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The idea of singular personality is a mythical one because everyone is, ultimately, chained to certain social determinants that affect our self-realisation of personality. Even subjectivity is subject to…
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Cultural Studies Introduction An individuals identity is shaped more by experiences than by choice. The idea of singular personality is a mythical one because everyone is, ultimately, chained to certain social determinants that affect our self-realisation of personality. Even subjectivity is subject to change as social identities tend to multiply in keeping with regular interactions with different people. An individual is influenced by how he is viewed by others in the society, which stands in contrast to how he wants to view himself/herself. This inherent contradiction accentuates the need to closely examine key cultural contexts behind personality development. Moreover, representation of a particular culture is also a point which has triggered much controversy among the intellectuals. In this context culture entails subjective disposition of an individual or an ethnic group from an external frame of reference. Cultural theorist Stuart Hall laid the foundation of cultural discourses in modern times. Throughout his illustrious career, Hall researched extensively on a number of socio-humanitarian issues, including representation, subjectivity and identity. This essay is going to answer four questions that are central to Stuart Hall’s cultural theories.
1. ‘Culture is itself a signifying practice and has its own determinate product: meaning’ (Hall). Discuss this understanding of culture and relate it to other ways of conceptualizing culture referred to throughout the course.
Stuart Hall was the first theorist to hint at the correlation between etymological significance of discourse and culture. His steadfast denial of a pervasive ‘cultural superstructure’ (During 97) brought about a revolutionary change in the social science of language and its meaning. Hall terms language as ‘the medium for the production of meaning’ (Hall 30), which underscores the linguistic concept of the paradigmatic shift from the signifier to the signified. In other words, we need to keep aside the superficial meaning of language to gain a profound understanding of what lies within. As regards perceiving a particular culture in its entirety, it is not as important to consider the outward manifestations of the same as it is to understand the subliminal threads that bind it in a structural accord. Hall himself stresses on dissociation of meaning even within a specific cultural discourse as he endorses arrangement or order of things (30). What he simply conceives is that nothing has a static meaning per se (Hall and Open University 19). Meaning is itself an intangible proposition that cannot carry its own ascription. It has to be attributed by humans who form and sustain culture.
2. Stuart Hall has claimed that cultural identity is not so much a question of “‘who we are’ or ‘where we came from’ so much as what we might become, how we have been represented and how that bears on how we might represent ourselves”. Discuss this idea, paying particular attention to the relationship between Hall’s idea of representation and the question of cultural identity. Use examples to illustrate your argument.
In relation to the notion of representation, Hall argues that representation of individuals and social groups is a phenomenon projected by media. The issue of fabricating identity for the sake of convenience or institutionalisation is central to this phenomenon. The process of representation is to a great extent motivated by a sensationalist purpose in order to maintain the power relations in tact among various social hierarchies. In essence, the self is an abstruse entity at any given moment – be it seen from within or from outside. But the critical question in the domain of cultural studies is not concerned with the consequences of personal remoteness from outside objects. It rather investigates into how the adjustments are made by societies to instill a sense of belonging to what one is given with (Hall and Gray 4). In this sense, trying to explore an idealistic reason behind our arbitrary existence in society both in terms of spatiality and temporality is not worth justifying. However, the same existence is not without a deterministic drive to relate ourselves to the future. This radical worldview emerges from the prevalent social beliefs and practices that perpetually tie us to the past. The resources of a human being are ever evolving and they can only take a unidirectional course toward the time to come and not toward the time bygone. But contrary to this conjecture, erroneous exegesis of history prompts us to see ourselves as merely passive continuation from the past to the future. The way we are represented directly affects our self-perception of how we should be represented (Hall et al. 1).
The example of punk music may adequately underpin the aforementioned arguments. Emergence of this brand of music was seen as an act of defiance against the generic norms of music production. Independence of identity was the basic idea that inspired the punk musicians to perform. They did not bother about the subaltern undertones their music carried. Moreover, unlike film actors or scribes, punk rockers did not regard themselves as paid workers. They essentially tagged themselves as artists having the supreme liberty to enjoy and explore a range of artistic fancies such as unconventional arrangements, vocal experimentations and so on (Gelder and Thornton 169). Again, punk scores had a futuristic feel about them (Frith 306), which, when placed in cultural contexts, was marked by a profusion of emotions oozing out of an intense passion for self-representation. The inclusion of female musicians too depolarises gender discrepancies by dissolving power relations. It is therefore quite apt to conclude that the determinants of cultural identity for the punk musicians had conformed to what Hall illustrates in his theory on social representation.
3. For Althusser, the notion of an essential self disappears as a fiction, an impossibility, and in its place is the social being who possesses a socially produced sense of identity – a “subjectivity”. This subjectivity is not like the old unified self, it can be contradictory, and it can change within different situations and in response to different kinds of address. We rely, in fact, on language and ideology to instruct us in how we are to conceive our social identities, in how to be a ‘subject’” (Turner). Discuss this understanding of subjectivity and relate it to other ways of representing personal identity.
To answer this question, it is imperative to develop a clear idea about the concept of essential self. Eminent philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre strived throughout his life to resolve the puzzles surrounding a man’s objective interpretations of himself and the genuine ‘objective’ validity of such interpretations. It is better to appreciate and acknowledge that objectivity of opinions does not exist. Whenever a human being tries to be rational, some part of his/her self becomes conscious about the attempts being made. Subsequently, the consistency of rational thoughts begins wavering, leading to formations of subjective notions. At the same time, this subjective self is dynamic and prone to make switchovers from one state of metacognition to another depending on situations. This clarifies why we tend to react differently in different situations and to different people. We use our linguistic armory to devise a mechanism that tacitly helps us coping with the perpetual quandary about our social identities. While we know that a little giveaway is enough to expose our selves to the outside world, at the same time we cannot resist slipping down the tunnel of the subconscious. By and large, it is justified to claim that the development of personal identity in the contextual frame of social reference is an extremely complicated process.
4. What are the specific features that differentiate ‘virtual identities’ from ‘real’ ones? What do interactions within cyberspace reveal about more general processes of identity construction?
Technological expansion across all probable offshoots of communication has brought about with its immense possibilities of dual, or even multiple, personalities. Cyber communication in particular has contributed to this problem enormously. A person while communicating face-to-face with another person cannot deceive or lie outright, given that we are not dealing with a cunning fraudster. On the other hand, linguistic sameness of written communication makes identity concealment very easy. Moreover, virtual identity of an individual does not carry with it the liability of self-justification or accountability. This is not the case with real identities. Again, the question of accountability becomes all the more important when a person interacts with another without the barrier of cyberspace in between. Body language, tonalities and reactions are easier to trace and interpret in the real world. Virtual space, on the other hand, remains unchanged for anybody and all can use the same tools and technologies to convey meaning to what is communicated. It may also be noted that identity crisis tends to occur more frequently in virtual space than in the real world. Once again the notion of representation comes to the fore in this context of identity. We tend to be cognitively influenced when accompanied by virtual acquaintances. But despite all these shortcomings of virtual interactions, the actual process of identity development initiates in virtual domains. This can be evidenced by the supposition that John would not get to express himself tangibly and in an engaging manner in the routine schedule of reality. But when he would be representing himself in the virtual domain, he would have the scope to gather all his thoughts and give them a proper documentation by using the existing tools and technologies.
Works Cited
During, Simon. The cultural studies reader. London: Routledge, 1999.
Frith, Simon.
Gelder, Ken, and Sarah Thornton. The subcultures reader. London: Routledge, 1997.
Hall, Stuart. Culture, media, language: working papers in cultural studies, 1972-79.
London: Routledge, 1992.
Hall, Stuart, and Open University. Representation: cultural representations and
signifying practices. London: SAGE, 1997.
Hall, Stuart, and Paul Du Gay. Questions of cultural identity. London: SAGE, 1996.
Hall, Stuart, Paul Gilroy, Lawrence Grossberg, and Angela McRobbie. Without
guarantees: in honour of Stuart Hall. London: Verso, 2000. Read More
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