Saluting Prof Stuart HallTuesday, February 11, 2014
MANKIND has been blessed by many brilliant thinkers, scholars and intellectuals who have pushed the boundaries of knowledge in their disciplines. The best of them have added to our knowledge by an innovation or an accretion of knowledge. Only few, the most brilliant, actually change the way a subject or a whole field of study is approached.
The late Professor Stuart Hall was such a scholar and original thinker. His field is known as cultural studies.
Few know that Prof Hall was a Jamaican, because he lived in Britain since 1951 until his death in London on Monday. Born in Kingston in 1932, he was educated at Jamaica College where, by his own description, he received a very good classical education. He won the Rhodes Scholarship and attended Oxford University, completing an MA in English.
He abandoned his PhD for political activity, becoming one of the founders of New Left Review, a Marxist academic journal, and later was active in Marxism Today.
Prof Hall made several seminal contributions from the Centre for Contemporary Studies at the University of Birmingham where he was appointed director in 1968. He was professor of sociology at Open University from 1979 to 1997.
His legacy is known as the British School of Cultural Studies or the Birmingham School of Cultural Studies of which he was one of the founders and leading exponents. His numerous books and publications range widely over racial prejudice in the media by a philosophic approach he called "encoding and decoding", diasporic identities of black migrants contending with multiple cultures, modernity, popular arts and cultural identity, race and ethnicity. He also wrote on more overtly political topics such as policing, Marxism and Thatcherism.
His central concern and approach start from the premise that culture is site and space for human action. People are simultaneously producers and consumers of culture, and in so doing culture is the context in which social relations of power, consent and coercion are established, mediated and changed. Social and political issues are contested and resolved through culture.
His thinking may seem esoteric, but we must recall that many of the foundational ideas of our culture and today's society were, at first, disparaged as too abstract and too radical. All new ideas go the route of being too different to be quickly appreciated, but some later become core methodologies of analysis.
In 2012, as part of the events to mark the Diamond Jubilee of the reign of Queen Elizabeth II, 60 persons were selected to be honoured. Two were Jamaicans, one of whom was Professor Stuart Hall. We are pleased that his life and work were celebrated by the Centre for Caribbean Thought of the University of the West Indies at a major conference, and publication of a book of the conference papers available as Caribbean Reasoning: Culture, Politics, Race and Diaspora. The Thought of Stuart Hall.
As a society, we do not give as much attention to our scholars as we do to our entertainers and athletes. Today, we invite all Jamaicans to join us recognising Prof Stuart Hall, a distinguished Jamaican who delivered to the world a genre of cultural studies from the launch pad of Jamaica where his early intellectual promise was nurtured.