The image factory: MTV, geography, and the industrial production of culture

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Don Mitchell


Media, Popular culture, Landscape, MTV, Industrial production, Television

Subject Categories

Communication | Geography | Mass Communication | Social and Behavioral Sciences | Urban Studies and Planning


The organization of social time, activity, and meaning--culture--is increasingly produced for the accumulation of capital and the solidification of class power. Mass media, particularly television, have been central to this process. Unsatisfied with image or symbol-centered approaches to understanding media, The Image Factory uses MTV's operations in Times Square, NY as a critical case study to show how struggling to control and transform physical and social spaces is fundamental to what it defines as the "industrial production of culture." This dissertation looks at the political economy of media infrastructure and uses extended ethnographic interviews and observations (at MTV) of creative media workers to demonstrate the geographic and material underpinnings of media and industrial cultural production.

While the expansion of mass media penetration internationally has in many ways "freed" forms of cultural expression from their geographic confines, it has simultaneously consolidated and enclosed those places where such expressions are produced and engaged. On one hand, such places and landscapes, like MTV's spectacular Midtown Studio in Times Square, are the result of massive public and private investment and are built to form the logistics for more effectively and predictably captivating (or otherwise negotiate the surrender of) popular attention. On the other hand, those places are also the context for increasingly competitive, insecure, and intensified creative labor. The Image Factory demonstrates how it is geography, or rather the struggle to construct the spaces of cultural production and engagement, control who occupies them and what they do there (characterized by massive social surplus waiting at its gates) that defines contemporary media and the industrial production of culture.


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