Nicholas Garnham

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Nicholas Garnham (born 1937) is Emeritus Professor at the University of Westminster in the academic field of Media Studies. Garnham attended Winchester College from 1950 to 1955 where the major influence on his thinking was British socialist historian R.H.Tawney. His main interests were British history, architecture and cinema, the last of which has remained a lifelong passion and research focus. Garnham served in the Royal Navy from 1956 to 1958. He was in one of the last drafts to the service under compulsory conscription. He studied briefly at the Sorbonne in Paris in 1958 before moving to study English literature at Cambridge that same year. From 1962 until 1970 he was a director and film editor at the BBC. He left to enter academia at the Polytechnic of Central London to teach film making and film theory. Garnham was central in establishing first Media Studies degree at the University, a Bachelor of Arts course in 1975. He also became part of the university's newly established Communication Studies Department. He was Governor of the British Film Institute (BFI) from 1973 to 1977. He was founding editor of, and has remained a senior editor of, the journal Media, Culture and Society since it was first published in 1979.


Garnham is primarily an advocate of the political economy approach to mass communication. His research and writing focus mostly on intellectual and artistic creativity, work and production as it relates to existing political, social, cultural and economic norms and conditions. Much of his work concentrates on how these conditions determine the output of both artists and intellectuals, and he concentrated on cause and effect in the relationship between the "art/intellect" world and the "work" world, a distinction he first discovered in Hannah Arendt's "The Human Condition." Garnham rejected the idea that problems in the interactions between the two worlds are ideologically based and argued that their roots could be found by examining them from a historical perspective. He had been drawn to Marxist aesthetics and the sociology of art and eventually to the Frankfurt School in the early years of his academic career, although he became increasingly critical of what he considered a reliance by Marxist scholars on the ideas of Althusser. Garnham eventually found inspiration in the work of Pierre Bourdieu. Garnham has argued that in examining systems of cultural production it is possible for political economic theory to provide a detailed map of the interaction between public and private sectors. Television has been a special focus in this field for him. The content of artistic and intellectual producers is not explainable unless researchers examine the production processes and the cultural and socioeconomic status of the producers, he said. Arguing that Marx had found that the power of capitalism to continue to thrive was in its ability to continue to increase production, Garnham saw intellectual and artistic production as a vital sector of study in the investigation of how public and private sectors are interwoven. Given that communication under capitalism was both political and economic at the same time, Garnham argued that only Marx could provide a theoretical base from which to study it. Rather than study media as a distinct subject, he says, look at media as, simultaneously, a reflection of and an influence on broader social issues and problems. In arguing this way he rejected the strictly instrumentalist view of Marxist or post-Marxist thought that saw media as tools of the ruling classes and sided more with the structuralists who saw media as more complex than this and argued that understanding media required understanding their functional role within institutions, including the economy. Garnham essentially offers a rethinking of Marx's base/superstructure model in a way that defines media and culture as products of the industrial base of capitalism. Culture, he said, has been industrialised to the point that it had dissolved into the base. According to Garnham, both the production and dissemination of mass culture are based in the material world and influenced by the specific stage of capitalist development in which they are created. He argues that a core necessity to understanding media is to identify media as both a material product and an ideological one at the same time, and then examine the relationship between the two.

Around 1977 Nick wrote a pamphlet titled Revolution or Reform: Twin cul de sacs? (If you still have a copy republish.) As a student I read it closely. In it he prophesied the failure of both, which has come to pass in the sense that a 'flexible workforce', meaning insecure, is now the norm with 'employment' now returned to terms similar to the 19th Century and 'revolution' inconceivable. The complete closure of the mass media to any discussion of alternative social arrangements to capitalism, in a way unimaginable in the 1970s up until the late 1980s, is proof of his perspicacity.What is even more interesting is the way the mass media production outlets have become even more stratified than they were in the post war period in the sense that it is now almost impossible for any children of manual, or lower white collar, parents to get any employment or career in the media. This now extends to pop music, comedy and the theatre all routes that offered some form of escape from poverty to working class kids. All colonised by public school alumni. This was not predicted by Nick but the structures that produce this outcome were.


The New Priesthood with joan bakewell

  • Structures of Television (1972)
  • The Economics of Television (1988) with Richard Collins and Gareth Locksley
  • Capitalism and Communication: Global Culture and the Economics of Information (1990) editor Fred Inglis
  • Emancipation, The Media, And Modernity: Arguments about the Media and Social Theory (2000)
  • The Information Society is also a Class Society – The Impact of the New Information Technologies on Cultural Production and Consumption, Information Technology: Impact on the Way of Life (L. Bannion et al., eds). Dublin: Tycooly International (1981)
  • The Economics of Television, (1987) with R. Collins and G. Locksley
  • Capitalism and Communication: Global Culture and the Economics of Information (1990)
  • The Media and the Public Sphere (Ed. Calhoun) (1992)
  • The Role of the Public Sphere in the Information Society, in Regulating the Global Information Society (C.T. Marsden, ed.), London: Routledge. (2000)
  • Information Society as Theory or Ideology: A Critical Perspective on Technology, Education and Employment in the Information Age Digital Academe (W. Dutton and B. Loader, eds), pp. 253–67. London: Routledge. (2002)


  • Ellis Cashmore and Chris Rojek (1999), Dictionary of Cultural Theorists, pp. 179–181
  • Cook, D. (1996). The culture industry revisited. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield.
  • Gandy, O. H. (1999). Community pluralism and the 'tipping point': Editorial responses to race and related structural change. In D. Demers & K. Viswanath (Eds.), Mass Media, Social Control and Social Change (pp. 159–181). Ames, Iowa.: Iowa State University Press.
  • Garnham, N. (2005). A personal intellectual memoir. Media, Culture & Society, 27(4), 469–493.
  • Durham, M. G., & Kellner, D. M. (eds) (2001). Media and cultural studies (pp 197–229). Malden, Mass.: Blackwell.

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