Mon | Oct 2, 2023

EDITORIAL - Rediscovering Stuart Hall

Published:Wednesday | February 12, 2014 | 12:00 AM

 That not much has been made in Jamaica of the death this week of Stuart Hall should not, maybe, be surprising. After all, Professor Hall was 82 and had not lived here for 63 years.

But our ignorance of Stuart Hall, at all levels of society, perhaps says more of national inattention to ideas and the people who generate them - especially the big ones. For as a thinker, Professor Hall would, in our view, be the equivalent to the likes of Usain Bolt.

Significantly, Stuart Hall was born in Jamaica, attended Jamaica College, and left here in 1951, aged 19, as a Rhodes Scholar to study English at Oxford. He was a member of the Windrush Generation.

His early experiences in colonial Jamaica would have helped to shape the man who emerged as the UK's foremost cultural theorist, dubbed the 'godfather of multiculturalism' in Britain, and an influential critic of the country's politics.

Indeed, Stuart Hall, as a man of the Left, but not a slavish follower of any tendency, was in 1958 the founding editor of New Left Review, a magazine devoted to the critique of politics, economics and culture.

But his broader recognition began in 1964 when, with a handful of other intellectuals, he helped found the Centre of Contemporary Cultural Studies at the University of Birmingham, becoming its first research fellow, and four years later, its director for eight years.

popular culture, politics and power

It was a relatively new idea to take popular culture seriously and to follow its relationship with politics and power. As the Guardian newspaper noted, when Stuart Hall started: "Cultural studies was then a minority pursuit: half a century on, it is everywhere, generating a wealth of significant work even if, in its institutionalised form, it can include intellectual positions that Hall would never endorse."

Professor Hall's next move was to be professor of sociology at Britain's Open University for the next two decades, while being a major voice on the big issues of day relating to British politics, race and culture. Indeed, he is credited with coining the phrase 'Thatcherism' to describe the politics, and its likely effect, on the policies of Margaret Thatcher, ahead of her election as Britain's prime minister in 1979.

In some respects, Professor Hall's work has similarities with that of a Jamaica-based contemporary, the late Rex Nettleford. Both had wide interests and a capacity not to make enemies, even of those with whom they had sharp intellectual differences.

Jamaica's contemporary cultural thinkers/ researchers such as Donna Hope and Carolyn Cooper would acknowledge a thread between their own efforts and those of Professor Hall. Even though he operated from the other side of the Atlantic, he would have helped to expand their space by his efforts that helped to deepen the legitimacy of such intellectual pursuits.

In any event, while he did not live in Jamaica, Professor Hall, the public intellectual, was not divorced, or removed, from Jamaica. He was often a contributor on global affairs to the radio show 'The Breakfast Club'.

Yet, this intellectual treasure had neither popular nor official embrace in Jamaica. Maybe Professor Hall's old school can begin to change that by bringing attention to him and others of the type who passed through its halls. Nor is it too late for the Government to pay attention.

The opinions on this page, except for the above, do not necessarily reflect the views of The Gleaner. To respond to a Gleaner editorial, email us: or fax: 922-6223. Responses should be no longer than 400 words. Not all responses will be published.