As complicated as this book may be, I have tried to create some understating with the thoughts of Hall and the concepts that he discusses in terms of society and culture.
The main things you must first know when reading this book are the three main terms Hall talks about; Representation, Language and Meaning. All three are important, as they are the bases for how culture is produced, why it is created and how we see it.
First we have Representation, which is connected to culture by “shared meanings”. And how are these shared meanings created? By language. The way I think about it is a in a sort of triangle formation.
Representation is shown through language, which produces meaning.
Language, such as written, said, images, music notes and even objects are shown to illustrate out concepts, feelings and thoughts, “Language is one of the ‘media’ through with thoughts, ideas and feelings are represented in a culture”. Language is used through a culture to create a shared meaning/ understanding, because the culture has a representational system.
So what is culture? Hall puts the cultures into three sections. The first, ‘The best of what has been thought and said’. These “best” ideas and feeling were represented through literature, painting and philosophy. Then we have section two, the majority of “ordinary” people (Me and you) and what are the popular music, publishing, art, designs, literature and entertainment. This is otherwise known as “Mass culture” or “Popular culture”. Finally we have the third section, todays understanding of a culture. This is the opposite of the second idea; it is what is different about the “ordinary” way of life that opposes to the traditional norms and values of a community, nation or social group.
Another important term Hall uses that we must understand is the “cultural turn”, and my A-Level sociology lectures tell me that this happened in the 1970’s and it was where important people such as people who study society, made culture the most important thing when discussing key topics. Since the cultural turn, meaning is considered to be constructed rather then found. We also need to consider whether culture is a set of things like paintings objects or TV programmes or whether it is a set of practices.
Culture is not just about feelings and emotions it is about concepts and ideas too. Within a culture, the people within it will have the same ideas and thoughts and therefore will see the world in a similar way. The meanings we have within a culture are not just in our feelings and thoughts, “organize and regulate social practices, influence our conduct and consequently have real, practice effects”. However, saying that, we must also understand that there is always diversity and opinions within the culture, that creates change and transformation. It is the people within the culture who give meanings and they can also change the ideas within the culture.
“Language Games” are the different meanings that a culture gives to a specific object, person or topic. The example that Hall gives us is very helpful, a stone could be considered just a stone to one culture, but it could be a boundary marker to another or a sculpture. It’s the way we talk, feel or think about them in different ways. Our culture allows us to see specific things in different concepts, and our culture differs on the way we put these things, such as the stone, into our everyday life, whether it be the way we create stories about them, the emotions we associate with them or the values we place on them, “culture… is involved in all those practices which are not simply genetically programmes into us”. This leads me onto the most important and basic understanding of how Hall describes culture, “Culture is the social aspect that differs the biological human”… “Meaning is what gives us a sense of our own identity”. Culture allows us to fulfil our sense of belonging, but do we have to maintain this identity and meaning?
Contemporary, meaning is constantly changing, mainly due to the media, Circulates meanings between different cultures on a mass scale”. Meanings are created to help set rules, norms and conventions, and are produced whenever something “abnormal” is put into our everyday lives. The people in the same culture share the same thoughts, feelings and ideas, which Hall describes as “cultural codes”, “They must speak the same language”.
In terms of photography, Hall describes it as a Representational System. We take photographs and films to show our thoughts and meanings towards a person or topic. Then we put these images within an exhibition to show a collective meaning about a subject matter.
The next term Hall uses is “Symbolic Practices” and the example that is used is football fans and the use of face paint, slogans, chants and banners. These are all used to create an identification of a community. The reason cultures create this identification is to create a sense of belonging.
We can have no one true meaning for anything, for example, ‘what is this advertisement saying?’. We have to justify our reasons behind why we get the meaning. We also must understand that meanings are constantly changing and cannot be fixed. They are always negotiated and fought over, as they are always double-sided and interactive, which then creates new meanings. We also need to understand that relationships affect the way we feel and our meanings, due to the power relationship, which makes us contradict ourselves, “They mobilize powerful feelings and emotions”.
This is just obviously my rough notes of the introduction to this book, but there are a further six chapters to be read. Below, I have created some small points of what each chapter covers.
-Chapter one “The work of representation”
Hall goes more in depth about Representation, Language and Meaning, and gives examples to help you understand. He also questions whether meanings are fixed or if they change from culture to culture.
-Chapter two “Does visual language reflect a truth about the world which is already there or does it produce meanings about the world thought representing it?”
This would be a really good one to look at future Chloe. Frances Bonner looks at “recording reality’ and how film makers aren’t capturing the reality of the cultures’ practices. Bonner discusses the natural history and the docusoap and why they are so popular, how they effect there viewers and the consequences they have.
-Chapter three “The poetic and politics of exhibiting other cultures”
This carries on from the second chapter as it looks at how objects and artefacts from “other cultures” are displayed, and the fact they are things not words. We look at how we represent these cultures and the meanings that are created due to these relations of power.
-Chapter Four “The spectacle of the ‘other”’
This chapter is all about the differences in representations, radical, ethnical and sexual differences. Hall looks at the use of contemporary power and how the news, photography, advertisements and films affect culture in today’s world, and how stereotyping effects society, but also how these stereotypes can be changed and transformed.
-Chapter Five “Exhibiting Masculinity”
This covers how younger men in particular are affected by consumer culture, and whether or not we are creating a new masculinity. Hall also looks at representations of masculinity and the idea of “becoming masculine”.
-Chapter Six “Genre and gender; the case of the soap opera”
Within this chapter, it discusses the effects of the fictional television life and how these representations effect gender identification. Hall considers whether or not these stereotypes affect us and what are the representations of masculinity and femininity and if these are being transformed.
Hall, J. Evans & S. Nixon. (ed.) (2013) Representation 2nd edition. London: Sage Press.