Hall's Idea of a True Intellectual
Hall believes that a true intellectual is someone who manages to engage two fronts at the same time. He borrowed the framework from Gramsci who said that a true intellectual is an organic intellectual, and the first requirement is to be at the very forefront of intellectual theoretical work. In other words, there is a need to learn more than what conventional learning institutions can offer. There is an element of exploration and at the same time the need for mastery. For example, in the study of Marxism, an organic intellectual must work hard to learn more about class struggle and be able to explain it from different perspectives.
The second requirement is more difficult because it compels the intellectual to transmit what he knows. According to Hall, the correct application of Gramsci's insights is to serve others, which is achieved through the transmission of gained knowledge to those who do not belong to a particular class. Thus, it provides a glimpse into the mindset of Hall who like Gramsci not only interested in the pursuit of knowledge but also in social transformation.
Hall is not determined to provide solutions to complex social issues. He is more interested in developing a framework that can help people live with the tensions brought about by different social factors.
According to Hall, experts on cultural studies usually fail to transcend beyond the limits of intellectual discourse. Hall laments the fact by saying that it is very unfortunate “how little we've been able to change anything or get anybody to do anything” (Hall 286)
Hall's main assertion can be summed up in his interpretation of theory and politics. He said that it is not “theory as will to the truth, but theory as set of contested, localized, conjunctural knowledges, which have to be debated in a dialogical way … but also as a practice which always thinks about its intervention in a world in which it would make some difference, in which it would have some effect” (Hall 286).
Finally, Hall clarified the importance of culture. One of his problems with Marxims was that the political theory developed by Karl Marx did not leave room for discussion of culture. However, Hall underscores its importance by saying that although it is difficult to link culture to other structures, “the intertextuality of texts in their institutional positions, of texts as sources of power, of textuality as a site of representation and resistance, all of those of questions can never be erased from cultural studies” (Hall 286). In other words it is impossible to understand politics, economics and other sectors of society without a clear understanding of the importance of culture.
Capitalism: A System of Representation by Ivan Zatz
An article by Ivan Zatz's Capitalism: A System of Representation is an example of Hall's idea of a true intellectual. It is centered around the ability to understand the principles behind a theoretical framework and being able to articulate it for others to understand. Zatz was not only able to provide an overview of Marx's view on political economy, but he also clarified that society should view money if analyzed from the point of view of Marxist theory. In particular, he wrote that “the reduction of capitalist society to the money economy is a reduction of all substance to form, of all living processes into a frozen thing … centered around the money-form in this fashion, capitalism consists of a gigantic system of representations” (Zatz 144).
Zatz also illustrated what Hall meant when he said that a correct way to investigate and to deal with cultural issues is not only to talk about concepts in a vague manner. Hall said that the correct way to conduct cultural studies is to do it in a localized way. It can be interpreted to mean that an intellectual cannot afford to simply discuss concepts and issues outside the practical realms of human existence. In the case of Zatz, his application of this principle can be seen in the way he treated the concept of space. He said that social space is an important requirement when it comes to understanding industrial capitalism. He clarified it further by stating that in order for industrial capitalism to occur, there is a need for an industrial city. By focusing on the industrial city, Zatz can fulfill another major requirement of Hall's framework, and that is to provide solutions to a particular problem in a localized manner.
Zatz also shares Hall's belief when it comes to culture. Zatz said that men and women are cultural beings. He even emphasized his support of cultural studies when he said that there can be no economic or political process that can ever take place without culture (Zatz 145). The assertion of Zatz can be appreciated if one agrees with the basic definition of culture, as understood by social scientists and anthropologists. They believe that culture is about beliefs, patterns of human behavior, as well as collective knowledge shared by members of a particular community. From this point of view it is easy to understand the assertion made by Zatz and can connect it to advocacy of Hall. It is to promote the importance of cultural studies in an attempt to deal with social problems in the hope of changing it for the better.
Alliances Across Margins by May Joseph
In his article Alliances Across Margins, May Joseph says thatthe use of Hall's framework can result in conflict if one creates a narrow interpretation of Hall's claim that one should not expect to develop a solution to social tensions. Hall said that the best approach is to learn how to deal with the tensions and not to develop a clear-cut solution.
If Hall's framework is used to analyze May Joseph's article, a conflict will inevitably arise. It must be pointed out that Joseph articulated a passionate stance against racism, inequality and oppression when it comes to minorities, especially African Americans. It is at this point that the reader is compelled to re-examine Hall’s intellectual position At first, it seems that Hall's position is one that is borne out of a scientific viewpoint and developing an objective way of looking at issues. Therefore, the sociologist or scientist is not constrained by the need to provide a solution to a social problem because it can be assumed that there may be no perfect solution. Therefore, the next best thing is to create a strategy that enables the parties involved in the conflict to work out their differences. However, this can be interpreted as a form of evasion, or a failure to face difficulty. Others may say that it is a form of cowardice, or a blatant expression of compromise.
There are times when it is the moral duty of American citizens to challenge the status quo. There was a time when people failed to appreciate the need to challenge deeply entrenched beliefs and traditions, and the result was catastrophic. In the history of the United States one can point to the institution of slavery from the 17th to 18th century. The failure to challenge this particular institution led to the destruction of lives, and the impact can still be felt in the present generation.
There is, therefore, the need to re-interpret the intellectual position of Hall. If this is not accomplished, oppressors and unscrupolous people will be allowed to exploit social inequalities and other social problems. For example, there is a belief in certain circles that the United States is where one can expect to see an egalitarian society. This sentiment may have received significant support in recent years because of breakthroughs when it comes to the struggle for equality in the US.
Barack Obama's Presidency
For instance, Barack Obama's presidency may serve as the primary proof that nothing is impossible in this country. It seems to indicate that an African American child’s dream can be achieved through hard work and determination. The significance of his victory is made more special by the fact that it was seen by many people as an impossible feat. It has to be pointed out that African Americans belong to the minority.
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Obama’s presidency poses a challenge to the continuously supported idea of inequality in the United States. However, there are still groups of people who will contend that the United States is far from perfect when it comes to equality. There are those who will contend that there is nothing further from the truth when it comes to the claim of an egalitarian society. There are those who assert that in reality, there is an ongoing process that leads to various forms of inequalities. Those who believe that inequality still exists in the United States of America point to problems related to race, gender, and sexual orientation.
A casual and non-scientific interview of African American, Mexican, Puerto Rican or Asian minority members will reveal that inequality is part of their daily lives. It is, therefore, important to take a close look at the social factors that exist in this country because there seems to be racial and other forms of social tensions simmering under the surface. It is not prudent to simply rely on the illusion brought about by the testimony of a good and blessed life enjoyed by many because not everyone can say the same thing.
It can be argued that the impact of racism can still be felt in many areas of this country. The application of Hall's framework can compel others to mitigate its impact and find ways of making it appear less obvious. On the other hand, a misguided interpretation of Hall's intellectual argument can lead to indifference. It is important to highlight the fact that even though slavery was abolished more than a century ago and the Civil Rights movement had succeeded, there are still many African Americans who find it difficult to break the cycle of poverty.
It is illegal to own slaves and it is illegal to prevent an African American child from riding a particular bus or enrolling in a particular school. Racism in its darkest form is no longer tolerated. However, there are many poor African American children who do not have enough financial resources to earn a college degree. People may say that it is just a normal consequence of social factors. But this type of excuse could be easily discarded if one were to realize the significant difference in the number of African Americans who can complete their education and enjoy a lucrative career. If one were to use another standard, then it would be easy to say that this is a form of inequality, since there are still barriers that need to be removed in order for them to compete on equal terms.
It is not difficult to point out other examples of inequality and racism. There are those who defended the accomplishments made in behalf of the struggle to achieve an egalitarian society. There are those who point out the contributions of Martin Luther King and explain the significance of his sacrifice in transforming the way Americans view minority members. Whatever was said in defense of equal treatment of American citizens disappeared when a super storm called Katrina blew over New Orleans. The hardest hit by the storm were mainly African Americans who were unable to leave the city. There are various reasons why they failed to pay heed to the call for evacuation or why they refused to leave. However, the mere fact that many African Americans suffered in the aftermath of Katrina speaks volumes of the way minorities struggle in a supposedly egalitarian society.
Those who were left behind chose to brave the storm due to sheer desperation. As a result, many African Americans suffered great emotional pain. The experience of the white residents of New Orleans was not as desperate as their African American counterparts. Many of the white residents were able to evacuate and flee due to the resources that were available to them. A narrow interpretation of Hall's testimony will allow others to develop a way of compromise. They will say that there is no need to confront government officials, and even leaders of the black community, to determine who is responsible for the death and destruction that occurred in New Orleans during the time of Katrina.
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May Joseph's argument encourages a more confrontational approach to the discussion of the concepts of racism and inequality.
- There is a need to challenge the assertions made by various leaders of society that there is nothing wrong with American society.
- There is a need to challenge politicians who rely on eloquent speeches to minimize the significance of certain social problems.
- There is also a need to intensify efforts to deal with social issues because African Americans are not the only victims of inequality.
- There is no need to elaborate on the fact that the United States is a melting pot of cultures.
Imagine the work load that social scientists had to tackle because aside from African Americans there are many people groups that call America their home even if they are not well-acquainted with the American culture yet. Migrations enabled the mass proliferation of communities that use different languages and customs to survive in their second home. But due to language and cultural barriers it is possible that these foreign-born Americans may not be able to live up to their potential. In the worst case scenario, they are victims of exploitation by people who try to benefit from their various vulnerabilities.
There are those who want to develop more stringent measures to reduce the number of migrant workers in the United States. The intention may have been correct but the implementation of harsher laws can have a cascading effect on foreign-born American citizens and become a major source of inequality. The misguided use of Hall's theoretical framework can lead to inaction. and as a result many people will suffer.
Aside from issues that are directly related to race, there are other problems that can be linked to inequality. There are social problems related to gender and sexual orientation. Take, for instance, violence against women. The way men treat their girlfriends and wives must be seen as a form of inequality. Gays and lesbians may have a different worldview but they have to be protected from those who wish them harm. It is important to consider various groups that have the same rights and privileges on account of their citizenship.
The Misinformed Use of Hall's Theoretical Framework
The misinformed use of Hall's theoretical framework can block the progressive discussion aimed at ending inequality in the United States. There are various problems that will not be tackled in the need to side-step critical issues. Hall's assertion that there is no perfect solution to the complicated problem of race and gender should not be used to justify a compromise. If no significant actions are taken various sectors of society will suffer as a result of compromise.
One of the problematic areas that require serious consideration is education. African Americans and other members of minority groups complain about the lack of access to resources. One of the best examples of deprivation can be seen in the school system. For many decades, members of minority groups have found it difficult to succeed because they have only been given access to low-quality educational systems.
The problem with schools in a predominantly black community is that it creates a cycle of defeat when it comes to the allocation of resources. Poor members of the community cannot afford to pay taxes, and, therefore, the resources made available to this particular area is proportional to the contributions made in terms of taxes and investments made by the members of the said community. But if the quality of education made available to them is based on their contributions, then, they only deserve low-quality school programs. Thus, their children cannot break free from the cycle of poverty.
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When it comes to education, another problematic issue is how to modify the curriculum and find ways of enabling the minorities to preserve unique aspects of their culture that may not be considered important by white people. Equality can also be expressed in the way the dominant groups allow for the creation of multicultural forms of education. It is not important to simply provide them with the basics of learning language and mathematics. It is also imperative to provide an educational system that caters to other needs, such as the need to develop respect for cultural pluralism within racial communities.
It is important to carefully apply Hall’s theoretical framework because it can lead to a compromise. It can be argued that the proper use of Hall’s framework is only possible through the standpoint of scientists and sociologists who wish to have an objective view of the issue. Therefore, Hall did not mean to prescribe inaction and compromise as a way of dealing with social tensions. Hall wanted to balance the need of an intellectual and an activist.
Therefore, those who read and interpret his treatise must keep this in mind. However, a closer examination of his contribution should lead others to believe that Hall wanted to end inequality and other social problems. He said that a true intellectual is not someone who is well aware of the theoretical underpinnings of a social issue, but also someone who has the capability to offer solutions to a particular problem. Hall asserted that a true intellectual is someone who will not rest until he has created positive changes in the community. Therefore, Hall’s theoretical framework must be understood as a way of looking at a social issue from an objective perspective in order to develop a solution that will work in the most cost-efficient and effective manner.