The Intersection of Representation and Discourse

I found this video of a lecture by Stuart Hall to be very interesting and insightful in understanding the concepts of representation as well as discourse. I have uploaded only the first part of the lecture but I would recommend that all of you continue to watch the other parts: Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.

How did the ‘Crisis of representation’ come about?

During the introduction given by Sut Jhally, he mentions that there is a need for anthropologists to “step out of the water” and ask questions about who are representing the cultures in the world, how they are being represented and so on instead of simply accepting information at face value. Essentially, I think it is this attitude of constructive critiquing of anthropological studies and research that has led to the ‘crisis of representation’ because there are many questions about the representation of cultures that do not have definitive answers and probably never will.

What is the ‘Crisis of representation’?

Simply by watching the first 3 minutes of the video where a clip of a commercial advertising “Black acting school” is played, we can pick out the various issues and problems related to the theme of ‘Representation’. These would include the key points covered during our lecture such as who gets to represent whom and the effects of these representations. These are essentially the problems in representation that has been called the ‘crisis of representation’. An example of this crisis can be observed in the short clip at the start of the video which depicts White men teaching Black men how to act like a “Black”. This highlights a paradox within the study of anthropology whereby ‘others’ from outside a particular culture begin to dictate how people belonging to that culture behave by representing them in a certain way. This then, relates back to the consequences of representation which involves the creation of stereotypical images of people and the consequent expectations of these people that others would develop. As a result, problems arise when such expectations are not met.

Representation intersects with Discourse

In the video, Hall shares what are some of the common sense meaning for the word ‘representation’ and then goes on to subvert this understanding of ‘representation’ by providing a deeper meaning for it. Hall defines ‘representation as constitutive’, which essentially means that it is a part of the event or the object being represented. Representing an event does not come after the fact but instead is the process through which the meaning for the event is created. This means that there is no fixed meaning for a particular cultural event for instance until it has been represented by someone. Yet, this meaning given by the representation is not fixed and can evolve or change as others interpret the same event in different ways and represent it in a way that changes the first meaning assigned to it. This is basically how representation then intersects with the concept of discourse because the process of representing a particular event is itself a discursive process.

I will not attempt to go into a long discussion here about representation and discourse as I feel it has been very well-explained in the lecture by Stuart Hall. I would love to hear your comments and thoughts after watching the videos though.

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