Abstract: Masscult and Bizcult: The Origins of the Postwar Mass Culture Debate in Commercial Market Research

Joseph Malherek


Several of the key intellectual figures in the mass culture debate of the 1950s&#151;including David Riesman, C. Wright Mills, and Dwight Macdonald&#151;were influenced by, or directly associated with, a group of largely emigre social researchers led by the Viennese Paul F. Lazarsfeld, whose work consisted mainly of mass media analysis and market research. Lazarsfeld's cohort included the consumer motivational researcher Ernest Dichter and Frankfurt School refugees Theodor Adorno and Leo Lowenthal. This motley cohort&#151;composed of both radical critical theorists and positivist market researchers&#151;conducted studies and published its work in several Radio Research volumes and in marketing trade journals, uniting, ironically, the discourses of business pragmatism and Marxian criticism. An article published in 1944 by Lowenthal on "Biographies in Popular Magazines," for example, noted the shift from "idols of production" to "idols of consumption" in featured subjects, and observed the older paradigm of initiative and enterprise giving way to a trend of social adjustment. Riesman acknowledged that the piece influenced his substantially similar argument concerning "inner-direction" and "other-direction" in his 1950 work, <em>The Lonely Crowd</em>. Thus the hybrid work of the Lazarsfeld organization contributed both empirical studies and analytical interpretation to the intellectual debate on mass culture in the 1950s.