Critical Political Economy Now | MIT Center for Civic Media

Critical Political Economy Now

Critical political economy is a tool with which we can critically examine the media. It takes a distinctly Marxist approach to the study of communications. Focuses include analyzing how various economic classes are affected, how people have different levels of access to communications technologies, how capitalism affects the media and cultural industries, and how corporate ownership affects what the media produces. Key question for critical political economy approach is whether the economics of production shape public discourse (i.e. the range of debates available) and change the meaning within a text.

Analysis of media and communications through the critical political economy lens reveals various critiques, such as:

Major corporations and competition can be questioned in context of monopolies and oligopolies (Examples: Warner Brothers, AOL , McClatchy Company, Bertelsman, 20th Century Fox)
[This reveals unequal power relations and a lack of freedom and consumer choice.]

Critical Political Economy argues it is crucial to examine power and differs from mainstream economic approaches because it is holistic, historical, delves beyond technical efficiency to address justice and moral issues, and focuses on the relationship between capitalist enterprise and public intervention.

When applied to current media transformations, critical political economy can produce unique insights. Take for instance, this recent development in European television:

Starting with the integration of the drama 'The Borgias' into European markets, producers of continental europe have been inspired to make American-style TV series to sell in the United States and other international markets. Previous dramas from Europe garnered little interest from Americans but now, european producers, with the French in the lead, are making major transformations by shooting only in English and working with far larger budgets than before. Previously, production budget did not exceed €600,000, or $800,000 per hour. Now, in competition with American dramas, budgets are expected to compete with American budgets exceeding $3 million per hour.

At this point, we must keep in mind that critical political economy of mass-media is the analysis of a specific phase of development linked to historically distinct modalities of cultural production and reproduction. In this sense, it is shocking that Europeans are voluntarily welcoming American culture into their previously culturally-elitist hallowed grounds. In reference to William Urrichio's “Displacing Culture: trans-national culture, regional elites, and the challenge to national cinema,” Europeans maintained an attitude of cultural isolationism from the U.S., criticizing Americans' lack of social cohesiveness. This was during a time (early 1900s) when the European film industry criticized Hollywood for its cultural barbarism and ensured a distinct separation of styles and production to prevent 'Americanization.' From that era to now, my how far we have come. It can be deduced that in light of the current vulnerable global economy, european producers are recognizing the potential profitability of english-based, large-scale dramas. They are opening up to Amercanization. They also recognize that with the acceptance of American style dramas, a larger audience can be reached (thus more profit). Although these new dramas will be filmed in American-style and in English, the influence of the producer's foreign backgrounds will surely be reflected as well, thus increasing the diversity of output.

The capitalist competitive mindset is powerful enough to influence a company's production goals and to deter away from its longstanding national identity (in language and history, as delineated by Urrichio). The corporates involved in this transformation--F1 and Gaumont in France, Europacorp, and Tendem Communications in Germany are all actively pushing towards Americanization. This potentially brings to question the extent corporations will go to gain profit and to maintain their competitiveness in a capitalist system.