The different schools of thought within Marxist media theory are variously framed by commentators. Michael Gurevitch and his colleagues listed three 'contending paradigms': 'structuralist', 'political economy' and 'culturalist' (Gurevitch et al. 1982: 8). Althusserian Marxism is structuralist. Purely structuralist analysis focuses on 'the internal articulation of the signifying systems of the media' (Curran et al. 1982: 28).
In the Marxist fundamentalist tradition, 'political economists' see ideology as subordinate to the economic base (Curran et al. 1982: 26). Work by Graham Murdock (Murdock & Golding 1977; Murdock 1982) represents the 'critical' political economy approach, locating the power of media in the economic processes and structures of media production. Onwership and economic control of the media is seen as the key factor in determining control of media messages.
Work by Stuart Hall (e.g. Hall et al. 1978) represents the Marxist culturalist approach, which sees the mass media as a powerful (if secondary) influence in shaping public consciousness (Curran et al. 1982: 28). Culturalism follows Althusserian structuralism in rejecting economism, but unlike structuralism, it emphasizes the actual experience of sub-groups in society and contextualizes the media within a society which is seen as 'a complex expressive totality' (Curran et al. 1982: 27). The culturalist approach is reflected in the work of the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies (CCCS) at the University of Birmingham, of which Stuart Hall was once the director.
As Curran et al. put it, 'Marxist theorists vary in their accounts of the determination of the mass media and in their accounts of the nature and power of mass media ideologies' (Curran et al. 1982: 23).