Douglas Kellner

Douglas Kellner
Born 1943
Era 20th / 21st-century philosophy
Region Western philosophy
School Frankfurt School
Main interests
Critical theory, postmodern theory, critical media literacy, media culture, alter-globalization
Notable ideas
Multiple technoliteracies

Douglas Kellner (born 1943) is an 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, also known as 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 of the field of critical media literacy and has been a leading theorist of media culture generally. In his recent work, he has increasingly argued that media culture has become dominated by the forms of spectacle and mega-spectacle. 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.[2] More recently, he is known for his work exploring the politically oppositional potentials of new media and attempted to delineate what they term "multiple technoliteracies" as a movement away from the present attempt to standardize a corporatist form of computer literacy.

He has collaborated with a number of other authors, including K. Daniel Cho, Tyson E. Lewis, Clayton Pierce, and Rhonda Hammer.[3] With Steven Best, Kellner collaborated 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 film maker Emile de Antonio and is now overseeing the publication of six volumes of the collected papers of the critical theorist Herbert Marcuse.

Education and career

During the 1960s, Kellner was a philosophy student at Columbia University in New York and partook in student protests against the Vietnam War. During this time he came to believe in the political nature of knowledge as well as the relationship between history and the production of ideas. 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 analysing 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 others who would be associated with postmodern theory. 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 Michel 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. 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. 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. 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.

Recent controversies

In January 2006, Kellner was caught up in the Bruin Alumni Association's controversial "Dirty Thirty"[4] project 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 leftwing professors.[5]

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." [6] Kellner, 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[7] with the view that the "attack exemplified rightwing interventions within the cultural wars that have raged on campuses since the 1960s."

Political writing

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 end 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."[8]

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.

Selected works


  • Kellner, Douglas (January 2008). Guys and guns amok:domestic terrorism and school shootings from the Oklahoma City bombing to the Virginia Tech massacre. Boulder (Colorado): Paradigm Publishers. ISBN 978-1594514937.
  • Kellner, Douglas (August 2001). Grand Theft 2000. Media Spectacle and a Stolen Election. Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 978-0742421028.
  • Kellner, Douglas and Best, Steven (June 2001). The Postmodern Adventure: Science, Technology, and Cultural Studies at the Third Millennium. Guilford Press. ISBN 978-1572306660.
  • Kellner, Douglas and Best, Steven (August 1997). The Postmodern Turn. Guilford Press. ISBN 978-1-57230-221-1.
  • Kellner, Douglas (January 1995). Media Culture: Cultural Studies, Identity and Politics Between the Modern and the Postmodern. London: Routledge. ISBN 978-0415105699.
  • Kellner, Douglas (September 1992). The Persian Gulf TV War. Boulder (Colorado): Westview Press. ISBN 978-0813316147.
  • Kellner, Douglas and Best, Steven (November 1991). Postmodern Theory: Critical Interrogations. Guilford Press. ISBN 978-0898624120.
  • Kellner, Douglas (September 1989). 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. ISBN 978-0801839146 (Paperback); Polity Press. ISBN 978-0745604398 (Hardcover).
  • Ryan, Michael and Kellner, Douglas (June 1988). Camera Politica: The Politics and Ideology of Contemporary Hollywood Film. Indiana University Press. ISBN 978-0253206046.

Essays and articles


  1. Kellner, Douglas. "The Frankfurt School and British Cultural Studies: The Missed Articulation". Retrieved 9 March 2016.
  2. Kellner, Douglas. Media Culture: Cultural Studies, Identity and Politics Between the Modern and the Postmodern. 1995 London: Routledge.
  3. Kellner, Douglas. "Welcome". Retrieved 28 September 2017.
  4. Dirty Thirty
  5. "Campus Activist Goes Right at ‘Em", The Los Angeles Times, 22 January 2006: B1 and B16
  6. "UCLA's Dirty Thirty", The Nation, 26 January 2006 [online]
  8. "Grand Theft 2000: Media Spectacle and a Stolen Election: Review", Publishers Weekly, 29 October 2001 [online]
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