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Cultural Studies
Stuart Hall

MASS COMMUNICATION: MEDIA AND CULTURE


Chapter Outline 11th Edition

  1. Introduction - Critical theorists such as Stuart Hall question the narrow, quantitative, and scientific focus of mainstream communication research on media influence.
  1. Cultural studies versus media studies: An ideological difference.
  1. Hall believed that the mass media maintain the dominance of the powerful and exploit the poor and powerless.
  2. Empirical researchers represent their work as pure science with no presuppositions, but every media theory by its very nature has ideological content.
  3. Ideology is defined as “the mental frameworks – the languages, the concepts, categories, imagery of thought, and the representation – which different classes and social groups deploy in order to make sense of, define, figure out and render intelligible the way society works.”
  4. Most of us are unaware of our ideologies and the tremendous impact they can have on our lives.
  5. Mainstream U.S. mass communication research ignores the power struggle that the media mask.
  6. To avoid academic compartmentalization, Hall preferred the term cultural studies to media studies.
  7. Articulate means both speaking out against oppression and linking that subjugation with the communication media.
  8. He said the effort to jar people loose from their entrenched power positions often requires harsh words.
  9. Since one of Hall’s stated aims was to unmask the power imbalances within society, he said the cultural studies approach is valid if it “deconstructs” the current structure of a media research establishment that fails to deal with ideology.
  10. Hall was suspicious of any cultural analysis that ignores power relationships.
  11. Hall believed the purpose of theory and research is to empower people who are marginalized in order to change the world.
  1. Hegemony: Marxism without guarantees.
  1. Hall is strongly influenced by Marxist thought, though he sees the hard line of economic determinism as an oversimplification.
  2. He adopted a theoretical approached he referred to as “Marxism without guarantees.”
  3. Hall uses the term hegemony to refer to already accepted interpretations of reality that keep society’s haves in power over its have-nots.
  4. He emphasizes that media hegemony is not a conscious plot, it’s not overtly coercive, and its effects are not total.
  5. The broadcast and print media present a variety of ideas, but then they tend to prop up the status quo by privileging the already-accepted interpretation of reality.
  6. The result is that the role of mass media turns out to be production of consent rather than a reflection of consensus that already exists.
  7. Hall believed that the consent-making function of the mass media is to convince readers and viewers that they share the same interests as those who hold the reins of power.
  1. Encoding/ decoding: A model of hegemony’s subtle way.
  1. In a capitalistic society, the rich and powerful own and rule most media corporations.
  2. Hall has no doubt that production of news is immersed within the dominant culture.
  3. News producers (including reporters, photographers, writers, and editors) are active in encoding the media message and consumers of that message are active in decoding it.
  4. Since meanings can always be contested, Hall didn’t see a good fit between the intended or preferred meaning of the news shaped within the dominant culture and the acquired interpretations of consumers who aren’t members of the dominant class.
  5. Encoding the news.
  1. Hall saw corporate clout as only one reason broadcast and print journalism support the status quo.
  2. Over an eight year period, Herbert Gans of Columbia University conducted a content analysis of newscasts at CBS and NBC along with the coverage of two news magazines—Newsweek and Time.
  3. He discovered multiple values, procedures, and publishing realities that ensure their stories favor people who already have power, fame, and fortune. Those factors include sources of news, individualism, ethnocentrism, the democratic process, and objectivity.
  1. Sources of news: The bulk of broadcast and print news comes from those who already have power.
  2. Individualism: Americans value individual effort and news stories are usually framed around a single person who is powerful, wealthy, and has a vested interest in the status quo.
  3. Ethnocentrism: Like reporters in other nations, U.S. journalists value their own country over others. They don’t want the United States to look bad. 
  4. Democratic processes: Reporters are committed to democracy, so they frame every election in terms of a simplistic “who won or lost?” dichotomy rather than the complexity of the issues.
  5. Objectivity: Most journalists have a strong commitment to report the news without bias—objective reporting of facts without taking sides. This gives the impression that every position is equally valid.
  1. Decoding the media message.
  1. The fact that the media present a preferred interpretation of human events is no reason to assume that the audience will correctly “take in” the offered ideology.
  2. There are three ways to decode a message.
  1. Dominant-hegemonic practice. The media produces the message; the masses consume it.
  2. Negotiational practice. The audience assimilates the leading ideology in general but opposes its application in specific cases.            
  3. Oppositional practice. The audience sees through the establishment bias in the media presentation and mounts an organized effort to demythologize the news.
  1. Although Hall had trouble believing the powerless can change the system, he respects the ability of people to resist the dominant code.
  2. He was determined to do everything he could to expose and alter the media’s structuring of reality.
  3. James Anderson (University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign) and Amie Kincaid (University of Illinois, Springfield) point out the paradox of satire that is used by Stephen Colbert on his television show.
  4. His very exposure and reiteration of the dominant ideology may make it more acceptable.
  5. Without naming a viable alternative, the dominant ideology will have no rival and seem to be natural.
  6. All of this suggests that while hegemony is never total, effective resistance is never easy.
  1. Cultural studies research: Policing the crisis.
  1. Hall doubted social scientists’ ability to find useful answers to important questions about media influence.
  2. Hall’s qualitative research relied on ethnography, interviews, and especially the content analysis of how British newspapers covered a specific type of crime—“mugging.”
  1. Hegemony and counter-hegemony in popular culture.
  1. The scope of Hall’s cultural studies extends far beyond newspapers and television.
  2. He saw cultural industries such as art, architecture, music, movies, sports, fashion design, smartphones, fiction, video games and other producers of entertainment as having the power to either reproduce or resist the dominant ideology.
  3. Janelle Applequist recounts how Disney princess films have had a hegemonic influence on what the ideal woman should look like but notes that Disney’s Frozen changes the script.
  4. Although many intellectuals dismiss the study of popular culture as frivolous, Hall saw it as a key site where the struggle for power between the haves and the have-nots takes place.
  1. Ethical reflection: Larry Frey’s communication activism for social justice.
  1. Social justice activism is based on an identification and solidarity with oppressed, marginalized, and under-resourced communities.
  2. Larry Frey says action to address these wrongs starts with a social justice sensibility—the ethical conviction that “none of us is truly free while others of us are oppressed.”
  3. But according to Frey, most current cultural studies scholars have turned to merely gazing with interest at cultural phenomena. They ignore any attempt to meaningfully intervene to aid those trapped in the cultural systems that Hall described.
  4. The ethical mandate of communication activism for social justice insists we act to change structural conditions and attempt to make the world more just.
  5. Frey and Mara Adelman used their communication skills at the Bonaventure House, a residential home for people with AIDS.
  1. Critique: Your judgment may depend on your ideology.
  1. Although the label “cultural studies” describes the work of a wide range of communication and sociological scholars, Stuart Hall comes the closest to being the founder or godfather of this critical interpretive approach.
  2. Perhaps more than any other theorist covered in this book, he sought to change the world.
  3. Hall was critical of scholars who didn’t realize—or didn’t reveal—their value commitments.
  1. Many communications scholars question the wisdom of performing scholarship under an ideological banner.
  2. To some, the strong ideological component inherent in cultural studies limits its credibility.
  1. Students first reading a typical Stuart Hall monograph may find it daunting, both in clarity and in style. As for style, Cliff Christians is lavish in his praise. “His essay, like the Taj Mahal, is an artistic masterpiece inviting a pilgrimage.”
  2. His book, Policing the Crisis, is a classic piece of qualitative research.
  3. The field of cultural studies, where Stuart Hall was a prime mover, is a rich place to gain new understanding of what people think, do, and value.
  4. Hall enjoys a widespread community of agreement for his pioneering work.

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are available in
Resources by Type.
See list

New to Theory
Resources?

Find out more in this short
video overview (3:01).


Cultural Studies
Stuart Hall

MASS COMMUNICATION: MEDIA AND CULTURE


Chapter Outline 11th Edition

  1. Introduction - Critical theorists such as Stuart Hall question the narrow, quantitative, and scientific focus of mainstream communication research on media influence.
  1. Cultural studies versus media studies: An ideological difference.
  1. Hall believed that the mass media maintain the dominance of the powerful and exploit the poor and powerless.
  2. Empirical researchers represent their work as pure science with no presuppositions, but every media theory by its very nature has ideological content.
  3. Ideology is defined as “the mental frameworks – the languages, the concepts, categories, imagery of thought, and the representation – which different classes and social groups deploy in order to make sense of, define, figure out and render intelligible the way society works.”
  4. Most of us are unaware of our ideologies and the tremendous impact they can have on our lives.
  5. Mainstream U.S. mass communication research ignores the power struggle that the media mask.
  6. To avoid academic compartmentalization, Hall preferred the term cultural studies to media studies.
  7. Articulate means both speaking out against oppression and linking that subjugation with the communication media.
  8. He said the effort to jar people loose from their entrenched power positions often requires harsh words.
  9. Since one of Hall’s stated aims was to unmask the power imbalances within society, he said the cultural studies approach is valid if it “deconstructs” the current structure of a media research establishment that fails to deal with ideology.
  10. Hall was suspicious of any cultural analysis that ignores power relationships.
  11. Hall believed the purpose of theory and research is to empower people who are marginalized in order to change the world.
  1. Hegemony: Marxism without guarantees.
  1. Hall is strongly influenced by Marxist thought, though he sees the hard line of economic determinism as an oversimplification.
  2. He adopted a theoretical approached he referred to as “Marxism without guarantees.”
  3. Hall uses the term hegemony to refer to already accepted interpretations of reality that keep society’s haves in power over its have-nots.
  4. He emphasizes that media hegemony is not a conscious plot, it’s not overtly coercive, and its effects are not total.
  5. The broadcast and print media present a variety of ideas, but then they tend to prop up the status quo by privileging the already-accepted interpretation of reality.
  6. The result is that the role of mass media turns out to be production of consent rather than a reflection of consensus that already exists.
  7. Hall believed that the consent-making function of the mass media is to convince readers and viewers that they share the same interests as those who hold the reins of power.
  1. Encoding/ decoding: A model of hegemony’s subtle way.
  1. In a capitalistic society, the rich and powerful own and rule most media corporations.
  2. Hall has no doubt that production of news is immersed within the dominant culture.
  3. News producers (including reporters, photographers, writers, and editors) are active in encoding the media message and consumers of that message are active in decoding it.
  4. Since meanings can always be contested, Hall didn’t see a good fit between the intended or preferred meaning of the news shaped within the dominant culture and the acquired interpretations of consumers who aren’t members of the dominant class.
  5. Encoding the news.
  1. Hall saw corporate clout as only one reason broadcast and print journalism support the status quo.
  2. Over an eight year period, Herbert Gans of Columbia University conducted a content analysis of newscasts at CBS and NBC along with the coverage of two news magazines—Newsweek and Time.
  3. He discovered multiple values, procedures, and publishing realities that ensure their stories favor people who already have power, fame, and fortune. Those factors include sources of news, individualism, ethnocentrism, the democratic process, and objectivity.
  1. Sources of news: The bulk of broadcast and print news comes from those who already have power.
  2. Individualism: Americans value individual effort and news stories are usually framed around a single person who is powerful, wealthy, and has a vested interest in the status quo.
  3. Ethnocentrism: Like reporters in other nations, U.S. journalists value their own country over others. They don’t want the United States to look bad. 
  4. Democratic processes: Reporters are committed to democracy, so they frame every election in terms of a simplistic “who won or lost?” dichotomy rather than the complexity of the issues.
  5. Objectivity: Most journalists have a strong commitment to report the news without bias—objective reporting of facts without taking sides. This gives the impression that every position is equally valid.
  1. Decoding the media message.
  1. The fact that the media present a preferred interpretation of human events is no reason to assume that the audience will correctly “take in” the offered ideology.
  2. There are three ways to decode a message.
  1. Dominant-hegemonic practice. The media produces the message; the masses consume it.
  2. Negotiational practice. The audience assimilates the leading ideology in general but opposes its application in specific cases.            
  3. Oppositional practice. The audience sees through the establishment bias in the media presentation and mounts an organized effort to demythologize the news.
  1. Although Hall had trouble believing the powerless can change the system, he respects the ability of people to resist the dominant code.
  2. He was determined to do everything he could to expose and alter the media’s structuring of reality.
  3. James Anderson (University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign) and Amie Kincaid (University of Illinois, Springfield) point out the paradox of satire that is used by Stephen Colbert on his television show.
  4. His very exposure and reiteration of the dominant ideology may make it more acceptable.
  5. Without naming a viable alternative, the dominant ideology will have no rival and seem to be natural.
  6. All of this suggests that while hegemony is never total, effective resistance is never easy.
  1. Cultural studies research: Policing the crisis.
  1. Hall doubted social scientists’ ability to find useful answers to important questions about media influence.
  2. Hall’s qualitative research relied on ethnography, interviews, and especially the content analysis of how British newspapers covered a specific type of crime—“mugging.”
  1. Hegemony and counter-hegemony in popular culture.
  1. The scope of Hall’s cultural studies extends far beyond newspapers and television.
  2. He saw cultural industries such as art, architecture, music, movies, sports, fashion design, smartphones, fiction, video games and other producers of entertainment as having the power to either reproduce or resist the dominant ideology.
  3. Janelle Applequist recounts how Disney princess films have had a hegemonic influence on what the ideal woman should look like but notes that Disney’s Frozen changes the script.
  4. Although many intellectuals dismiss the study of popular culture as frivolous, Hall saw it as a key site where the struggle for power between the haves and the have-nots takes place.
  1. Ethical reflection: Larry Frey’s communication activism for social justice.
  1. Social justice activism is based on an identification and solidarity with oppressed, marginalized, and under-resourced communities.
  2. Larry Frey says action to address these wrongs starts with a social justice sensibility—the ethical conviction that “none of us is truly free while others of us are oppressed.”
  3. But according to Frey, most current cultural studies scholars have turned to merely gazing with interest at cultural phenomena. They ignore any attempt to meaningfully intervene to aid those trapped in the cultural systems that Hall described.
  4. The ethical mandate of communication activism for social justice insists we act to change structural conditions and attempt to make the world more just.
  5. Frey and Mara Adelman used their communication skills at the Bonaventure House, a residential home for people with AIDS.
  1. Critique: Your judgment may depend on your ideology.
  1. Although the label “cultural studies” describes the work of a wide range of communication and sociological scholars, Stuart Hall comes the closest to being the founder or godfather of this critical interpretive approach.
  2. Perhaps more than any other theorist covered in this book, he sought to change the world.
  3. Hall was critical of scholars who didn’t realize—or didn’t reveal—their value commitments.
  1. Many communications scholars question the wisdom of performing scholarship under an ideological banner.
  2. To some, the strong ideological component inherent in cultural studies limits its credibility.
  1. Students first reading a typical Stuart Hall monograph may find it daunting, both in clarity and in style. As for style, Cliff Christians is lavish in his praise. “His essay, like the Taj Mahal, is an artistic masterpiece inviting a pilgrimage.”
  2. His book, Policing the Crisis, is a classic piece of qualitative research.
  3. The field of cultural studies, where Stuart Hall was a prime mover, is a rich place to gain new understanding of what people think, do, and value.
  4. Hall enjoys a widespread community of agreement for his pioneering work.

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