One of the inspirations for the founding of the Center for Media & Social Impact, Stuart Hall, passed away this month. The range of voices remembering him was as broad as his influence. While 20-something activists mourned his passing and cited his influence on their organizing on Facebook, visual artists celebrated his role in building an artistic movement, and scholars recalled his unpretentious and enthusiastic engagement with popular culture.
Stuart Hall, a founder of cultural studies, created some of its major institutions, including the New Left Review and the Center for Contemporary Cultural Studies at Birmingham University. His own work examined the cultural construction of concepts that then order many social, economic and political patterns: race, class, gender. Calling the process of creation and circulation of frameworks of meaning by those in power “encoding,” and the process of interpreting and critiquing those frameworks of meaning “decoding,” he systematized a way of analyzing the way in which communications reinforce and challenge power. His work was of enormous interest to artists, students, activists and others who wanted to use communication to challenge power.
The Center for Media & Social Impact believes that independent media makers can intervene in the circulation of knowledge productively, and in ways that can speak across difference in service to democratic process. When filmmakers produce work as wide-ranging as "Dirty Wars," "Where Soldiers Come From," and "The Oath"—all works showcased at the Center —on the subject of U.S. geopolitics, they introduce ways to decode the language of power and ways to develop new frameworks of reference as well.
I have read many tributes since Stuart Hall’s passing, and all of them testify that the author has tried to carry Hall’s insights into their work and hope, often tentatively, that their work can contribute to his legacy. I am among them.