Stuart Hall

Culture and Power

RP 086 () / Interview

RP: How would you describe the current state of cultural studies in Britain in relation to its past?

Hall: Itʼs a question of how far back you want to go, because everybody has a narrative about this and everybodyʼs narrative is different. There was certainly something distinctive about the founding moment in the 1960s, but even during that period, when it was mainly Birmingham, the field was transformed several times by some pretty major reconfigurations; and in any case, there was never simply one thing going on at any one time. This was partly because of the structure of the Birmingham Centre: each study group had its own trajectory, so there wasnʼt a uniform field. Since then, each appropriation, each widening, has brought in new things. Nonetheless, itʼs pretty extraordinary to compare the founding moment with what cultural studies is today. Increasingly varied practices go under the heading of cultural studies. If you include the USA, thatʼs another bag of tricks, and global dispersion is happening very rapidly. Australians have gone in for cultural studies in a very big way and the Asian development is massive: in Taiwan, Saigon… So the most distinctive thing about the present is its situational appropriation. There must be some core which allows people to identify this as opposed to that as cultural studies, and not something else, but in each case there is a tendency for it to take on the intellectual coloration of the place where itʼs operating. The questions that people are asking cultural studies to answer in Japan are very different from those in Australia or the UK.

RP: What makes up the core?

Hall: Itʼs quite difficult to define. You could say something very general – that culture is the dimension of meaning and the symbolic – but cultural studies has always looked at this in the context of the social relations in which it occurs, and asked questions about the organization of power. So itʼs cultural power, I think, that is the crux of what distinguishes cultural studies from, say, classical studies, which is after all the study of the culture of Roman times. There are all kinds of cultural studies going on, but this interest in combining the study of symbolic forms and meanings with the study of power has always been at the centre. However varied the appropriation becomes, I would hesitate to call it cultural studies if that element was not there. So I would distinguish between cultural studies and certain versions of deconstruction, for instance. A lot of deconstructionists do work which they consider to be a kind of cultural studies. 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.

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