Continental Europeans Respond to American Consumer Culture: Jürgen Habermas, Roland Barthes, and Umberto Eco

  • Daniel Horowitz
Part of the Worlds of Consumption book series (WC)


In the middle of the twentieth century, new ways of looking at consumer culture emerged in America and Western Europe that emphasized pleasure, symbolic communication, skepticism about moralistic judgments, and an exploration of the relationship between producers and consumers. Writers began to see popular culture as the locus of aesthetic creativity and rich meanings. They took consumer culture seriously without fully embracing it, as they mixed fascination, irony, criticism, and detachment. From the mid-1950s to the early 1960s, three European writers offered especially suggestive approaches. Jürgen Habermas wrote essays that both worked within and mildly challenged the framework that his mentors Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno had offered in Dialectic of Enlightenment. (1944). In Mythologies. (1957), Roland Barthes explored the ways commercial performances and advertisements conveyed symbolic meanings. The literary critic and philosopher Umberto Eco pondered the strengths and weaknesses of popular culture, much of it from the United States, as he revealed, like Barthes, what it meant to use sophisticated literary and philosophical approaches to understand mass media in new ways.


Public Sphere Open Work Popular Culture Mass Culture Comic Strip 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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© The German Historical Institute 2012

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  • Daniel Horowitz

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