How Can Stuart Hall's Analysis Of Identity Enable A More Critical Awareness Of Cultural Experience?

2772 words - 12 pages

How can Stuart Hall’s analysis of identity enable a more critical awareness of cultural experience?

In order to assess the contribution that Stuart Hall’s analysis of identity has had on enabling a more critical awareness of cultural experience, it is first necessary to define and illustrate exactly what is meant by this term ‘cultural experience.’ For the purpose of this essay, I shall take this term to mean the contribution that Stuart Hall’s work has made to our understanding of the culture and society we currently live in, and that which we have lived through over the last 40 or 50 years. Furthermore, I will explore the struggles and tribulations that Hall faced as a child and relate ...view middle of the document...

On top of this, according to Hall himself, a further defining moment in his personal development was the major nervous breakdown his sister experienced when he was 17 (Hall, 1996a p.488). It was the result of a large family row after his parents forbade her from engaging in a relationship with a ‘middle-class, but black’ (Hall, 1996a p.488) student doctor, who had moved to Jamaica from Barbados. Hall was suddenly aware of the complex nature of a colonial culture and how colour and class played a huge role in defining who one was at this time in Jamaica. Hall talked of how he ‘learnt about culture, first, as something which is deeply subjective and personal, and at the same moment, as a structure you live’ (Hall, 1996a p.488).
In 1951, Hall moved to England with his mother to take up a scholarship he had been offered at Merton College, Oxford. During his time at the university, Hall joined the Labour Club and here met Raymond William, John Saville, Ralph Miliband, Raphael Samuel and Edward Thompson. The six of them, along with a couple of Hall’s other university friends, would go on to set up The New Left Review and The New Reasoner, two radical left wing journal publications. These publications are prevalently believed to be the start of Hall’s ongoing relationship with sociology and cultural studies (Davis, 2004 pp.7-10).

Having identified the reasoning behind Hall’s work, we can now explore the views he held towards identity. Hall tells us throughout his work that there are two contrasting ways in which cultural identity has been viewed. The first emphasises the view of cultural identity as an intrinsic quality. This belief states that we are born with an identity and this remains with us throughout life. Our identity is formed through common origins or experiences and stresses the cultural contexts that we are born into. Moreover, this definition of identity suggests that it is fully formed and cannot change. In other words, this is essentially the belief that identity is constructed through gender, race, class etc. and the fact that somebody is a woman, or black, or working class dictates the way that they will behave or act throughout life. Jonah Goldstein and Jeremy Rayner discussed this first idea of identity, writing that ‘identity itself can be constructed from a number of factors, from race and religion to place of birth’ (Goldstein and Rayner, 1994 p.367). For Hall, identity is much deeper than this. Although he recognises that ‘we all write and speak from a particular place and time, from a history and a culture which is specific’ (Hall, 1994 p.392), Hall stressed the need to go beyond this simplistic idea of identity in order to truly understand it.
The second way of assessing the concept of identity, and one that is strongly supported by Hall, relies on a progressive view of cultural identity. This view focuses on the differences between people, rather than the similarities they share. Hall states that cultural identity is...

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