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Stuart Hall and the Rise of Cultural Studies | The New Yorker
"Culture, he argued, does not consist of what the educated élites happen to fancy, such as classical music or the fine arts. It is, simply, “experience lived, experience interpreted, experience defined.” And it can tell us things about the world, he believed, that more traditional studies of politics or economics alone could not."



"Broadly speaking, cultural studies is not one arm of the humanities so much as an attempt to use all of those arms at once. It emerged in England, in the nineteen-fifties and sixties, when scholars from working-class backgrounds, such as Richard Hoggart and Raymond Williams, began thinking about the distance between canonical cultural touchstones—the music or books that were supposed to teach you how to be civil and well-mannered—and their own upbringings. These scholars believed that the rise of mass communications and popular forms were permanently changing our relationship to power and authority, and to one another. There was no longer consensus. Hall was interested in the experience of being alive during such disruptive times. What is culture, he proposed, but an attempt to grasp at these changes, to wrap one’s head around what is newly possible?

Hall retained faith that culture was a site of “negotiation,” as he put it, a space of give and take where intended meanings could be short-circuited. “Popular culture is one of the sites where this struggle for and against a culture of the powerful is engaged: it is also the stake to be won or lost in that struggle,” he argues. “It is the arena of consent and resistance.” In a free society, culture does not answer to central, governmental dictates, but it nonetheless embodies an unconscious sense of the values we share, of what it means to be right or wrong. Over his career, Hall became fascinated with theories of “reception”—how we decode the different messages that culture is telling us, how culture helps us choose our own identities. He wasn’t merely interested in interpreting new forms, such as film or television, using the tools that scholars had previously brought to bear on literature. He was interested in understanding the various political, economic, or social forces that converged in these media. It wasn’t merely the content or the language of the nightly news, or middlebrow magazines, that told us what to think; it was also how they were structured, packaged, and distributed.

According to Slack and Lawrence Grossberg, the editors of “Cultural Studies 1983,” Hall was reluctant to publish these lectures because he feared they would be read as an all-purpose critical toolkit rather than a series of carefully situated historical conversations. Hall himself was ambivalent about what he perceived to be the American fetish for theory, a belief that intellectual work was merely, in Slack and Grossberg’s words, a “search for the right theory which, once found, would unlock the secrets of any social reality.” It wasn’t this simple. (I have found myself wondering what Hall would make of how cultural criticism of a sort that can read like ideological pattern-recognition has proliferated in the age of social media.)

Over the course of his lectures, Hall carefully wrestles with forebears, including the British scholar F. R. Leavis and also Williams and Hoggart (the latter founded Birmingham University’s influential Center for Contemporary Cultural Studies, which Hall directed in the seventies). Gradually, the lectures cluster around questions of how we give our lives meaning, how we recognize and understand “the culture we never see, the culture we don’t think of as cultivated.” These lectures aren’t instructions for “doing” cultural studies—until the very end, they barely touch on emerging cultural forms that intrigued Hall, such as reggae and punk rock. Instead, they try to show how far back these questions reach."



"Hall found ready disciples in American universities, though it might be argued that the spirit which animated cultural studies in England had existed in the U.S. since the fifties and sixties, in underground magazines and the alternative press. The American fantasy of its supposedly “classless” society has always given “culture” a slightly different meaning than it has in England, where social trajectories were more rigidly defined. What scholars like Hall were actually reckoning with was the “American phase” of British life. After the Second World War, England was no longer the “paradigm case” of Western industrial society. America, that grand experiment, where mass media and consumer culture proliferated freely, became the harbinger for what was to come. In a land where rags-to-riches mobility is—or so we tend to imagine—just one hit away, culture is about what you want to project into the world, whether you are fronting as a member of the élite or as an everyman, offering your interpretation of Shakespeare or of “The Matrix.” When culture is about self-fashioning, there’s even space to be a down-to-earth billionaire."
2017  stuarthall  culture  culturalstudies  huahsu  arts  crossdisciplinary  multidisciplinary  interdisciplinary  transdisciplinary  popularculture  richardhoggart  raymondwilliams  humanities  resistance  consent  jenniferdarylslack  lawrencegrossberg  frleavis  society  canon  marxism 
december 2017 by robertogreco

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2017  arts  canon  consent  crossdisciplinary  culturalstudies  culture  frleavis  huahsu  humanities  interdisciplinary  lawrencegrossberg  marxism  multidisciplinary  popularculture  raymondwilliams  resistance  richardhoggart  society  stuarthall  transdisciplinary 

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