I. Genealogy of American Studies

II. Myth and Symbol

III. Interpretive Social Science Theory

IV. Marxisms

V. Poststructuralist & Postmodern Theories

VI. Gender, Race, Sexuality & Dis/ability

VII. Historical Theories & Methods

VIII. Literary Theories & Methods

IX. (British) Cultural Studies

X. Postcolonial & Transnational Theories

XI. Theorizing Interdisciplinarity (forthcoming)

Comments? Corrections? Suggestions?


IV. Neo-Marxisms and Cultural Materialisms

This broad category is meant to encompass a variety of Marxist theories which have in common their rejection of economic or class determinism, and a concomitant belief in at least the semi-autonomy of the cultural sphere. They also have in common the claim that most empirical social science, history, and literary analysis works from within capitalist categories, and thus neo-marxists offer an interdisciplinary critique based on analysis of the total political-economic-cultural system. In the US and in AS, neo-marxism first becomes a significant force in the late 1960s and early 70s, primarily through the work of the Frankfurt school (Herbert Marcuse, Theodor Adorno, Leo Lowenthal, Max Horkheimer, and, more tangentially, Walter Benjamin, and later, Jurgen Habermas). This school of emigre intellectuals forced to leave Nazi Germany in the 1930s had an impact on American mass media studies even before the 60s but was brought into prominence by a generation of New Left intellectuals influenced especially by the social theory of Marcuse. A bit later, other important works of "Western marxism," especially those of Antonio Gramsci with his concept of cultural "hegemony," and Georg Lukacs, with his concept of "reification" are rediscovered in the US. Other important schools of neo-marxism acknowledged below include the structural marxism of Louis Althusser, the cultural materialism of Raymond Williams, the eclectic semiotic marxism of Mikhail Bakhtin, Fredric Jameson's literary theoretical approaches, marxist- or materialist-feminisms, Third World marxisms (Mao, Castro/Guevara, etc.), and the surrealist-anarcho-marxism of the Situationists.

Further Online Resources:


  • Denning, Michael. "'The Special American Conditions': Marxism and American Studies," American Quarterly38 (1986): 356-380. In the course of arguing against American "exceptionalism" (our alleged lack of class struggle etc.), Denning introduces main currents in neo-marxism and surveys marxian studies of American culture. He argues that AS theory and practice has often been a weak alternative to marxian thought and has suffered from lack of a full encounter with it. Footnotes constitute an important bibliography on marxism and AS.

  • Eagleton, Terry. Marxism and Literary Criticism.Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1976. Good, brief survey of major 20th century marxist literary theorists, including several I've had to neglect here.

  • Jameson, Fredric. Marxism and Form.Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1971. A brilliant collection of essays on various neo-marxist theorists (Adorno, Benjamin, Bloch, Lukacs, and Sartre) that did much to bring these critics to the attention of American scholars.

  • McLellan, David. Marxism After Marx.London: Macmillan, 3rd edition, 1998. An encyclopedic, very lucid introduction to the major schools of 20th century marxism, including many I not fully represented here, including Trotskyism, council communism, and various Third World marxisms.

  • Anderson, Perry. Considerations on Western Marxism.London : New Left Books, 1976

  • ---. In the Tracks of Historical Materialism.London: Verso, 1983. These two crucially important books by Anderson (co-founder of the key neo-marxist journal New Left Review) argue the need to return political economy to the center of Marxist cultural thought in the wake of its displacement by the important work of "Western" Marxists.
Representative Texts:

  • Jay, Martin. The Dialectical Imagination. Boston: Little, Brown, & Co., 1973. Both an important work of American intellectual history (as a narrative account of the rise of the Frankfurt school in thirties Germany and their migration to the US in late 30s), and a good point of entry into this school of theory.

  • Held, David. Introduction to Critical Theory: Horkheimer to Habermas. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1980. Less historical but more richly theoretical than Jay's book, this is another good way to become introduced to the Frankfurt school, including its contemporary disciple, Jurgen Habermas.

  • Arato, Andrew and Eike Gebhart eds. The Essential Frankfurt School Reader. NY: Urizen, 1978. Good collection of essays by various Frankfurt theorists. See especially the essays by Adorno and Benjamin.

  • Habermas, Jurgen. Jurgen Habermas on Society and Politics: A Reader.Boston: Beacon, 1989. Edited by Steven Seidman. This reader provides a good introduction to Habermas' rather inaccessible thought by focusing his theories on specific socio-political issues. Habermas is the major figure attempting to unify traditional social science with critical social theory.

  • Gramsci, Antonio. An Antonio Gramsci Reader. David Forgacs, ed. Boston: Schocken, 1988

  • ---. Selections from Cultural Writings. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press, 1985.

  • ---. Selections from the Prison Notebooks.NY: International Books, 1971. Each of these three collections provides entry into Gramsci's never neatly codified work. Of particular importance is his immensely influential notion of "hegemony" -- a negotiated but uneven relationship between social groups in which subordinate classes are brought to consent to their own domination without overt force. The Forgacs collection includes a useful glossary.

  • Lears, T.J. Jackson. "The Concept of Cultural Hegemony," American Historical Review 90 (1985): 567-593. Makes the case for the usefulness of Gramsci's theory of hegemony for work in American cultural studies. (For a critique of Lears as watering down Gramsci revolutionary position, see the essay by Denning at the top of this section.)

  • Williams, Raymond. Marxism and Literature. London: New Left Books, 1977. Both a strong argument for viewing literature as a material form of "cultural production," and an excellent reference text for examining the meaning of some keywords in cultural studies (i.e. "culture" "literature" "hegemony").

  • ---. The Sociology of Culture. NY: Schocken, 1982. A useful overview of Williams' attempt to synthesize the best elements of the sociological and humanist/culturalist traditions.

  • Prendergast, Christopher, ed. Cultural Materialism: On Raymond Williams. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1995. A fine, wide-ranging collection of essays evaluating Williams' career and the concept of "cultural materialism."

  • Althusser, Louis. Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays. NY: Monthly Review Press, 1971. Althusser's work was highly influential in Britain and on such American figures as Jameson, as well as on feminist film theory. See especially the essay, "Ideology and the Ideological State Apparatuses," which reconceptualizes ideology as a suturing of subjects into an illusory sense of individuality that enables the maintenance of existing inequalities of power

  • Jameson, Fredric. The Political Unconscious: Narrative as as Socially Symbolic Act. Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1981. Jameson is America's most influential marxist literary theorist; in this important work he attempts to synthesize a diverse body of critical literature from Northrop Frye and Kenneth Burke to Levi-Strauss, Lukacs and Althusser, into a view of ideology as a set of cultural narratives with a political unconscious that at once represses and symbolically acts out social conflict.

  • Bakhtin, Mikhail. The Dialogical Imagination. Austin & London: Univ. of Texas Press, 1981. Bakhtin was a Soviet literary theorist and semiotician who conceived of culture as a multi-faceted "dialogical" struggle over the meaning of "signs," offering a more socio-historical alternative to the Saussurean view of language as synchronic system. This collection of essays is still the best place to enter Bakhtin's carnival of thought; it will introduce you to his unique universe of concepts, including, "dialogism," "polyphony," "chronotope,"and "carnivalization."

  • Todorov, Tzvetan. The Dialogic Principle.Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press, 1984. This is the best short introduction to Bakhtin's wide-ranging body of work.

  • Lukacs, Georg. History and Class Consciousness. London: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1971. This collection of essays became immensely influential on the whole of "Western Marxism" through its elaboration of "reification" -- the mistaken apprehension of relations between human beings as the relation between things, produced through capitalist commodity production/consumption.

  • Hansen, Karen V. and Ilene J. Philipson, eds. Women, Class and the Feminist Imagination. Philadelphia: Temple Univ. Press, 1990. This "socialist-feminist reader" collects many of the most signficant essays from the 60s, 70s, and 80s in which feminist scholars use, critique and debate the relevance of various marxist concepts and positions.

  • * Nelson, Cary and Lawrence Grossberg, eds. Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture.Urbana, Ill.: Univ. of Illinois Press, 1988. A wide-ranging collection of sophisticated essays on crucial issues in cultural theory previously neglected by marxists, especially race, gender and the role of culture in imperialism and colonialism. See especially the essays by Hall, Spivak, West, and Pfeil, and Grossberg's overview of marxist cultural theories.

  • * Bauer, Dale. Feminist Dialogics. Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 1988. Applies a feminist version of Bakhtin to a variety of American authors including James, Hawthorne, Chopin, and Wharton.

  • * Smith-Rosenberg Carroll. "Writing History: Language, Class and Gender" in Teresa deLauretis, ed. Feminist Studies/Critical Studies.Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana Univ., 1986. Rethinks the emergence of a new middle class in 19th century America with help from Bakhtin's notion of cultural dialogism and polyphony.

  • * Porter, Carolyn. Seeing and Being. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan Univ. Press, 1981. Uses Lukacs' conception of "reification" to illuminate four major American authors (Emerson, James, Adams, and Faulkner). The first two chapters of theoretical introduction, and the theoretical postscript offer a general critique of and assert an alternative to the allegedly "ahistorical" quality of most American literary criticism.

  • Gibson-Graham, J.K. The End of Capitalism (As We Knew It): A Feminist Critique of Political Economy.Brilliantly imaginative critique of the ways in which Marxists have sometimes exaggerated the totalizing power of capital, and ignored feminized economic sectors that complicate monolithic structures of domination.

  • Lowe, Lisa and David Lloyd, eds. The Politics of Culture in the Shadow of Capital.Durham, NC: Duke Univ. Press, 1997. Rich collection of essays offering a variety of political economic critiques of colonialism sensitive to the dynamic between the specificity of local struggles and the determinations of global systems.Important synthesis of marxist, poststructuralist and postcolonial theorizing.

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