Cultural Industries Revisited

Paul M. Hirsch*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

175 Scopus citations


In my early "Processing Fads and Fashions: An Organization-Set Analysis of Cultural Industry Systems" (1972), the middle "throughput" phase, or most organizational aspect of cultural industries, was emphasized. In this depoliticized exploration of what Adorno (1991) had earlier characterized as the industrialization of high culture, and Powdermaker (1950) as Hollywood's "dream factory," I emphasized the key roles of gate-keeper and distributor organizations as critical in connecting the artist/creators to audience/consumers of mass, or "popular" culture (as it had more acceptingly come to be called). Altogether, this network of organizations - from creators (artists, musicians, actors, writers) and brokers (agents), through the cultural product's producers (publishers, studios), distributors (wholesalers, theaters), and media outlets - collectively constitute cultural industries. This article on industries producing "cultural products" - denned as " 'nonmaterial' goods directed at a public of consumers, for whom they generally serve an esthetic or expressive, rather than a clearly utilitarian function" (Hirsch 1972 p. 641) - appeared at the same time that organizational sociology's focus on what became known as the "production of culture" took off, and continued to flourish into the 1990s (Peterson 1994, Crane 1992). How has the study of cultural industries changed over the last generation? A simple answer is that the subject - the key role of distribution and the importance of organizational middlemen in the making and sale of popular culture - remains analytically the same. From actors, musicians, and writers; through studios, labels and publishers, to videocassettes, movie theaters, record stores, and booksellers (in stores or via the Internet) - cultural products flow. How this sequence is organized and traversed remains a fascinating forest of power plays and techniques, employed by role-occupants in the same positions as have existed since the advent of mass media. While this substantive field has changed little analytically, what we also see is a wondrous expansion in the disciplinary approaches being taken to examine the multitude of topics available for examination under the broad rubric and framing of the term, "cultural industries." Because I was a graduate student at the time (my roommate dared me to submit the "Processing. . ." paper to the American Journal of Sociology), it is a great pleasure to find the concept has retained its value for other researchers since that time. In this article, I will (1) reexamine and discuss the original framing of the term cultural industries; (2) briefly review some of the more recent complementary perspectives which expand the possible arenas for studying this topic; and (3) append a short note on how the more recent inclusion of nonprofit cultural products (e.g., symphonies, museums) in this framework poses interesting analytical questions and opportunities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)356-361
Number of pages6
JournalOrganization Science
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jan 1 2000


  • Cultural Industry
  • Economic Sociology
  • Entertainment
  • Mass Media
  • Organizational Field

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Strategy and Management
  • Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management
  • Management of Technology and Innovation


Dive into the research topics of 'Cultural Industries Revisited'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this