Symbolic Power and Popular Culture: James Lull

Media Research and Theory 1
Critical Review

Symbolic Power and Popular Culture: James Lull

James Lull’s essay entitled “Symbolic Power and Popular Culture” is contained
within the Media Studies reader Media, Communication, Culture: A Global
Approach. In an age of competing power structures and infrastructures that
dictate and influence our lives, Lull’s focus on the effects of ‘Symbolic Power’ is a
very interesting one. Quoting John B Thompson, Lull defines this power as “the
capacity to use symbolic forms to intervene in the course of events, to influence
the actions of others and indeed to create events by means of the production and
transmission of symbolic forms”.(Lull 2000: 160). Symbolic forms as Lull states
can be found everywhere but within this essay he chooses how symbolic power
effects the media and communications industry and the impact that this has on
those who consume it.

Lull is keen to highlight how Symbolic Power unlike its political or economic
counterparts “functions in the boundless and vital realm of the imagination.” (Lull
2000: 162).Therefore it can mean different things to different people as well as
different things to the same person at different times; in short symbolic power is
entirely subjective. His discussion of the 1960’s and the symbols that we
associate with this era (flower-power, civil rights movements and Vietnam War to
name a few) is a useful analysis and an example of the effect that symbols and
representations have on our view of history. However the importance of the
signified and signifier, terms coined by the French linguist Ferdinand de
Saussure, which appear to me essential in the debate about symbolic power are

barely touched on. I think Lulls argument could have been strengthened by an
examination of the role of semiotics in creating and analysing symbols and how
the individual interprets them.

I found Lull’s positing of the individual and audience as not only consuming