Stuart Hall (1932-2014)

© Dawoud Bey. Commissioned by the National Portrait Gallery in conjunction with Autograph ABP

© Dawoud Bey. Commissioned by the National Portrait Gallery in conjunction with Autograph ABP

Stuart Hall, the renowned cultural theorist and recipient of the first ECF Princess Margriet Award, has died aged 82. We at the Foundation send our condolences to his wife, Catherine, their children Becky and Jess, and the wider Hall family.

As a much-admired – indeed, loved – teacher, he touched many lives. He was also a fierce opponent of those who propagated injustice and prejudice. He had first-hand experience of the latter from a young age, when he moved to England – alongside many other Caribbean migrants – from Jamaica in the 1950s. A Rhodes scholarship entitled him to study at Oxford University, where his different background, unconventional political ideas, and love of contemporary jazz placed him at odds with many of his fellow scholars.

In 1957 he became the founding editor of the influential New Left Review. He was to be the first research fellow of the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies at Birmingham University before becoming the Centre’s director in 1972. The non-conventional route to study afforded by the Open University attracted him, and he used his professorship of sociology there to focus on issues of race and postcolonialism. His face would be a familiar one to bleary-eyed students watching the late-night Open University broadcasts on the BBC.

His life and career took a new, invigorated direction when he became involved with the Association of Black Photographers and other visual and media artists in the black arts movement. He was also deeply involved with the London centre of multicultural expertise, Rivington Place.

When the first-ever jury of the ECF Princess Margriet Award met, Hall’s nomination was an easy one to accept. Yet it was a bold move, ensuring that the Award didn’t pull any punches when it came to asserting its faith in the often-derided ideal of multiculturalism.

In that awards ceremony in 2008, Hall gave a brilliant, inspiring speech. And this despite his evident ill health – kidney failure required him to have regular dialysis at the time, before he was given a transplant. ‘Difference is a hard taskmaster,’ he explained. He had no illusions about the beneficial effects of globalisation. ‘What we have is combined uneven development,’ he told ECF in a post-awards interview. ‘Though cultures may be interlocked, deep inequalities remain.’ Ridding the world of inequality is everyone’s business. He recalled wryly an incident from his school-teaching days in East London: recognising some white pupils on the bus who were off to fight with black youths in Notting Hill, he asked them: ‘What about the black kids in your class?’ They answered: ‘Not them, sir: the others.’

Hall was a giant of cultural theory – in fact, if the phrase wasn’t so redolent of the colonialism he spent his life resisting, he might be said to be among its founding fathers. ECF Director Katherine Watson remarked today: ‘We at ECF are hugely saddened by Stuart’s passing. The relevance of his work has only grown over the decades, and his message of mutual respect for difference is one that is at the heart of our own mission. Anyone wishing to know about the extent of Stuart’s influence could do no better than watch the beautiful documentary film, The Stuart Hall Project, made by a subsequent PMA laureate, John Akomfrah. We honoured Stuart with the first ECF Princess Margriet Award, but the honour and the pleasure of meeting this great man were all ours.’