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Comparing And Contrasting The Sociological Theories Of Judith Butler And Theodor Adorno

By Edited Nov 13, 2013 0 0

Adorno and Butler are both concerned with the problem of domination in modern society; however, they refer to different categories in society.  Both theorists distinguish that media and society have a major influence over individual’s everyday actions. 

 Similarities And Differences

They both believe humans act the way that they see and are told how to act by their surroundings.  As Adorno presents culture industry and Butler presents performativity; each theory states individuals acting in different roles, which than the individuals become the role they are acting.  People are being dominated by society as individual’s act the way society leads them to act.  Adorno is prominently alarmed by how media is portrayed in society and the significant influence it has over people.  Adorno sees this as a problem because media displays a sense of culture which affects our conscious and unconscious actions and individuals do not act truly as they wish.  He refers to culture industry as having an influential power over how people live and take action over their practices.  “The culture industry arouses a feeling of well-being that the world is precisely in the order suggested by the culture industry, the substitute gratification which it prepares for human beings cheats them out of the same happiness which it deceitfully projects.” In other words, culture industry portrays a sense of content feeling for individuals but it in fact does the opposite and takes that feeling away.  Butler sees society affecting how individuals perform according to their gender; individuals perform their roles and by acting, these roles become fixed behaviours. 

 Society imposes certain gender norms and expectation in which individuals are suppose to perform; when these norms are not followed correctly, the individual is considered to be an outcast.  Butler displays an example of this being gays, as they are not following heterosexual gender norms.  Butler points out that discrimination against gays is a function not of their sexuality but of their failure to perform heterosexual gender norms. Because heterosexuality is based on a binary difference between male and female, there is a socially constructed gender in which heterosexuality is central, which informs out understanding of biology.  As a result, society has a notion of how individuals should act according to their gender, and it is believed that individuals should act that way or they are considered not to be normal.  Thus, Adorno’s culture industry theory and Butler’s performativity theory are similar as both theories discuss how society and media play a significant role in how individuals practice their day to day actions.  Both theories also believe that the media and society are dominating individuals as they indirectly represent how people are suppose to be portraying themselves. 

How Do These Sociological Theories Play Out In Society?

Having studied both Psychology and Sociology in university, I can tell you that there are literally hundreds of different theories to do with how humans think and interact with each other; however, you will rarely see any of these theories play out in front of you. It is not about looking at the overall picture; but rather, it is about noticing the subtle differences in how different humans react to each others’ actions!

I believe that evidence of both of these theories can be seen at any moment with anybody around you. As was stated in the first few paragraphs of this article, both sociological theories involve people acting based on their surroundings.

For instance, imagine that we are observing the way that a married man acts when he is around his wife. I am sure that the man would act like himself; however, he will probably ensure that he is acting polite and avoid doing things like farting and belching. On the other hand, envision how that same married man would act when he was around his male friends. He would be the same overall person; however, some subtle differences may include being impolite, cursing, farting, and belching. This is literally one example out of the thousands that I have encountered throughout my university career.

The truth of Adorno and Butler’s theories are also evident when observing the way that people act when they are in a business environment at their work, and at their work’s Christmas party. Those employees would be around the same people during both situations; however, they would act differently when being placed in each situation.

There are very few people that prove these theories wrong, and act the same in almost every situation. With that being said, you should definitely take some time to observe the others around you, and compare their actions to those that are being predicted in this theory. Conduct your own sociological study, and see if you can find any outliers that would prove both of these Sociological theories wrong!

 To Sum It Up

Overall, critical theory and feminist theory are both concerned with the problem of domination in modern society; however, they take different approaches towards it.  Both theorists analyze different aspects as one is through critical theory and the other is through feminist theory; nevertheless, both theorists similarly describe the notion that individuals’ act and present themselves as society portrays.  This is shown in Adorno’s theory of culture industry as well as Butler’s theory of performativity.  Butler argues that we become subjects from our performances and that subjectivity is a process of submitting ourselves to socially constituted norms and practices.  Alternatively, Adorno presents that individuals should experience feelings of freedom through music and art, while it instead offers the opposite since culture united with industry.  Culture industry and performativity display the ways the issue of domination has been taken up.  Together, both theorists see individuals being subtracted from free choice and distinctive identities. It is the dominating factors in society which are removing these characteristics from people.  To conclude, in the same way Adorno speaks of culture industry, Butler speaks of performativity, as both represent people being dominated in modern society by a greater force, such as the media and their outer surroundings.   


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