Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2016

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

First Advisor

Michael Tracey

Second Advisor

Tom Yulsman

Third Advisor

Michael Kodas


‘Critical’ and ‘cultivated’ literacy, as defined by Richard Hoggart in The Uses of Literacy, are the bedrock of democracy. Without them, ‘communities of dialoguing publics,’ as defined by C. Wright Mills in The Power Elite, which, writ large, comprise that democracy, cannot form. This thesis begins, in Part One, with a one hundred and fifty year canon of cultural theory, beginning with the Victorians, Romantics, and Transcendentalists, who argue that a democracy first and foremost is composed of citizens who demonstrate both the ability of critique and the ability to generate works, whether intellectual or artistic in nature, that are worthy of such critique. The thesis then, in Part Two, documents that this is not the state of the American public today, and these levels of literacy are in fact declining generally and increasingly producing a ‘mass society’ of ‘consumers’ passively purchasing the increasingly rote entertainment products of an ever more elite Culture Industry. The thesis then, in Part Three, depicts the effect this situation is having on developing countries worldwide, which are increasingly ensnared in this ever more global Culture Industry as pawns of its distribution within their local populations. The Conclusion then depicts the situation underway in contemporary America concerning the complicated role of the explosive growth of Web 2.0 and digital devices on the literacy of the American public. At the moment, two trends are at war with one another: those members of the public who, with sufficient prior exposure to the practices of critique and cultivated production, are employing those devices properly as tools in the service of those ends, versus those members of the public bereft of those practices and who are therefore employing those devices superficially and in the spirit of worshipping them as devices themselves. In sum, this thesis shows that, while the latter camp is currently in the majority, there is nothing to guarantee that state of affairs in the future. That future depends on how the American public chooses to wield this incoming technology, and that largely depends on whether or not they can be exposed to the practice of exercising critical and cultivated literacy.