Hirsch, P. 1972. “Processing Fads and Fashions: An Organization-Set Analysis of Cultural Industry Systems.”

Hirsch, Paul M. 1972. “Processing Fads and Fashions: An Organization-Set Analysis of Cultural Industry Systems.” American Journal of Sociology 77 (4): 639-659.

Cultural production and mass distribution by organizations face uncertainty in their input and outputs. Examines book publishing, phonograph records, motion pictures. Consumption of these goods is non-material, aesthetic – rather than utilitarian. Organizations cope through providing contacts at input/output boundaries, overproducing and providing differential promotion of new items, co-option of mass-media gatekeepers. Offers industry system to describe lineage between products/ideas as they move from producer to consumer.

“In order for new products or ideas to reach consumers, they must first be processed favorably through a system of organizations whose units filter out a large proportion of candidates before they arrive at the consumption stage (Barnett 1953).” In mass of products developed, each must be discovered, sponsored, and brought to public attention through a variety of organizations’ facilitation. Cultural products defined as non-material goods directed to consumers with expressive function, still understood as a commodity for sale, yet is unstandardized. Industry systems create a stable network of interacting, identifiable components, which can be outlined in a directional model towards consumer. However, product must succeed in competition from others for selection and promotion, then receiving mass media coverage, ordered for retail outlets, multimedia exhibitions and reflection. Boskoff (1964) – mass media’s gatekeeping role as “institutional regulator of innovation”- division of labor within, to maintain cross-promotional, cross-directional access to negotiate with artisans. CEOs seldom do the work in collaborations, but delegate the “discovery” of acts to others. Demand uncertainty coped with by these employees is caused by shifting consumer tastes, legal/normative constraints on vertical integration (having all levels of the system managed in-house), and the independent variance in the selection of items by gatekeepers. Highly bureaucratic distribution is noted by economic concentration, more so than craft-administered production sector. Independent or autonomous distributors are considered a risk. Production sectors highly dependent on the success of the distribution sector – publicity, dialogue, air-time, etc. This is a potential road-block in a product’s diffusion. Consumer reactions and dialogues work to revamp products, create new ones. Talent (in terms of producers) is recognized or adjudicated by marketability, market success. Sponsorship is selective; promotions work to demonstrate an “expected” hit. Use of advertising, personal requests, encouraging gatekeeper sponsorship, indirect advertising to gain entry, but often obstructed by mismatch of goals and values of actors. Music producers dependent on radio dissemination for sales – — (kx- this is now not the case)

Barnett, H.G. 1953. Innovation: The Basis of Cultural Change. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Boskoff, Alvin. 1964. “Functional Analysis as a Source of a Theoretical Repertory and Research Tasks in the Study of Social Charge.” In Explorations in Social Change, edited by George L. Zollschan and Walter Hirsch. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.


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