Representation and Culture Research Proposal

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Representation and Culture

Hall, Stuart. "The Work of Representation." Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices. Ed. Stuart Hall. Thousand Oaks: The Open University, 1997. 13-74.

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In this chapter, Hall focuses on the meaning of representation, which he defines as a way of connecting meaning and language to culture. However, he cautions against an over-simplified approach to representation, which would reduce representation to the mere use of language in a culture. To explain representation's role in culture, Hall investigates three theories of representation: the reflective, the intentional, and the constructivist approaches to representation. The reflective approach suggests that words simply reflect a pre-existing meaning for something. The intentional approach suggests that language only expresses what the speaker wants to say. The constructionist approach suggests that meaning is constructed by and through language; this approach has had the most significant impact on cultural studies in recent years. Furthermore, the constructionist approach can be broken down into two subtypes: the semiotic approach and the discursive approach. He also discusses the idea that there are two processes of representation: the system by which real world things are connected with mental representations, and language, which is how one shares ones conceptual map with others. Hall also defines some of the frequently used terms in representation, such as signs. Signs are words, sounds, or images that have meaning. Signs form the basis of language. Hall also discusses how different cultures share the codes that help their members understand which signs represent what real-world objects. He stresses that the meaning is not to be found in the object, nor in the sign chosen to represent it, but that the meaning is assigned by people. He explains language as a code that governs the translation between shared conceptual maps and shared language systems. Building upon that, he describes how meaning, language, and representation are critical in the study of culture.

Research Proposal on Representation and Culture Assignment

After introducing the basic concept of representation and its two main theories, Hall goes on to discuss some of the historical aspects of representation. He discusses Saussure, a Swiss linguist whose model of language helped shape the semiotic approach to representation. Saussure focused on the idea that meaning could never truly be fixed, which implies that interpretation plays a central role in the relationships between meaning, language, representation, and culture. Hall then discusses the concept of representation outside of the confines of linguistics and into the realm of semiotics, which is how signs are used to represent concepts. He discusses anthropologist Levi-Strauss's studies of representation in primitive societies. He also discusses elevated levels of representation in society, by discussing the connotation and denotation of signs. Then he goes on to discuss the transformation from language to discourse, and how signs can be strung together for further meaning. This leads to a discussion of whom or what is the subject in representation. This chapter is helpful in analyzing cultural texts because it explains how meaning, language, and representation help explain culture. It also gives a good historical background of the study of representation, offers explanations and criticisms of leading theories in representation, and helps foster an understanding of the role of representation in cultural studies.

Foucault, Michael. "Introduction." The Archaeology of Knowledge. London: Routledge

Classics, 1969. 3-22.

Foucault, Michael. "The Unities of Discourse." The Archaeology of Knowledge. London:

Routledge Classics, 1969. 23-33.

In the introduction, Foucault looks at the history of knowledge by examining the study of history in a larger context. He believes that historians used to study history in a linear manner, showing a series of progressions. However, he believes that the modern study of history has become less linear and progressive, and instead of picturing history as a timeline, focuses on smaller stories and how they interact with the past and the future. In addition, Foucault noted a shift in the history of ideas, such as science, philosophy, and literature. In the past, he believed that those histories focused on the idea of continuity, but he believes that the current focus of those studies has been on disruptions, or events that have caused large-scale changes in these studies. The changing approach to history has had four major impacts. Rather than accepting established ideas, there has been an increase in the willingness to question what is known about history. Furthermore, the idea of discontinuity shapes the historian's work, but it also results from the study of history, because the greater the study of history, the more discontinuity is revealed. Another major impact is that the idea of a complete history has become impossible, because perspective has been shown to be such a major part of history. Finally, historians who have stepped outside of the linear view of history are confronted with establishing a new, more-appropriate methodology for studying history.

Foucault beings chapter one by breaking down the concepts that have traditionally been associated with continuity and rejecting familiar groupings or categories. He does not believe that studies traditionally known as philosophy should be relegated to that category. He even rejects the idea of smaller categorizations, using as an example the fact that books allude to prior works to suggest that one cannot even categorize a single work. This does not mean that Foucault believes things cannot be categorized, but that the student must question and scrutinize pre-existing categorizations. To do so, the student needs to look for a pure description of discursive events, in order to find the unifying factor in these seemingly discrete events. It may be that these pure descriptions lead to the same categories that existed before the analysis, but Foucault still cautions against the blind acceptance of pre-existing categories.

Foucault's work contains several valid pointers that help when one is analyzing a cultural text. First, he challenges the reader to look at a work from outside preconceived cultural and academic stereotypes. However, he also cautions the reader that each work cannot be taken as its own discrete unit, because of the likelihood that it has either built upon previous works or influenced future works. If one considers how differently biblical analysis is when the Bible is viewed as a historically accurate document, a work of fiction, or a religious work describing the word of God, one can see how Foucault's caution that one approach a text without preconceived labels can be very useful for cultural analysis.

Harvey, David. "Modernity and Modernism." The Condition of Postmodernity. Malden, MA:

Blackwell Publishing, 1990. 10-39.

David Harvey begins his chapter by discussing the fact that modern life is characterized by ephemerality and change, but postpones an examination of why that is so. Instead, he focuses on the fact that the consensus among commentators is that modernity is so characterized. He then goes on to establish several consequences of the view that modernity is characterized by almost chaotic change. First, he suggests that this chaos eliminates the possibility of historical continuity, because the modern era cannot respect its own past; much less respect any pre-modern social orders. As a result, if history is to be given any meaning, that meaning must be derived from the perspective of chaos, examining fragmentations and ruptures. Harvey goes on to discuss the meaning of modernity and the influence that the thinkers of the Enlightenment had on discussions of modernity. During the Enlightenment, the professed goal was to accumulate knowledge from individuals to develop establish universal morality and law that would lead to human emancipation and the enrichment of daily life. As a result, Enlightenment thought was focused on progress and actively sought a break with history and tradition, one of the ruptures that has come to characterize the study of modernity. In addition, the Enlightenment was characterized by a secularization of knowledge, which made knowledge more available to masses of people and also demystified knowledge. As a result, Harvey believes that the 19th century was characterized by optimism about the human condition. However, he feels that such optimism was destroyed in the 20th century, by events like wars, death camps, and the advent of the nuclear weapon. Furthermore, he believes that there is a feeling that the Enlightenment was doomed to failure and that it many feel it was inevitable that the progress and knowledge of the Enlightenment would eventually be used to oppress human beings. In fact, Harvey believes that questions about whether the Enlightenment was doomed to failure are crucial questions, and that how one answers those questions depends on how one views the tragedies of the 20th century, and whether one believes they were caused by the Enlightenment, rather than by the failure of the Enlightenment to reach a sufficient number of people and work sufficient change. What makes that difficult to determine is the fact that the Enlightenment was not a cohesive unit. Instead, it involved challenges between people regarding who had superior knowledge and who should be able to exercise intellectual and political power. For most thinkers of the Enlightenment, it was assumed that privileged white males would continue to hold positions of power, but others believed… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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