An activist and writer. Born in Jamaica but have lived mostly in Britain.
Stuart Hall was a Jamaican-British academic, writer and cultural studies pioneer, who is known for expanding the field of cultural studies to advanced theories about race and gender.
Stuart Hall was born in 1932 in Kingston, Jamaica to parents of mixed-race African, Indian, and British descent. While his parents were successful in Jamaican society, Hall himself identified as anti-imperialist, which means he was opposed to colonialism and imperialism. This put him in a position that made him an uncomfortable outsider in the colony which would not receive its independence from Great Britain until 1962.
Hall studied at Jamaica College until he was awarded a scholarship to attend Oxford University in 1951 where he obtained an masters degree. He went on to teach sociology at the Open University (OU) in 1979, demonstrating his continual interest and commitment to making academia more accessible.
What was the time period like?:
Born in Jamaica in 1932 with African, Portuguese, Indian, Scottish, and Jewish ancestry. Growing up in Jamaica when it was a British colony, meaning it was ruled by the British and ultimately was a possession of the British Crown. Stuart grew up in a fairly middle class family: his father was an accountant for the United Fruit Company, which was a powerful American corporation.
His parents were snobbish about who him and his siblings could hang out with. They instructed them not to befriend people darker-skinned than themselves. Stuart rebelled against that, and it made him reject the society he grew up in. Which lead to reading more widely, including the work of Communist theoretician Karl Marx. Stuart did well at school and in 1951 won a scholarship to the University of Oxford.
Stuart was the editor of New Left Review in its early years. The work was busy and Stuart was in constant conversations with friends and colleagues, including the famous historian E.P. Thompson. He was involved with activism. For instance, supporting French students who opposed the war to retain control of Algeria. After several years, Stuart resigned from the New Left Review.
After resigning from New Left Review he began to work in academia as a researcher, writer, and teacher. He joined the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies at the University of Birmingham and by 1968 was the director.
Through the 1960s and 1970s, he wrote various books and articles about socialist politics (such as May Day Manifesto) and theoretical work about how we should understand culture and entertainment in a capitalist society.
In the 1980s, Stuart became a professor at the Open University. He wrote more essays on British politics. He was strongly against the Thatcher government but concerned that her opponents in the Labour Party and social movements seemed unable to beat her. One of his most famous essays from these years was called ‘The Great Moving Right Show’, which discussed the reasons for Thatcher’s election victory in 1979. It was published in a magazine called Marxism Today, which was run by other famous academics like Eric Hobsbawm and which tried to adapt Marxism in new ways.
Stuart worked closely with Marxism Today for a long time. He made some television programmes during the 1980s, where he sought to educate more people about Marxism and the Caribbean.
Stuart Hall was the first person to use the word Thatcherism!
During this time, he also began to write in new ways about race and racial identity. He developed ideas about how people can have different and sometimes conflicting identities at the same time: like he was Jamaican or Caribbean, but at the same time he was British. Stuart argued that society needed to challenge colonialism not just as a political relationship but also a cultural order which presented British culture as superior to others. He argued that society needed to develop and be more accepting of mixed or “hybrid” identities.
During the 1990s, Stuart continued to work in academia, and founded a new journal called Soundings. He also wrote about British politics. For a time, he thought Tony Blair might be a good leader for the British Left, but quickly became very disillusioned with his government and became very critical of it.
What influence have they had on Modern Day UK?:
At University, he worked with friends to publish a magazine called Universities and Left Review in 1957. They became part of a movement called the New Left, which rejected old-style Communist Parties and support for the Soviet Union, but also opposed capitalism across the world. They wanted an end to nuclear weapons and war, a more equal economy, and more freedoms for women and people of colour around the world. They began collaborating with another magazine called the New Reasoner, and eventually our two publications merged into the New Left Review. This still exists and became a very prestigious magazine for political essays and commentary.
Stuarts work was very influenced by Marx, but he believed Marxists had failed to properly understand how culture works and how ideas become powerful in society. One of the ideas he was especially interested in writing about was race and racism. In 1978, Stuart and colleagues at Birmingham wrote a book together called Policing the Crisis, where they discussed the causes of “mugging”. They argued that the ways crime in general was understood and policed in Britain was racist. This book is now seen as a classic in sociology and criminology.
Stuart Hall Foundation: https://www.stuarthallfoundation.org/
Universities and Left Review archive: https://banmarchive.org.uk/universities-left-review/
Marxism Today archive: https://banmarchive.org.uk/marxism-today/