Stuart Hall, Trailblazing British Scholar of Multicultural Influences, Is Dead at 82
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.”
In the 1950s Hall was a founder of the influential New Left Review. At the invitation of Hoggart, Hall joined the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies at Birmingham University in 1964. Hall took over from Hoggart as director of the Centre in 1968, and remained there until 1979. While at the Centre, Hall is credited with playing a role in expanding the scope of cultural studies to deal with race and gender, and with helping to incorporate new ideas derived from the work of French theorists.
Hall left the centre in 1979 to become a professor of sociology at the Open University. Hall retired from the Open University in 1997 and was a Professor Emeritus. British newspaper The Observer called him "one of the country's leading cultural theorists". He was married to Catherine Hall, a feminist professor of modern British history at University College London.
BiographyHall was born in Kingston, Jamaica, into a middle-class Jamaican family of Indian, African and British descent. In Jamaica he attended Jamaica College, receiving an education modelled after the British school system. In an interview Hall describes himself as a "bright, promising scholar" in these years and his formal education as "a very 'classical' education; very good but in very formal academic terms." With the help of sympathetic teachers, he expanded his education to include "T. S. Eliot, James Joyce, Freud, Marx, Lenin and some of the surrounding literature and modern poetry," as well as "Caribbean literature." Hall's later works reveal that growing up in the pigmentocracy of the colonial West Indies, where he was of darker skin than much of his family, had a profound effect on his views of the world.
In 1951 Hall won a Rhodes Scholarship to Merton College at the University of Oxford, where he studied English and obtained an M.A., becoming part of the Windrush generation, the first large-scale immigration of West Indians, as that community was then known. He continued his studies at Oxford by beginning a Ph.D. on Henry James but, galvanised particularly by the 1956 Soviet invasion of Hungary (which saw many thousands of members leave the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) and look for alternatives to previous orthodoxies) and Suez Crisis, abandoned this in 1957 or 1958 to focus on his political work. In 1957, he joined the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) and it was on a CND march that he met his future wife. From 1958 to 1960, Hall worked as a teacher in a London secondary modern school and in adult education, and in 1964 married Catherine Hall, concluding around this time that he was unlikely to return permanently to the Caribbean.
After working on the Universities and Left Review during his time at Oxford, Hall joined E. P. Thompson, Raymond Williams and others to merge it with The New Reasoner, launching the New Left Review in 1960 with Hall named as the founding editor. In 1958, the same group, with Raphael Samuel, launched the Partisan Coffee House in Soho as a meeting-place for left-wingers. Hall left the board of the New Left Review in 1961 or 1962.
Hall's academic career took off after co-writing The Popular Arts with Paddy Whannel in 1964. As a direct result, Richard Hoggart invited Hall to join the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies at the University of Birmingham, initially as a research fellow and initially at Hoggart's own expense. In 1968 Hall became director of the Centre. He wrote a number of influential articles in the years that followed, including Situating Marx: Evaluations and Departures (1972) and Encoding and Decoding in the Television Discourse (1973). He also contributed to the book Policing the Crisis (1978) and coedited the influential Resistance Through Rituals (1975).
After his appointment as a professor of sociology at the Open University in 1979, Hall published further influential books, including The Hard Road to Renewal (1988), Formations of Modernity (1992), Questions of Cultural Identity (1996) and Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices (1997). Through the 1970s and 1980s, Hall was closely associated with the journal Marxism Today; in 1995, he was a founding editor of Soundings: A Journal of Politics and Culture.
Hall retired from the Open University in 1997. He was made a fellow of the Royal Academy in 2005 and received the European Cultural Foundation's Princess Margriet Award in 2008. He died on 10 February 2014, from complications following kidney failure a week after his 82nd birthday. By the time of his death, he was widely known as the "godfather of multiculturalism".
IdeasHall's work covers issues of hegemony and cultural studies, taking a post-Gramscian stance. He regards language-use as operating within a framework of power, institutions and politics/economics. This view presents people as producers and consumers of culture at the same time. (Hegemony, in Gramscian theory, refers to the socio-cultural production of "consent" and "coercion".) For Hall, culture was not something to simply appreciate or study, but a "critical site of social action and intervention, where power relations are both established and potentially unsettled".
Hall became one of the main proponents of reception theory, and developed Hall's Theory of encoding and decoding. This approach to textual analysis focuses on the scope for negotiation and opposition on the part of the audience. This means that the audience does not simply passively accept a text—social control. Crime statistics, in Hall's view, are often manipulated for political and economic purposes. Moral panics (e.g. over mugging) could thereby be ignited in order to create public support for the need to "police the crisis". The media play a central role in the "social production of news" in order to reap the rewards of lurid crime stories.
Hall's works, such as studies showing the link between racial prejudice and media, have a reputation as influential, and serve as important foundational texts for contemporary cultural studies. He also widely discussed notions of cultural identity, race and ethnicity, particularly in the creation of the politics of Black diasporic identities. Hall believed identity to be an ongoing product of history and culture, rather than a finished product.
Hall's political influence extended to the Labour Party, perhaps related to the influential articles he wrote for the CPGB's theoretical journal Marxism Today (MT) that challenged the left's views of markets and general organisational and political conservatism. This discourse had a profound impact on the Labour Party under both Neil Kinnock and Tony Blair, although Hall later decried New Labour as operating on "terrain defined by Thatcherism".
Encoding and decoding modelHall presented his encoding and decoding philosophy in various publications and at several oral events across his career. The first was in "Encoding and Decoding in the Television Discourse" (1973), a paper he wrote for the Council of Europe Colloquy on "Training in the Critical Readings of Television Language" organised by the Council & the Centre for Mass Communication Research at the University of Leicester. It was produced for students at the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies, which Paddy Scannell explains: "largely accounts for the provisional feel of the text and its ‘incompleteness’". In 1974 the paper was presented at a symposium on Broadcasters and the Audience in Venice. Hall also presented his encoding and decoding model in "Encoding/Decoding" in Culture, Media, Language in 1980. The time difference between Hall’s first publication on encoding and decoding in 1973 and his 1980 publication is highlighted by several critics. Of particular note is Hall’s transition from the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies to the Open University.
Hall had a major influence on cultural studies, and many of the terms his texts set forth continue to be used in the field today. His 1973 text is viewed as marking a turning point in Hall's research, towards structuralism and provides insight into some of the main theoretical developments Hall was exploring during his time at the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies.
Hall takes a semiotic approach and builds on the work of Roland Barthes and Umberto Eco. The essay takes up and challenges longheld assumptions on how media messages are produced, circulated and consumed, proposing a new theory of communication. "The ‘object’ of production practices and structures in television is the production of a message: that is, a sign-vehicle or rather sign-vehicles of a specific kind organized, like any other form of communication or language, through the operation of codes, within the syntagmatic chains of a discourse".
According to Hall, "a message must be perceived as meaningful discourse and be meaningfully de-coded before it has an effect, a use, or satisfies a need". There are four codes of the Encoding/Decoding Model of Communication. The first way of encoding is the dominant (i.e. hegemonic) code. This is the code the encoder expects the decoder to recognize and decode. "When the viewer takes the connoted meaning full and straight and decodes the message in terms of the reference-code in which it has been coded, it operates inside the dominant code". The second way of encoding is the professional code. It operates in tandem with the dominant code. "It serves to reproduce the dominant definitions precisely by bracketing the hegemonic quality, and operating with professional codings which relate to such questions as visual quality, news and presentational values, televisual quality, ‘professionalism’ etc." The third way of encoding is the negotiated code. "It acknowledges the legitimacy of the hegemonic definitions to make the grand significations, while, at a more restricted, situational level, it makes its own ground-rules, it operates with ‘exceptions’ to the rule". The fourth way of encoding is the oppositional code also known as the globally contrary code. "It is possible for a viewer perfectly to understand both the literal and connotative inflection given to an event, but to determine to decode the message in a globally contrary way." "Before this message can have an ‘effect’ (however defined), or satisfy a ‘need’ or be put to a ‘use’, it must first be perceived as a meaningful discourse and meaningfully de-coded."
Hall challenged all four components of the mass communications model. He argues that (i) meaning is not simply fixed or determined by the sender; (ii) the message is never transparent; and (iii) the audience is not a passive recipient of meaning. For example, a documentary film on asylum seekers that aims to provide a sympathetic account of their plight, does not guarantee that audiences will decode it to feel sympathetic towards the asylum seekers. Despite its being realistic and recounting facts, the documentary form itself must still communicate through a sign system (the aural-visual signs of TV) that simultaneously distorts the intentions of producers and evokes contradictory feelings in the audience.
Distortion is built into the system, rather than being a "failure" of the producer or viewer. There is a "lack of fit", Hall argues, "between the two sides in the communicative exchange". That is, between the moment of the production of the message ("encoding") and the moment of its reception ("decoding"). In "Encoding/decoding", Hall suggests media messages accrue a common-sense status in part through their performative nature. Through the repeated performance, staging or telling of the narrative of "9/11" (as an example; but there are others like it within the media) a culturally specific interpretation becomes not only simply plausible and universal, but is elevated to "common-sense".
- (1960). "Crosland Territory", New Left Review, no. 2, pp. 2–4.
- (1961), with P. Anderson. "Politics of the Common Market", New Left Review, no. 10, pp. 1–15.
- (1961). "The New Frontier", New Left Review, no. 8, pp. 47–48.
- (1961). "Student Journals", New Left Review, no. 7, pp. 50–51.
- (1964), with Paddy Whannell. The Popular Arts. London: Hutchinson.
- (1968). The Hippies: An American Moment. Birmingham: Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies.
- (1971). Deviancy, Politics and the Media. Birmingham: Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies.
- (1971). "Life and Death of Picture Post", Cambridge Review, vol. 92, no. 2201.
- (1972), with P. Walton. Situating Marx: Evaluations and Departures. London: Human Context Books.
- (1972). "The Social Eye of Picture Post", Working Papers in Cultural Studies, no. 2, pp. 71–120.
- (1973). Encoding and Decoding in the Television Discourse. Birmingham: Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies.
- (1973). A ‘Reading’ of Marx's 1857 Introduction to the Grundrisse. Birmingham: Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies.
- (1974). "Marx’s Notes on Method: A ‘Reading’ of the ‘1857 Introduction’", Working Papers in Cultural Studies, no. 6, pp. 132–171.
- (1977), with T. Jefferson. Resistance Through Rituals, Youth Subcultures in Post-War Britain. London: Hutchinson.
- (1977). "Journalism of the Air under Review", Journalism Studies Review, vol. 1, no. 1, pp. 43–45.
- (1978), with C. Critcher, T. Jefferson, J. Clarke, B. Roberts. Policing the Crisis: Mugging, the State and Law and Order. London: Macmillan. London: Macmillan Press. ISBN 0-333-22061-7 (paperback) ISBN 0-333-22060-9 (hardbound).
- (1979). 'The Great Moving Right Show', Marxism Today. January.
- (1980). "Encoding / Decoding." In: Hall, D. Hobson, A. Lowe, and P. Willis (eds). Culture, Media, Language: Working Papers in Cultural Studies, 1972–79. London: Hutchinson, pp. 128–138.
- (1980). "Cultural Studies: two paradigms". Media, Culture and Society. vol.2, pp. 57–72.
- (1981). "Notes on Deconstructing the Popular". In People's History and Socialist Theory. London: Routledge.
- (1981), with P. Scraton. "Law, Class and Control". In: M. Fitzgerald, G. McLennan & J. Pawson (eds). Crime and Society, London: RKP.
- (1988). The Hard Road to Renewal: Thatcherism and the Crisis of the Left. London: Verso.
- (1986). "Gramsci's Relevance for the Study of Race and Ethnicity", Journal of Communication Inquiry, vol. 10, no. 2, pp. 5–27.
- (1986), with M. Jacques. "People Aid: A New Politics Sweeps the Land", Marxism Today, July, pp. 10–14.
- (1992). "The Question of Cultural Identity". In: Hall, David Held, Anthony McGrew (eds), Modernity and Its Futures. Cambridge: Polity Press, pp. 274–316.
- (1997). Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices. London: SAGE Publications Ltd.
- The Stuart Hall Library, InIVA's reference library at Rivington Place in Shoreditch, London, is named after Stuart Hall, who was the chair of the board of InIVA for many years.
FilmHall was a presenter of a 7-part series titled "Redemption Song" where he examined the elements that make up the Caribbean, looking at the turbulent history of the islands and interviewing people who live there today. GB, Barraclough Carey for BBC tx BBC2 30/06/91-12/08/91 Series episodes were as follows
- Shades of Freedom (11/08/1991)
- Following Fidel (04/08/1991)
- WORLD'S APART (28/07/1991)
- La Grande Illusion (21/07/1991)
- Paradise Lost (14/07/1991)
- OUT OF AFRICA (07/07/1991)
- IRON IN THE SOUL (30/06/1991)
- Race, the Floating Signifier (1997).
- Representation & the Media (1997).
- The Origins of Cultural Studies (2006).
Hall is the subject of 2 films directed by John Akomfrah, entitled The Unfinished Conversation(2012) and The Stuart Hall Project (2013). The first film is currently (January 2014) showing at Tate Britain, Millbank, London while the second is now available on DVD.
In August 2012, Professor Sut Jhally conducted an interview with Hall that touched on a number of themes and issues in cultural studies.