Social Research Glossary


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Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2012-20, Social Research Glossary, Quality Research International,

This is a dynamic glossary and the author would welcome any e-mail suggestions for additions or amendments. Page updated 19 December, 2019 , © Lee Harvey 2012–2020.


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core definition

Authentic means something that is genuine or that represents the essence of an idea.

explanatory context

Authentic means something that is the real article or something that is genuine rather than being a reproduction, copy or something masquerading as something that it is not. This applies, for example, to historical objects: are they really from when they purport to be or are they later copies. Ths might apply to non-tangible objects such as music or poetry as well as more tangible cultural objects such as pottery, paintings and so on.


Authentic has another rather less superficial sense and that is where it implies something that represents the very essence of a conceptnor idea. Marcuse, for example, talked about authentic art, by which he meant art that represents the real nature of (oppressed, class-bound) life, rather than frivilous decoration. Marcuse argues for authentic art as integral to the Marxist social revolution. Marcuse sees art as functioning as the conscience of society. For him art is authentic or true not by virtue of its content (i.e., the“correct” representation of social conditions) nor by its “pure” form. For Marcuse, all authentic art is negative, in the sense that it refuses to obey the established (bourgeois) conventions of the art world.

analytical review

Kellner (2007) discusses Marcuse's notion of authentic art as follows:

Authentic art thus represents for Marcuse a negation of existing oppres- sive reality and the postulating of another world. Authentic art preserves visions of emancipation and is thus part of the radical project. In the French resistance writing which he discusses, love and beauty are negated by the forces of totalitarianism that themselves appear as negations of human life and aspirations which must in turn be negated. But Aragon and the poetry of his radical comrades utilizes a classically severe form to present the emancipatory content, thus providing an anticipation of Marcuse’s later position – namely, that it is the aesthetic form that inscribes the aesthetic dimension and accounts for the emancipatory power of art.

Dutton (2003) discussing authenticity states:

“Authentic,” like its near-relations, “real,” “genuine,” and “true,” is what J.L. Austin called a “dimension word,” a term whose meaning remains uncertain until we know what dimension of its referent is being talked about. A forged painting, for example, will not be inauthentic in every respect: a Han van Meegeren forgery of a Vermeer is at one and the same time both a fake Vermeer and an authentic van Meegeren, just as a counterfeit bill may be both a fraudulent token of legal tender but at the same time a genuine piece of paper. The way the authentic/inauthentic distinction sorts out is thus context-dependent to a high degree. Mozart played on a modern grand piano might be termed inauthentic, as opposed to being played on an eighteenth-century forte-piano, even though the notes played are authentically Mozart’s. A performance of Shakespeare that is at pains to recreate Elizabethan production practices, values, and accents would be to that extent authentic, but may still be inauthentic with respect to the fact that it uses actresses for the female parts instead of boys, as would have been the case on Shakespeare’s stage. Authenticity of presentation is relevant not only to performing arts. Modern museums, for example, have been criticized for presenting old master paintings in strong lighting conditions which reveal detail, but at the same time give an overall effect that is at odds with how works would have been enjoyed in domestic spaces by their original audiences; cleaning, revarnishing, and strong illumination arguably amount to inauthentic presentation. Religious sculptures created for altars have been said to be inauthentically displayed when presented in a bare space of a modern art gallery (see Feagin 1995).

Whenever the term “authentic” is used in aesthetics, a good first question to ask is, Authentic as opposed to what? Despite the widely different contexts in which the authentic/inauthentic is applied in aesthetics, the distinction nevertheless tends to form around two broad categories of sense. First, works of art can be possess what we may call nominal authenticity, defined simply as the correct identification of the origins, authorship, or provenance of an object, ensuring, as the term implies, that an object of aesthetic experience is properly named. However, the concept of authenticity often connotes something else, having to do with an object’s character as a true expression of an individual’s or a society’s values and beliefs. This second sense of authenticity can be called expressive authenticity....


Raynet Sociology Glossary (undated) defines authentic act as:

A phrase frequently found in existential philosophy and literature to depict the individual human act replete with meaning, commitment, and genuineness.


Tate Gallery (undated) referring to art:

Authenticity is a term used by philosopher and critic Walter Benjamin to describe the qualities of an original work of art as opposed to a reproduction. Benjamin first used the word in his essay The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, where he describes an original work of art as having 'authenticity'. By this he means it has a presence in time and space, and a unique existence in the place it happens to be.

A reproduction of a work of art lacks 'authenticity' as it is not possible, when reproducing the work of art, to establish the exact conditions in which the original artwork was created. But it is possible, by reproducing a work of art, to call into question the original artwork's authenticity, as reproducing it has undermined the artwork.

For this reason an original work of art is considered by the art market to have a higher value over a reproduction because it contains this authenticity.

Authenticity can also relate to forgery, in order to establish whether or not a work of art was actually created by the artist it pertains to be by.


associated issues


related areas

See also




Dutton, D., 2003, 'Authenticity in Art', in Levinson, J. (Ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Aesthetics, New York: Oxford University Press, available at, accessed 29 May 2019.

Kellner, D., 2007, 'Introduction' to Art and Liberation, Collected papers of Herbert Marcuse, Volume 4. London, Routledge.

Raynet Sociology Glossary, undated, available at, no longer available 20 December 2016.

Tate Gallery, nd, 'Authenticity', available at, accessed 21 November 2019.

copyright Lee Harvey 2012–2020


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