Stuart Hall (1932-2014)

Photo courtesy of Annie Paul

Stuart Hall in Jamaica, 1998 (Photo courtesy of Annie Paul)

We are deeply saddened to hear about the passing of Stuart Hall. Our Chief Curator, Charles Campbell, has penned the following tribute:

“Jamaican born sociologist and cultural theorist Stuart Hall died today at the age of 82. A leading intellectual and one of the founders of Cultural Studies in Britain, Hall was part of the so called Windrush generation that moved from Jamaica to England after the Second World War.

Hall is one of the most influential thinkers of his generation. The impact of his work has been felt across academic disciplines and filtered into popular discourse through both his writing and regular appearances on British television and radio. Known for his work on race, gender, identity and sexuality he also made significant contributions to the examination of the visual arts with specific regard for the work of Black British and Caribbean artists.

Hall presented a nuanced understanding of culture as something constantly in formation, always changing and never static. While pushing against essentializing black subjectivity he never shied away from acknowledging how race and ethnicity often set the context in which an artwork was viewed and determined its readings. He was also an advocated of a strong critical discourse, one that looked both at the context of the work being produced and the works own merits.

In his writings on art he sought to undo the binary structure of centre and periphery, showing ‘Modernity and its “Others”‘ to be closely intertwined. He was fascinated by the complexity of the visual image and the many ways in which they could be read and supported the notion of images that interrogated their viewer, asking questions and giving information but perhaps not answers.

Hall’s legacy lives on through the work of the many thinkers, writers, artists and academics he influenced. As per the name of John Akomfrahs biographic video installation about Stuart Hall, his life was an unfinished conversation.”

We have also received the following statement from the Centre for Caribbean Thought:

“Stuart Hall, Caribbean Thought and the World We Live In.

There have been many tributes to the Jamaican born thinker Stuart Hall. We at the Centre  for Caribbean Thought  remember the 2004 conference , ‘Culture , Politics , Race and Diaspora: The Thought of Stuart Hall,’ where  with  mesmerizing eloquence Hall addressed  ideas about  thinking, activism, the Caribbean  Diaspora , politics and  the  complex relationships between culture , race, class and power. When we invited Hall in 2003  and informed him that his work would be the subject of a ‘Caribbean Reasonings Conference’ his initial response,  typical of his character  was that he had not written much on the Caribbean ; that  his work was not  of the kind like that of Lamming , or CLR James . Yet in a lecture delivered at the 50th anniversary of the University of West Indies, Hall had noted that the 1998 event occurred at the same time as the 50th anniversary of the docking of the SS Empire Windrush in the UK. That landing began a new history of post war Caribbean migration to the UK.

Hall arrived in the UK as a Rhodes Scholar in 1951. His life was a Caribbean life away, a diasporic life in which the new meanings of home were constructed while retaining  echoes of the former home. How could one forget the 1991 seven part documentary series which he narrated, Redemption Song that deeply explored the past and present of the Caribbean? Hall was a Caribbean intellectual, one who was part and parcel of the post war Afro- Caribbean migration experience.  That he did not  return   ‘home’ like others,  George Lamming,  or Sylvia Wynter (who returned for a while) and others did not mean that he was not Caribbean. What it meant was that the Caribbean was now working through a different geographical and cultural location. He himself noted: ‘The fate of the Caribbean people living in the UK, the USA or Canada is no more “external” to Caribbean history than the Empire was “external” to the so called domestic history of Britain.’

Living at the heart of the British colonial empire in its dying days and on the cusp of regional political independence was both a formidable intellectual and political challenge for Hall.  These challenges remained with him for a long time and as he said in an interview in 2012, ‘I am not quite English.’ Hall’s preoccupation with Diaspora and race emerged out of this conundrum which he navigated. There is profound connection between Hall’s life and his writings and thinking about Diaspora and race for as he once said in a debate with a conservative political figure in London. ‘You cannot have at the back of your head what I have in mine. You once owned me on a plantation.’

When Hall became involved in British left politics it was at a moment when orthodox Marxism was reeling from the exposures and revelations of the brutalities of Stalinism. If in 1956, another Caribbean figure, Aime Cesaire resigned  from the French Communist Party stating that not only the bodies  murdered by Stalin  were an eloquent testimony to the negative practices of  orthodox communism but that the colonial  and race problems  required new and different readings of  how societies were constituted, Hall along with others in 1960 founded the New Left Review  as one attempt to construct a new left politics. This desire to construct a different left politics which was not a distant cousin of orthodox Marxism (what he would call in 1986 in an article on ideology, ‘Marxism without guarantees’) was critical to Hall’s intellectual and political life. Indeed his work as the central founder of the field of Cultural Studies at Birmingham University was not so much about a study of the popular but more about thinking around the relationships between power and culture. It was to understand culture as a complex phenomenon which was always contested but importantly he believed  that one could not think politically without grappling with the yeast of culture. It was this  understanding which  made it possible for him to coin the term ‘Thatcherism’ as a hegemonic cluster of ideas which were not just political but deeply rooted in  the cultural and social history of Britain.

Hall’s political thinking in recent years was to grapple with the ideas inaugurated by Thatcher and others  and what he called a year ago the ‘neo-liberal revolution.’ He reminds us that Thatcher once said, ‘the object is to change the soul.’ In grappling with this new ideological configuration, Hall posited two sets of ideas amongst many which might be in part legacies for us today. The first is the notion of contingency. The idea that social and political life is not fixed, that there is no formal closure and therefore there is fluidity in what seems fixed and frozen. It is an important idea because it always means that in the darkest of times there are always ‘points of light.’  The second is one which he took from the Italian political thinker, Antonio Gramsci — the idea of ‘common sense.’ His challenge to us was that we should understand how common sense gets  formed.  In  an  article written by himself and Alan O‘Shea  in December 2013, he argued that  the ‘assumption that everyone is obviously going to agree with what is being proposed is in fact a means of securing that agreement.’   He also noted that the idea that ‘we all share common sense values … is a powerful legitimation strategy.’

That months before his death  Hall and others worked on the Kilburn Manifesto a document about the possibilities of renewing  the left in Britain is indicative of a force field of determination. But perhaps even more so it was indicative of   his deep desire to confront the world as we know it and challenge its assumptions. In London, Hall’s contribution to visual culture is well known particularly his work with the group of Black Photographers and the establishment of Rivington Place. Hall had that rare gift of discerning the contours of the world in which we live. With unmatched generosity he worked across generations. He was open to the future and to the possibilities of a different world as he practiced a form of engaged listening and dialogue. For those of us at the Centre for Caribbean Thought he is a seminal figure and thinker of the 20thcentury.”

Brian Meeks, Professor of Social and Political Change, Director SALISES, The University of the West Indies, Mona
Anthony Bogues, Lyn Crost Professor of Social Sciences and Critical Theory ,
Professor of Africana Studies, Director, Center for the Study of Slavery & Justice, Brown University
Rupert Lewis, Professor Emeritus of Political Thought, The University of the West Indies, Mona
Updated: February 22, 2014

4 thoughts on “Stuart Hall (1932-2014)

  1. Pingback: Stuart Hall (1932-2014): A Tribute | Repeating Islands

  2. Reblogged this on Thread From The Web – Anna Ruth Henriques and commented:
    My heart fell today upon seeing an early morning Facebook posting stating ‘Stuart Hall 1932-2014.’ Only last week, I’d shared an article from The Guardian on this great Jamaican man with my father who had been at Jamaica College with him. My father remembered vividly the day that Stuart Hall, a few years ahead of him, won a Rhodes Scholarship to study at Oxford. It was my father who had spoken of him with reverence and had imprinted his name in my mind. So much so that in London, in 1993, I’d seen Stuart Hall’s name in Time Out, the weekly magazine listing city events. It was attached to a lecture on multiculturalism. I was not long out of college where multiculturalism was one of the cutting edge topics of study. I had a vested interest too being Jamaican and of mixed heritage, race and religion. But it was my father’s reverence of Stuart Hall that led me to that auditorium and to the podium afterward where I introduced myself as ‘Ainsley Henriques’ daughter’ in the hope that he would remember my father, although my father still had at least a decade to go before becoming the impressive man he is today. Yet Stuart Hall remembered him.
    It was a long conversation, not a minute of it where this mighty man was not fully engaged with me on the topic of identity, of race relations in England, the States and Jamaica, peppering me with questions and musings about how things were changing and where we were heading. Jamaica was undergoing massive transformation, I told him, and was shedding the skin of colonialism that he had known. It was a slow peel, like a lizard’s, not a snake’s, and that I thought he might like what was emerging. (It was a bad analogy – most Jamaicans can’t bear the sight or even the thought of lizards, although I quite love them.) His eyebrows lifted as if he was surprised that something so deeply entrenched in our collective psyche could somehow separate itself. But the slightly upturned corners of his mouth showed his optimism, his belief that it would happen, that the world could become a better integrated place. He then shared with me that his dark skin color had been a setback, not just in society at large but in his family, and this was one reason he had remained in England. I understood well what he meant; My hair was straight and my skin was plenty white, but my nose had been commented on relentlessly by members of my family as it was just not ‘straight’ enough for them. In other words, it was not White. It could have been Chinese but it also could have been Black. Whatever it was, it just was not White. And that’s just a nose.
    In the context of that conversation, Stuart Hall then shared with me that he was the brother of someone who was light enough to be better accepted in our country. Someone whose skin was tanned, not dark, whose wavy hair had natural blonde highlights, and whose nostrils were held up by bone, not cartilage. As he named her, I automatically straightened my back, dropped my hands to my side and lowered my gaze. It was no other than Sister Maureen Claire Hall, past principal of Immaculate Conception High School, aka ICHS. (She has a brother? I thought incredulously.) She too had a fierce intellect and unwavering discipline, and, no doubt shaped the minds of at least as many minds as her brother. I spent six formative years under the unwavering gaze of his sister who made much of me who I am today. And it is with deep sorrow that I read of her brother’s passing, and tremendous gratitude that I had that one enlightening encounter.
    Rest in peace, Stuart Hall. Your words at the podium, in person and on paper taught me to question, then to see, and to own who I am. And to know too that due to you the world has already become and will continue to grow to be a better place.

  3. Pingback: Stuart Hall - Nachrufe (Linkliste)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s