Couze Venn Remembers Stuart Hall

Stuart Hall photo
Stuart Hall (public domain image)


Remembering Stuart Hall (3 February 1932 – 10 February 2014)

The passing of Stuart Hall, who was one of the main architects of cultural studies, marks the end of an era when the new left had successfully invented and deployed a new vocabulary for addressing the pressing social, cultural, political and theoretical issues that emerged in the context of a previous period of crisis from the early 1970s. Many would see in the titles of the works coming out of the Birmingham Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies at the time – Policing the Crisis, the Great Moving Right Show, Resistance through Rituals, Situating Marx – the forewarnings of what we are now experiencing with greater force, and the prelude to the restitution of the role of the intellectual in even more difficult times. What Stuart encouraged was the renewal of the critique of our times by setting aside the older approaches to cultural critique and developing instead a new analytical apparatus constituted out of a judicious composition of concepts drawn from Gramsci, French Theory, the Frankfurt School, media and discourse theory. The scope became altered altogether, with attention drawn to an understanding of popular culture that did not reduce it to the status of the poor relation of ‘high culture’, allied to the recognition of the effects of power on the everyday. The new interrogations underlined the importance of the constructed categories of race, gender and class as key parameters in the formation of identities, most clearly with regard to diasporas.  And they brought into a new light the role of discourses and rituals in the way we make sense of the lived reality of our lives.  What did not change was the commitment to putting theory at the service of enlightenment and of a liberation from all the forces that seek our subjugation to dominant relations of power.

But all that has now been absorbed into the domain of theory and is well-established in the field of cultural studies. What has been lost with his passing is the presence of a great teacher and initiator who gathered together those who were searching for new ways of parsing the world and new insights into our own lives and who encouraged, advised, supported, guided and believed in the way an older brother would. The many who benefited must often wonder what they would have become without Stuart’s presence and example. And it is not just the support for those feeling their way uncertainly towards new courses and approaches to the study of culture, or expressed through the many collaborative works in which he participated; and these were also kind of a lesson in the essential conviviality and generosity of intellectual endeavour.  It was the friendship, the sharing of ideas, the cool sense of humour he brought to the debates and exchange of views. For those who knew him, Stuart remains the constant interlocutor, the imaginary friend and mentor who looks over one’s shoulder as one writes, steering the writing away from the crass, the too abstract or too removed from the reality of people’s lives. He was an extraordinary man.

couze_photoCouze Venn

Managing Editor and Reviews Editor, Theory, Culture & Society

Reviews Editor, Body & Society

Readers may also be interested in the following:

the British Film Institute’s obituary of Stuart Hall

Lawrence Grossberg’s Truthout article on Stuart Hall

Stuart Jeffries in The Guardian on Stuart Hall’s cultural legacy

– John Akomfrah’s film ‘The Stuart Hall Project’  (2013)

BBC 2 Newsnight 11 Feb

Laurie Taylor Thinking Aloud  BBC R4

Stuart Hall and his legacy, from Sociologists at Goldsmiths,  published in Open Democracy

Meeting Stuart Hall’s Voice – Nirmal Puwar

Diasporic Walking Sticks – Yasmin Gunaratnam

Stuart Hall, A Bright Star – Les Back

– for a more comprehensive and regularly updated list of obituaries and tributes for Stuart Hall, go here

– for other pieces on Stuart Hall on the TCS Website, go here

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