In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Marxism

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Textbooks
  • Reference Works
  • Journals
  • Latin America/Third Cinema
  • The Cinema and Ideology Moment
  • Documentary
  • Radical Media: Theory and Analysis
  • Ideology and the Dominant Cinema
  • Television and New Media
  • Essential Films
  • Border Crossers and Outliers

Cinema and Media Studies Marxism
Chuck Kleinhans
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 November 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 July 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0177


Marxism is a philosophical and practical framework for analyzing and changing society that was developed from the ideas of Karl Marx in the 19th century. He synthesized Hegelian philosophy, English political economy, and French socialist thought to develop a critical analysis of modern capitalism. As a major strategic thought system, Marxism appears variously in media studies: as a systematic investigation of capitalist media economies and societies, as a materialist approach to media objects and processes, and as a source of activist aesthetics. Thus, Marxist media analysis provides pragmatic examples ranging from the study of commercial media markets; state policies and institutions governing communication; critiques of the ideological intent and effect of films, television, and new media; polemics for political activist art and communication; and socially motivated aesthetic criticism of specific works. Crucially framed by its long association with leftist change ranging from labor activism and political insurrection to official state party control of nations and responses to repressive anti-Communism, Marxism almost always carries a weight of challenge to ideas of the “purely aesthetic,” the “neutral,” or “disinterested.” Because it is so wide reaching as an explanatory system, Marxism has influenced and underpinned various critical developments that may be openly antagonistic to other trends within Marxist media analysis broadly construed. In addition to sectarian division, Marxism often operates as a taken-for-granted background in some areas such as Latin American and European media study and a good part of cultural studies: so much so that its Marxist premises are often not openly stated. Also, a history of anti-Communism, especially during the Cold War, pushed many to hide the radical origins of their thought. Another important distinction concerns those who use Marxism to consider economic and institutional structures in media communications, often with a concern for democratic equality in the public sphere and thus a concern for news and information, journalism, state regulation and censorship, mass communications, advertising, and political discourse. A different and contrasting approach uses Marxism for historical, aesthetic, and cultural analysis of film, television, and media ranging from case studies of individual works to issues that run through a variety of forms, such as gender or race images or narratives. Reflecting disciplinary and departmental traditions, in the past these trends have often been antagonistic or blind to the other one in a social science versus arts and humanities contrast. But younger researchers often draw easily from both quantitative and qualitative models, feeling free to cross disciplines, synthesize methods, and actively deconstruct national, racial, ethnic, and gender boundaries in pursuit of understanding.

General Overviews

Marxism has been involved with every major topic and debate in film and media studies such as realism versus modernism versus postmodernism, the nature of ideology, revolution versus reform, and emotion versus reason in art and communication. Often these discussions are framed within particular backgrounds, audiences, nationalities, fields, and disciplines. There is no total or synthetic overview of all these areas at this point. Here are some representative starting points: Berger 1977 for art criticism, Arvon 1973 for aesthetics, Morawski 1973 for literary criticism, Kleinhans 1998 for film studies, and Storey 2012 for cultural studies. An excellent starting point or key refresher on Marxism itself: the original core document from 1848, Marx and Engels 2012, The Communist Manifesto. Lefebvre 1982 provides an authoritative discussion of basic concepts. For Marxist media studies, books in the Anthologies section of this bibliography have useful introductions, prefacing, and contexting materials that are also good for getting started on an overview of the field.

  • Arvon, Henri. Marxist Esthetics. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1973.

    A short and accurate description of the main trends and arguments in Marxist criticism emphasizing literature discussions.

  • Berger, John. Ways of Seeing: Based on the BBC Television Series. New York: Penguin, 1977.

    Readable landmark introduction to a visual art analysis that is heavily indebted to Walter Benjamin’s work on art and reproductive technologies.

  • Kleinhans, Chuck. “Marxism and Film.” In The Oxford Guide to Film Studies. Edited by John Hill and Pamela Church-Gibson, 106–113. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.

    A concise introduction to and summary of the main trends, including historical development, key issues such as debates on realism and formalism, and relation to international trends.

  • Lefebvre, Henri. The Sociology of Marx. Translated by N. Guterman. New York: Columbia University Press, 1982.

    A classic text explaining how Marxism is the essential overview and method for analysis of modern societies. Clear, moderate, introductory text for both humanities and social science investigators.

  • Marx, Karl, and Friedrich Engels. The Communist Manifesto: A Modern Edition. London: Verso, 2012.

    Almost all versions of this foundational pamphlet are identical and use the 1888 translation by Samuel Moore done in coordination with Engels. This edition has a useful introduction by Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm.

  • Morawski, Stefan. “Introduction.” In Marx and Engels on Literature and Art: A Selection of Writings. Edited by Lee Baxandall and Stefan Morawski, 3–47. St. Louis, MO: Telos, 1973.

    Recapitulating orthodox Marxist aesthetics, Morawski attempts a systematic aesthetics out of the notes, anecdotes, and passing literary references of the Marxist Masters, but many others believe that in the absence of a systematic presentation by the founders, a Marxist aesthetics remains to be created.

  • Steven, Peter. The No-Nonsense Guide to Global Media. Toronto: New Internationalist Publications and Between the Lines Press, 2004.

    Concise and readable introduction to the political economy of current media: television, film, publishing, recording, radio, and the Internet. Coverage ranges from global conglomerates to grassroots production and use of media.

  • Storey, John. “Marxism.” In Cultural Theory and Popular Culture: An Introduction. 6th ed. By John Storey, 59–92. London: Routledge, 2012.

    An excellent survey and presentation suitable for beginning students. Concise, clear, accurate text.

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