What is to Be Done? The Role of the New and the Old in Media Theory – The Moment for Critical Digital and Social Media Studies



Debates exist around whether we live in a new Web 2.0 post-industrial era, or whether little has changed in capitalist society. This contribution queries the relationship between new and old, arguing Hegelian dialectics helps explain how change and continuity can operate at different levels (Bhaskar, 1993). New and old reappear as categories shaping a field in which Nordenstreng’s (2007) distinction between critical and administrative research remains relevant. What is needed is a critical digital and social media studies that draws upon real-life alternatives   (such as free software and the digital commons) to neoliberal principles. As Stuart Hall noted (Jhally and Hall, 2012), Cultural Studies’ move away from reductionist thinking ended by entirely forgetting the economy and capitalism that had not gone away. Hence, analysis in the UK needs to be informed by the political ­situation specifically Cameronism and Mayism (see Fuchs, 2016), with its co-opting of ­populist English nationalism and scapegoating tactics.

Underlying a plurality of crises are influential economic trends: lower wage income, precarious labour, financialisation and the digitalisation of work. These developments – new and old, local and global, in BRICs countries and the West – pose difficult questions for progressive politics and for our field.

Keywords: capitalism, Cameronism, critical theory, dialectical philosophy, Web 2.0, Marxism, Neoliberalism

How to Cite: Fuchs, C. (2017) “What is to Be Done? The Role of the New and the Old in Media Theory – The Moment for Critical Digital and Social Media Studies”, Westminster Papers in Communication and Culture. 12(1). doi:

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Competing Interests

The author has no competing interests to declare.

Author Information

Professor Christian Fuchs ( is the Director of the Westminster Institute for Advanced Studies and the Communication and Media Research Institute. He is editor of the journal tripleC: Communication, Capitalism & Critique and a member of the European Sociological Association’s Executive Committee and the author of numerous books including Critical Theory of Communication: New Readings of Lukács, Adorno, Marcuse, Honneth and Habermas in the Age of the Internet (2016), Reading Marx in the Digital Age: A Media and Communication Studies Perspective on Capital Volume 1 (2015) and Social Media: An Introduction. (2017, forthcoming 2nd edn.). He is the series editor of a new University of Westminster Press book series called ‘Critical Digital and Social Media Studies’.


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C. Fuchs, (2016).  Neoliberalism in Britain: From Thatcherism to Cameronism.  triple: Communication, Capitalism and Critique 14 (1)

S. Jhally, S. Hall, (2012).  Interview with Stuart Hall.  Retrieved from:

K. Nordenstreng, (2007).  Discipline or field? Soul-searching in communication research.  Nordicom Review (Jubilee) : 211.