Stuart Hall (1932-2014)

“Image Ownership: Public Domain”

Stuart Hall was a leading 20th Century cultural theorist and a sociologist. Hall, widely known as a founder of British Cultural Studies and the Birmingham School of Cultural Studies, pioneered theories of multiculturalism. He is generally credited with expanding the field of cultural studies to incorporate theories about race and gender.  Hall was widely recognized for his work and from 1995 to 1997 he was president of the British Sociological Association.

Stuart Hall was born on February 3, 1932 in Kingston, Jamaica to parents of mixed-race African, Indian, and British descent. From an early age he was made very aware of race and color. While his parents were successful in Jamaican society, Hall himself identified as anti-imperialist, a position that made him an uncomfortable outsider in the colony which would not receive its independence from Great Britain until 1962. Hall studied at Jamaica College until he was awarded a Rhodes scholarship to attend Oxford University in 1951 where he obtained an M.A. degree. He began work on a Ph.D. at Oxford in 1956 but abandoned his work in 1957 when he joined the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.  From 1958 to 1960 Hall taught at a London secondary school.

In 1960 Hall joined prominent British scholars E.P. Thompson and Raymond Williams to become the founding editor of the New Left Review. The following year he took a position at Chelsea College, London University as a lecturer. He met his wife, Catherine Barrett, herself a noted Professor of Modern British History at University College London, in 1963. They were married in 1964. The couple had two children, Becky and Jess.

In 1964 Hall wrote his first book, The Popular Arts, with Paddy Whannel.  As a consequence he became the first research fellow at the newly formed Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies at Birmingham University. In 1968 he published The Hippies: An American Movement, which was one of the first studies of the impact of that American counterculture phenomenon.  The same year he became acting director of the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies and assumed the position of director in 1972. In 1979 he took a position as Professor of Sociology at the Open University in London which he held until his retirement in 1997.

A noted academic, Hall’s first publications appeared in The New Left Review. Over the next three decades Hall and his colleagues published their ideas on multiculturalism, race and gender studies, and cultural identity. His ideas and books, which included The Hard Road to Renewal: Thatcherism and the Crisis of the Left (1988), Formations of Modernity (1992), Questions of Cultural Identity (1996), and Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices (1997), would inspire a whole new generation of multicultural academics and advocates.

Hall was elected Fellow of the British Academy (FBA) in 2005 and received the European Cultural Foundation’s Princess Margaret Award in 2008.  Stuart Hall died on February 10, 2014 in London, England following a kidney failure. He was 82.