Berry, David, (ed.), Revisiting the Frankfurt School: Essays on Culture, Media and Theory, Ashgate, Farnham, ISBN 9 7814 0941 1802, 209 pp., A$179.99.
David Berry has collected a broad range of theoretical perspectives on the Frankfurt School, or the Institute of Social Research (Institut fur Sozialforschung), founded in Frankfurt am Main in 1923. Driven from Germany by the Nazis in 1933 the Frankfurt scholars retreated via Paris and Geneva to the United States, specifically Columbia University. Some of those who survived their passage to exile gained acceptance and respectability in an international community of social scientists and communication researchers; others remained on the margins. It is those in the latter group who provide the most interesting material in this collection.
With a few exceptions, these previously marginalised writers challenge common misrepresentations of the meaning of critical theory, and in doing so dispel the misconception that the Frankfurt School wholly subscribed to the condemnation of mass culture through the construct of the culture industry. While the collection presents essays on dominant figures, including the 'less optimistic' Adorno and Horkheimer and the 'hopeful and unsure' Herbert Marcuse, it also provides analyses and assessments of Walter Benjamin and Siegfried Kracauer, both of whom witnessed 'democratic moments and possibilities of emancipation' in cultural production (pp. 3-4).
The opening chapters by Sanda Miller and Alan O'Connor focus on Kracauer and the ill-fated Benjamin, who allegedly committed suicide in transit to Lisbon in 1940. Miller compares the observations of both scholars on the 'discreet charm of the metropolis' (p. 7) and chronicles Kracauer's early role as essayist-provocateur on themes including cinema, photography, advertisements and the famous Parisian shopping arcades. O'Connor focuses on the ambiguities in Benjamin's efforts to critique the bourgeois experience of nineteenth-century history and, most significantly, the impact of class habitus on his writing.
Berry's chapter returns to central figure Horkheimer's views on liberalism as a state of 'false consciousness', where the media are complicit in facilitating the standardisation and conformity of consumers, who become increasingly alike through the pursuit of self-interest. In a wide-ranging discussion, Berry identifies connections between Horkheimer and notables including Arthur Schopenhauer, Karl Marx, Francis Fukuyama, Stuart Hall, Alex Honneth and even Frank Zappa.
Mike Wayne's treatment of the work of the less-read Hans Magnus Enzensberger encourages media scholars to broaden their intellectual frameworks. Wayne uses Enzensberger's theory of the 'consciousness industry' to offer a new conceptualisation of the articulation between technological forces and social relationships. This chapter explores the opportunities for new digital media to transform social relations through case studies that include Facebook and WikiLeaks.
Berry's collection provides an insightful and engaging critical assessment of the Frankfurt School that also includes Robert E. Babe on Adorno and Dallas Smythe, Philip Bounds on Marcuse, Hanno Hardt on Lowenthal, Julian Petley on Habermas and Caroline Kamau on Fromm. The book's greatest contribution is the extent to which it reveals the broad spectrum of hope and despair for cultural production shared by the various members and associates of the Frankfurt School. It offers most to the reader fascinated by a pivotal epoch and its consequences.
--Alana Mann, Media and Communications, University of Sydney