British intellectual Stuart Hall dies

The influential public thinker, who coined Thatcherism and pioneered multiculturalism, is dead

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Stuart Hall

The celebrated cultural theorist Stuart Hall has died aged 82, according to the Guardian.

Often hailed as the ‘godfather of multiculturalism’, Hall was one of Britain’s foremost public intellectuals. You can’t write about youth subcultures or protests without nudging up against Stuart Hall’s ideas; the same goes for critical discussions of British identity, race, or multiculturalism. Hall was a trailblazer in these fields, pioneering Cultural Studies as a discipline in Britain, beginning with his work as a research fellow at Birmingham University in 1964.

Hall wrote about everything from mods to teddy boys, to free market capitalism and Tesco trolleys, to the NHS and the free market. He was as comfortable interviewing Spike Lee on TV as he was delivering a spellbinding university lecture on Gramsci or a damning critique of Thatcher (in fact, he termed the word ‘Thatcherism’).

Born into a mixed-race, middle-class family in Kingston, Jamaica, Hall was the darkest-skinned of his siblings. “I was three shades darker than my family, and it was the first social fact I knew about myself,” he once said. In John Akomfrah’s excellent documentary, The Stuart Hall Project, Hall recalled his mother saying, “’England, beautiful England, full of those black people. The best thing they can do is push them off the short end of the pier.’ I thought to myself, she is talking about me.”

As a Rhodes scholar at Oxford, Hall found himself alienated by his public schoolboy contemporaries and began to increasingly identify with the civil rights struggle in the States. “Civil rights made me accept being a black intellectual,” he told the Guardian. In London, he found a home in the New Left political movement as the founding editor of the New Left Review, one of the most well-regarded political journals in the world. 

After leaving Birmingham University, Hall joined the Open University as a professor and brought his nimble intellect to BBC2, where he became an outspoken commentator on politics, race and ethnicity. In his later years, he established Rivington Place, a visual arts centre in London dedicated to cultural diversity.

Beliefs that we now take for granted – that youth culture and its expression in style and fashion can be a vital form of political resistance, that ethnic diversity in the mass media is acutely important, to name a few – are all ideas that Stuart Hall elucidated better, earlier and more articulately than anyone else. He was a towering moral force, marked by a critical insight and integrity not often seen today. We will not see his like again.  

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