A Genealogy and Critique of Guy Debord's Theory of Spectacle

Bunyard, Tom. 2011. A Genealogy and Critique of Guy Debord's Theory of Spectacle. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

This thesis addresses Guy Debord's theory of spectacle through its primary philosophical and theoretical influences. Through doing so it highlights the importance of his largely overlooked concerns with time and history, and interprets the theory on that basis. The theory of spectacle is shown to be not simply a critique of the mass media, as is often assumed, but rather an account of a relationship with history; or more specifically, an alienated relation to the construction of history. This approach thus offers a means of addressing Debord’s Hegelian Marxism. The thesis connects the latter to Debord’s interests in strategy, chance and play by way of its existential elements, and uses these themes to investigate his own and the Situationist International’s (S.I.) concerns with praxis, political action and organisation.

Addressing Debord and the S.I.’s work in this way also highlights the shortcomings of the theory of spectacle. The theory is based upon the separation of an acting subject from his or her own actions, and in viewing capitalist society under this rubric it tends towards replacing Marx's presentation of capital as an antagonistic social relation with an abstract opposition between an alienated consciousness and a homogenised world. Yet whilst the theory itself may be problematic, the conceptions of time, history and subjectivity that inform it may be of greater interest. Drawing attention to Debord's claims that theories should be understood as strategic interventions, and also to the S.I.'s calls for their own supersession, the thesis uses its observations on the nature of Debord's Hegelian Marxism to cast the theory of spectacle as a particular moment within a broader notion of historical agency. It thus contends that Debord's work can be seen to imply a model of collective political will, and offers initial suggestions as to how that interpretation might be developed.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)


debord, situationist, marx, hegel, existentialism, time, history, strategy, praxis, commodity, general will, ethics


14 February 2011

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

09 Jan 2012 14:35

Last Modified:

08 Sep 2022 10:31



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