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The other Stuart Hall

— A personal tribute to the influential cultural theorist and sociologist —

Stuart Hall has died. No, not that one. I thought the same too, yesterday, for a split-second after reading the headline. No, I mean a far less well-known Stuart Hall than the former TV presenter and now infamous criminal, who is locked-up somewhere in our currently swamp-like United Kingdom.

This was a much nicer and better man, more intelligent and in the relatively small world of what is called cultural studies, a highly influential academic. Back in my youth – extensive carbon-dating has identified this as being around 1843-48 – I read some articles by him and saw him discuss various intellectual things on TV, late at night on Channel 4. An apprentice in a shipyard, I was studying sociology in the evenings and was immersed in social and political theory, a world of initially novel and fantastic, but still hugely powerful words and concepts: hegemony, dialectics, functionalism, anomie. And many, many other words, all flowing within and around me, like invisible streamers whipped up in the storm of my own intellectual revolution. I’m really not exaggerating. I’ve touched on this before.

photo of stuart hall cultural theorist

Stuart Hall, cultural theorist

My mind before this time soon fell away into history, into a neutral, apolitical period – and now I was engulfed in an exciting world of thinkers and thoughts, of theories, where nothing would be the same again. Into my world had been breathed a vitality I could never have dreamed possible. And Stuart Hall was part of it. He was one of a number of UK intellectuals, who, after the long history of cultural and primarily Marxist thought, further refined its tenets and application to modern society. He specialised in the sociology of mass media and set up the important journal New Left Review, which, along with New Society, I subscribed to. There is, of course, a whole discussion to be had about the importance of Marxist theory in social thought and in Western universities, and by extension its influence upon government policy via government and party advisors – perhaps most importantly, for me, a discussion about whether such sociological disciplines could realistically exist at all without the intellectual tools provided by Marxist theory in its myriad forms and strengths. However, the academic left of the 1960s and 1970s, including Stuart Hall, and let’s mention here Ralph Miliband (father of the UK’s opposition leader, Ed Miliband, and whose memory was disingenuously attacked in the Daily Mail recently) should, I believe, and almost irrespective of one’s political views, and in spite of some failings, be not only welcomed, but celebrated – except perhaps by those bent on obstructing even a minimal amount of change towards a socially and economically more progressive and just country, a condition we have been moving away from in recent decades, unlike many European states.

My intellectual encounter with Hall was many years ago, but he and his fellow-travellers provided me with an essential grounding and have always been an important part of who I am, what I believe and how my beliefs develop. I was surprised and somewhat saddened by Hall’s death. Over the years I have sometimes agreed with what he wrote and said, sometimes disagreed (and still do disagree vehemently with some aspects of his political position) but I hope he will be remembered for his insight and for his valuable contribution to understanding and hopefully improving Britain.

Links:

Wikipedia entry
Independent obituary
BBC short video

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Copyright © 2014 David Hansard / davidhansard.wordpress.com
All articles on davidhansard.wordpress.com are written by David Hansard unless otherwise stated.

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