Highlighted Selections from:

Stuart Hall on Culture and Power


p.2: But a formal deconstructionism which isnʼt asking questions about the insertion of symbolic processes into societal contexts and their imbrication with power is not interested in the cultural studies problematic, as I see it; although it may be a perfectly appropriate practice. It doesnʼt mean that deconstruction is ruled out. But around the circumference of cultural studies there has always been this link with something else: cultural studies and psychoanalysis; cultural studies and feminism; cultural studies and race. -- Highlighted mar 12, 2014

p.6: Williams was interested in moving down from high theory to thinking about working-class organizations as a part of culture, rendering culture ordinary. I was interested in the popular arts. This was the first thing I ever wrote about: the breakdown between high cultural forms and popular forms, and the idea that popular forms give one, not an unmediated access, but some access to forms of consciousness which are not inscribed in the great books or in the serious high-level philosophies. Then you come to Gramsci and you get the meditation between philosophy and common sense – the popular. Common sense is what ideologies transform: the relationships between common sense and good sense. Then thereʼs the national-popular. Each of these is somewhere along the continuing thread of interest, but I wouldnʼt say that Williamsʼs culture of the ordinary is the same as my popular culture, is the same as common sense, is the same as the national-popular. -- Highlighted mar 12, 2014

p.6: The problem arises from the Althusserian framework of three different ʻinstancesʼ of the social (the economic, the political, and the ideological), because there is no cultural instance. Where do you put culture, especially after culture has been redefined in terms of signification? Well, one solution is to absorb what is going on in cultural studies into the place of the ideological instance. There is in Althusserʼs ʻIdeological State Apparatusesʼ essay a broad definition of ideological apparatuses which is very close to what Gramsci would have called a hegemonic institution – despite its functionalism, which destroys that essay. ʻChurch, state, family, and schoolʼ presents a much broader definition of the ideological apparatuses than the media. So thatʼs one issue: the interface between the Althusserian schema and the more Hegelian question of theorizing the place of culture. The Althusserian schema accepts that each instance is constitutive rather than reflexive. One is looking for what is constitutive about each of them, and then at the articulation between them. Thatʼs where the notion of articulation comes in. Itʼs very important. One has already escaped from the notion that if this is the ideological instance it is because it reflects economic and political practice, or because it is dependent on them. Second, there is the Althusserian argument about the impossibility of getting outside of ideology. I accept it. If you have substituted culture for ideology, the notion that getting outside of ideology is possible, because you can get into science, no longer holds. You canʼt get outside of culture, because you canʼt understand what a human being would be like outside of a cultural frame. You canʼt get outside of the economy either – you canʼt get outside of the reproduction of material life – but also, you can never get outside of the reproduction of symbolic life. Culture is for ever. Thus, for me, the difference between one cultural formation and another cannot be conceptualized in terms of the distinction between ideology and science where the latter stands for ʻtruthʼ; it cannot be thought in terms of mystification in the straightforward sense of ʻmystification versus enlightenmentʼ. It may be thought in terms of relative degrees of mystification or misunderstanding, but all culture is misunderstanding, in the sense that all culture imposes particular maps on everything. Everybody is not constantly mystified in the same way or to the same degree. There are differences between a better and a worse explanation of something. But there is no truth versus mystification which we can write into the very a priori definition of ideology. -- Highlighted mar 12, 2014

p.7: Ideology intervenes to stop language, to stop culture producing new meanings, and that, of course, is the opening through which interest operates. Why do you want to stop the slide of meaning? You want to halt it because you want to do something, you want to control society in some way. That is the moment of the articulation of power in language. The moment of power is not in ideology or culture as an instance. The moment of power is in the historically situated intervention of ideology in practices of signification. That is the moment of overdetermination. That is the moment of suturing. As Voloshinov says, thatʼs when the powerful want to bring history to an end. They want one set of meanings to last for ever and of course it doesnʼt, it canʼt: hegemony is never forever. Itʼs always unwoven by culture going on meaning more things. There are always new realities to explain, new configurations of forces. So a neutral definition of ideology and culture does not require me to leave the critical question aside. But I place it elsewhere: in the contingent articulation between social forces and signifying practices, not definitionally in the signifying practices themselves. -- Highlighted mar 12, 2014

p.9: Unless you do something fairly radical, in Britain, the notion of nation will connect you with particular social forces and a particular, imperial, definition of Britain. Itʼs not inevitable – you could decouple it, but a huge struggle has to go on to do so. Why? Because that is how a formation has developed, has become embedded in its subjects, embedded in its institutions, embedded in public narratives. At a certain point in the argument, discursive reconfiguration became a loose, free-floating thing. But the way to tie it down is in terms of historical specificity. That limits my notion of contingency, but it doesnʼt get rid of it. I agree with Laclau that, without contingency, there is no history. If thereʼs an inertia in historical systems, itʼs the result of a historical, not a theoretical materialism. -- Highlighted mar 12, 2014

p.11: Ethnicity is the only terminology we have to describe cultural specificity, so one has to go back to it, if one doesnʼt want to land up with an empty cosmopolitanism – ʻcitizens of the worldʼ as the only identity. But I donʼt go back to the concept in its original form. I use it with a line drawn through it. The diaspora has a line through it too: in the era of globalization, we are all becoming diasporic. -- Highlighted mar 12, 2014

p.12: Iʼm critical of American multiculturalism, which is inscribed pluralism, because it is grounded in an essentialist notion: each group to its own culture. As in the case of ʻethnicʼ and ʻdiasporicʼ, I prefer to use the word ʻmulticulturalʼ adjectivally. Ours is a multicultural society because of the different cultural registers, but is not closed. You can see the impact when you walk through London, the impact of difference: differences which are hybridized but not erased. It doesnʼt enclose any one group to the exclusion of another. There isnʼt a strong boundary. However, in Bhabhaʼs work, there is a movement towards a radical cosmopolitanism. The notion of cosmopolitanism has some interesting things going for it, but it doesnʼt ask the questions ʻWho has the power to become cosmopolitan?ʼ and ʻWhat kind of cosmopolitanism is this?ʼ Is the cosmopolitanism of the Humanities Institute at Chicago University the same as the cosmopolitanism of the Pakistani taxi driver in New York who goes back to Pakistan to look after his wife and family every year? These differences have not been inscribed in the idea. Thatʼs one difference of emphasis between us. Having refused the binarism which is intrinsic to essentialism, you have to remind yourself that binaries persist. Youʼve questioned them theoretically, but you havenʼt removed their historical efficacy. Just because you say there is no absolute distinction between black and white doesnʼt mean that there arenʼt situations in which everything is being mobilized to make an intractable difference between black and white. So in that sense, conceptually, I want the binary reintroduced ʻunder erasureʼ. The binaryʼs relation to power is like meaning in language: it is an attempt to close what, theoretically, you know is open. So you have to reintroduce the question of power. The binary is the form of the operation of power, the attempt at closure: power suturing language. It draws the frontiers: you are inside, but you are out. There is a certain theoreticism from the standpoint of which, having made a critique of essentialism, that is enough. It isnʼt enough. It isnʼt enough in the world. Apartheid tried to mirror the fantasy of binary closure. It wants to produce exactly what it thinks should be the case. I canʼt be cavalier about the Nation of Islam if, in an LA project, they are the only people capable of protecting black kids against the LA police. Under theses circumstances, let us have a little ʻstrategic essentialismʼ. -- Highlighted mar 12, 2014

p.14: In the present circumstances, social democracy is the only field we have on which to play. It contains anti-capitalist elements, but nothing so automatic or comprehensive as to be labelled ʻanti-capitalismʼ, because social democracy also means acceptance of the market, to some extent, though never without qualification. Where the stopping point to the market is in each instance is what the politics is now all about. It is also about advancing the public, the collective, the social interest, in opposition to the market, while nevertheless recognizing that a society without markets is a society seriously in danger of authoritarianism. Thatʼs what I call ʻthe terrain of social democracyʼ. (I donʼt use the term in its more historically delimited sense.) It is the infernal mix. It is anti-capitalist in the sense that itʼs committed to the notion that markets alone cannot deliver the social good, but markets can be regulated, markets can be more or less competitive, and markets can operate alongside the public and the co-operative. -- Highlighted mar 12, 2014

p.15: Iʼm in favour of the democratization of the university system and opposed to its elitism and narrowness, but of course I have mixed feelings about what has actually happened. Itʼs been done in a very instrumental and contradictory way, at the expense of teaching. The change in the balance between the number of students and the teaching staff has been no benefit to students. We are upping the numbers at the serious expense of the quality of the education we offer. That may sound conservative, but itʼs true. I canʼt look my Open University students in the face and tell them that I think theyʼre getting the best education that they could get in our system at present. The Research Assessment Exercise is structured to favour the already established, older universities, to validate their position at the top of the tree, and to create differences between teaching universities and research universities, and between teaching staff and research staff. So itʼs very divisive. -- Highlighted mar 12, 2014

p.16: I can see that there may be a romance of the margins in this, but there was a connection between the intellectual productivity of the Centre and its attempt to transform its own ways of working. And both were connected with, on the one hand, its relative marginality in relation to the university, and, on the other, the political context in which it was operating: 1968 and after. We were very involved in the sit-in in 1968 in Birmingham, for example, and in student politics generally. In relation to the democratization of knowledge, this was a very creative moment. We had a genuinely collective way of producing knowledge, based on a critique of the established disciplines, a critique of the university as a structural power, and a critique of the institutionalization of knowledge as an ideological operation. -- Highlighted mar 12, 2014

p.16: Now, this is not the only position from which questions about culture and power can be asked, but one does have to struggle with the practice of cultural studies in order to keep on asking such questions when it is situated differently in relation to academically institutionalized knowledge. Institutionalization is not necessarily depoliticization, but you have to work very hard for it not to be. The present situation of cultural studies is not unlike that of feminism, where the permeation of feminist ideas is much wider than those who are consciously in touch in a sustained way with feminist politics, but its moment may already be passing. The backlash against feminism is there, and I can see it coming against cultural studies and media studies. It could be that cultural studies is being taken up by large numbers of institutions at the very moment it has actually crested. One sign of this is the extent to which it is unaware of the way in which the intellectual milieu is being ideologically transformed by a preoccupation with certain kinds of science: genetics and evolutionary theory, especially. It doesnʼt understand how massive this new line is. -- Highlighted mar 12, 2014