Dominic Strinati – A Critique of Mass Culture Theory

mass culture is not homogenous, its consumers are not passive and there are no distinct high or folk cultures.

Writing in the early 200s, Dominic Strinati is a contemporary cultural theories who developed one of the most comprehensive critiques of mass culture theory (1).

Strinati made four main criticisms of mass culture theory:

  • Mass culture is not homogenous
  • consumers of mass culture are not passive
  • There is no clear boundary between high and mass (or popular) culture
  • There are no authentic folk cultures.

Mass culture is not homogenous

Mass culture theory tends to see popular culture as being all the same, but Strinati disagrees, arguing that there is a lot of diversity of cultural products within popular culture.

Probably the best example of this is within popular music as there are several different genres, from rock to new wave, and from soul to trance.

It’s difficult to maintain the argument that the music industry churns out uniform products for mass audiences with so much diversity of musical choice today.

Consumers of mass culture are not passive

Mass culture theory tends to portray the ‘masses’ of ordinary people as cultural dopes who will happily and passively consume anything that the media churns out.

Strinati rejects this idea pointing out that the audience is not a ‘undifferentiated mass’, rather audiences are diverse groupings of people who interpret media content in numerous different ways.

Many consumers of mass (or popular) cultural products are discriminating and have mixed tastes. They are critical of aspects of the cultural products they consume, and some consumers actively reject some products altogether, hence why there are so many box office flops!

For example, the 2013 version of the Lone Ranger, one of the most popular television shows of the 1950s, was one of the biggest box office bombs of all time, losing $200 million.

Consumers of mass (or popular) culture can be discerning after all!

No clear boundary between high and mass culture

Mass culture theory rests on drawing a clear boundary between high culture and low or mass culture.

However Strinati argues that the boundary between the two is not objective, rather it is subjective and thus blurred and forever changing. It is after all, people with power who decided what high culture is and power in societies shift over time.

An example of this is with Jazz Music and Rock and Roll. Jazz used to be an integral part of working class culture in America, but today it has attained elite status, and there are hundreds of popular songs from the 1960s which have today attained the status of classics.

There are no authentic folk cultures

Mass culture theory also distinguishes between ‘authentic’ folk cultures which are somehow supposed to be better than ‘popular culture’ because folk cultures are rooted in the day to day lives of local peoples.

Strinati points out that this kind of face-face to face rootedness doesn’t necessarily make folk cultures any better than popular cultural products. In a way it’s a matter of who cares about authenticity? Popular culture is about enjoyment, that doesn’t necessarily make it inferior.

Strinati also questions whether folk cultures are actually authentic today – most cultures have been influenced by outside forces around the world, after all!

Cultural Politics and Power

Strinati argues that mass culture theory is a product of cultural politics rather than an objective assessment of the relative merits of so-called high and low cultures.

Mass culture theory represents a backlash by intellectuals who feel threatened by the growth of popular culture which threatens the hierarchy of taste by giving everybody equal power to choose what they think are the best books etc.

Effectively the rising popularity of popular culture threatens the symbolic power of intellectuals over the standards of taste which are applied to the consumption of cultural goods. They have thus labelled popular culture ‘mass culture’ and claimed it is inferior, when in fact it isn’t!


This material has been written primarily for students studying the culture and identity option as part of their A-level sociology course.

To return to the homepage –


Strinati (2004) An Introduction to Theories of Popular Culture

Part of this post was adapted from Haralambos and Holborn (2013) Sociology Themes and Perspectives 8th Edition.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Discover more from ReviseSociology

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading