Stuart Hall

Stuart Hall passed away yesterday.  Matthew Hilton and Kieran Connell have written a thoughtful obituary about Hall and his contribution to Birmingham, particularly in shaping the Centre for Cultural Studies. The fiftieth anniversary of the Centre is being commemorated at Birmingham this year.

The Stuart Hall Project will be screened at the University on the 20th of March. It’s a visual feast that draws on a wealth of old BBC archival footage, from Hall’s visits back to the Caribbean, various interviews, and news footage of race riots and the Thatcher era. Hall’s experiences of growing up in Jamaica in a mixed family, his arrival at Oxford and his involvement the New Left are at the centre of the story. This is a life that both spans and intensely reflects on imperial and post-colonial Britain. His taste in music (Miles Davis especially) also comes out beautifully in the film, as it does in this highly recommended Desert Island Discs podcast.

When I was an undergraduate studying at a North American liberal arts college in the late nineties, the influence of Cultural Studies was deeply embedded in the curriculum. Hall’s ideas had particular resonance for me. Although he was speaking mainly from his own experiences of a post-colonial Britain struggling with its own multiculturalism, I found in his work an eloquent articulation of the politics of belonging in all societies that have become increasingly global. The words below spoke to the multicultural Canada in which I grew up as well as the historically cosmopolitan Asian port-cities I started studying as a graduate student. To a social historian of cities and globalization, they still seem fresh:

“In a world of constant movement, both forced and free, both at the centre and the periphery of the global system, communities and societies are increasingly multiple in their nature. They are composed of communities with different origins, drawing on different traditions, coming from different places, obliged to make a life together within the confines still of a fixed territorial boundary or space while acknowledging that they are making a common life, not living a form of apartheid of separatism. They want, nevertheless, to retain in some sense the distinctiveness of their historical roots in the place in which they have ended up”.

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