A Tribute to Stuart Hall
On Feb. 10 giant Cultural Studies scholar and founding figure Stuart Hall peacefully went to sleep, but FOREVER. He was 82 years old. Such a loss must not and cannot go unmarked in the Cultural Studies or in the New Left circles more broadly. Hall might have died in peace, but his life was lived in struggle (animated by the unshakeable desire to make the world a better place)! Hall might have ceased to think, but he was one of the most pioneering and most humble thinkers to ever live! He is the epitome of the Gramscian organic intellectual, who sought to understand the complexity of the cultural and social worlds we inhabit, always with the unwavering (sometimes explicit, sometimes implicit) commitment to intervene into and help transform concrete social conjunctures and formations.
Hall understood Cultural Studies as both a very specific (useful, but not the only one) approach within the wider field of the study of culture (one with implicit, but distinctive epistemological and methodological commitments and ways of working), and a political intellectual project and practice (where the desire to want to produce useful political knowledge, to tell the best stories, and to intervene into and help change concrete social formations has always been a guiding commitment in the field from its early formations in the New Left and in the Adult Education and Working Class Movements in post-war Britain). And we should not forget here that Hall was a founding figure of the British New Left. He was the founding editor (and one of the founders) of The New Left Review.
What distinguishes the Cultural Studies that Hall practiced and promoted was its commitment to understanding culture and cultural phenomena reflexively, contextually, dialectically, relationally, complexly, and materially; and its insistence on the necessity of analyzing the complex mutual constitution of and dialectical relationship between its specific objects of study, on the one hand, and their larger social conjuncture, on the other. Most of Hall’s work displays a commitment to larger conjunctural analysis, where objects become (a way to talk about) something much larger and bigger than itself; where the object is constituted by, and a precipitate, of the very social and historical formation which it inhabits and operates in. It is noteworthy that Hall never single-authored a single book, and all his books, including the groundbreaking Policing the Crisis, were collectively authored. And we all know how hard and frustrating (and also risky and unrewarded in a neoliberal academic/intellectual culture that thinks in terms of and tends to privilege the individual author) this can be! For me, this confirms--one more time--his commitment to collective, collaborative, interdisciplinary, and transdisciplinary intellectual labor/projects and also, in a much deeper sense, his distinctive humility and dedication to working with, learning from, listening to, and talking to others.
The departure of Hall will without doubt leave a huge gap that will soon be felt by those of us who practice Cultural Studies, and even (if not especially) amongst those of us who disagreed with his vision for the field. What an immeasurable loss!
Jaafar Aksikas is the vice president and president-elect of the Cultural Studies Association (www.culturalstudiesassociation.org). He is currently associate professor of cultural studies at Columbia College Chicago.