Today, after reviewing some of the history of the study of culture, we spent a portion of class time discussing some of the more recent contributors to the theoretical understanding and study of culture. One of the influential men we ended with was Stuart Hall, who started working for the Centre for Contemporary Culture Studies at England’s University of Birmingham in the 1960s and became the leader of the school in 1968.
Here’s a summery of a few of Hall’s theories from Wikipedia:
Hall has become one of the main proponents of reception theory. This approach to textual analysis focuses on the scope for negotiation and opposition on part of the audience. This means that the audience does not simply passively accept a text — whether a book or a film — and that an element of activity becomes involved. The person negotiates the meaning of the text. The meaning depends on the cultural background of the person. The background can explain how some readers accept a given reading of a text while others reject it.
Hall developed these ideas further in his model of encoding and decoding of media discourses.The meaning of a text lies somewhere between the producer and the reader. Even though the producer encodes the text in a particular way,the reader will decode it in a slightly different manner — what Hall calls the margin of understanding. This line of thought has links with social constructionism.
Bolger said that Hall introduced the idea that there can be good parts of popular culture. A jazz record could be a good thing, even though it was mass produced. Just because it’s popular doesn’t mean it’s bad.
This leads into the idea of making judgment calls. In looking to impact culture, we have to discern what is good, life giving and Kingdom-like within the culture and bring that out while telling God’s story. I’m looking forward to more of that discussion.
Serve the least, hit society’s infrastructures
During our group discussion, we took time to process The Irresistible Revolution. Everyone seemed to be challenged by the author’s life, which we believe was one of the main intents of the book. As mentioned briefly in my review, I believe it’s important to understand and live out the values that pushed Shane to go so many places and do the amazing things he has done in life. But I don’t think, right now, that each person living out the same values will necessarily take the same path he took.
It’s a delicate balance, because this type of discussion sounds a lot like a cop out. It’s clear that Jesus tells the rich guy to sell all his stuff and give it to the poor. Shane’s done it. He’s lived a life of community and equality. He’s been there. He’s served the least in ways I haven’t come close to doing. I cannot find fault with his approach.
But I’ve also seen God use middle class white folks in the suburbs to impact the world.
And they’ve done it in ways they couldn’t if they chose the same paths Shane chose. What do you say to the homebuilder who sends his crews to build homes for people who can’t afford them at no cost wouldn’t be able to bless people in that way if he gave up his business (which also allows him to have a nice car and a nice home)? What about the suburban mega church that is equipping its congregation to go and serve a developing country that’s closed to religion but allows the church to come in because it’s helping to build medical clinics, shape the nation’s school curriculum and help a city’s orphans? It wouldn’t happen if the church’s members had given up their jobs and couldn’t afford to go.
If living a life minimally is the point, this could be wrong. But if doing what God has called you to and being a good steward of your resources is the point, than it can be right on. The suburbs can hold people deadened and disconnected from comfort and excess, but sometimes you can also find people alive in Christ. They’re following Him the best they know how, and I don’t know if I can fault them.
With the church that is serving the developing nation I have also seen an example that may contradict Shane’s bottom-up philosophy. I think we have to start from the bottom up. We cannot chase power and politics and hope that will affect change. But while we’re serving the least, we must also be intentional about hitting the infrastructures of society. We cannot be afraid to interact with government, business, education, the arts and more.
If the church had just done the work, people would have been impacted and God would have been glorified. But they also choose to do the work while communicating and working with the government. They chose to partner with others. And through that, the government saw the fruit of the work. Church leaders have been invited into talks about religious freedom in this country, in part because these government leaders saw what the church was doing and want more people like them to come and help.
We must help the least. We can’t chase power. But we also cannot be afraid of interacting with the ‘big people’ as we live radical lives.
So that’s what I’m processing. I agree with Shane’s choices. I’m just wrestling with what that means for “the rest of us.”