Recently I have read the following book, its main points are:
Book title: Hall, Stuart. 2003. Culture, Media, Language: Working Papers in Cultural Studies, 1972-1979. Stuart Hall, David Hobston, A. Lowe, and Paul Willis. London: Hutchinson.
This book is a collection of papers from the Birmingham Cultural Studies Center’s journal: the Working Papers in Cultural studies. They reflect on some key themes and topics touched on during the formative period of Cultural Studies (p.8).
Chapter one talks about the first issue of the Working paper in Cultural Studies published in 1972 which admitted that approaches on culture studies could have a greater variety of ways, and probably be more than the Birmingham Centre could handle (p.15). As such, the Centre refused to fix the range and scope of Cultural Studies. The journal aimed to define and occupy a space, and to put Cultural Studies on the intellectual map. Some intellectual in that era felt that they were confronting a post-war British society which was in a period of change and development (p.16). The revival of capitalist production appeared to bring economic, political and cultural forces into new kinds of relation. What type of social formation was now in the making? What would be the consequences for traditional class relationship? These issues set the term of post-war ‘cultural debate’ and defined the space from which Cultural studies would emerge. The tension between ‘political’ and intellectual concerns would shape cultural studies ever since (p.17). The new direction was to rework procedures and methods so as to apply them to the study of living class cultures.
Among the writers, Raymond William defined culture as the ‘whole process’ through which meaning and definitions were socially constructed and historically transformed, literature and art were merely one kind of social communication. E.P.Thompson defined culture as rooted in the collective experience (p.19). It situated culture between ‘social being’ and ‘social consciousness’. Thompson insisted on the historical specificity of culture. Their writings implied a break with previous conceptualization, and moved culture into the wider field of social practice and historical practice which were defined as ‘sociological’ in a loose sense (p.20).
The ‘sociological encounter’ could be described in many ways and led to a new range of work with emphasis on ‘lived culture’, for example the study of youth future and the study of deviance in schooling etc. (p.22). It extended the meaning of culture from text and representation to lived practice and belief system etc. (p.23).
During the development of Cultural Studies, the influence of ‘Althusseranism’ was important. Althusser and his followers had reshaped the central issue regarding the relationship between ideologies/culture and class formations (p.33). Cultures as the lived practices of social groups inevitably produce a focus on the class formations. Althusser not only challenged both the attempt to reduce the specificity of ‘ideological instance’ to economic factor (i.e. ‘over-determination’), but also the attempt to see a simple correspondence between class formation and cultural formation (p.34). The argument was that classes were not simple ‘economic structure’, the formations included all practices: economic, political and ideological. Also, classes were not integral formations and did not carry pre-set ideologies (p.34). Similarly, Gramsci also resisted any attempts to align cultural and ideological question with class and economic ones (p.35). As an alternative, Gramsci brought about the idea of ‘hegemony’ which had played a key role in Culture Studies. Therefore we could see different research could employed different paradigms and took different focus (p.40). Furthermore, different areas of research had retained distinct mythological emphasis: some emphases on ethnographic field work, some on the centrality of text and discourse, and some on using historical methods of research on archive documents (p.41).
Chapter 4 talks about the subcultural conflict that happened in a working class community in East End London where re-development had begun (p.78). Phil Cohen uses a Marx lens to explain the conflict between the parents and the younger generation, and also the appearance of a youth subculture inside this redeveloped community which was in opposition to the parent culture (p.82). In the concluding paragraphs in explaining the delinquency in the working class, the author suggests that in the study of structural relation for the emergence of subcultures, we needed to look at not only the Marxist theory, but also in psychoanalytic terms (p.87).
Chapter 7 talks about the relationship between housewives and the mass media which included radio and television. On the radio, the author concentrated on the reaction of women to the disc jockeys (p.107). Regarding television, he focuses on the feminine world, i.e. on how and why a female viewer decided the programmes to watch (113). My comment is that this was a research on feminism.
Chapter 8 talks about development of Media Studies at the Birmingham Center. Basically it first broke from the model of ‘direct influence’ into a framework which drew much more on the ‘ideological’ role of the media (p.117). Second, it challenged the notion of media text as a ‘transparent’ bearer of meaning. Their concern was about the ideological nature of mass communication and the complexity of linguistic structuration of its form (p.118). Third, it broke with the passive conception of the audience. Fourth, it explains the role of the media played in ideological definitions and representation (p.118).
Chapter 9 talks about the ideological dimension of the media. The chapter starts with a definition on ideology by Althusser. Then it adds in the argument made by Veron and Eco. Finally it quotes the idea of Barthes to explain the concepts of signifier and signified.
Chapter 10 was about encoding and decoding. It asserts that traditionally mass-communication research had perceived the process of communication as a circulating loop. It points out that this process could also be conceptualized as a process that had connection yet with distinctive moments of production, circulation, distribution (consumption) and reproduction (p.128). The latter conception had the advantage in bringing out how a continuous circuit: production-distribution-production could be sustained through a ‘passage of forms’. Based on this perspective, the chapter explains how a television programme, as a meaningful discourse, was produced, circulated and consumed (p.130). This chapter points out that linguistic theory frequently distinguished between ‘denotation’ and ‘connotation’. ‘Denotation’ was equated with the literal meaning of a sign. ‘Connotation’ referred to a changeable meaning that needed the intervention of codes in order to give the meaning. To the author the terms ‘denotation’ and ‘connotation’ were regards as useful analytic tools to differentiate between the different levels at which ideologies and discourse encountered (p.133).
Chapter 11 talks about the ‘impartiality ‘of television news and current affairs programmes. The author suggested that it was wrong to perceive TV news and public affair programmes as bias and distorted. The author proves his case by using a television account of the Labor government’s attempts in 1974 to win over the trade unions to accept a policy of wage restraint (p.139). The article concluded that the similar viewpoints held by the broadcasters, the state and the hegemonic organs of civil society such the TUC was not due to conspiracy. The broadcasting accepted the government’s logic of thinking due to the latter’s status as the elected representatives of the people. It was the ‘antiquated fallacy’, not bias, which put the broadcaster, the government and the TUC on the same side.
Chapter 17 argues that the ideology of sexuality was disparate and contradictory for women, although contained within a patriarchal relation such as active/passive (p.220). Using three advertisements that had a female or a female’s body part as the focus of attention, the author illustrates several points on sexuality about women.