Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Stuart Hall, 1932-2014: Pioneering Cultural Theorist, Social Critic, Public Intellectual, Teacher, and Political Activist


I'm always extremely wary of any and all so-called "official obituaries" about important people of color especially in such national mainstream rags as the NY Times etc. The inevitable distortions, blatant inaccuracies, and intellectual condescension masked as "objective analysis" really Irks me so please take all that in consideration as I post these particular obits in this space. This one about Stuart Hall is not as thoroughly egregious as most of these obits are but it is still suspect because it fails to do justice to Mr. Hall in any real substantive way given that he was easily one of the most important, profound, and widely influential public intellectuals of the past century. But what can one say given the alarming fact that most black public intellectuals today have almost universally failed to create or establish important national newspapers, magazines, journals and other truly competitive media outlets of our own--the way that everybody from Frederick Douglas, Ida B. Wells, W.E.B Dubois, Eslanda and Paul Robeson to Langston Hughes, CLR James, the Black Panther Party, League of Revolutionary Black Workers, Amiri Baraka, and so many others did in the past. Unless and until we collectively address and answer that paramount question these brazen misappropriations of the work of our most significant thinkers, artist, and activists will not only continue but these major figures will remain inexplicably neglected and marginalized by us despite the central even crucial role that they continue play in this rich global history and discourse...


Stuart Hall, Trailblazing British Scholar of Multicultural Influences, Is Dead at 82
February 17, 2014
New York Times

Stuart Hall helped create the academic field of cultural studies.

Stuart Hall, a pioneering Jamaican-born British academic who argued that culture is in fact multicultural — not high or low, good or bad, or black or white, but a constantly shifting convergence reflecting the range of people who create and consume it — died on Feb. 10 in London. He was 82.

His death was confirmed by his wife, Catherine, a professor of modern British history at University College London, who said he had had kidney disease for many years.

Division and blending were lifelong themes for Mr. Hall. Born in colonial Jamaica to mixed-race parents who worried that his dark complexion would be an impediment to ascending the island pigmentocracy, he went to Oxford on a Rhodes scholarship to study literature when he was 19. His politics at the time, he later wrote, were “principally anti-imperialist.”

He quickly concluded that he was seeking something there that he could not attain.

“What I realized the moment I got to Oxford was that someone like me could not really be part of it,” he recalled in a 2000 interview. “I mean, I could make a success there, I could even be perhaps accepted into it, but I would never feel it was my place. It’s the summit of something else. It’s distilled Englishness.”

That experience, along with the societal transformations he was witnessing in postwar Britain, prompted him to help create a new academic field: cultural studies, which would explore, as he put it, “the changing ways of life of societies and groups and the networks of meanings which individuals and groups use to make sense of and communicate with one another.”

Setting aside his dissertation on Henry James, he was drawn to an eclectic variety of subjects and the relationships among them: the rising leftist movement in postwar Britain and the softening of the country’s rigid class structure, but also the weakening of the working class, television, youth, civil rights, nuclear disarmament, immigration, feminism and racial diversity. All of it, he concluded, was changing the Englishness he had found alien.

Traditional measures of identity in Britain and elsewhere — “our class position or our national position or our geographical origins or where our grandparents came from,” he said in one of many televised interviews he gave — were losing their relevance, he said, and “I don’t think any one thing any longer will tell us who we are.”

In 1960, he helped found the journal New Left Review. In 1964, he joined Richard Hoggart at the newly founded Center for Contemporary Cultural Studies at Birmingham University, considered by many to be the birthplace of the field. By the early 1970s, Mr. Hall was its director.

He became known for developing a theory he called encoding/decoding, which analyzed how those in power spread messages through popular culture and how those who receive the messages interpret them. He later moved to the Open University, and remained there until he retired in the late 1990s.

Mr. Hall was a very public intellectual: He wrote numerous books, gave frequent speeches and appeared often on television. He advocated disarmament and objected to British involvement in various military conflicts. He was particularly critical of the conservative social and economic policies of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and he is often given credit for coining a succinct and, when he used it, derogatory term: Thatcherism.

Stuart McPhail Hall was born in Kingston, Jamaica, on Feb. 3, 1932. His parents’ ancestors were English, African and Indian. Fearing appearances, they prevented him from playing with dark-skinned children.

“I’m the blackest member of my family,” Mr. Hall once recalled. “You know, these mixed families produce children of all colors, and in Jamaica, the question of exactly what shade you were, in colonial Jamaica, that was the most important question. Because you could read off class and education and status from that. I was aware and conscious of that from the very beginning.”

He studied English at Jamaica College before moving to England at a time of rising Caribbean immigration.

In addition to his wife, the former Catherine Barrett, whom he married in 1964, his survivors include a daughter, Rebecca; a son, Jess; two grandchildren; and a sister, Patricia.

Cultural studies long ago expanded beyond Britain as a common academic discipline, one with plenty of critics. Some view it as a politically correct assault on Western culture. Others say that, taken to extremes, it regards every element of popular culture as worthy of a doctoral dissertation.

“If I have to read another cultural studies analysis of ‘The Sopranos,’ I give up,” Mr. Hall said. “There’s an awful lot of rubbish around masquerading as cultural studies.”

For him, the discipline was about power and politics and understanding the forces that shape them. Race was one of those forces.

“Race is more like a language than it is like the way in which we are biologically constituted,” he said in a 1996 speech.

He was often sought out by black artists and intellectuals. “The Stuart Hall Project,” a documentary by John Akomfrah, was shown at the Sundance Film Festival last year. The Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. recently called Mr. Hall “the Du Bois of Britain.”

In 2009, asked what he thought of the election of Barack Obama, Mr. Hall emphasized the president’s grasp of the fluidity of identity. Noting Mr. Obama’s racially mixed heritage and his upbringing in Hawaii and Indonesia, he said the president was “not in a classic sense a black African-American.”

“He’s a black politician because of what he symbolizes, not because of the color of his skin or the history,” Mr. Hall said. “It’s because he’s learned to speak on behalf of a tradition to the rest of America.”

Stuart Hall's writing on race, gender, sexuality and identity was considered groundbreaking. Photograph: David Levene

Academics, writers and and politicians have paid tribute to one of Britain's leading intellectuals, the sociologist and cultural theorist Stuart Hall, who has died age 82.

Known as the "godfather of multiculturalism", Hall had a huge influence on academic, political and cultural debates for over six decades.

Jamaican-born Hall was professor of sociology at the Open University from 1979 to 1997, topping off an academic career that began as a research fellow in Britain's first centre for cultural studies, set up by Richard Hoggart at the University of Birmingham in 1964. Hall would later lead the centre and was seen as a key figure in the development of cultural studies as an academic discipline.

Martin Bean, vice-chancellor of The Open University said: "He was a committed and influential public intellectual of the new left, who embodied the spirit of what the OU has always stood for: openness, accessibility, a champion for social justice and of the power of education to bring positive change in peoples' lives."

His impact was felt far outside the realms of academia, however. His writing on race, gender, sexuality and identity, and the links between racial prejudice and the media in the 1970s, was considered groundbreaking.

Diane Abbott, the Labour MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington said: "For me he was a hero. A black man who soared above and beyond the limitations imposed by racism and one of the leading cultural theorists of his generation."

Later he wrote for and was associated closely with the journal Marxism Today in the 1980s. The journal's critique of Thatcherism - a term that Hall is said to have coined - challenged traditional leftwing thinking that held that culture was determined purely by economic forces, a view that would come to influence the Labour party leaders Neil Kinnock and Tony Blair.

David Lammy, MP for Tottenham paid tribute to his friend's intellectual range and prescience: "He was one of those 'cut-through' academics that could write in an incredibly erudite, Ivy-league way but who could also explain things in a way that could be understood by the ordinary man and woman. He was a thinker that you could not ignore."

Lammy said Hall would often come to visit him at the House of Commons, offering counsel and advice but was never afraid to berate him where he felt Lammy was wrong: "He was someone I had huge respect for, a real father figure. He was a kind, generous, wonderful man and a great, great role model".

In one of Hall's last interviews, with the Guardian two years ago, Hall expressed pessimism about politics generally and the Labour party specifically. "The left is in trouble. It has not got any ideas, it has not got any independent analysis of its own, and therefore it has got no vision. It just takes the temperature: 'Whoa, that's no good, let's move to the right.' It has no sense of politics being educative, of politics changing the way people see things."

Hall received a traditional "English" schooling in Jamaica before winning a scholarship to Oxford University in 1951. He took a degree in English but later abandoned a PhD on Henry James to concentrate on politics, setting up the influential New Left Review journal with the leftwing academics Raymond Williams and EP Thompson.

A documentary about his life by the film-maker John Akomfrah, called The Stuart Hall Project, was shown in cinemas in September. Writing in the Observer, the journalist Tim Adams wrote of the film: "You come to see how pivotal his [Hall's] voice has been in shaping the progressive debates of our times – around race, gender and sexuality – and how an increasingly conservative culture has worked lately to marginalise his nuanced understanding of this country."

Hall had been suffering ill health for some time, and had retreated from public life.

Documentary filmmaker John Akomfrah talks to Beyond Cinema Magazine about his 2013 Sundance documentary 'The Stuart Hall Project.' In the interview, Akomfrah explains how his early fascination with the British cultural historian led to a full-length documentary:

Rage Against the Dying of a Light:
Stuart Hall (1932-2014)
Saturday, 15 February 2014
By Lawrence Grossberg, Truthout | Op-Ed

 Stuart Hall. (Photo: Lawrence Grossberg)

It is difficult for me to write a farewell to Stuart Hall, my teacher, mentor, interlocutor and friend. He has been the most significant intellectual and political figure in my life for 45 years, and yet, in celebrating and mourning him, I do not wish to sanctify him. My grief is both deeply personal and intensely political. I had not thought to make it public, but I have been moved to write because of the appalling absence of any notice of his death in the U.S. mainstream press as well as the alternative media. What this says about the left in the U.S., I will leave to another time.

The facts are known: his Jamaican background; his role in the founding of the New Left and New Left Review, as well as CND; his early work on media and popular culture; his crucial contributions to and leadership of the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies, and his continuing iconic status and creative efforts to develop cultural studies while at the Open University; his brilliant analyses of and opposition to the rise of new conservative and neoliberal formations (he coined the term and wrote the book on Thatcherism); his public visibility as an intellectual in the media, and his bodily presence as a political leader whenever and wherever he saw an opening; his vital contributions to debates around race, ethnicity, multiculturalism and difference; his long-term involvement with and support of numerous Black and global artists and collectives, including the Black Audio Film Collective, Autograph, Iniva and eventually, the house that Stuart built—Rivington Place.

But that is not Stuart’s story; it is only the Wikipedia entry. I want to tell a better story about the man, the work, the ideas, the practices, and the commitments. My story begins by recognizing that every single moment of Stuart’s career was about a commitment to relations and the new forms of intellectual and political work that commitment entailed. Key words like collaboration and conversation, and key elements like generosity and humility, are a tangible part of his legacy. One loses something important if we fail to recognize that the story cannot be written without the people with whom he worked--during his years in the New Left, at the Centre and the OU, at Marxism Today and Soundings (the journal he created with Doreen Massey and Mike Rustin), and at Rivington Place. And these institutions— and Stuart did believe in the institutional moment—were profoundly important as well, because they always involved an effort to find new ways of working, to forge new kinds of organization, new practices of work and governance—open, humble, collaborative and interdisciplinary.

It’s hard to explain Stuart’s influence—the admiration, respect and affection—to those who have never encountered him, or seriously followed his work. Let me tell two stories. In the early 1980s, I co-organized an event called Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture. It began with four-weeks of classes, offered by some of the leading lights in Marxist theory. We brought Stuart over for this; it was not the first time he had been to the States, but it was perhaps the first time he was given such a highly visible national platform (close to a thousand attended from all over). At the beginning, everyone flocked to the famous U.S. academic stars; most of the people had never heard of Stuart or cultural studies. But word spread quickly, and the audience for his lectures grew rapidly. People drove down to Champaign-Urbana (not a destination of choice you understand), often traveling for hours, just to listen to him. They saw and heard something—special. Yes, it was the ideas and the arguments, and the interweaving of theory, empirics and politics, but it was more. As so many people told me, they had never met an academic like this before—humble, generous, passionate, someone who treated everyone with equal respect and listened to what they had to say, someone who believed ideas mattered, because of our responsibility as intellectuals to people and the world. Someone who refused to play the role of star!

Some years later, Stuart gave a keynote address to the annual meeting of the International Communication Association, not a particularly hospitable environment. But by then, his reputation in the discipline (perhaps the first in the U.S. to grudgingly make a space for cultural studies) had spread and the hall was packed with people who wanted to see this increasingly influential British intellectual. Many were surprised to learn that he was Black. He brilliantly demolished the scientific and liberal underpinnings that dominated communication studies and then he invited—literally invited—people to join him in taking up the intellectual responsibility of addressing the injustices of the world and the role—complicated, contradictory and often nuanced—that communication (and the academy) continued to play in perpetuating such conditions. At the end, one of my friends—a quantoid and therefore not someone I had expected to like the talk—came up and said, “I would have followed Stuart if he had asked us to march on city hall or the local media.” Charisma? Yes, but not exactly. Is there such a thing as “earned” charisma?

Many of the obituaries have described Stuart as the leading British intellectual (academic and public) of culture, society and politics, of cultural theory, and of the politics of the everyday and of ordinary lives. He was that—but if one searches the web for responses to his death, two things stand out: first, they come from all corners of the globe; and second, they celebrate so much more than his ideas and publications. It is hard to place Stuart geographically. He was born in Jamaica but as he repeatedly said, he never went home—that is the life that he chose not to lead. He lived his life in Britain and devoted himself to its culture and politics, but as he repeatedly said, he never felt completely at home there. He wrote about Britain (almost entirely) but he offered something much more resonant. Yes, he was certainly one of the most important British intellectuals of the past sixty years, but he was also, I fervently believe, one of the most important and influential intellectuals in the world during those decades as well.

Stuart believed that everything is relational, that things are what they are only in relations. As a result, he was a contextualist—committed to studying contexts, to thinking contextually, and to refusing any universal claims. That is why he connected so strongly with Marx, with Gramsci, with my other beloved teacher James Carey—to whom Stuart sent me—and ultimately with Foucault. His brand of contextualism—conjuncturalism—sees contexts as complex relations of multiple forces, determinations and contradictions). For Stuart, this defined cultural studies. He knew the world was complicated, contingent and changing--too much for any one person, or any one theory, or any one political stake, or any one discipline. Everything followed from this. Intellectual and political work was an ongoing, endless conversation; one’s theoretical and political work had to keep moving as the contexts changed, if one wanted to understand and intervene into the processes of power that determined the future. They required constant vigilance, self-reflection and humility, for what worked (theoretically and politically) in one context might not work in another. One had to be wiling to question one’s theoretical (and I might add political) assumptions as one confronted the demands of concrete realities and people’s lives.

He believed that work always had to be particular, addressing the specific problems posed by the conjuncture. Despite all his important theoretical efforts, Stuart was not a philosopher, and certainly not the founder of a philosophical paradigm. He loved theory, but his work was never about theory; it was always about trying to understand and change the realities and possibilities of how people might live together in the world. He constantly distanced himself from the attempt to substitute theory for the more difficult work of cultural studies, and he was explicitly critical of the tendency (decidedly strong in the U.S. academy) to fetishize theory—theory gone mad in a world of capitalism gone mad. He did not offer abstract theories that could travel anywhere, for while he thought that theories were absolutely vital, they had to be held to what he once called “the discipline of the conjuncture.” He was too concerned with using theory strategically to understand and intervene into conjunctures that seemed to be pushing the possibility of a more humane world further and further away.

And he believed that work had to embrace the complexities rather than avoid or escape them. He fought against any reduction—anything that said it is all about just one thing in the end—capitalism, most commonly. Such simplifications simply deny the complexity of the world; they do not help us better understand what’s going on, or open up its possibilities. So he refused as well to understand history in simple binary terms: before and after, as if history we made through moments of rupture, absolute breaks with the past. For Stuart, the complexity of history was always a balance of the old and the new. History is always changing and while new elements may enter into the mix, much of what is too often assumed to be new is the reappearance (perhaps in a new rearticulated guise) of the old.

The contingency of the world, the fact that it is continuously being made, meant that there are, as he so often put it, no guarantees in history. The world is not destined to be what it is or to become what one fears (or hopes). Relations are never fixed once and for all, and their modifications are never given in advance. This grounded, at least until recently, his unstoppable optimism (“optimism of the spirit, pessimism of the intellect” as he repeatedly reminded us). And he knew, deep down in his soul, that culture—knowledge, ideas, art, everyday life, what he often called “the popular”—mattered. He had an extraordinary respect for the ordinary stuff of life, and for people (although he never hesitated to attack those who were making the world even worse or who were more committed to their own certainties than to contingent struggle). He refused to think of people as dupes, incapable of understanding the choices they faced and those they made. There is always the possibility of affecting the outcome, of struggle, if one starts where people are—where they may be simply struggling to live lives of minimal comfort and dignity—and move them even as one moves with them. He put his faith in people and ideas and culture—and he committed his life and work to making the world better.

Stuart did not teach us what the questions were and certainly not provide the answers. He taught us how to think relationally and contexually, and therefore how to ask questions. He taught us how to think and even live with complexity and difference. He refused the all too easy binaries that theory and politics throw in our way—he described himself as a theoretical anti-humanist and a political humanist. He sought neither a compromise nor a dialectic synthesis, but ways of navigating the contradictions and complexities rather than redistributing them into competing camps, because that was what a commitment to change the world required. Relations! Context! Complexity! Contingency! He inspired many of us with another vision of the intellectual life.

When I think of Stuart, I think of an expanding rich tapestry of relations, not of followers and acolytes, but of friends, students, colleagues, interlocutors, participants in various conversations, and anyone willing to listen, talk and engage. Stuart Hall was more than an intellectual, a public advocate for ideas, a champion of equality and justice, and an activist. He was also a teacher and a mentor to many people, in many different ways, at many different distances from his immediate presence. He talked with anyone and everyone, and treated them as if they had as much to teach him as he had to teach them.

I imagine Stuart as a worldly Doctor Who, a charismatic figure with a seriousness of purpose and a wonderful sense of style and humor, who changes not only the way people think but often, their lives as well. (I think Stuart would appreciate the popular culture metaphor, because its ordinariness prevents it from sounding too grandiose.) Stuart could not regenerate (what I would give if he could) but he did appear differently to different people. I was always surprised by what people could see in Stuart, and how generous he could be with people whom he thought had clearly missed something essential in his argument. At the same time, to be honest, I occasionally suffered his anger when he thought I had missed the point. I am sure others did as well. And like Doctor Who, the geography of his relations was heterogeneous, with many different intensities and timbres, a multiplicity of conversations, each person taking up, changing and extending the conversation in so many different places and directions.

I met Stuart when I came to the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies to escape the nightmares of Vietnam and the boring banalities of academic habits. Secretly, I was hoping to find a way to connect my three passions: a love of ideas; a commitment to political change; and a devotion to popular culture. Stuart helped me see how to weave them together into my own tapestry, called cultural studies. He was the first to admit that this was more a project than a finished product, as it had to be; it was the effort to forge a new way of being political and intellectual that set me on my own path. I think of my whole life as a political intellectual as a continuous effort to pursue that project, and to live up to his efforts. I have tried to champion that project, to make it visible and to fight for its specificity and value. Neither of us believed it to be the only way to be a political intellectual, but we were both sure that it offered something worth pursuing.

Now, it is a time to grieve—I doubt that I will ever stop. I remember the times we spent together, the lectures and discussions at the Centre, the conversations we had in person and by phone (the latest concerned the specificity of conjunctural analysis, the nature of affect, and the return of postmodernist theories), his curiosity, warmth and gentleness, his rich voice and exuberant laugh, and the people he introduced me to as I was beginning—many of whom have become my intellectual life blood and my closest friends. And because it is all about relationality, I inevitably think about all that he and his family (Catherine, Becky and Jess) have given me. I will always remember the love they expressed when they came into church for my wedding and later, when Stuart came to my son’s christening as his godfather. And it is a time for contemplation, and for affirming the community of close friends and unknown colleagues who mourn his loss, and know that we are unlikely to ever be able to fill the space that his life created. It is a time to continue the work, and take up the ongoing and expansive conversations that Stuart enlivened. It is a time to remember that ideas matter as we try to change the world, and that bad stories make bad politics. That is my homage to Stuart.

Gratefully offered,
Larry Grossberg

This article is a Truthout original.


Lawrence Grossberg is the Morris Davis Distinguished Professor of Communication Studies and Cultural Studies, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. One of the first students to work with Stuart Hall at the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies, and a founder of cultural studies in the U.S., he is recognized internationally as a leading figure in cultural studies and cultural theory. His latest book is Cultural Studies in the Future Tense. He is currently working on a book, Is This Any Way to Change the World?, which considers the crisis of knowledge, the nature of affective politics, the debates between critical theories of hegemony and ontological theories of horizontal politics, thinking towards the possibility of a different kind of counter cultural unity.

A very important video series on and about the crucial legacy of clarity, insight, analytical depth, courage, integrity, and profound knowledge of Major Black Public Intellectual, Scholar, and Activist Stuart Hall (1932-2014):

(Interview from August 2012):

Cultural and social theorist Stuart Hall comments on the Left's naive expectations of the Obama administration and their subsequent disappointments.




Stuart Hall (cultural theorist)
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Stuart McPhail Hall
3 February 1932
Kingston, Colony of Jamaica
10 February 2014 (aged 82)
London, England
Cultural Studies
University of Birmingham and Open University
Alma mater
Merton College, Oxford
Known for
British Cultural Studies, Articulation, Encoding/decoding model of communication
Karl Marx, Antonio Gramsci, Raymond Williams, Louis Althusser,  Michel Foucault

Stuart McPhail Hall (3 February 1932 – 10 February 2014) was a Jamaican-born cultural theorist and sociologist who lived and worked in the United Kingdom from 1951. Hall, along with Richard Hoggart and Raymond Williams, was one of the founding figures of the school of thought that is now known as British Cultural Studies or The Birmingham School of Cultural Studies.[1] He was President of the British Sociological Association 1995–97.

In the 1950s Hall was a founder of the influential New Left Review. At the invitation of Hoggart, Hall joined the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies at Birmingham University in 1964. Hall took over from Hoggart as director of the Centre in 1968, and remained there until 1979. While at the Centre, Hall is credited with playing a role in expanding the scope of cultural studies to deal with race and gender, and with helping to incorporate new ideas derived from the work of French theorists.[2]

Hall left the centre in 1979 to become a professor of sociology at the Open University.[3] Hall retired from the Open University in 1997 and was a Professor Emeritus.[4] British newspaper The Observer called him "one of the country's leading cultural theorists".[5] He was married to Catherine Hall, a feminist professor of modern British history at University College London.

1 Biography
2 Ideas
2.1 Encoding and decoding model
3 Publications (incomplete)
3.1 1960s
3.2 1970s
3.3 1980s
3.4 1990s
4 Legacy
4.1 Film
5 References
6 Further reading
7 External links


Hall was born in Kingston, Jamaica, into a middle-class Jamaican family of Indian, African and British descent.[5] In Jamaica he attended Jamaica College, receiving an education modelled after the British school system.[6] In an interview Hall describes himself as a "bright, promising scholar" in these years and his formal education as "a very 'classical' education; very good but in very formal academic terms." With the help of sympathetic teachers, he expanded his education to include "T. S. Eliot, James Joyce, Freud, Marx, Lenin and some of the surrounding literature and modern poetry," as well as "Caribbean literature."[7] Hall's later works reveal that growing up in the pigmentocracy of the colonial West Indies, where he was of darker skin than much of his family, had a profound effect on his views of the world.[8][9]

In 1951 Hall won a Rhodes Scholarship to Merton College at the University of Oxford, where he studied English and obtained an M.A.,[10] becoming part of the Windrush generation, the first large-scale immigration of West Indians, as that community was then known. He continued his studies at Oxford by beginning a Ph.D. on Henry James but, galvanised particularly by the 1956 Soviet invasion of Hungary (which saw many thousands of members leave the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) and look for alternatives to previous orthodoxies) and Suez Crisis, abandoned this in 1957[10] or 1958[6] to focus on his political work. In 1957, he joined the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) and it was on a CND march that he met his future wife.[11] From 1958 to 1960, Hall worked as a teacher in a London secondary modern school[12] and in adult education, and in 1964 married Catherine Hall, concluding around this time that he was unlikely to return permanently to the Caribbean.[10]

After working on the Universities and Left Review during his time at Oxford, Hall joined E. P. Thompson, Raymond Williams and others to merge it with The New Reasoner, launching the New Left Review in 1960 with Hall named as the founding editor.[6] In 1958, the same group, with Raphael Samuel, launched the Partisan Coffee House in Soho as a meeting-place for left-wingers.[13] Hall left the board of the New Left Review in 1961[14] or 1962.[9]

Hall's academic career took off after co-writing The Popular Arts with Paddy Whannel in 1964. As a direct result, Richard Hoggart invited Hall to join the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies at the University of Birmingham, initially as a research fellow and initially at Hoggart's own expense.[9] In 1968 Hall became director of the Centre. He wrote a number of influential articles in the years that followed, including Situating Marx: Evaluations and Departures (1972) and Encoding and Decoding in the Television Discourse (1973). He also contributed to the book Policing the Crisis (1978) and coedited the influential Resistance Through Rituals (1975).

After his appointment as a professor of sociology at the Open University in 1979, Hall published further influential books, including The Hard Road to Renewal (1988), Formations of Modernity (1992), Questions of Cultural Identity (1996) and Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices (1997). Through the 1970s and 1980s, Hall was closely associated with the journal Marxism Today;[15] in 1995, he was a founding editor of Soundings: A Journal of Politics and Culture.[16]

Hall retired from the Open University in 1997. He was made a fellow of the Royal Academy in 2005 and received the European Cultural Foundation's Princess Margriet Award in 2008.[17] He died on 10 February 2014, from complications following kidney failure a week after his 82nd birthday. By the time of his death, he was widely known as the "godfather of multiculturalism".[18][19][20][21]


Hall's work covers issues of hegemony and cultural studies, taking a post-Gramscian stance. He regards language-use as operating within a framework of power, institutions and politics/economics. This view presents people as producers and consumers of culture at the same time. (Hegemony, in Gramscian theory, refers to the socio-cultural production of "consent" and "coercion".) For Hall, culture was not something to simply appreciate or study, but a "critical site of social action and intervention, where power relations are both established and potentially unsettled".[22]

Hall became one of the main proponents of reception theory, and developed Hall's Theory of encoding and decoding. This approach to textual analysis focuses on the scope for negotiation and opposition on the part of the audience. This means that the audience does not simply passively accept a text—social control. Crime statistics, in Hall's view, are often manipulated for political and economic purposes. Moral panics (e.g. over mugging) could thereby be ignited in order to create public support for the need to "police the crisis". The media play a central role in the "social production of news" in order to reap the rewards of lurid crime stories.[23]

Hall's works, such as studies showing the link between racial prejudice and media, have a reputation as influential, and serve as important foundational texts for contemporary cultural studies. He also widely discussed notions of cultural identity, race and ethnicity, particularly in the creation of the politics of Black diasporic identities. Hall believed identity to be an ongoing product of history and culture, rather than a finished product.

Hall's political influence extended to the Labour Party, perhaps related to the influential articles he wrote for the CPGB's theoretical journal Marxism Today (MT) that challenged the left's views of markets and general organisational and political conservatism. This discourse had a profound impact on the Labour Party under both Neil Kinnock and Tony Blair, although Hall later decried New Labour as operating on "terrain defined by Thatcherism".[20]

Encoding and decoding model

Main article: Reception theory
Hall presented his encoding and decoding philosophy in various publications and at several oral events across his career. The first was in "Encoding and Decoding in the Television Discourse" (1973), a paper he wrote for the Council of Europe Colloquy on "Training in the Critical Readings of Television Language" organised by the Council & the Centre for Mass Communication Research at the University of Leicester. It was produced for students at the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies, which Paddy Scannell explains: "largely accounts for the provisional feel of the text and its ‘incompleteness’".[24] In 1974 the paper was presented at a symposium on Broadcasters and the Audience in Venice. Hall also presented his encoding and decoding model in "Encoding/Decoding" in Culture, Media, Language in 1980. The time difference between Hall’s first publication on encoding and decoding in 1973 and his 1980 publication is highlighted by several critics. Of particular note is Hall’s transition from the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies to the Open University.[24]

Hall had a major influence on cultural studies, and many of the terms his texts set forth continue to be used in the field today. His 1973 text is viewed as marking a turning point in Hall's research, towards structuralism and provides insight into some of the main theoretical developments Hall was exploring during his time at the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies.

Hall takes a semiotic approach and builds on the work of Roland Barthes and Umberto Eco.[25] The essay takes up and challenges longheld assumptions on how media messages are produced, circulated and consumed, proposing a new theory of communication.[26] "The ‘object’ of production practices and structures in television is the production of a message: that is, a sign-vehicle or rather sign-vehicles of a specific kind organized, like any other form of communication or language, through the operation of codes, within the syntagmatic chains of a discourse".[27]

According to Hall, "a message must be perceived as meaningful discourse and be meaningfully de-coded before it has an effect, a use, or satisfies a need". There are four codes of the Encoding/Decoding Model of Communication. The first way of encoding is the dominant (i.e. hegemonic) code. This is the code the encoder expects the decoder to recognize and decode. "When the viewer takes the connoted meaning full and straight and decodes the message in terms of the reference-code in which it has been coded, it operates inside the dominant code". The second way of encoding is the professional code. It operates in tandem with the dominant code. "It serves to reproduce the dominant definitions precisely by bracketing the hegemonic quality, and operating with professional codings which relate to such questions as visual quality, news and presentational values, televisual quality, ‘professionalism’ etc."[28] The third way of encoding is the negotiated code. "It acknowledges the legitimacy of the hegemonic definitions to make the grand significations, while, at a more restricted, situational level, it makes its own ground-rules, it operates with ‘exceptions’ to the rule".[29] The fourth way of encoding is the oppositional code also known as the globally contrary code. "It is possible for a viewer perfectly to understand both the literal and connotative inflection given to an event, but to determine to decode the message in a globally contrary way." "Before this message can have an ‘effect’ (however defined), or satisfy a ‘need’ or be put to a ‘use’, it must first be perceived as a meaningful discourse and meaningfully de-coded."[30]

Hall challenged all four components of the mass communications model. He argues that (i) meaning is not simply fixed or determined by the sender; (ii) the message is never transparent; and (iii) the audience is not a passive recipient of meaning.[26] For example, a documentary film on asylum seekers that aims to provide a sympathetic account of their plight, does not guarantee that audiences will decode it to feel sympathetic towards the asylum seekers. Despite its being realistic and recounting facts, the documentary form itself must still communicate through a sign system (the aural-visual signs of TV) that simultaneously distorts the intentions of producers and evokes contradictory feelings in the audience.[26]

Distortion is built into the system, rather than being a "failure" of the producer or viewer. There is a "lack of fit", Hall argues, "between the two sides in the communicative exchange". That is, between the moment of the production of the message ("encoding") and the moment of its reception ("decoding").[26] In "Encoding/decoding", Hall suggests media messages accrue a common-sense status in part through their performative nature. Through the repeated performance, staging or telling of the narrative of "9/11" (as an example; but there are others like it within the media) a culturally specific interpretation becomes not only simply plausible and universal, but is elevated to "common-sense".[26]

Publications (incomplete)

(1960). "Crosland Territory", New Left Review, no. 2, pp. 2–4.
(1961), with P. Anderson. "Politics of the Common Market", New Left Review, no. 10, pp. 1–15.
(1961). "The New Frontier", New Left Review, no. 8, pp. 47–48.
(1961). "Student Journals", New Left Review, no. 7, pp. 50–51.
(1964), with Paddy Whannell. The Popular Arts. London: Hutchinson.
(1968). The Hippies: An American Moment. Birmingham: Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies.
(1971). Deviancy, Politics and the Media. Birmingham: Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies.
(1971). "Life and Death of Picture Post", Cambridge Review, vol. 92, no. 2201.
(1972), with P. Walton. Situating Marx: Evaluations and Departures. London: Human Context Books.
(1972). "The Social Eye of Picture Post", Working Papers in Cultural Studies, no. 2, pp. 71–120.
(1973). Encoding and Decoding in the Television Discourse. Birmingham: Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies.
(1973). A ‘Reading’ of Marx's 1857 Introduction to the Grundrisse. Birmingham: Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies.
(1974). "Marx’s Notes on Method: A ‘Reading’ of the ‘1857 Introduction’", Working Papers in Cultural Studies, no. 6, pp. 132–171.
(1977), with T. Jefferson. Resistance Through Rituals, Youth Subcultures in Post-War Britain. London: Hutchinson.
(1977). "Journalism of the Air under Review", Journalism Studies Review, vol. 1, no. 1, pp. 43–45.
(1978), with C. Critcher, T. Jefferson, J. Clarke, B. Roberts. Policing the Crisis: Mugging, the State and Law and Order. London: Macmillan. London: Macmillan Press. ISBN 0-333-22061-7 (paperback) ISBN 0-333-22060-9 (hardbound).
(1979). 'The Great Moving Right Show', Marxism Today. January.
(1980). "Encoding / Decoding." In: Hall, D. Hobson, A. Lowe, and P. Willis (eds). Culture, Media, Language: Working Papers in Cultural Studies, 1972–79. London: Hutchinson, pp. 128–138.
(1980). "Cultural Studies: two paradigms". Media, Culture and Society. vol.2, pp. 57–72.
(1981). "Notes on Deconstructing the Popular". In People's History and Socialist Theory. London: Routledge.
(1981), with P. Scraton. "Law, Class and Control". In: M. Fitzgerald, G. McLennan & J. Pawson (eds). Crime and Society, London: RKP.
(1988). The Hard Road to Renewal: Thatcherism and the Crisis of the Left. London: Verso.
(1986). "Gramsci's Relevance for the Study of Race and Ethnicity", Journal of Communication Inquiry, vol. 10, no. 2, pp. 5–27.
(1986), with M. Jacques. "People Aid: A New Politics Sweeps the Land", Marxism Today, July, pp. 10–14.
(1992). "The Question of Cultural Identity". In: Hall, David Held, Anthony McGrew (eds), Modernity and Its Futures. Cambridge: Polity Press, pp. 274–316.
(1997). Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices. London: SAGE Publications Ltd.

The Stuart Hall Library, InIVA's reference library at Rivington Place in Shoreditch, London, is named after Stuart Hall, who was the chair of the board of InIVA for many years.
Hall was a presenter of a 7-part series titled "Redemption Song" where he examined the elements that make up the Caribbean, looking at the turbulent history of the islands and interviewing people who live there today. GB, Barraclough Carey for BBC tx BBC2 30/06/91-12/08/91 Series episodes were as follows

Shades of Freedom (11/08/1991)
Following Fidel (04/08/1991)
WORLD'S APART (28/07/1991)
La Grande Illusion (21/07/1991)
Paradise Lost (14/07/1991)
OUT OF AFRICA (07/07/1991)
IRON IN THE SOUL (30/06/1991)
Hall's lectures have been turned into several videos distributed by the Media Education Foundation:

Race, the Floating Signifier (1997).
Representation & the Media (1997).
The Origins of Cultural Studies (2006).
Mike Dibb produced a film based on a long interview between journalist Maya Jaggi and Stuart Hall called Personally Speaking (2009).

Hall is the subject of 2 films directed by John Akomfrah, entitled The Unfinished Conversation(2012) and The Stuart Hall Project (2013). The first film is currently (January 2014) showing at Tate Britain, Millbank, London while the second is now available on DVD.[31]

In August 2012, Professor Sut Jhally conducted an interview with Hall that touched on a number of themes and issues in cultural studies.[32]


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^ Procter, James (2004), Stuart Hall, Routledge Critical Thinkers.
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^ Schulman, Norman. "Conditions of their Own Making: An Intellectual History of the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies at the University of Birmingham." Canadian Journal of Communication, Vol. 18, No. 1 (1993).
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^ Chen, Kuan-Hsing. "The Formation of a Diasporic Intellectual: An interview with Stuart Hall," collected in Stuart Hall: Critical Dialogues in Cultural Studies. David Morley and Kuan-Hsing Chen, eds: New York: Routledge, 1996.
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^ "Stuart Hall: Culture and Power," Interview, Radical Philosophy, November/December 1998.
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a b Tim Adams. "Tim Adams, "Cultural hallmark", The Observer. 22 September 2007". Guardian. Retrieved 2014-02-17.
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a b c Grant Farred, "You Can Go Home Again, You Just Can't Stay: Stuart Hall and the Caribbean Diaspora", Research in African Literatures, 27.4 (Winter 1996), 28–48 (p. 30).
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^ Kuan-Hsing, 1996, pp. 486–487.
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^ Farred 1996, pp. 33–34.
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a b c Tanya Lewis, "Stuart Hall and the Formation of British Cultural Studies: A Diasporic Perspective", Imperium, 4 (2004).
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a b c Caryl Phillips, "Stuart Hall", BOMB, 58 (Winter 1997).
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^ Marcus Williamson, "Professor Stuart Hall: Sociologist and pioneer in the field of cultural studies whose work explored the concept of Britishness" (obituary), The Independent, 11 February 2014.
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^ Farred 1996, p. 38.
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^ Bishopsgate Institute Podcast: The Partisan Coffee House: Cultural Politics and the New Left. Mike Berlin, 11 June 2009.
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^ Jonathan Derbyshire, "Stuart Hall: 'We need to talk about Englishness'", New Statesman, 23 August 2012.
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^ Alex Callinicos, 'The politics of Marxism Today ', International Socialism, 29 (1985).
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^ "Soundings". Retrieved 2014-02-17.
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^ "Stuart Hall obituary". The Guardian. 10 February 2014.
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^ Hudson, Rykesha (10 February 2014). "Jamaican cultural theorist Stuart Hall dies, aged 82". The Voice. Retrieved 10 February 2014.
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^ David Morley and Bill Schwarz, "Stuart Hall obituary: Influential cultural theorist, campaigner and founding editor of the New Left Review", The Guardian, 10 February 2014.
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a b "Stuart Hall obituary". The Telegraph. 10 February 2014.
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^ Butler, Patrick (10 February 2014). "'Godfather of multiculturalism' Stuart Hall dies aged 82".
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^ Procter 2004, p. 2.
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^ Hall et al. 1978. Policing the Crisis: Mugging, the State and Law and Order.
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a b Scannell 2007, p. 211
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^ Scannell 2007, p. 209.
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a b c d e Procter 2004, pp. 59–61.
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^ Hall, S. (1973). Encoding and Decoding in the Television Discourse. Birmingham: Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies, p. 1.
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^ Hall 1973, p. 16.
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^ Hall 1973, p. 17.
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^ Hall 1973, p. 18.
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^ Mark Hudson, "The Unfinished Conversation by John Akomfrah: a beautiful paean to identity", The Telegraph, 15 October 2012.
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^ from Sut Jhally Plus 1 year ago Not Yet Rated (2012-11-19). "Stuart Hall Interviewed By Sut Jhally on Vimeo". Retrieved 2014-02-17.
Further reading[edit]

Davis, Helen. Understanding Stuart Hall (London: Sage, 2004).
Rutherford, Johnathan, ed. Identity: Community, Culture, Difference (London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1990, pp. 223–237, chapter entitled "Cultural Identity and Diaspora").
External links[edit]

Wikimedia Commons has media related to Stuart Hall (cultural theorist).

Obituary in The Independent by Marcus Williamson
John O'Hara interview with Stuart Hall for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's Doubletake program, originally broadcast 5 May 1983: The Narrative Construction of Reality – Stuart Hall. Republished in's "Context" online edition, No. 10. Retrieved on 2008-04-16.
Mitchell, Don. Chapter 24: Stuart Hall. In: Key Thinkers on Space and Place. Phil Hubbard, Rob Kitchin, Gill Valentine (2004), pp. 160ff. ISBN 0-7619-4963-1.
Race, the Floating Signifier (1997).
Representation & the Media (1997).
The Origins of Cultural Studies (2006).
Personally Speaking (2009).
Marxist Media Theory
A brief biography
darkmatter Journal: Stuart Hall discussing globalization and power (2003, audio)
darkmatter Journal: Stuart Hall in conversation with Les Back (2010, audio)
Listing on the "people" section of
Stuart Hall in conversation with Pnina Werbner, March 2006 (film)
Professor Stuart Hall, Desert Island Discs, BBC Radio 4.
BFI Obituary