Cultural Theory by Stuart Hall

One of the academics who proposed the concept of British cultural studies was Stuart Hall. He was a Jamaican-born cultural theorist who primarily influenced ideas about culture and the role that the media should play in promoting culture through their messages by creating a way in which the audience is the message's encoder and is typically actively involved in conveying the intended message. (Hall, 2012). Hall is credited with enlarging the field of cultural studies and integrating fresh perspectives on what cultural studies ought to encompass. He is famous for his transformation of the reception theory into what he later termed as the Hall’s theory which is still a point of reference when it comes to cultural studies up to date. Apart from being a cultural theorist, Hall was also a sociologist and a political activist. This paper is therefore going to analyze hall’s ideas as well as his theory ‘Hall’s theory and how this theory shaped cultural studies and mass media up to date.

Hall’s ideas

Stuart Hall presents a cultural argument that no other cultural theorist dared question his ideas. He saw the then communication system as that which only centers on the sender of the information and not the receiver or encoder. He therefore was against this norm and was for the idea that the encoder of the message should also play a crucial role in encoding the message presented by the sender as well as authenticating the message so as to get the desire meaning intended by the sender. He also argued that the media is responsible for the propagation and transmission of culture and hence the cultural situation in a certain place should be attributed to the role of the media. His argument on the definition of culture however caught my eye as he ignores how the society and specifically the upper classes or the elites tend to define culture and stipulates that culture is the experience of things that tell us about the world around us. This means that the things that depict our history, origin, way of life are what he terms as culture and not necessarily the fine arts or the music that others view determine our culture. Hall did not ignore the fact that communication systems are changing and therefore saw the need to change and adopt with the changes that occur in communication (Hall, 2015).

Culture according to Hall cannot be dictated by power, authority or government as it is an unconscious sense of values of what people share which might be wrong or right. The decoding of message according to him depends on what a particular culture associated with a particular person dictates. His assertion that the media plays a crucial role in the understanding a practice of culture is rational and therefore presents the need for cultural studies to study the various cultures as well as the media (Holub, 2012). He however argues that the media has in the recent years been dictating what the consumer/receiver consumes which should not be the case as according to him the consumers also ought to have a say and therefore and individual should be allowed to make informed judgements of what is right or wrong.

Culture according to the scholar is basically constructing a relationship between yourself and the world. This is made possible by the use of language to communicate and that our day to day living influences our communication. Cultural studies and analysis according to him in an ongoing activity and therefore we ought to adopt to it. Hall goes ahead to view people as both the producers as well as the consumers of information thus the responsibility of encoding and decoding a message. For him culture is not presented or is not just there to be studies or appreciated but for us to take the responsibility and own up in to by taking action such as encoding and decoding, he recognizes the active involvement of the consumers or the audience in the opposition and negotiation on the message presented by the sender in order to authenticate the message not just accepting the message the way it is presented by the sender so as to make the communication process involving as well as interactive and not to be a one sided affair where one party is involved and the other is passive or dormant. Hall believed that identity was indeed a product of culture and history and that it is a process that is still ongoing thus acknowledging the fact that indeed culture also changes with time. This idea was supported and surfaced by his explanations and analysis of cultural identity, ethnicity and race (Borer, 2012).

He also highlights on the comprehensive and connotative nature of ideas or messages and that most messages have meanings further than the normal interpretations from a layman’s point of view hence this demands that consumers or rather receivers of these particular messages should be able to get the deeper meanings brought forward by the sender. This scenario then demands of the audience or the consumers to have encoding and decoding skills necessary for retrieving and understanding the deeper meanings presented in this case so as to be able to comprehend and understand the sender’s intended message properly. This is where now the cultural studies that Hall advocated for comes in so as to ensure both the sender or the media as well as the audience are all equipped with the necessary skills to ensure a smooth-running communication process (Straubhaar, LaRose, & Davenport, 2013).

A summary of Hall’s ideas is that he advocated much for culture and the definition of culture. The basis of culture according to the scholar is experience, culture is how societies often make sense of their common experiences in their day to day lives. The media plays a crucial role in ensuring these experiences are shared and culture is spread among the society so as to ensure continuity generation after generation. There also has to be a consideration on the changing nature of the society and thus culture also changes hence demanding of the both the producers and consumers of communication to be well equipped and ready to adapt to the changes, develop necessary encoding and decoding strategies that are as per the changes with the communication, culture and identuttity. Stuart Hall’s ideas were based centrally and organized strategically on the foundation of the ‘Encoding and Decoding theory/model’ which he uses to build his arguments therefore to get a deeper understanding of Hall’s ideas we would consider an analysis of the Encoding and Decoding theory (Devereux, 2015).

Encoding and Decoding theory

Stuart Hall’s ideas were developed and built on the Encoding and decoding model which other hand by the consumer or society. The theory was developed from the reception theory a borrows much of its ideas from this theory though it improvised and revised much its ideas to fit the changing nature of the society and culture. Hall first introduced the “encoding and decoding in the television. This theory challenges and seeks to ratify the assumptions stipulated on how media messages are produced, distributed and received by providing an appropriate theory of communication, according to the theory a message before even it vis produced those responsible for the production have the obligation to ensure that the message is comprehensible and meaningful and has to ensure that the message is meaningfully decoded before being sent to the receiver or consumer (Moskowich & Crespo, 2012).

The encoding/decoding model provide a theoretical approach through various ways of encoding. There are four ways encoding which includes the dominant code, negotiated code, professional code and oppositional code. The dominant code assumes that the decoder understands the message or data being sent, this where the encoder just takes the message the way it is in its connotative meaning and refers to its reference code to extract meaning. Simply it is taking the message as it is raw and encoding it connotatively. On the other hand, the second code, the second form of coding is the negotiated coding where there is a consideration of the encoder’s point of view and it is on a situational basis and expects the encoder to set his/her own specifications towards the message being sent. This form of coding simply recognizes the fact that the encoder who is the consumer of the message has the power to authenticate the message and make his/her own interpretations of the message being decoded. This supports Hall’s idea that communication should not only involve the decoder but also the consumer so as ensure the message being sent receives the correct and comprehensive interpretation that it deserves. The involvement of the encoder in the decision-making process of communication ensures that a consensus is reached.

The professional code of the encoding/decoding model basically relies on the dominant definitions that meets all the set thresholds for example if it is a visual message it should therefore meet the set visual qualities and when it is a presentation on the other hand it should meet the presentation values expected by the audience (Meeks & Hall, 2012). If it is a television/media broadcast, then the data or information share should meet the television qualities as well as the set television set norms and standards.

The oppositional code on the other hand dwells on the notion of the decoder ensuring that the message or data to be decoded is meaningful and communicates the intended idea. Contrary to the rest of the codes discussed above is the fact that the decode has both the connotative and denotative meaning. It assumes that the viewer or the audience is able to understand both interpretations and is able to comprehend the message from both perspectives. The denotative meaning is the actual meaning, the surface meaning and the connotative meaning which often the meaning that is hidden and therefore requires the negotiation and interpretation by the viewer, this buys the Hall’s idea of the consumer having the power to negotiate and deduce meaning from a concept presented that seems to have a hidden intended meaning.

Hall through the above model suggests that the decoding of a message or data is often interpreted on the basis of the individual’s experiences, cultural background and economic status. The television and the media are therefore tasked to consider this factors when coming up with their messages and circulating information. This therefore highlights that the audience or the consumers/ viewers also have a active role to play in the decoding of the messages being propagated by the media and the various distributors of the messages.

The concept of decoding and encoding of messages makes the messages be easily understood and easily comprehensible by both the decoder and the encoder. Decoding as message entails extracting meaning from the message. Decoding also entails basing ones understanding on the information already given on the message meaning that someone else already know. Another consideration that has to be put in place to ensure proper decoding of the message is the fact that various individuals have different interpretations. In a scenario that one there is quite a large number, the processes of decoding becomes quite a long process becomes quite long as the processes of production, distribution and reception have to be dully observed.

Hall’s model assumes that the message is not often too clear to be understood and comprehended by the encoder easily. This assumption is on the basis that the viewer or the audience is innocent of the message or maybe ignorant of the message thus there is need for the producer of the message to ensure that the message being decoded is expressed in a manner that the audience can authenticate and negotiate. Again the message should not be too plain to be easily comprehended by untargeted audience such as kids and other audiences which the message was not intended to them. This acts as a form of privacy especially for information that is private and is sensitive thus there in need to employ both the connotative and denotative interpretations so as to in cooperate the various perspectives.

The theory also suggests that meaning should not be confined to the sender only which advocates for the involvement of both the sender and the receiver so as to reach a consensus on the intended message. This therefore should be taken into consideration by the sender so as not to assume the responsibility of determining the meaning oneself alone. A monopoly of meaning should not be given to the sender alone but should dedicate the interpretation of meaning to the receiver as well.

Hall’s encoding and decoding model also dwells on the grounds that the audience should participate in the communication process and not to be mere recipients of the data only but also participate in negotiating of the meaning. The receiver has to assume a role of an active participant in the process.

Reasons for preference of the encoding and decoding theory/model

Basing on the above evidences and ideologies about the encoding and decoding theory/model I would recommend the above theory to any media fraternity as it is inclusive and takes care of both the grievances of the sender who in this case are the media and the consumers who are basically the audiences or the viewers. The fact that the model recommends for the authentication of the messages during encoding by both the sender and the receiver ensures that the media houses distribute messages are authentic and meaningful. The fact that the theory advocates for both the connotative and denotative interpretations of, meaning makes the theory superior, rational and logic because there is need to consider both the meanings so as to ensure both meanings are in cooperated in the message and information being distributed by the media do as to ensure a comprehensive and detailed understanding by the viewers.

Influence of Hall’s views on culture

Hall advocates that the media acts as the propagator of culture in the society and thus plays a crucial role in ensuring the transition and spread of culture. Without the media therefore culture would not have achieved the diversity it enjoys at the moment hence we should always understand and appreciate the role of media in appreciating culture of a particular society. The media also acts as a means of distribution of information from the sender to the receiver. As highlighted by Hall experiences shape culture and is what defines culture is actually experiences. These experiences are highlighted and brought to light by the media thus it is evident that the media therefore plays a crucial role in enhancing culture.

The media as ensured culture has adopted to the changes and advancement in the society. Hall acknowledges the fact that we are living in a changing world and thus culture will also tend to cope with the changes. The media is like an agent of change whose role is to ensure changes are effected and in cooperated into the various cultures. The history of culture and the experiences and values of a certain culture are kept and passed from generation to generation by the media.

Culture is often regarded as diverse and thus the diversity of culture cannot be achieved without the media, this is to say that the media ensures the diversity of culture is realized through the distribution of information and experiences as well as values of a particular culture which helps display the variety and richness in culture that humans are entitled to. Every one of us is entitled to a certain culture thus for their culture to be appreciated and recognized by others the media has to come in to ensure they distribute information regarding these diverse cultures. In conclusion the role that the media plays in ensuring diversity cannot be ignored as well as the role that the media plays in the production, distribution and reception of information.


Borer, T. A. (2012). Media, mobilization and human rights: Mediating suffering. London: New York.

Bryfonski, D. (2012). The global impact of social media. Detroit, MI: Greenhaven Press.

Devereux, E. (2015). Hall's encoding/decoding model for media analysis.

Hall, S. (2012). Culture, Media, language: Working papers in cultural studies, 1972-79. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.

Hall, S. (2015). Culture, media, language. Place of publication not identified: Routledge.

Holub, R. C. (2013). Reception theory: A critical introduction. London: Routledge.

Meeks, B., & Hall, S. (2012). Culture, politics, race and diaspora: The thought of Stuart Hall. Kingston: Ian Randle Publishers.

Milner, A. (2013). Contemporary Cultural Theory: An Introduction. Routledge.

Moskowich, I., & Crespo, B. (2012). Encoding the Past, Decoding the Future: Corpora in the 21st Century. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Pub.

Straubhaar, J. D., LaRose, R., & Davenport, L. (2013). Media now: Understanding media, culture, and technology. Boston, MA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.

Deadline is approaching?

Wait no more. Let us write you an essay from scratch

Receive Paper In 3 Hours
Calculate the Price
275 words
First order 15%
Total Price:
$38.07 $38.07
Calculating ellipsis
Hire an expert
This discount is valid only for orders of new customer and with the total more than 25$
This sample could have been used by your fellow student... Get your own unique essay on any topic and submit it by the deadline.

Find Out the Cost of Your Paper

Get Price