Communication and Culture | Media Institutions and the Production of Culture (Topic: Selling Culture)
C552 | 15102 | Anderson, C.

W, 1:00 PM-3:30 PM, Location: TBA

Meets with AMST-G 620 and CULS-C 701

Open to Graduates Only!

Instructor: Christopher Anderson
Office: 800 E. 3rd St. – room 209
Phone: 855-5914

In the past, I might have taught this as a course on cultural
production in the media industries by focusing on issues of
ownership and the social organization of production, but I have
chosen the topic, “Selling Culture,” to mark what I see as a useful
shift in perspective when it comes to studying the cultural

On the one hand, if we read “selling” as a verb, the term, “selling
culture,” refers to the commodification of culture under
capitalism.  This has been the traditional concern of scholars who
bring a political economy perspective to the study of cultural
industries.  How are cultural forms and practices shaped by the
economic structure and conduct of media industries?  How does the
ownership and organizational structure of media corporations
determine the form of cultural goods and the dynamics of larger
cultural systems?  How do laws and policies establish the legal
framework within which media corporations seek profits?

On the other hand, if we read “selling” as an adjective, the
term “selling culture” describes a more general trend in which the
values of advertising, marketing, and public relations have come to
dominate ever-widening domains of social practice – including art,
religion, politics, and business.  In this sense, we inhabit what
some critics describe as a “promotional culture,” in which the
rhetoric and protocols of selling affect the most fundamental
experiences of social identity and social relations.  Most
importantly, for our purposes, this means that the familiar
analytical division between “economy” and “culture” has become more
difficult to maintain, as practices once associated with the
economic domain have been recognized to have a crucial cultural
dimension – for instance in the very definition of markets, the
attribution of value to goods, or contested beliefs in how best to
organize the management and operation of firms (e.g., the widespread
discussion of “corporate culture” that has accompanied corporate
mergers and acquisitions in the global economy since the 1980s).

I would like us to consider both senses of the term, “selling
culture,” but I would also like us to consider “selling” as a
practice in which corporations most explicitly encounter the people
who are not only their potential customers, but who are also
relatively autonomous social subjects with their own experience,
knowledge, and desires.  Although we will concentrate primarily on
the practices of the cultural industries (and not that of
consumers), our goal will be to look at the practice of “selling” as
a moment when the corporation meets the consumer, when the
strategies of corporations encounter the contingency of social
experience and social meanings.

There is one further implication to consider:  In the practice of
selling culture, corporations are utterly agnostic about media,
technology, genres, and the other categories that scholars use to
organize the study of media and culture.  Because the practice of
selling culture is both opportunistic and reflexive, corporations
eagerly promote cross-media phenomena and monitor the development of
new technologies.  The empirical analysis of particular selling
practices will lead us across most of the conceptual categories in
media studies.  For this reason, the focus on “selling culture” can
be seen also as a tool for thinking productively about the field of
media and cultural studies.

We will read selections from:

Pierre Bourdieu, The Field of Cultural Production (New York:
Columbia University Press, 1993) 0231082877

Scott Lash and John Urry, Economies of Signs and Spaces (London:
Sage, 1994)

David Hesmondhalgh, The Cultural Industries, 2nd Ed.  (London: Sage,
2007) 1412908086

Rosemary J. Coombe, The Cultural Life of Intellectual Properties
(Durham: Duke University Press, 1998) 082232119X

Nicholas Sammond, Babes in Tomorrowland: Walt Disney and the Making
of the American Child, 1930-1960 (Durham: Duke University Press,
2005) 0822334631

Thomas Frank, The Conquest of Cool: Business Culture,
Counterculture, and the Rise of Hip Consumerism (Chicago: University
of Chicago Press, 1997) 0226260127

Laura J. Miller, Reluctant Capitalists: Bookselling and the Culture
of Consumption (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006)

Arlene Davila, Latinos Inc.:  The Marketing and Making of a People
(Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001) 0520227247

William Mazzarella, Shoveling Smoke: Advertising and Globalization
in Contemporary India (Durham: Duke University Press, 2003)

Stephen Kline, Nick Dyer-Witheford, Greig De Peuter, Digital Play:
The Interaction of Technology, Culture, and Marketing  (McGill-
Queen's University Press, 2003) 0773525912

For further information, please contact Professor Christopher
Anderson (