Douglas Kellner

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Douglas Kellner
Born1943 (age 77–78)
EducationColumbia University, University of California, Los Angeles, Doane University
Era20th/21st-century philosophy
RegionWestern philosophy
SchoolFrankfurt School
Main interests
Critical theory, postmodern theory, critical media literacy, media culture, alter-globalization
Notable ideas
Multiple technoliteracies

Douglas Kellner (born 1943) is an American academic who works at the intersection of "third-generation" critical theory in the tradition of the Frankfurt Institute for Social Research, or Frankfurt School, and in cultural studies in the tradition of the Birmingham Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies, or the "Birmingham School". He has argued that these two conflicting philosophies are in fact compatible.[1] He is currently the George Kneller Chair in the Philosophy of Education in the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Kellner was an early theorist in the field of critical media literacy and has been a leading theorist of media culture generally.[2] In his recent work, he has increasingly argued that media culture has become dominated by forms of spectacle and mega-spectacle.[3] He also has contributed important studies of alter-globalization processes and has always been concerned with counter-hegemonic movements and alternative cultural expressions in the name of a more radically democratic society.[4] He is known for his work exploring the politically oppositional potentials of new media and attempted to delineate the term "multiple technoliteracies" as a movement away from the present attempt to standardize a corporatist form of computer literacy. Kellner has published multiple works on the 2016 United States presidential election, focusing on Donald Trump's media spectacles and authoritarian populism.[5][6]

Kellner has collaborated with a number of other authors, including K. Daniel Cho, Tyson E. Lewis, Clayton Pierce, and Rhonda Hammer.[7] Kellner collaborated with Steven Best on an award-winning trilogy of books examining postmodern turns in philosophy, the arts, and science and technology. He served as the literary executor of the documentary filmmaker Emile de Antonio and acted as editor of "Collected Papers of Herbert Marcuse," which collected six volumes of the papers of the critical theorist Herbert Marcuse.

Education and career[edit]

Kellner attended Doane College for his bachelor's degree, studying in Copenhagen for his junior year and graduating in 1965.[8] Kellner then went on to Columbia University, earning a Ph.D. in philosophy in 1973. During his time at Columbia, Kellner partook in student protests against the Vietnam War. During this time he also came to believe in the political nature of knowledge as well as the relationship between history and the production of ideas.[9] A historical understanding of philosophy's relationship to one's lived experiences became increasingly clear to Kellner through his research into German critical theory at the University of Tübingen in Germany. While studying there, he read the works of Theodor Adorno, Max Horkheimer, Karl Korsch, Herbert Marcuse, and Ernst Bloch, all of whom were instrumental in a new form of Marxist criticism concerned primarily with questions of culture and subjectivity rather than with analyzing production.

Kellner then went from Germany to France, where he attended lectures and read books of Michel Foucault, Gilles Deleuze, Jean Baudrillard, Jean-François Lyotard, and other postmodern theorists. Hence, Kellner's philosophical explorations did not end with the Frankfurt School. With his co-author Steven Best, Kellner has gone on to write a series of books critically interrogating what has come to be known as postmodern theory. Although adopting many insights from postmodernists such as Foucault, as well as many feminist and critical race theorists, Kellner retains the centrality of critical theory as a macro-theoretical lens capable of building conceptual bridges between various political movements and capable of critically evaluating and mediating competing philosophical perspectives.

Throughout his philosophical adventures, Kellner has drawn from the Frankfurt School a concern for the industrialization and commercialization of culture under capitalist relations of production. This situation has become most acute in the United States with its highly commercial media culture. Combining insights and methodological tools from the Frankfurt School and from British cultural studies, Kellner has written on media culture as a complex political, philosophical, and economic phenomenon. In his view, media emerges as a "contested terrain" in which political struggles are played out in narrative and visual forms. Thus films, television, internet, etc. articulate dominant, conservative, reactionary social values but also offer progressive resistance against these values. As an example of Kellner's method of media analysis, he has read the image of the pop sensation Madonna as a complex representation of women that challenges gender, sexual, and fashion stereotypes while at the same time reasserting those very codes by offering a "new" notion of the self that is reliant upon hyper-consumerism.[10] Kellner's work in the area of media culture has been influential for educators concerned with fostering "critical media literacy" capable of decoding the complexities of the visual culture that surrounds us.

Another equally important line of inquiry defining Kellner's work is his interest in "techno-capitalism" or capitalism defined by ever sophisticated advances in technology.[11] Thus Kellner has been at the forefront of theorizing new technologies and their social, political, and economic impacts. His interest in technologies began in the mid-seventies while a professor at the University of Texas at Austin. Here Kellner studied the political economy of television producing the renowned and original works Television and the Crisis of Democracy and The Persian Gulf Television War as well as launching his own very successful alternative culture public-access television cable TV show entitled Alternative Views.[12] As with his theories of media images, Kellner offers a dialectical approach to new technologies, highlighting their progressive and democratic potentials while also critiquing the undeniable reality of corporate interests that drive the technologies market. Again this work has become increasingly important for educators concerned with the role of technology in the classroom. Indeed, Kellner has focused studies in education on explicating media literacy and the multiple literacies needed to critically engage culture in the contemporary era. On this basis, he has called for a democratic reconstruction of education for the new digitized, mediated, global and multicultural era.

Contributions to Theory[edit]

Multiple Technoliteracies[edit]

In his work on media literacy, Kellner argued that learning competency in interpreting and criticizing various forms of media is essential to resisting the dominant social order. Kellner established literacy as the ability to effectively use “socially constructed forms of communication and representation.” He viewed media literacy as essential to maintaining an ethical society through the technological revolution and emphasized competence at navigating computers, multimedia, and media (films and television) in order to understand and stand apart from larger social forces. Multiple technoliteracies, in his view, is a counterhegemonic skill used in advancing the “interests of democratization and progressive transformation” with new technologies.[13]


Kellner proposed a theory of techno-capitalism as an alternative to post-capitalist social theories. Instead of categorizing the “information age” as a stage past capitalism, he defined it as a new configuration of capitalism on the basis that technology was ultimately influenced by the same imperatives and control. Kellner viewed techno-capitalism as a separate development due to the forces of scientific advancement, computers, automation, and advanced technology playing a role “in the process of production parallel to the role of human power.” The automation of labor increases at the expense of human manual labor, creating new importance placed on white-collar, managerial, and technical roles. The working class is fragmented from strong labor unions to independent, fragmented workers without much group influence, and power is concentrated in the hands of a few global conglomerates. Thus, under techno-capitalism, exploitation of the working class is increased.[11]


In January 2006, Kellner was caught up in the Bruin Alumni Association's controversial "Dirty Thirty" project,[14] which listed UCLA's most politically extreme professors. The list was compiled by a former UCLA graduate student, Andrew Jones, who had previously been fired by his mentor David Horowitz for pressuring "students to file false reports about leftists" and for stealing Horowitz's mailing list of potential contributors to fund research for attacks on left-wing professors.[15]

The Association offered students up to $100 for tapes of lectures that show how "radicals" on the faculty are "actively proselytizing their extreme views in the classroom".[16] Kellner was named number three; Peter McLaren, also in the School of Education and Information Studies at UCLA, topped the list at number one.

Kellner responded in print with the view that the "attack exemplified right wing interventions within the cultural wars that have raged on campuses since the 1960s".[17]

Political writing[edit]

Kellner's writing style has been the subject of criticism in the scholarly field, as many of his books are fiercely political. A Publishers Weekly review of Grand Theft 2000: Media Spectacle and a Stolen Election was positive, though it concluded that the book's result is "somewhat formless and unfocused." Although the review praised some aspects, notably Kellner's highlighting of some conservative ideological inconsistencies, it lamented that Kellner's "sporadic, underdeveloped discussion of Republicans projecting their own sins onto Democrats is particularly frustrating."[18]

Kellner received the 2008 American Educational Studies Association (AESA) Critics’ Choice Award for his book Guys and Guns Amok: Domestic Terrorism and School Shootings from the Oklahoma City Bombing to the Virginia Tech Massacre. The book argues that school shootings and other acts of mass violence embody a crisis of out-of-control gun culture and male rage, heightened by a glorification of hypermasculinity and violence in the media.

Kellner has written multiple works on the 2016 Presidential Election, strongly opposing Donald Trump. In his 2016 book American Nightmare Donald Trump, Media Spectacle, and Authoritarian Populism, Kellner applies his focus on media culture and literacy to the election of Donald Trump.[6] Kellner built on this work in 2017, publishing American Horror Show: Election 2016 and the Ascent of Donald J. Trump, in which he criticizes the president, referring to him as "the Swamp King" and "Putin's Poodle."[19]

Selected works[edit]

Books authored

  • Herbert Marcuse and the Crisis of Marxism. London: Macmillan, 1984. ISBN 0-333-36830-4.
  • Camera Politica: The Politics and Ideology of Contemporary Hollywood Film. Co-authored with Michael Ryan. Indiana University Press, June 1988. ISBN 978-0253206046.
  • Jean Baudrillard: From Marxism to Postmodernism and Beyond. Oxford: Polity Press, 1989. ISBN 0-7456-0562-1.
  • Critical Theory, Marxism, and Modernity. Parallax Re-visions of Culture and Society. Stephen G. Nichols, Gerald Prince, and Wendy Steiner, series editors. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, September 1989. ISBN 978-0801839146 (Paperback); Polity Press. ISBN 978-0745604398 (Hardcover).
  • Television And The Crisis Of Democracy (Interventions: Theory and Contemporary Politics). Westview Press, 1990. ISBN 978-0813305493
  • Postmodern Theory: Critical Interrogations. Guilford Press, November 1991. ISBN 978-0898624120.
  • The Persian Gulf TV War. Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, September 1992. ISBN 978-0813316147.
  • Media Culture: Cultural Studies, Identity and Politics Between the Modern and the Postmodern. London: Routledge, January 1995. ISBN 978-0415105699.
  • The Postmodern Turn. Co-authored by Steven Best. Guilford Press, August 1997. ISBN 978-1-57230-221-1.
  • The Postmodern Adventure: Science, Technology, and Cultural Studies at the Third Millennium. Co-authored by Steven Best. Guilford Press, June 2001. ISBN 978-1572306660.
  • Grand Theft 2000. Media Spectacle and a Stolen Election. Rowman & Littlefield, August 2001. ISBN 978-0742421028.
  • From 9/11 to Terror War: The Dangers of the Bush Legacy. Rowman & Littlefield, 2003. ISBN 0-7425-2638-0.
  • Guys and Guns Amok: Domestic Terrorism and school Shootings from the Oklahoma City Bombing to the Virginia Tech Massacre. Boulder, Colorado: Paradigm Publishers, January 2008. ISBN 978-1594514937.
  • Cinema Wars: Hollywood Film and Politics in the Bush-Cheney Era. Oxford, England: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009. ISBN 9781405198233
  • Media/Cultural Studies: Critical Approaches. Co-authored by Rhonda Hammer. New York, NY: Peter Lang Publishing, 2009. ISBN 9781433107016
  • American Nightmare Donald Trump, Media Spectacle, and Authoritarian Populism. Rotterdam: Sense Publishers, 2016. ISBN 9789463007887
  • American Horror Show: Election 2016 and the Ascent of Donald J. Trump. Rotterdam: Sense Publishers, 2017. ISBN 9789463007887

Books edited

Book contributions

Essays and articles


Kellner was named a fellow of the Sudikoff Family Institute for New Education and Media from 2003 to 2004.[20]


  1. ^ Kellner, Douglas. "The Frankfurt School and British Cultural Studies: The Missed Articulation". Retrieved 9 March 2016.
  2. ^ Kellner, Douglas, 1943- (1995). Media culture : cultural studies, identity, and politics between the modern and the postmodern. London: Routledge. ISBN 020328819X. OCLC 52850158.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  3. ^ Aug 13, Laureano Ralón |; Interviews, 2012 |; K | 0 | (2012-08-13). "Interview with Douglas Kellner". Figure/Ground. Retrieved 2019-10-07.CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  4. ^ Kellner, Douglas. Media Culture: Cultural Studies, Identity and Politics Between the Modern and the Postmodern. 1995 London: Routledge.
  5. ^ Kellner, Douglas, 1943- (9 June 2017). American horror show : election 2016 and the ascent of Donald J. Trump. Rotterdam. ISBN 9789463009744. OCLC 1004391940.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  6. ^ a b Kellner, Douglas, 1943- (25 November 2016). American Nightmare : Donald Trump, Media Spectacle, and Authoritarian Populism. Rotterdam. ISBN 9789463007887. OCLC 965482369.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  7. ^ Kellner, Douglas. "Welcome". Retrieved 28 September 2017.
  8. ^ Kellner, Douglas (September 2009). "Douglas Kellner CV" (PDF). UCLA.
  9. ^ Aug 13, Laureano Ralón |; Interviews, 2012 |; K | 0 | (2012-08-13). "Interview with Douglas Kellner". Figure/Ground. Retrieved 2019-10-03.CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  10. ^ "Cultural Studies and Social Theory: A Critical Intervention by douglas kellner". Retrieved 2021-03-03.
  11. ^ a b Kellner, Douglas (1989). Critical Theory, Marxism, and Modernity. Baltimore, Maryland: Johns Hopkins University Press. pp. 176–211. ISBN 0801839149.
  12. ^ "A Guide to the Alternative Views Video Collection, 1978-1998".
  13. ^ Richard Kahn, Douglas Kellner (September 2005). "Reconstructing Technoliteracy: a multiple literacies approach". E-Learning and Digital Media. Vol. 2 Issue: 3: 238-251.
  14. ^ Wiener, Jon (2006-01-26). "UCLA's Dirty Thirty". The Nation. ISSN 0027-8378. Retrieved 2019-10-10.
  15. ^ "Campus Activist Goes Right at ‘Em", The Los Angeles Times, 22 January 2006: B1 and B16
  16. ^ "UCLA's Dirty Thirty", The Nation, 26 January 2006 [online]
  17. ^ "Education and the Academic Left: Critical Reflections on Todd Gitlin".
  18. ^ "Grand Theft 2000: Media Spectacle and a Stolen Election: Review", Publishers Weekly, 29 October 2001 [online]
  19. ^ Kellner, Douglas, 1943- (9 June 2017). American horror show : election 2016 and the ascent of Donald J. Trump. Rotterdam. ISBN 9789463009744. OCLC 1004391940.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  20. ^ "Douglas Kellner | UCLA GSEIS". Retrieved 2021-03-03.

External links[edit]