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Hall, Stuart

Page history last edited by mauria@... 15 years, 7 months ago

                                                                                                  

 

                                                        

 

Stuart Hall (1932--) has been considered one of the most influential figures in shaping cultural studies and founding it as an academic discipline, changing the way that social scientists think about culture.  He was born in Jamaica and studied at Jamaica College before becoming a Rhodes scholar at Oxford University. He has lived and worked in the United Kingdom since 1951 and has been a professor of Sociology at the Open University in England since 1979.  Some of the work he’s done includes writings on hybridity, identity, race relations, multiculturalism and the politics of difference. Hall is considered a Marxist theorist, and uses some of Marx's methods of analysis to look at the relationships that exist between different cultural forms and that of the political economy.

 

In his essay The Global, the Local, and the Return of Ethinicity that he wrote in 1996 Hall begins with a section titled "Narrating the Nation: An Imagined Community".  In it, Hall develops his ideas about national culture and how the narrative of national cultures is told.  He begins by defining national culture as "a discourse--a way of constructing meanings which influences and organizes both our actions and our conception of ourselves."  National cultures create meanings for our nations that we can identify with, incorporating identities of both the past and the future.  He then asks, how are is this discourse told?  Hall describes five main elements to answer this question.  

 

1) The narrative of the nation:  This includes stories, events, and rituals that represent the shared experiencese and feelings that give meaning to a nation.  They are significant because they connect our daily lives with a national destiny which existed before us and which will continue to exist long after we're gone.  Hall provides an example, "the discourse of "Englishness" represents what "England" is, gives meaning to the identity of "being English," and fixes "England" as a focus of identification in English hearts."

2)  Origins, continuity, tradition, and timelessness: Hall describes this as certain aspects of national culture that have existed since the nation's creation.  These "essentials of the national character" seem both eternal and changeless.

3)  The invention of tradition: Hall states that despite common thought, traditions are often not old and, in fact, many are recent inventions.  Invented traditions are "a set of practices..., of a ritual or symbolic nature which seek to inculcate certain values and norms of behaviours by repetition which automatically implies continuity with a suitable hitorical past."

4)  Foundational myth: This implies that the origins of the nation, its people, and its character were founded far back in the past, in 'mythic' time.  Foundational myths provide a narrative of history that predates modern events.  In doing so, history is made intelligible and disarray is converted into community.

5)  Pure original people or "folk": Hall claims that national identity is often founded on these people, even though they are usually not the people who hold power.  He quotes Gellner saying, "When [simple people] donned folk constume and trekked over the hills, composing poems in the forest clearings, they did not also dream of one day becoming powerful bureaucrats, ambassadors and ministers."  

 

At the end of his discussion of the five elements of the discourse of national culture, Hall outlines a few key points.  He makes it clear that the discourse of national culture is a construction of past and future identities.  He also quotes Immanuel Wallerstein, saying "universalism through particularism and particularism through universalism."  In using this quote, Hall is arguing that sometimes national cultures try to retreat into the past when the nation was 'great.'  But, in attempting to return to the 'former glories' and restore these old identities, cultures are simultaneously trying to pursue modernity.  They are making attempts to conceal efforts to mobilize and to compete in global affairs.  Hall exemplifies this by saying that Britain during the 1980s was "...looking back past imperial glories and 'Victorian values' while simultaneously undertaking a kind of modernization in preperation for a new stage of global capitalist competition."  Thus, "universalism through particularism and particularism through universalism" implies that national cultures are reaffirming national identities in order to both assimilate and to be unique.

 

In "Deconstructing the 'National Culture': Identity and Difference," Hall further explores this relationship between national cultures and national identites.  He asks the question of whether national cultures and the national identities they construct are actually unified.  When talking about the term “nation” Hall points out that it refers both to something modern and political, as well as a more ancient concept of family and community. Thus, he argues that national identities work to bring these two concepts together into a unified identity. “…to make culture and polity congruent.”  In attempting to provide this unified identity though, Hall argues that it fails to acknowledge all the differences that exist within a nation.  In any given nation there exists different social classes, genders, races, etc. and yet a national identity seeks to unify its members into one cultural identity, replacing their unique identities with the modified identification of being a member of “the family of the nation.” Therefore, by attempting to provide a sense of unity within a nation it fails to honor cultural difference.  Hall agues that a national culture is more than just a bonding device used to unify its members, but rather it is a complex set of relationships between various individuals and groups and proceeds from a structure of cultural power.

 

In his discussion of a national culture as a structure of cultural power, there are several points that Hall makes.  He states that most modern nations are derived from a make-up of disparate cultures and that they became “unified” only through forced suppression of the differences within a culture.  He argues that modern western cultures worked to conquer the colonized and replace their unique traits (language, traditions, customs) by exercising cultural hegemony and imposing a more unified and homogeneous national identity. 

 

Hall believes that a national culture constitutes a discursive device, which represents difference as a unified identity.  He states that national cultures are “cross-cut by deep internal divisions and differences, and 'unified' only through the exercise of different forms of cultural power.”  Thus, national cultures continue on being perceived as something unified, utilizing terms like “one people” to represent this unification, when in reality no nation is composed of only one people, one culture or one ethnicity. “Modern nations are all cultural hybrids…”

 

 

Hall argues that globalization is leading to new identity positions around the world, particularly in the West. Some of the consequences of globalization are the possibility of a strengthening of local identities, or an emergence of new identities.

            He refers to the strengthening of local identities as a process that dominant ethnic groups go through when they feel threatened by minority’s cultures presence. He calls this “cultural racism” for the dominant group preaches that there should be one unified category that filters out other threats to the social experience of the community as a whole. In other words dominant culture is best. The counter attack that occurs is a strengthening of minority culture with an emphasis to go back to the root culture, an example he provides are Afro-Caribbean youth in Britain adopting the Rastafarian practices. I would like to point out the dance style of clowning or krumping that emerged in the US in the late 90s and early 2000's. Here is a more information:www.youtube.com/watch

            An emergence of a new identity is the result of marginalized groups of all races and ethnicities uniting under one identity. The example Hall provides is the new concept of being “black”. This refers to any minority group no matter the color, and although they may be culturally or linguistically separate, they are still seen as the same by the dominant white culture. Hall points out however that, “despite the fact that efforts are made to give the “black” identity a single or unified content, it continue to exist as an identity alongside a wide range of other differences.”  What this new identity gives the oppressed community however is a position in society that is political in nature.

            Globalization “does have a pluralizing impact on identities, producing a variety of possibilities and new position of identification, and making identities more positional, more political, more plural and diverse; less fixed, unified or trans historical. However, its general impact remains contradictory.”

      Hall insists that "national identities have never been as unified or homogenous as they are represented to be." He explains that Globalization, which he defines as a "complex of processes and forces of change" has "powerfully dislocated national cultural identities".

Globalization depends on interdependence between nations, making it impossible for nations to maintain independent and homogenous identities.  The processes of Globalization operate on a global scale, cutting across national boundaries.  As people and nations discover that globalization presents opportunities for wealth and consumption, more and more people from various nations become involved.  This opens up trade, communication, and travel between people and nations.  As a result, globalization works to integrate and connect communities and organizations in "new space-time combinations, making the world in reality and in experience more interconnected". 

     Stuart Hall points to these "new temporal and spatial features" as aspects of globalization that have a profound affect on cultural identities.  Specifically, increased globalization has resulted in the "compression of distances and time-scales".  Think about how easy and quick it is to buy an item from another country; the Internet has made it a click away!  Also, advancements in travel, especially air travel, has greatly reduced travel time, and made travel convenient and cheap.    Advancements in technology such as Internet and air travel have greatly increased the movement of people and commodities between nations by making the processes of globalization more efficient. 

     Hall asserts that Globalization is not a recent phenomenon, as "modernity is inherently globalizing", and it must operate on a global scale, as it is "an affair of the world economy, not of nation states".  Because capital is always seeking ways to increase and extend, it has never allowed the possibilities of globalization to be "determined by national boundaries".  For globalization to be as efficient and successful ($$$$) as possible, there must be cooperation between nations. 

     Hall notes that since the 1970s, "both the scope and pace of global integration have greatly increased, accelerating the flows and linkages between nations.

This increase in activity and movement of people and commodities between nations has led to three possible consequences on cultural identities.  He lists the following possible consequences:

        1.  National Identities are being eroded as a result of the growth of cultural homogenization and "the global post-modern"

        2.  National and other "local" or particularistic identities are being  strengthened by the resistance to globalization

        3.  National Identities are declining but new identities of hybridity are taking their place

     The main consequence of globalization, according to Hall, is the homogenization of global identities. Through increased globalization, independent nations lose a lot of their unique cultural identities and homogenization.  Globalization allows the cultures and identities of nations to permeate into other nations.  For example, American pop culture, especially television, has become ubiquitous and desirable in many nations.  My mom does USAID work in the Philippines, and was surprised when she went to a remote native village and found all the children loved to watch MTV.  Instead of enjoying traditional recreational activities, their spending their time watching glorified American pop culture on television.  Also, the Internet has made communication, entertainment, and information available from every corner of the globe.  So, these advancements have influenced and changed so many lives and cultures around the world.  Mostly, they are exposed to the same information and entertainment, which is contributing to the homogenization of the globe.  Because of such integrated exposure, people are losing sight of their own unique cultures and identities.

      In addition to the "movements of western styles, images, commodities, and consumer identities outwards", increased globalization has also led to increased migration.  "Driven by poverty, drought, famine, economic underdevelopment, and arbitrary changes of political regime….large numbers poor peoples moved towards places where "the goodies" come from and where the chances of survival are higher".  Inundated with images of "the good life" that Westerners enjoy, many people migrate in hopes of acquiring a better life, and they sacrifice their land, their cultures, and their identities, which as Hall believes, were eroded by the processes of globalization.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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