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Popular Communication and Social Class

Rob Drew

Subject Communication and Media Studies » Communication Studies
Culture » Popular Culture

Key-Topics class (social)

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405131995.2008.x


During the Industrial Revolution, the English word “class” morphed from a general term for a division or group to a specific term for a position of rank within a social system based on economic wealth. Around the same time, the word “popular” began to be applied to communication and culture with meanings ranging from “liked by many people” to “created by many people.” Thus, social class and “the popular” simultaneously arose as objects of intellectual interest. Indeed, the very question of what counts as →  Popular Culture or →  popular communication has always led to questions of class. In the late eighteenth century, when J. G. Herder coined the term “popular culture,” he had in mind the peasant culture that, for him, represented a more authentic alternative to Europe's elite, classical culture (→  Culture: Definitions and Concepts ). By the late nineteenth century, when Matthew Arnold wrote Culture and anarchy , he understood popular communication as the culture of the “masses,” the culture of cheap novels and melodrama that was crowding out the high cultural tradition of “the best that has been thought and said” ( Arnold 1960 , 6). Though neither Herder's romanticism nor Arnold's elitism made explicit reference to social class, the issue of class and its contested role in defining culture, communication, and “the popular” lay just below the surface for both. In the early ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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