Who is Theodor Adorno

Theodor Adorno was a German philosopher, sociologist, musicologist and music critic.

It was also one of the greatest critics of the degradation generated by capitalism in the name of the forces that commodify culture and social relations.

For Adorno, psychology precedes politics. Its focus is not so much on the economic aspects of capitalism as it is interested in the cultural configurations it enables.

In this way, Adorno was one of the founders of the famous ” Frankfurt School “, along with names such as Herbert Marcuse, Jürgen Habermas, Max Horkheimer and Wilhelm Reich.

It received many influences from thinkers such as Hegel, Marx and Freud, as well as from Lukács and Walter Benjamin, with whom he lived.

It is noteworthy that Adorno believed that culture had a nobler mission, as did the intellectuals, the only ones capable of modifying society.


Theodor Adorno

Born in Frankfurt, Germany, on September 11, 1903, Theodor Ludwig Wiesengrund-Adorno was privileged to belong to an educated family.

His father, Oscar Alexander Wiesengrund, was a wine dealer and his mother, Maria Barbara Calvelli-Adorno, was a lyric singer.

She and her half sister Agathe were responsible for awakening Theodor’s musical taste.

Between 1918 and 1919, he was a student of Siegfried Kracauer and subsequently attended the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gymnasium.

He had private music lessons with composer Bernhard Sekles. During this period he published dozens of articles on music criticism and aesthetics.

He entered the University of Frankfurt in 1920, where he studied Philosophy, Musicology, Psychology and Sociology, graduating 1924.

In the same year, Theodor Adorno and his colleagues founded the “Institute for Social Research“, later known as the “Frankfurt School”.

In 1925, Adorno goes to Vienna, Austria, to study music composition with Alban Berg.

In the year 1933, publishes his thesis about Kierkegaard. The following year, he is forced to flee the Nazi regime due to his Jewish ancestry and socialist alignment.

He flees to England where he will teach philosophy at Oxford. In 1938, he goes into exile in the United States, where he will study the American media, due to the fascination and revulsion he felt when he learned about California’s consumer culture.

He was invited by his friend Max Horkheimer to teach at Princeton University. He is later appointed to assist in directing the University of California Berkeley Social Discrimination Research Project.

In 1953, he returned to Frankfurt, where he became Deputy Director of the Institute for Social Research in 1955.

He died on August 6, 1969 in Visp, Switzerland, due to heart problems.

Main Ideas

Adorno considered society as an object and abandoned the idea of ​​autonomous cultural production in relation to the prevailing social order.

In turn, their perspective is based on Hegel’s Dialectic, although they differ on some points.

With this, it criticizes the Logical Positivism and the Instrumental Reason, because they do not accept the existing duality between the subject and object.

On the other hand, Adorno admits the presence of the irrational in thought, of which works of art are a great example. They are a mediated reflection of the real world, expressed by (artistic) language.

Works of art are capable of encompassing all the contradictions that conceptual language does not reach. This is because they seek an exact match between the word and the object.

For this reason, the work of art represents a true antithesis of society. She (art) is the very appearance of reality by its (dialectic) difference from reality.

Theodor Adorno and the Cultural Industry

The main expression attributed to Adorno and his colleagues at the Frankfurt School is “Cultural Industry”.

This term refers to the ubiquitous and malicious entertainment machine under the control of large media corporations.

This machine is capable of instigating deep desires in the minds, causing them to forget what they really need.

Products like movie films, TV and radio shows, magazines and newspapers, as well as other social media, are created with the sordid intention of keeping us distracted.

With this, she instills fears and desires that confuse and intimidate us, making an action for social transformation impossible.

Now, this factor of alienation is entirely based on the rationality of technique, since scientific and technical progress was appropriated by the Cultural Industry.

The rationality of the technique is identified with the rationality of the domain itself, which is controlled by the Cultural Industry.

It establishes the power of mechanization over man by carrying out a systematic and programmed exploitation of goods considered cultural for the sole purpose of profit.

Note that in this relationship, the Cultural Industry establishes a vertical integration with its consumers.

Their products are tailored to the tastes of the masses as they generate the desire for consumption.

Thus, for some scholars, the Cultural Industry incapacitates individuals, who will no longer be autonomous and consciously able to decide.

Major Works

  • Dialectic of Enlightenment (1947)
  • Philosophy of New Music (1949)
  • Aesthetic Theory (1970)
  • The Cultural Industry – The Enlightenment as Mass Mystification (1947)
  • Cultural Criticism and Society (1949)
  • Free Time (1969)
  • Minimal Moralia (1944, 1945, 1946 and 1947)


Check out some phrases from Theodor Adorno:

  • Normality means death.”
  • The current task of art is to introduce chaos into order.”
  • Freedom is not being able to choose between black and white, but to abhor this kind of choice.”
  • Man is so well manipulated and ideologized that even his leisure becomes an extension of work.”
  • The greatness of a work of art lies fundamentally in its ambiguous character, which allows the viewer to decide on its meaning.”
  • Art needs philosophy, which interprets it, to say what it cannot say, although only through art can it be said when not said.”