Encoding/Decoding: author = Stuart Hall:

 

Biography:

 

Stuart Hall

Four intellectuals established Cultural Studies, namely, Richard Hoggart, Raymond Williams, E.P. Thompson, and Stuart Hall. Hall (b. 1932) has had the lion's share of publicity. Scholars working in this tradition often take their cue from his articles.

Hall tells us that he grew up in Jamaica, the "blackest son" (in his words) of a middle-class, conservative family; from an early age, Hall says, he rejected his father's attempt to assimilate into white, English-speaking society (his father worked his way up through the United Fruit Company). In 1951, he won a scholarship to Oxford (he was a Rhodes scholar)--and (as they say) the rest is history. As a student at Oxford, he sensed that his color as well as his economic status affected the way people related to him. At this time, he social life centred on a circle of West Indian students. He subsequently won (in 1954) a scholarship to pursue post-graduate studies. At this time, he aligned himself with the emerging New Left (a group opposed to Stalinism and British imperialism). During the period 1957-61, he taught in secondary school in Brixton, London, and edited the Universities and Left Review, and during the period 1961-64 he taught film and media studies at Chelsea College, London. During the period 1964-79, he taught at the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies (CCCS), Birmingham. Over the years, Paul Corrigan, John Fiske, Dick Hebdige, Angela McRobbie, David Morley, and Paul Willis have worked at the Centre. Hall has always combined activism and theorizing. He says that he has always been within "shouting distance of Marx." For example, during the 1950s, he was--along with Raymond Williams--a leading light of the New Left. For ten years or so he rejected Marxist, and then for about ten years he embraced Marxism. Hall argued that cultural studies must hold theoretical and political questions in permanent tension--so that they can irritate one another. During the 1980s, Hall wrote about "Marxism without guarantees." Despite his ambiguous relationship with Marxism, he never accepted the view that the class struggle explains/determines everything. Nevertheless, he insists that cultural studies can have a practical impact on reality. He challenges intellectuals by asking: "What effect are you having on the world?" Since 1979, Hall has been professor of sociology at the Open University, the distance-learning institution.

During the late 1970s, Hall produced at least two papers on the COMS paradigm he called "encoding/decoding," in which he builds on the work of Roland Barthes. What follows is a synthesis of two of these papers, offered in the interest of capturing the nuances he gave his presentations. The numbers in brackets identify the two papers (the bibliographic details are provided at the end).

 

Hall’s old student David Morley evaluates Hall’s Encoding/Decoding

 


A famous and massively influential article by Stuart Hall

 

Written in 1972

 

when Hall was Professor in the world famous Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies at the University of Birmingham.

 

 

Background:Questions:

 

Is the Media liberal and plural?

 

Or

 

Is the Media structured, powerful, and controlling of the audience?

 

 

In other words do we choose between a wide range of media goods e.g. programmes?

 

OR

 

Are we shaped and hugely influenced by what the media says both in terms of our cultural values as well as what we know of the world?

 

Are we active or passive viewers?

 

Are programme makers active shapers of us, or passive respondents to our wants?

 

 

Background Context:

 

The 1970s was a time of enormous political activism especially on the left of British politics, e.g. the impact of Marxist theory in the Universities.

 

Marxism and Media Theory

 

Oddly the kind of Marxist theory that academics were keen on, was deried from French and Italian marxists, notably:

 

Louis Althusser (1915-1990)

Althusser short biography

Althusser's most influential article - a classic

And

 

Antonio Gramsci (died, 1937)

Gramsci biography ad writings

Useful discussion of  Gramsci

 

But there were theoretical trends other than Marxism..or rather neo-Marxism…

 

There was also Semiotics derived from Roland Barthes

 

And there was the enemy: linear communications models that were static such as Shannon’s famous SENDER – MESSAGE – RECEIVER model.

 

 

NOW

 

Marxism explains the how capitalism works…

 

And also works…against the interests of the working-class

 

It also explains the organisation of production

 

in terms of the means (the tools/plant e.g. cameras, studios etc.

 

and relations of production (organisation of the workers into a production unit)

 

and Marxism tends to assume that the product is determined by the ruling class and reflects their values and the values they want to distribute to the public – in others words goods as a factor  of ideology.

 

Thus programmes become a vehicle of a set of social and cultural values that are thought good  for us by the elite group(s) in society…

 

 

And these values are encoded in an attractive package called a programme by elite group controlled workers (programme-makers) (BBC/ITV etc)

 

 

Who then make an audiovisual text = a programme which….

 

Is a constructed set of signs (semiotics)

 

Which is decoded by the audience

 

 

And here is the twist of  Hall…….

 

 

Sometimes IN VARIOUS WAYS

 

i.e. not just in one way as Althusser and cruder marxists have implied.

 

 


Hall’s Encoding/Decoding Model has 3 positions:

 

Sometimes the audience will:

 

a) Accept the ideas and meanings the media dish out

 

b) Sometimes they will negotiate the meanings – I accept some of this but not other bits

 

c) And sometimes the audience will say: I know what I am being told and I reject it -  a resistant approach

 

 

And here is the Encoding/Decoding model: