick-nacks in the gift shop, as well as being an advertising staple (Andrex loo roll puppies..). The audience is undoubtedly the masses or the working class- and the elites of the established art world are not catered for in the rather kitsch work.

Fig 2, Jeff and Ilona (Made in Heaven), Jeff Koons (1990)


This sculpture is one of a set. It seems to be a mix of the new and the old. We have a scene which reminds us of ancient classical mythology pictures involving a hero, his lover, and what looks like a cupid in the background. However, he has updated the image- he is in the scene (as artist), and his wife (an ex porn star and Italian politician).   Koons has presented an artistic object which on the surface is a mythological love scene. However this is transcended by virtue of being an object made by a famous artist, with the ensuing spotlight of attention, into an object stamped with a text of the shocking contemporary issues of Italian politics and pornography.

Find some examples of Koons’ work and read up on Koons.

Jeff Koons (b 1955) works in Painting, design, and 3-D objects/sculpture. Between 1 980-86 he spent time as a commodity broker on Wall Street. His company is called Jeff Koons Productions Inc. and he works with many assistants who produce the work which he designs- he is not physically involved with their production (Graham-Dixon, 2008).

.Find 2 examples of artists who work in the same way as Koons.

Fig 3 Fountain, Marcel Duchamp, 1917(replica 1964)


Fig 4. Double Elvis, (1963) Andy Warhol,


Fig. 5 Double Hulk Elvis Origin Train Swish   (2008) by Jeff Koons


Fig. 5 is a screen print which references the famous Warhol image ‘Double Elvis’ (fig 4). Koons has updated the image, using a comic character the Incredible Hulk. The use of a big green monster to replace one of the most famous and celebrated 20th C icons seems tongue in cheek, and the use of a comic hero is populist, and lacking bourgoise sophistication.

 List of Illustrations:

Figure 1. Koons, J. Puppy (1992) [sculpture] At: on 27th November 2016)

Figure 2 , Koons, J. Made in Heaven (1989) [Sculpture] At: on 27 November 2016)

Fig 3 Duchamp, M. Fountain (1917) [sculpture] at : (accessed on 27th November 2016)

Fig. 4 Warhol, A, Double Elvis (1963) [silkscreen print] at (accessed on 27th November 2016)

Fig. 5 Koons, J. Double Hulk Elvis Origin Train Swish (2008) [screen print] on 27th November 2016)



Althusser, L (1993). ‘Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses’. In visual culture: A reader. Evans, J and Hall,,S (eds), London. SAGE Publications. p317-324

Boccione, U et al. (2003), ‘Futurist painting: technical manifesto ‘ in Harrison, C and Wood, P (eds) Art in theory 1900-2000. USA. Blackwell. pp150-154

Fenichel, O, (1993). ‘The scoptophilic instinct and identification’. In visual culture: A reader. Evans,J and Hall,S (eds), London. SAGE Publications. p327-40

Freud (no date) cited in Fenichel,, O, (1993). ‘The scoptophilic instinct and identification’. In visual culture: A reader. Evans,J and Hall,S (eds), London. SAGE Publications. Pp327-40

Graham-Dixon, A (ed.) (2008), Art: The Definitive Visual Guide, London, DK Publishing Ltd.

Gropius, W. (2003). ‘The theory and organisation of the Bauhaus’. In: Harrison, C and Wood, P (eds) Art in theory 1900-2000. USA. Blackwell. pp 310-314

Haveland, P. (2009) Visual Studies 1 Understannding Visual Culture. Barnsley : Open College of the Arts

Lenin, V. (2003) ‘Party Organisation and party Literature’ In: Harrison, C and Wood, P (eds) Art in theory 1900-2000. USA. Blackwell. pp. 138-141

Malevich, K (2003). ‘From Cubism and futurism to suprematism : The new realism in painting’. In: Harrison, C and Wood, P (eds) Art in theory 1900-2000. USA. Blackwell. pp 173-183

Marx, K. [1867], The Fetishism of Commodities and the Secret thereof , from das <;, accessed 27th November 2016

Prinzhorn, H. (2003) ‘Artistry of the Mentally Ill’. In: Harrison, C and Wood, P (eds) Art in theory 1900-2000. USA. Blackwell. pp. 121-124

Warhol, A (2003). From ‘Andy warhol (1930-1987) Interview with Gene Swanson’ In: Harrison, C and Wood, P (eds) Art in theory 1900-2000. USA. Blackwell. pp 747-749

An exercise to improve my use of academic sources.


During my previous projects I have spent some time making notes on the given essay/article, and answering the BLOG questions. I d like to try and achieve these goals in a more efficient and skilled manner- and perhaps a little quicker than my previous attempts. I decided to read a little about the ideas behind summarising, paraphrasing, and direct quotation, using the  Harvard Guide to Using Sources (Harvard College Writing Program, 2016).

As I read it struck me that here was a way that I could consider, experiment and improve my use of these techniques, and broaden my goal towards the best use of sources in general. Using sources will be so fundamental and common in my work for this module, that to take time to learn (or relearn) about the techniques would be time very well spent –especially near the beginning of the course. I therefore made a few notes on the ideas before beginning the next project

A summary of the Harvard Guide to using sources


Reading this introduction, I realised that during this OCA course I will be engaging in debates, through my written work, about various academic topics. During these debates I will metaphorically stand alongside, argue and discuss with other authors and academics. In order to efficiently engage, and with integrity, I will need to use sources correctly. Developing skills to use resources is not easy, and it will be an ongoing process, but as my use becomes more sophisticated it will allow me to develop stronger and more complex arguments. (Harvard guide to using sources, 2016: 1)

Why use sources

During an academic course one may use several different kinds of source, including letters, images, verbal conversations, quantitative data, or articles and analyses. One major distinction between source types is Primary and Secondary. Primary sources include fiction, poetry, original letters, photos, collected data etc, whilst secondary sources comprise data, writing and analysis that has been undertaken previously by another scholar. Some differences do exist between disciplines in the correct way to handle sources, though many principles are the same between areas of study. (Harvard guide to using sources, 2016)

What are you supposed to do with sources?

Most academic work will entail the posing of a question or series of questions, identification and understanding of different sources and opinions (which may agree or disagree with your ideas),the use of these sources to skilfully argue a position for yourself on the questions, which, importantly, involves your original thinking (my italics).

When considering sources one should ask how they help you understand a subject, whether they can be used as evidence for your argument, or against, and whether they require you to change/broaden your argument, or take new lines of enquiry. Your sources allow you to make original opinions and thoughts on debates that other scholars have also engaged upon. (Harvard guide to using sources, 2016: 3)

Writing ‘Original’ papers

Try to come up with some original thoughts in everything you write. If this seems challenging it may be that your expectation of original is too high.

Evaluating a source

Not all sources are created equal. The most reliable are those produced in peer reviewed journals or academic books, where there has been a process of review by experts. ( ? but what if the experts are censoring information ?). Not all written information is worth discussing. When you evaluate a source examine

  • How you will use it
  • The qualifications of the author
  • Why it was written –context , bias, function
  • What’s its scope- its width and depth
  • Is the information up to date?

When evaluating web sources- can you identify the author? If not can you identify where the information resides – is it a .gov, .com, .edu, .org ? Are there adverts on the sites? How may they be biasing the info? Does the author cite other sources for corroboration? Is the language used suggestive of extreme views? Can you find when the source was produced? Some sources can be timely even if years old. Others may be out of date quickly.


Using wiki has dangers. The website can be added to by anyone, regardless of credentials, knowledge, bias, or reason. You must always corroborate information from wiki with other sources. It is ok to use wiki to take a preliminary broad look at ideas, but its probably better to use an encyclopaedia which takes a broad view of things too.

Avoiding Plagiarism

Plagiarism is the act of submitting work that was done by someone else, whether intentionally or unintentionally. It’s serious. In order to avoid this you must use citations and references. This allows you to credit other authors for their hard work, and to provide information for those who want to consider the subject in more detail themselves. The ease with which we can get data from the internet makes it easy to commit plagiarism, especially if you are cutting and pasting information. Whilst it’s more obvious that an academic book or journal needs crediting, its also the same with every website, including dictionary websites.

( what are the rules about websites from extremists, pornography, or illegal websites?).

  • Verbatim Plagiarism occurs when you directly quote someone else’s words without quotation marks, and a citation, even if they are within your own ideas.
  • Mosaic Plagiarism occurs if you use many sources, and inadequately paraphrase, or lose contact with which ideas come from which author and which are your own.
  • Inadequate paraphrasing: You must completely reword the ideas of the source. It’s a good idea to put away the source whilst you think of your version, and check afterwards for any plagiarism. Don’t use a source if you don’t understand what it says- you are more likely to quote verbatim, or misrepresent someone’s ideas.
  • Using other student’s work: If you discuss work in a group situation it is ok to get feedback, and to bounce ideas off one another, where ideas are thought of as from the group/collaborative and not individual. It may be appropriate to say something like ‘I acknowledge the help of Group X in generating ideas around the subject’. Although it is ok to have collaborative discussions, it is usually not ok to collaborate directly in the production of particular answers to questions/ data analysis.
  • Also: Not referencing paraphrased work, or referencing direct quotes,
  • Common knowledge: The only things that don’t need referencing are facts and figures which are common knowledge. These are widely known by educated people, or a group of people, and are not someone’s  own ideas. So, water =H2O, Hastings= 1066, etc do not need citing. Ideas and concepts well known to others are usually not considered common knowledge however. Only direct quotes of universal knowledge need not be cited

(can i think of an example?)

PS If in doubt provide a reference- better than the trouble you’ll find if you don’t !


Avoiding plagiarism

  • Keep track of your sources, and save a copy of electronic sources
  • Don’t reword sources so many times that you lose track of the original source info
  • Paraphrase carefully and always give citations immediately (not later)
  • Set enough time aside for dealing with sources
  • Don’t cut and paste directly into your work.
  • Keep sources and your own work separately
  • Keep careful copies of Source-notes-draft-finished essay, and keep track of the route you took from left to right.


Integrating Sources

Every source must be used for a specific purpose and the reader should know what that is (check again before submitting). In order to know what you will do with the source think about what it meant to you as you encountered it. Was it context for the debate, evidence for or against an opinion, did it complicate the argument and make you think again? If so- it will probably be taken as such by the reader too. Choosing the relevant parts of a source is important. The work should primarily be about what YOU think, and so others’ work should not swamp the piece. Always think about the source’s role- and you may then need to quote or use less of it in your work. Think of an essay as a conversation in which you participate with other academic’s who you will need to represent correctly!

Summarising, Paraphrasing and Quoting

  • Summarising: you will need to provide the reader with just as much detail as you think is necessary for your argument. Don’t provide too much which will make your points obscure. Reference and citations needed
  • Paraphrasing will give more detail than a summary ( about the same level as the original text). Unless for a specific reason, you should paraphrase rather than quote directly. Make sure you are using your own words and are referencing correctly.
  • Quotations should be used only for specific functions, such as giving a reader an idea of the language used or the authority provided by the quotation. Use short quotes and only to add to your argument, use a long quote only when arguing about the quote in detail.

The nuts and bolts of integrating

  • Topic sentences: Introduce the topic of each paragraph with text in your own voice about what the paragraph is about.
  • Framing source material: when you use a source you should begin with a sentence explaining why you are using it, and end with one about what you take from the source in forwarding your argument- both in your own words/voice.
  • Signal phrases: these show the reader that you have changed from your voice to another’s eg. Spelke argues , Sandel notes , Lue confirms (the exact wording can tell the reader about the attitude of the source).
  • Using quotations in your own sentences. This can be done, and you may need to add your own words in brackets to allow the quote to fit your text. Don’t use too many brackets- instead alter the quote or sentence.
  • Ellipsis: three points (…), can be used to indicate that you have omitted some of the text in a quote. If used you must not change the meaning or idea behind a source.
  • Block quotations: use these if more than 4 lines long, and don’t use quotation marks-use indentation to the right and left. Introduce and follow your quotation as described previously. Use double quotation marks for a source, and if there is a quote or speech within it, use an additional set of marks eg. At this point, the man has criticized the girl for her attitude. She responds, “‘I was trying. I said the mountains looked like white elephants. Wasn’t that bright?'” (182).
  • Use of [sic]. Use this to show the reader that an error in the quotation was in the original text, and is not your own.Bibliography
  • Harvard College Writing Program. (2016). Harvard Guide to Using Sources [online] At : (Accessed on 13 November 2016).
  • eg. In his letter to the editor, Harding admonishes his audience to “rite [sic] while you can, no matter the sacrifice” (23).

Reflection on the exercise

Completion of this exercise has made me feel much more confident about the process of using sources within my work. I have been writing essays in various capacities for a good many years (on and off), but this work has clearly shown me that there is a way of summarising and paraphrasing effectively and using sources correctly. It has also reinforced the idea that sources should be used with care and for a reason, and that they should not obliterate my own voice during an argument, and this is exceptionally important.

From a very practical sense, I have been worried that I have been taking far too long to complete each of the projects in Part one.  I now feel happier and more confident that in future projects I can summarise text and answer BLOG questions more succinctly and skilfully, which will maximise my efficiency and save valuable time. Additionally the process of evaluating, selecting, and integrating sources for my final assignments will be less daunting. All this would comprise a significant improvement in my work, and I will keep these issues under consideration and review over the next projects and assignment 1.

A visual analysis of images found in online newspapers.


I have been on the Visual studies course now for about 5 weeks and progress has been a little slow. I have found that the different tasks I need to keep up with are quite daunting. These include

  • Individual Projects – reading, note taking, BLOG answers
  • Supplementary reading – eg from The Visual Culture Reader, Ways of seeing,
  • Keeping a learning log/sketchbook

Because of the different nature of this course compared to my Drawing and Painting courses I have found that I have not been keeping a learning log over the last few weeks- it’s as if the shock of a different style of module has taken my brain off course.   These tasks, which seemed ‘normal’ for the other courses have seemed less natural.

So tonight I ve decided to begin by having a look at a few images from an online newspaper, simply to get me thinking about Images, and talking about them. I will talk about them in the same way as I did with my Painting/Drawing Modules. This will include my thoughts on the images, whether I like them, and to explore some theoretical concepts which may underpin them. I will also begin to properly use citations and references in my written work, in order to maintain academic integrity.

Image 1.

Image 1: Actress Eleanor Tomlinson: Power, passion and the girl who fired up Poldark (2015)

Our Sunday evening screens are sizzling thanks to actress Eleanor Tomlinson, who beat a string of hopefuls to win the coveted role of Demelza. She tells Daphne Lockyer how delving into painful memories from her past helped her get into character



Eleanor wears CHIFFON DRESS, Bora Aksu. RINGS and EARRINGS’

Image 2: Eleanor Tomlinson: We’re seeing more strong female roles (2016)


 Image 3: Aidan Turner as Ross Poldark (2016)


The large colour picture (image 1) on the left is clearly a glamorous shot of a pretty young actress. Do I like it? Well, she is very attractive, but I am cynical about this image, and don’t like it within a newspaper’s pages. This actress is starring in Poldark, a popular new TV series, which also stars a dashing and handsome male lead. The text above tells us that she helps to make our TV on Sunday Sizzling, the text below tells us about the adornments of her body. Despite using the lurid language sizzling, the text continues by telling us that she got this important part by beating many rival actresses, and the article goes on to discuss how the actress used her overcoming of childhood bullying in her school in Yorkshire, to inform her performance. One therefore presumes she is a talented and conscientious actress.

This is all well and good, but Image 1 looks very similar to any image we might see in a girlie magazine, or a Renaissance nude, albeit with her clothes on. Image 2 is more reserved, but still shows the actress in a figure hugging dress, with her breasts and body shape notable obvious. It is juxtaposed with a small caption which once again, seems to compliment the actress by welcoming ‘more strong female roles’.

Despite the indirect compliments about her acting talent, in the text, Image 1 is actually a very commonplace example of images of women reproduced over the last several hundred years in Western art, painting, photography, and other media (Berger,1972: 57). Berger (1972) discusses at length the symbolism behind this sort of representation of women in pictures, and the convention of how women and nudes have been depicted over the centuries. With regard to the power relations within a picture he states that a man’s presence is ‘dependent upon the promise of power which he embodies’ (Berger,1972: 45). In contrast a woman’s presence ‘expresses her own attitude to herself, and defines what can and cannot be done to her’ (Berger,1972:46).

Accordingly image 1 (and to a lesser extent image 2) seems to tell us that this talented actress is presenting herself in a stereotypical way, to be seen by a male audience, that she is quite aware of this, and that it will be to her own benefit. Image 1 is all about the woman’s beauty and her availability as a sexual object-there is no other characteristic explored; No reference to her artistic excellence, any humour or human empathy, nor indeed to any of the suffering which befalls her character Demelza.

Instead, she is reclining, accentuating her breasts with her left arm, showing the outline of her large hips and pelvis, and seems to be about to tap on the floor, as if waiting for the viewer to do something. If we combine this with the powerful stare with which she meets the viewer’s eyes, we can see that this image is pretty much all about sex and her availability for it.

The gaze can represent many things, including power, magic, and the metaphor for devouring the object of one’s gaze, using eyes, mouth, or with a penis, and all in relation to sexual intercourse (Fenichel, 1999: 327-328). Freud discusses the primeval scoptophilic (or libidinal) aspect of the gaze (Freud (1905) cited in Fenichel, 1999: 329). The male gaze of the viewer of this picture must be extremely scoptophilic and strong for the girl to meet it with these eyes.

She herself may be a strong (in this sense feminist- In this sense anti-hierarchical?), but this article picture is not. Perhaps she is strong, and the media have cynically projected onto her the role of a subjugated female under an oppressive hierarchical male stare.   This would fit with a classical Marxist view of the mass media which tells us that they are actually controlled by the economics of society (Chandler,1995:2). In this case the actress is subjected (knowingly or unknowingly?) to a still mainstream bourgeoisie ideaology of male sexism-whether it be from the advertisers who buy copy space in the online paper, or the dominant male hierarchy of the newspaper’s staff themselves.

This classical view (the economist Marxist view), could be further developed by noting that on on level the text accompanying images 1 and 2 may allow us to think that the media are (as some cultural Marxist’s think) liberal and able to show autonomy from the economic Base of society. (Curran et al. (1982), cited in Chandler, 1995:2). Perhaps they are championing the interests of women ( here represented by ‘strong women’), or the working-class, or any subjugated minority.  However, this may be what Althusser would call a false consciousness (Chandler, 1995: 3) pedalled by the paper, but underpinned by the sexism of the dominant ideology. In view of the extreme dominant sexist ideology behind images 1 and 2, I find it highly ironic and cynical that the juxtaposed texts appear to be welcoming this actress’s talent and her inclusion in the upsurge of ‘strong female roles’.

Ironically this series of Poldark has been criticised for female sexism- in the mass hysteria supposedly caused in women who watched the male actor Aidan Turner using a scythe and revealing his muscly chest (Image 3). However if we compare the images of the actress above with that of Turner (Image 3), I think the journalist Alice Jones has it right when she points out that no sexism is valid, but when it comes to the sexism involved in the portrayal and consumption of men and women, the power dynamics are frequently not the same (Jones, 2016) .

‘ Men are rarely objectified in a way that strips them of the power they wield. Their flesh is muscular and ready for action – it is not the passive sexualised nudity of so many women on screen and billboards’                                                                              (Jones, 2016).


Image 1: Actress Eleanor Tomlinson: Power, passion and the girl who fired up Poldark (2015) [photograph] At: (Accessed on November 5th 2016)

Image 2: Eleanor Tomlinson: We’re seeing more strong female roles (2016) [photograph]. At [Accessed on November 5th 2016]

Image 3: Aidan Turner as Ross Poldark (2016) [photograph]. At [Accessed on November 5th 2016]


Berger, J. (1972). Ways of Seeing. London, Penguin Books.

Chandler, D. (1995). Marxist Media Theory at (accessed on 5th November 2016). p1-11

Fenichel, (1999), ‘The scoptophilic instinct and identification’ in: Evans and Hall (ed.) Visual Culture :a reader. 327-328). London. SAGE Publications ltd. 327-339

Jones, 2016: ‘Poldark may be hunky but he shouldn’t be objectified’ in The Independent [Online] at: (accessed on 5th November 2016).




Base and Superstructure


Project: Base and Superstructure                                               29.10.16


The following notes are based on the OCA handbook.


Marxism: Haveland (2009:22-23) discusses Marxism . The idea that capitalist society is a class battle for domination between the ruling and working classes, which is dominated by the ruling classes. The battle is played out in an arena which includes the media. Das Kapital (by Marx and Engels) was a critique of capitalism, and a plan to overthrow the system. Society is best analysed via the economic relationships between Ruling and Working classes. As the working classes are the most exploited they will be the most likely to overthrow the system.


Marxist philosophy = Dialectical materialism


The political strand = historical or scientific materialism


Marxism types: various exist, eg.  Orthodox Marxism, neo Marxism,


For an Orthodox Marxist:


Base is the economic base (ie industry, owned by the ruling class)


Superstructure is everything else which is built upon this eg. services, arts, education,


Other Marxist strands tend to disagree on what constitutes the Base and Superstructure.


In late 19th C many artists and thinkers were inspired by this philosophy eg.  HG Wells, William Morris.  


Dialectical argument: not a new idea, Marx used it, and refined it, developing from Hegel’s work.


Thesis (argument for) + antithesis (argument against) = Synthesis (the best explanation /correct answer as it stands, in this time)




Media are part of the system, and cannot but reflect the ruling classes. They use frameworks which reflect the ruling class- though they may think they are unbiased. The proletariat’s ability to identify/rebel against this is limited, because they have no access to other frameworks from which to compare. 


Marxist Media Theory


Daniel Chandler discusses various aspects of Marxism and the Mass Media (Chandler, 1995)




Marxist approaches to analysing media were common in the early 80’s, and are still around today (though less common). There are no single Marxist schools of thought however. (Marxist analysers include?) Marxism theories emphasise the idea of media as a power for the ruling class status quo, whereas Liberalist theories emphasise its potential for freedom of speech (analogy between Labour and Liberal politics?).Marxist theories develop ideas as a reaction to the ‘functionalist’ theory of society which allows all elements of society to run together smoothly- Marx allows for social conflict in society. (Usually methods of analysis should allow lots of different perspectives. This allows for a dialectical  argument. ‘Its not black and white’- ‘its six of one and half a dozen of the other’).


The Pluralist view was common from the 40’s in US society (Hall,1982: cited in Chandler, 1995: p1), and says that the media is autonomous from state and political parties, allows a range of views, and that it is in an equal relationship with the audience, who can also influence the media, based on their choice to consume (Gurevitch et al. 1982, cited in Chandler 1995: p1).   In contrast Marxism thinks of the media as described above, as part of the power of the ruling elite.


(can you  think of examples in the media??Mcarthyism in the 60 s as a response to Marxist media? The Leveson report into hacking, The Sun and Hillsborough)


Base and Superstructure


Classical Marxism holds that the economy (the base) is the basis of everything- that it determines social, intellectual, and political life (superstructure). This is also called Economism, or materialism Applied to the mass media, Marxism is concerned with its ownership and control (Chandler,1995:2) Traditional views are that all types of media are determined by the economics (base) of the institutions which produce them. It s messages are therefore concerned with advertising products and ideas to the proletariat, or maximising audience numbers, thereby promoting class inequality. Institutions controlled by political or state entities are more concerned with the middle ground or concensus (Curran et al. 1982, cited in Chandler, 1995: 2).


Can I think of examples of the ways media is controlled by economics? Rupert Murdoch monopoly on media- money gives him power to sell his views (inc. SKY which is massive! )- Conservative party political. Does this pay for the ear of politicians?. Race to the bottom- broadcasting trashy tv which appeals to mass market, so that they will consume the adverts- not educational…..adverts are for crisps, pop, beer, (cigarettes years ago)- all are harmful. Any adverts for  being kind, helping neighbours, a few asking for charity (headed by rich stars-false consciousness?).


However the economist view has been criticised, and Althussarean Marxists regard the media as relatively autonomous from the economic base, and also able to influence the base (going the wrong direction for classical Marxists). Such Marxism is termed ‘Cultural Marxism’ (ibid).


Media as a means of Production


Classical Marxists hold with the extreme idea that media is a means of economic production, and thus controlled by the ruling classes. It’s ideas are therefore designed to control the working class and deny them any counter-structure. This extreme view denies that there is any diversity of opinion in the ruling class or the media, and that the working class are unable to see any alternative views or oppose the ‘false consciousness’ that the media produces within them (Chandler, 1995: 3). 


Have changes in the modes of media in the 21 C affected /not affected the ideas here ?


Initially we had newspaper, then radio, TV, and finally Internet, TV channels are digital, and often pay per view, BBC licence. There are certainly more ways to consume media now-its everywhere, but is the media diverse/hold diverse ideas? Who decides what’s shown on BBC news? BBC salaries were criticised- eg celebrities and higher management- tends towards the view that they are the Ruling class.


What  sort of TV  empowers the  working class ? Big brother – yes or no??? Benefits Britain-yes or no? There may be arguments both ways- eg allowing  ‘normal’ people  some stardom, but are  these people  ‘normal’ or pathological? Does it promote a broken subset for us to laugh at- and  forget our oppression?




Classical Marxism states that the consciousness of beings depends on their social position, and that the dominant consciousness is therefore that of the ruling classes (the Materialist view). However, other strands believe that individual consciousness is more important (The Idealistic view) .Classical Marxists hold that the media produce a false consciousness, by sending messages (the dominant ideology) which suit the ruling classes (Chandler, 1995:4). They also conceal the economics of class struggle. Althusser thought that ideology is a force in itself, (so could be determined by ourselves?), and that it was irreducible and material (Curran et al. 1982, cited in Chandler, 1995:4). Volosinov, stated that abstract ‘consciousness’ cannot form ideologies, but that ideologies based on the material world must form consciousness (Chandler, 1995:4).


What Marxists do you know of ? Which type are they? Paul Foot, Glasgow Marxists, John Reed (labour now), Fidel Castro,


How does Marxism relate to Communism, Stalinism, Trotskyism, Leninism?. Were they all inspired by  it –did they corrupt it /change it??


Media  as amplifiers


The Marxist view of media is that they do not challenge the accepted, legitimate opinion , and therefore are working for the  ruling class. So for example the portrayal of violence – will legitimise state control of law and order, and the negative attitudes to dissidents/dissenters. Traditional Marxists like Stuart Hall, say that the media amplifies the message of powerful bodies such as the Police, the Law, the Schools,  rather than creating different frameworks or views. Additionally  the media coverage of elections dramatises and thus reinforces the idea that voting allows voters legitimate access to democracy, according to their ideology,  when in fact this is only offering the parties that the ruling class institutions want us to choose between, and not  parties which may actually help the working class to become more equal (Curran et al. 1982, cited in Chandler,1995:5).


Constitution of the subject


Marxism distinguishes the individual who is made by nature, and the subject, who is the product of societal influences (the object). Individuals are constituted by receiving positions within a society (Bennet,1982, cited in Chandler,1995:5). Althusser rejects that humans determine their consciousness through their own acts eg. Wants, ideals,  intentions. He believes they gain their consciousness through the action of society and in accepting societal roles, through institutions such as school, family, media etc. They have their social identity interpellated via Ideological State Apparatusses (ISA’s). This fits with a structuralist interpretation of the subject’s consciousness, and the Media interpellate the ideas they want the individual to imbibe in order to become a subject. Althusser did not accept that the individual could resist this interpellation, but ISA’s are not always successful (Lapsley & Westlake 1988,cited in Chandler, 1995:5). Althusserian Marxists also think of  the subject as unified, whereas he may have a range of views across a range of social discourses ( this is presumably due to more autonomy). Neo-Marxists grant the consumer more choice and autonomy when viewing the texts transmitted by the media, with the possibility of them changing the text themselves (having influence), as well as viewing the text within their own sociological framework (Curran et al. 1982, cited in Chandler,1995:5).




How are you shaped by the media? Are you typical or atypical ? Why?


Differences between Marxists.


Three different views are common. The basic Economist view is that the media controls the message which the people imbibe, and the message is controlled by the media’s economic circumstances eg. Subservience to the ruling elites (an example would be?).Halfway between is the Structuralist view (an example would be Althusser), that the media control the  message, but the people are able to see the message in the context of  their own social class and circumstances. At the far end is the culturalist view (an example would be Stuart Hall), who say that not only is the media message not completely determined by the economic base, but the message is assimilated within an individual’s consciousness and position, and that the society is diverse, and can have different views and reactions (including those who work in the media) (Curran et al. 1982, cited in Chandler, 1995:6).


The Frankfurt School


This school was the first to attempt Marxist analysis of mass media  It included Theodor Adorno, Herbert Marcuse, and they revised the economist view (Gurevitch et al. 1982,cited in Chandler,1995:7). Marcuse was very pessimistic about society and the power of the media, which precluded any individuality within either the Bourgoisie (to dictate) , or the working classes (to revolt).


The means of… communication…, the irresistible output of the entertainment and information industry carry with them prescribed attitudes and habits, certain intellectual and emotional reactions which bind the consumers… to the producers and, through the latter to the whole [social system]. The products indoctrinate and manipulate; they promote a false consciousness which is immune against its falsehood… Thus emerges a pattern of one-dimensional thought and behaviour.


(Marcuse, 1972, cited in Bennett 1982: 43).


This group applied the term ‘culture industry’ to the wide range of media operations (Adorno and Horkheimer, 1972, cited in Bennett 1982: 31).




This French Marxist was against the essentialism of both Economism, and Humanism. He  held that the individual was shaped through ideologies which were imagined/experienced through  ISA’s- though they may mistakenly feel  they were moulded through individual choices. His views hold that the mass media interpellates  the text onto the subject, but many Marxists (see Volosinov and Gramsci) believe that the subject can affect the interpretation of  text (Chandler 1995, 8).




He rejected Economism, and also the ideological mechanism, and held that a humanist self-determining effect produced the subject’s consciousness, and this included human subjectivity (and diversity?). He thought that the ruling class was a hegemony which controlled the lower class via economics, politics, (and media communications?) However this acceptance of the dominant ideology required a willingness from the subject. This view also posited a struggle and a constant appraisal of the system, because of the disconnect between ideology and social/class circumstances Fiske 1992, cited in chandler, 1995: 8). The mass media was one way that the struggle was played out (Chandler, 1995:8).


How does censorship fit in the analysis?Is the BBC biased ? HOW?


Stuart Hall


He is a left wing (culturalist) Marxist.  He posits that the media do tend to reinforce frameworks of the ruling class, but claims their relative autonomy, and that they provide a place where the power struggle can take place.  The news is a secondary definer, which has less influence than the primary definers of state and government (Woollacott 1982: cited in Chandler 1995;9). He wrote an important analysis of how people read texts (Encoding, Decoding, 1980), where he described three levels of reading; the dominant, negotiated and  oppositional levels  are undertaken by those who  are within,  partially within , or completely outside the  dominant social culture- but he stresses that meaning is not  completely arbitrary ie. not completely  up to the reader/viewer to decide Hall, 1980, cited  in Chandler 1995:8).


Weaknesses of Marxist Interpretations


Classical Marxist interpretations (eg. Of the ‘false consciousness) have been thought of as too simple,   and denying any power to working class or the media viewer. They therefore deny us the tools to adequately analyse the subtleties within the mass media.  Sometimes they are theory based , but sometimes they have empirical evidence. Neo Marxists have attempted to refine the ideas, and allow for  diversity of thought and behaviours, and social groupings other than class, such as ethnicity and gender (Chandler, 1995:9).


Strengths of Marxist interpretations


Marxism helps us to consider the underlying value judgements and biases which may be behind  social research (ie it may not be impartial).  It helps us to understand the  inequalities of economics, and social class that may lie within a text.  Neo Marxists such as Althusser, Adorno, Hall, lets us to analyse in a more sophisticated way than classical Marxism allows. The analysis of the text and meanings of the  media are important, but Marxist theory reminds us that we still need to examine any inherent biases, such as ownership and mode of production, representation of minorities, and access to media sources (Chandler, 1995:11).


Can you analyse your favourite films from the different Marxist perspectives?


Additional research:


…….Marx and Engels identified six successive stages in a society’s development:


  • Primitive Communism, as seen in co-operative tribal societies.
  • Slave Society, which develops when the tribe becomes a city-state, and aristocracy is born.
  • Feudalism, where aristocracy is the ruling class, and merchants develop into capitalists.
  • Capitalism, where capitalists are the ruling class, and create and employ the true working class.
  • Socialism (or “Dictatorship of the Proletariat”), where the workers gain class consciousness, overthrow the capitalists and take control over the state.
  • Communism, where a classless and stateless society has evolved.


Summary: Lenin was the first to put Marxism into practice whenthe Russians overthrew a (minimally) capitalist state, and developed a socialist/communist USSR.  Stalin took over later, and Trotsky said his system was not based on Marxism. After WW 2 many states became Socialist/Communist- encouraged by USSR (with military backing)  eg. China, Eastern European countries, Romania, East Germany, Albania, Cambodia, Ethiopia, South Yemen, Yugoslavia, Cuba, Vietnam, …. All these systems collapsed, was this because Marxism is flawed?  Or because they were not properly Marxist? (Mastin,2008).




Questions for my BLOG


1.      What did Marx mean by Base and superstructure?


Marx categorised the Base as society’s economic means of production, which in his view were controlled only by the Ruling Class or Bourgoisie. The Superstructure was classified as all the other parts of society which were built upon this base, including social relationships, education, political systems, justice (and presumably religion-though Marx was an atheist). Marx’s view, like Orthodox (or Economist) Marxist’s in general, was that in a Capitalist society, power and influence were only exerted from the Base onto the superstructure elements, and that the relationship could not be reversed. This means that the working classes are controlled absolutely by the Ruling classes who are in charge of  the means of production.


2.      Of the different ways of looking at the subject outlined by Chandler, which makes most sense to you and why?


The various strands of  Marxism (economist, structuralist, cultural) provide different tools for  the analysis of  the complex system of Society, and more specifically the Media. This has to be a good thing, but dogmatism and absolute analyses of systems is probably best avoided.  Analysis of the Media will depend partly upon the analyser (variation of,  and biases,  in the observer), and partly  on the particular time and place being analysed (variation amongst the ‘population’ of media examples).


In discussing the media as I experience them in 21st Century UK society I think that the Economist view of classical Marxist’s has an element of truth, and is useful (to the extent that it  reminds us of the inherent danger of  believing that our perceived consciousness is our own – it may indeed be a False Consciousness.  The Economist view is too dogmatic and polarised to be useful by itself. However there are indeed aspects of the media which I interpret as veering towards a massive  power inequality between the advertisers- media companies (they are related via commerce) and the viewer/consumer. 


 The power of advertising to control what people buy, is one example. Take Payday loans which are advertised ad nauseum during commercial breaks for tv programmes targeted at a low income audience (Even the Church of England were involved in Investments in WONGA payday loans at one point!). This normalises the framework of high interest loans , which normalise and obscures the inequalities of opportunity for poorer people. The high penalties also produce more ‘cashlessness’ when the people targeted cannot pay back in time (thus making the loan company (at the ‘Base’ ) even more rich and powerful.  Adverts pleading for us to make the right choice and buy a bigger car, or a more expensive TV function in the same way due to the working classes enforced reliance on credit to achieve technological ‘goals’.


A more realistic and moderate view is that the viewer has some control over his actions as to what products he should buy, and that the adverts broadcast are under some control (increasingly so) – the companies are not at liberty to communicate any text (in a broad sense of the message) whatsoever. For example no one is physically (or psychologically?) forced to buy a new television, and the advertising standards agency which is independent of manufacturers, prevent explicit misinformation being provided in an advert. My point of view here is that of a Cultural Marxist.


In terms of television programmes and their content, I feel that the economic base manifests less power than during advertisements-and  are thus less damaging.Separating the objects of advert/programme  is useful because there are channels (such as the BBC channels, or NETFLIX) where one is not subject to advertisements, but one pays a fee to view.  This would seem healthier, more transparent, and less subject to power abuse than commercial channels (the programme content is directly linked to the fee to view, and the choice to pay the fee, not hidden within an advert).


 So if we take a relatively non political ‘blockbuster’ film ( I feel the need to qualify almost every other word, sentence and argument here- a sign that hidden meanings and symbols are rife within this subject!) , shown on BBC1, we  may be dealing with a relatively innocuous communication of the  text to the viewer.  We must still remember though that there is a whole infrastructure within the BBC (Chairman, Board, commissioning editors, presenters, director/producer to name a few) that can indirectly influence power over the viewer’s thoughts and actions. These people and structures are what Althusser would term an Institution of the State.  Althusser would say that our ideology is gained through our experience of the text (content) interpellated onto us, which make us a subject (of the BBC/the film in this instance) and  not an individual of free consciousness.


If we take the media coverage of domestic UK politics, I tend to favour an orthodox /classical Marxist   analysis. The BBC’s coverage of Westminster politics- with its dramatic concentration on inter- party strife, political misdemeanours, and a Right v Left dialectic, rather than on POLICIES, seems to transmit a false consciousness to the working class viewers. It attempts to outwardly include them in politics (they do have a vote), but conceals the fact that although Parties and Prime ministers may change, there is less evidence that the poor and under priveliged are ever helped out of their predicament, by any ruling party. This view


3.      Does your understanding of base and superstructure vary depending on whether you are looking at society in general or the media and the arts?


As discussed above, my view of mass media is that there are elements of several strands of Marxism within it, so the classic components of Base and Superstructure, and the power relationships may hold true to an extent, but not totally.  I think this is also the case with society in general. Objects in society might include political systems, education, the law and justice, and religion.


Let us take religion. Classical analysis would hold that the means of production control the church and religion. This is interesting, given the Wonga story above, but is a little far-fetched. If we take the Church of England, the ‘boss’ on earth is the Archbishop of Canterbury. He would argue that the C of E is relatively independent of ruling structures, and that the main focus of its work is on the formation of a more equal society, and of fostering altruistic values. In fact he would place religion at the Base of the Superstructure.


 However, the Church of England does have a lot of Money, Land and Power, hierarchical system of Government (inc. bishops and vicars), and occasionally corruption within it. In this respect it could be analysed as being dependent on the ruling class, and the economic base. Additionally it was formed by Henry Ⅷ as a sign of his power and dissatisfaction with the Roman Catholic Church, which made it a tool of the most powerful man in England at this time!


What of education? Again I can see several sides of an argument.  Let’s take secondary education. The quality of education of 11-18 year olds is very much dependent on the quality of the school (the building), and the teachers, and the national curriculum, and perhaps also on parental help and guidance.  A good education is seen as perhaps the most important ingredient in doing well in society being happy, healthy, and prosperous (not just in economic terms, but that does come into it).


How much is a member of the proletariat able to influence the quality of his/his child’s education?  I would say only a little. The quality of school becomes a function of the house prices in the local area, private education is too expensive, and the national curriculum is set by the government, and influenced by teachers.  The teaching profession is in crisis, and the quality of teachers is not always as good as we’d like. So education is affected by many economic factors from the Base, and the ability of the individual to influence this is small. They do at least have a vote- if we believe that any political party’s education policy would be better.






Chandler, D. (1995). Marxist Media Theory at (accessed on 5th November 2016).


Haveland, P. (2009)  Visual Studies 1 Understannding Visual Culture. Barnsley : Open College of the Arts  


Mastin, L. (2008). The Basics of Philosophy at (accessed 5th November 2016).