The Forgotten Marxist Theory of Communication & Society

Horst Holzer

Abstract


Translated from German to English by Christian Fuchs

Marxist political economy of communication analyses the role of communication in society and capitalism. This paper shows what it means to take a historical and materialist approach for analysing communication and society. In the German-speaking world, Marxist communication research has largely remained a “forgotten theory”.
First, the paper analyses the role of communication in society, which requires thinking of how communication relates to work and production. Second, the paper analyses the emergence of communication in capitalist society. It shows that there is a close interaction of the dominant type of capitalism and the emergence and development of new means of communication. Third, the paper points out five roles of the media in capitalism (the production and sale of media products, advertising and commodity circulation, the legitimation of domination, regeneration and reproduction of labour-power, market for media technologies) and engages with how ideology, social psychology, audiences’ habitus and everyday practices/life interact in the reception of media contents, especially news programmes.
The preface to this article, written by the translator, presents aspects of the works of Horst Holzer. Given his pioneering intellectual role in the development of the critique of the political economy of communication in the German-speaking world, it is not an understatement to say that Horst Holzer is Germany’s Dallas Smythe.

Acknowledgement:
First published in German as book chapter: Holzer, Horst. 1994. Kapitel IV: Eine „vergessene Theorie“ gesellschaftlicher Kommunikation? (Bezugspunkt: Historisch-materialistische Gesellschaftswissenschaft). In Medienkommunkation: Einführung in handlungs- und gesellschaftstheoretische Konzeptionen, 185-221. Opladen: Westdeutscher Verlag. ISBN 978-3-531-22172-4. © Westdeutscher Verlag GmbH, Opladen 1994. Translated and published with permission of Springer Nature.

About the Author:
Horst Holzer (1935-2000) was a German sociologist and communication theorist. He contributed to the formation and development of the critique of the political economy of media and communication in the German-speaking world. Holzer used Marxist theory for the analysis of the relationship between capitalism and communication. Given his pioneering intellectual role in the development of the critique of the political economy of communication in the German-speaking world, it is not an understatement to say that Horst Holzer is Germany’s Dallas Smythe. Holzer lived and worked in Munich and published twenty German books. The focus of Holzer’s writings was in general on communication theory, the sociology of communication, as well as on capitalism and communication. In particular, his books were about the ideology and political economy of magazines, newspapers, radio and television; public sphere theory, sociological theories, children and television, and surveillance.


Keywords


Horst Holzer; communication; society; theory; Marx; Marxism; critique of political economy

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