READING GUIDE TO: Hall, S (1977) Culture, the Media and the ‘Ideology-Effect’, Curran, J, Gurevitch, M and Wollacott, J (eds) Mass Communication and Society, London: Edward Arnold Publishers Ltd., in association with the Open University Press.

Quick Summary

We need to develop a proper marxist account of the role of the mass media. To do this, however, we have to clear some ground:

1. What is a proper marxist account of ideology? It is not enough to turn back to classic texts (like Marx and Engels The German Ideology), since these have been re-read and are now controversial.

2. We have to bring our analysis up to date with readings like those offered by Althusser and Poulantzas. However, we cannot go along with them entirely either ( they are too pessimistic about the prospects of revolution, and stress too much the role of a strong organised Communist Party – not very helpful for Brit activists)

3. At the same time, we have to defend our earlier commitments – to colleagues ( R Williams and EP Thompson), and to our main hero – Gramsci.

4. We want to continue our critique of other marxist traditions – especially those using concepts like ‘expressive totality’ or ‘mass culture’.

5. We should also bring in other current work on culture and language and fit it in –especially the French work by Barthes or the other ‘structuralists’ or 'semioticians'. They can be brought into line with marxist work really well now, using some marxist linguists we have rediscovered (in 1977 remember) – Volosinov and Vygotsky especially (the ‘Russian formalists’).

6. The upshot of all this theoretical labour will be a nice sophisticated account of culture, language and the media – one which:

· allows us to see that culture is not simply determined by the economy
· allows us to grasp that culture, language and the media can have positive social effects of their own as well as just reflecting class politics
· allows us to argue that the complex forces that connect aspects of society are also fragile and thus that there is still a space for revolutionary politics of the kind we like (largely, revolutionary cultural politics).
When we have done this ‘theoretical mapping’, and hopefully established a sound foundation, we can proceed to sketch out the main ideological role of the media after all:
1. It will be to reproduce dominant ideologies  -- that we know already. But we mean that the media tries to negotiate among a range of meanings, rather than just pump out one simple version, and quietly to privilege as ‘natural’ the ‘preferred ones’ (which express the interests of capitalism). 

2. We can use terms like ‘winning consent’, or constructing an ‘unstable equililbrium’ to describe this ongoing process (which helps us praise Gramsci as well as encouraging ‘struggle’). 

3. We want to introduce the themes of encoding which we have used before, and to make a link with Poulantzas’s work on constructing imaginary unities – ‘possessive individuals’ are constructed in media representations, but they are also somehow united into ‘nations’, for example, by the media. (Nationalism was a major interest for Hall’s group in the 1970s). 

4. We want to explain how it happens that media professionals themselves still stubbornly insist on their independence and integrity – we won’t call them liars, because they are partly right, but we will insist that we are able to spot unconscious ideological influences on them which deliver them to ideology in spite of their good intentions.

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