Stuart Hall is one of the most profound men in America when it comes to dealing with representations in cultural
studies. His ideas and themes are those that have been most focused upon in my research; in particular, his use of
ideas concerning the meaning behind representations seem to be the most relevant in making my case. In this source,
he addresses what makes up culture, the anthropological view of culture, how we create meaning, and how
representations work as language to produce meaning for society. All of these factors which play a major role in
understanding how stereotypes are formed, are addressed thoroughly within his manuscript. This source, which I tend
to rely heavily upon, focuses on the idea of representations and language in determining meaning more specifically
then other sources. I choose to use this source not only to develop my thesis, but to clearly focus my research, and
to expand upon ideas that may find a solution to the stereotype crisis.
Stuart Hall writes in the introduction of the volume,”Culture is about shared meanings“ (1). This seems to be the most relevant statement to my topic of interest because it points out the connection between representation and the formation of ideas that become fixated upon certain groups: ideally this is how stereotypes are formed. He continues by saying, ”meanings can only be shared through our common access to language. So language is central to meaning and culture and has always been regarded as the key repository of cultural values and meanings“ (1). This quote expands on the ideology I plan to use from this source. Specifically he mentions how language is one of the most important factors of providing meaning to cultural values; in this aspect, we can see how it may become easy for one to get mixed concepts about a specific culture if one doesn’t fully comprehend the language used to communicate meaning or if the control of that language falls into the wrong hands (in my argument these hands imply the media). Essentially, this will be my first key point within the research. This will also serve as a basis to solving the issue of the stereotype, because in addition to what I have previously stated, this show’s that Hall believes through manipulation of language, we can effectively alter perceptions and meanings. This is specifically clear when he says, ”Representation through language is therefore central to the processes by which meaning is produced“ (1).
Within the context of the book, I find that the first two chapters are the most supportive to my research. Within these chapters he helps assemble in the mind of readers the anthropological meaning of culture which serves as a factor in making my argument; he asserts that ”the word ‘culture’ is used to refer to whatever is distinctive about the way of life of a people, community, nation, or social group“ (2). In comprehending this we can see that in relaying a specific meaning to a culture we are not only referencing a group but ultimately inferring their way of life. So within a representation (of even just one), we can generally derive the wrong perception of many. But to counter this (which in a way leads to another solution) he claims that society has ”emphasized the importance of meaning to the definition of culture. Culture is not so much a set of things as it is a process or a set of practices“ (2). If we assess culture in a way that demonstrates that what we see defines a set of practices and not character, then it could probably alter the way we view stereotypes! Instead of viewing a representation as a reflection of a culture (or culture as we understand it), we can comprehend the representation to reveal simply the way in which a group operates to survive! This I plan to use as an example of how manipulating language can alter meaning!
He continues within the source to explain the process through which society creates meaning. He writes,
In part, we give things meaning by how we represent them-the words we use about them, the stories we tell about them, the images of them we produce, the emotions we associate with them, the ways we classify and conceptualize them, and the values we place on them (2).
His revelation of creating meaning points to one of the most important aspects of my research: who is responsible for meaning! Essentially, creating meaning is in the hands of the individuals, which is an important point considering it also gives individuals the power to re-create the meanings that society presents to us. Given the power to do such a thing, Hall points us in a direction that aims at individuals taking control over stereotypes. This can be the start of negating stereotypes.
So where does the media come into play one may wonder; well, the media is the source for providing the images that society uses as representations. Stuart Hall in explaining signs and signifiers explains why this may be important. He explains how in our society, representations become a use of language. He writes, ”The correlations between the main levels-the material, the conceptual and the signifying-are governed by our cultural and linguistic codes and it is this set of interconnections which produces meaning“ (35). In other words, the our society is responsible for our cultural and linguistic codes (an aspect in which he previously addresses). He claims that we as individuals have no control over the linguistic codes because ”we are born into language, its codes, and its meanings“ (34); so we have no choice but to conform to the ideas presented before us if we choose not to manipulate it. In this case, he makes a claim that we as individuals have no role in changing language (representations), but simply in questioning the signifier which he defines as ”our mental concept“ (38). This part of Hall’s theories plays a significant role in assessing how we gather thoughts and ideas about certain groups. It also reveals that we as individuals can play a role in deciding how we choose to gather these thoughts and ideas. His theories reveal that at one point, we no longer have to accept what is placed before us. By questioning the concepts or the signified, we can come to a universal consensus of negating stereotypes.
This source is quite insightful as it provides the basis to me developing my argument. Stuart Hall is phenomenal in his communication of theories because he provides me with a different view of society and its portrayals. Being that his views are not concerned with making an argument but with merely providing a comprehension, I see no biases in this source. Because my research is primarily concerned with relaying his philosophies, I plan to use this as a primary source for my research. From this source I can develop a thesis, get a better comprehension of the process, and develop a solution to the predicament; because of this, I view this source as a necessity for my study.