Title: On the Social-Aesthetic Construct

23 June 2017; 1600-1800

Senate House G35


The topic “autonomy of art,” which has been discussed since the eighteenth century, has in the twentieth century become largely a debate over the relationship between art and society. Prompted by Jacques Rancière’s remarks on Pedro Costa’s movies about a Lisbon slum, I ask about the aesthetic contributions of inhabitants of peripheral neighbourhoods themselves, especially “hip-hop culture” in big cities of the Western World. Richard Shusterman construes this kind of culture as a model of political action in which aesthetic manifestations assume a major role, contrasting this approach with Adorno’s putative preference for “high culture” over “popular culture.” I show that what the latter criticizes is not popular culture itself, but what he calls the “culture industry.” Adorno’s Critical Theory of Society can be a useful approach to such phenomena as hip-hop culture, so long as we add to the three types of culture he recognizes (high culture, popular culture and culture industry) a fourth type that I elsewhere call the “social-aesthetic construct.”