Social Media and the Dialectic of Enlightenment

  • Henrik Juel Associate Professor, Roskilde University, Denmark
Keywords: Critical Theory, Dialectics, Enlightenment, Social Media, Alienation, Fetishism, Commodities


My reflections in this paper concern revitalizing the critical potential of certain core concepts of Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno's Dialectic of Enlightenment (first published 1944) and bringing it to bear on the digital era in general and in particular on the phenomenon of modern social media. I find that the central philosophical critique of Dialectic of Enlightenment runs deeper than just a critique of contemporary (and perhaps now out-dated) media technique and cultural habits. It is a critical view of the process of civilization, economy and enlightenment as such, a critical view of the seemingly self-evident notion of pure reason, science and technology. What Horkheimer and Adorno are trying to capture and reflect is the very process of rationality backlashing into irrationality. We seem to have reached the era of mathematics and exact calculation, but this leaves us with no sense of control or meaningfulness, and in the face of crisis and systemic contradictions in the now global society we tend to regress and rely on older, more primitive forms of sense-making and coping: magic, mythology and metaphysics - even ritual behaviour. But these philosophical reflections, can they help us evaluate the role of today's social media?

Author Biography

Henrik Juel, Associate Professor, Roskilde University, Denmark
Educated in Philosophy from Copenhagen University, Ph.d in Communication from Roskilde University 1992, Resarch Scholarships and Teaching jobs at various Danish universities in the fields of philosophy, aesthetics, communication, rhetoric and film media. From 1999 associate professor at CBIT, Roskilde University, Denmark.
Reflections (Non Peer-Reviewed)