Other, Politics

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 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 take part in intellectual discussions 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 then novel and fantastic, but now still hugely powerful, terms and concepts: hegemony, dialectics, functionalism, anomie. And many other words, all as if flowing within and around me, like invisible streamers whipped up in the storm of my own youthful, intellectual revolution. I’m not exaggerating. I’ve touched on this before.

photo of stuart hall cultural theorist

Stuart Hall, cultural theorist

My outlook before this turbulent period of my life now struck me as strangely neutral and apolitical. For I was now I engulfed in an exciting world of thinkers, thoughts and theories. Nothing would be the same again. Into my world there 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, in the history of cultural and essentially Marxist thought, helped give it direction and refine its tenets and its 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 about its influence on government policy. Perhaps most importantly, for me, is the question whether such sociological disciplines could exist at all without the intellectual tools provided by Marxist theory in its myriad forms and flavours. 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, 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 have developed. I was surprised and a little 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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