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).
ENCODING AND DECODING
2. research project
3. approach taken