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Repressive desublimation and consumer culture: re-evaluating Herbert Marcuse

Bowring, Finn ORCID: 2012. Repressive desublimation and consumer culture: re-evaluating Herbert Marcuse. New Formations 75 , pp. 8-24. 10.3898/NewF.75.01.2012

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As mass society has given way to risk society in the popular sociological imagination, the work of the Frankfurt School has lost much of the purchase it might previously have had on academic understandings of consumer culture. In this article I return to Marcuse's concept of repressive desublimation, arguing that it still provides a useful intellectual tool for thinking through the tensions and dilemmas of contemporary consumer societies, and one which is surprisingly compatible with the post-Weberian sociology of recent years. I begin by summarising Freud's writings on sublimation, then explain Marcuse's companion concepts of 'repressive sublimation' and 'repressive desublimation'. I show that Marcuse's insights into the alienating nature of consumer capitalism usefully complement more fashionable theoretical approaches to the same subject. I conclude by drawing on Hannah Arendt's argument that judgements of taste are ultimately political judgements, suggesting that this is a fruitful way of understanding the responsibilities of the citizen-consumer.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Social Sciences (Includes Criminology and Education)
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > B Philosophy (General)
H Social Sciences > HF Commerce
Uncontrolled Keywords: Freud; Marcuse; Arendt; Desublimation; consumerism
Publisher: Lawrence and Wishart
ISSN: 0950-2378
Last Modified: 21 Oct 2022 10:32

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