Monday, March 23, 2009

Forgotten paths

Rereading Stuart Hall ("Encoding/Decoding") last week, I was struck by this passage:
We identify three hypothetical positions from which decodings of a televisual discourse may be constructed. These need to be empirically tested and refined. 
The social science orientation of Birmingham-school cultural studies is not entirely forgotten - the mass-comm side of the School of Communications I'm housed in, for instance, fully inhabits it. But the passage was a surprise to me because for film studies, humanities-oriented TV studies, and much of what is called "cultural studies" in English departments across the US, the sociology gets written out of the cultural studies approach. It gets written out because the American cultural studies approach does not see itself as doing empiricial work, since "cultural studies" becomes generalized to a hermeneutic, a reading sensibility, but also it gets written because certain of the intellectual touchstones of the Birmingham school get played up (Raymond Williams, Althusser) while others get downplayed (Garfinkel, social-theorist Habermas). 

4 comments:

Jason Mittell said...

I don't see this as forgotten at all - within American media studies in the British tradition, reception research is highly empirical. Qualitative and interpretive, but empirical. Perhaps this strain is less common on film and literary studies, but I think the dominant model in cultural studies of TV is grounded in empirical research.

Chris Cagle said...

Jason, clearly film studies - and the version of cultural studies that's based in literary studies departments - is my closest reference point. So, I'll agree, "forgotten" is probably not the right word.

Jason Mittell said...

Since writing my first comment, I looked over my bookshelves for examples of empirically-driven reception studies in film. How about Janet Staiger and Barbara Klinger's work? They seem quite in line with Hall's call for empirical research.

Maybe the issue is with the word "empirical"? In many minds, that term implies quantitative data-driven social science, not theoretically-inflected interpretation and analysis. But that's not how the British sociologists tend to operate - scholars like David Morley, Charlotte Brunsdon, Ien Ang, Annette Hill, etc. do empirical work that is quite humanistic in approach, and that vein continues in American media (and some film) studies.

Chris Cagle said...

Yes, I'd consider Staiger and Klinger empirically-oriented, which I do not collapse into quantitative research. I guess what I was trying to summarize - and you've caught me out in inadequate generalization - is a widespread tendency to read resistant and negotiated positions extrapolated from the text itself. Much what Charlotte Brunston describes as the "Ur feminist reading" (CJ 44.2).