Themes of Leavis’s essay “Mass Civilisation and Minority Culture”

Civilization and culture are two prominent themes in Leavis’s seminal essay “Mass Civilisation and Minority Culture” published in 1930. The prominent themes of this essay include the understanding of the mode of civilization and the culture as found in England in the 1920s. He argues that the emergence of industrialization and excessive mechanisms largely affects culture. Leavis argues, “ it is a commonplace today that culture is at a crisis. It is a commonplace more widely accepted that understood” (14). To him, these forces, to some extent, endanger culture. They leave their perpetual effects in multiple dimensions. This essay aims at deciphering the themes

Themes of Industrialization and mechanization and their effects

Leavis points out innumerable factors that are responsible for the endangerment of culture. It happens with the emergence of excessively mechanized industrialization. According to him, culture is affected due to discrimination and informed judgment offered by industrialization. He argues, “the machine, in the first place, has brought about change in habit and the circumstances of life a rate for which we have no parallel” 14). Leavis exemplifies an anthropological work named Middletown that deals with the people of Middle West. Here, he shows how “the automobile (to take one instance) has, in a few years, radically affected religion, broken up the family, and revolutionized social custom” (14). He furthers his idea stating that the machines’ effects on them are so catastrophic that people face problems in adjustment with each other. What is more degenerating is that parents are also unable to communicate with their children properly. To clarify its devastation, it is worth quoting from him, “Improvisation can hardly replace the delicate traditional adjustments, the mature, inherited codes of habit and valuation, without severe loss, and loss that may be more than temporary”. It is a breach in continuity that threatens: what has been inadvertently dropped may irrecoverable or forgotten” (14-15).

Cultural endangerment and American popular culture

Leavis opines that culture is greatly influenced by Americanism popular culture in which there is predominance of films, popular fiction, comics, newspapers etc. He points out the fate of Europe stating that the region is gradually becoming American- “we are being Americanised “ (15). To expand his idea, he quotes from Lord Melchett who opines very harshly on the American influence on the Europeans, particularly on the British. He laments for the experience that Americanism and its fundamental aspects are gradually engulfing the European traditions. He fears that with the American cultural and material invasion, England may lose its glorious traditions that have been prevailing there authentically since the Anglo-Saxon period.  Leavis is very critical to this kind of aggressive understanding of Americanism. He argues that steps should be taken to reverse the whole process. Standardization is one of the processes, which largely determines cultural radius. He believes that industialisation levels down everything with visible and invisible forces.

Films and cultural endangerment

Leavis clearly mentions that the British society is greatly influenced by the illusions of Americanism in which films play very important roles. Culture is largely controlled by them as they are great sources of recreation, have emotional appeal, hypnotic capacity to hold people through emotional appeals. He opines, “the films have a so much potent influence. They provide now the main form of recreation in the civilized world; and they involve surrender, under conditions of hypnotic receptivity, to the cheapest emotional appeals, appeals the more insidious because they are associated with a compelling vivid illusion of actual life” (14). He further argues that films work through passive diversion that offers active recreation. Leavis blames the Hollywood movies for leveling down the society largely through its aggressive entertainment policies. The mass production of media removes the cultural barriers between the high culture and low culture.


Leavis, F., R. “Mass Civilisation and Minority Culture”. Cultural Theory and Popular Culture: A Reader, edited by John Storey. Longman, an Imprint of Pearson Education Limited, 1998

Abdur Rahim
Abdur Rahim

Assistant Professor, and Member of the Proctorial Body
Department of English Language and Literature (DELL), Premier University, Chattogram,
& Doctoral Fellow, English Department, Jahangirnagar University, Savar, Dhaka.

Phone: +8801715638298


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