[Marxism] Stuart Hall, Trailblazing British Scholar of Multicultural Influences, Is Dead at 82

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Feb 18 06:46:31 MST 2014


NY Times Feb. 18, 2014
Stuart Hall, Trailblazing British Scholar of Multicultural Influences, 
Is Dead at 82

By WILLIAM YARDLEY

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.”




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