Jamaican-born cultural theorist Stuart Hall has died at the age of 82 in England; netizens and academics all over the globe were shocked by the news, though Hall had been ailing for some time. He reportedly died of complications arising from kidney failure.
The UK Guardian's obituary described Hall as an “influential cultural theorist, campaigner and founding editor of the New Left Review”. One of the founders of British Cultural Studies, he regarded popular culture as capitalist and dominated by the ruling class. He studied media and its impact on ideology, becoming a major proponent of reception theory and expanded the scope of cultural studies to deal with race and gender. His work was particularly meaningful to black West Indian immigrant communities, as he explored ideas of cultural identity, race and ethnicity, especially as they related to the diaspora experience. Rather than viewing identity to be determined by history and culture – and therefore fixed – he saw it as fluid, ongoing and subject to change.
Facebook was overflowing with status updates that reflected the respect and admiration people had for the man and his work. Upon hearing the news of Hall's death, Rhoda Bharath said:
I can't even begin to describe how bereft I feel about Hall's passing… What a loss!
Arc Magazine posted a striking portrait of Hall by Antonio Olmos, adding:
We have just learned of the passing of Stuart Hall, champion of cultural studies and one of the Caribbean's leading intellectuals.
Our condolences are extended to those whose lives he touched with his generous work.
Rest well in peace Sir.
Arc's Facebook update directed readers to its website, where it posted about Hall's life and work in greater detail.
From Jamaica, Annie Paul referred to his death as “horrible news”, and proceeded to post a series of links and photos about his life and work as part of her mourning process, including this video of Hall speaking with C.L.R. James:
In another update, Paul admonished the Jamaican media for not picking up on the significance of his death:
Have yet to hear any announcement on local media of the passing of Stuart Hall…
It’s a remarkable piece of visualizing theory and history. Shown on three screens simultaneously, the film visualizes, in a sense, what it must have been like to be Stuart Hall in his earlier career. The three screens would be showing personal photographs, filmed interviews from various periods, archive film and photography, news footage and so on. Meanwhile the sound would blend music, often jazz, with Hall’s commentary and radio interviews and other sound, such as the sea or machinery. It was a polyphony, edited so that all the sounds and images reinforced rather than disrupted each other.
There were powerfully revelatory moments throughout. It turns out–did I somewhere know this?–that Stuart has Sephardic-Jewish in his family tree. In the film, we see his mother and that lineage is visibly apparent–it’s mine, too, so I’m allowed to say this. Was there some affinity that I had felt, having worked with Hall when I was a young activist and editor on Marxism Today, and always taking his thought to be a lodestone? Perhaps.
He commented on other revelations in the film:
It turns out that Hall was part of a group that opened a radical coffee shop in Oxford in the crisis of 1956. The Soviet invasion of Hungary changed a generation away from orthodox Marxism-Leninism and cultural studies would not have happened as it did without this break. At the same time, Britain and France invaded Egypt over the nationalization of the Suez canal, their last imperial folly.
Sitting in the coffee shop called The Partisan, with its sign designed in impeccable lower-case sans serif font, Hall was interviewed about his views. Time and again, he calmly stressed that he was angry, angry over the invasions, angry over the disregard for young people in Britain, angry that
for fifteen years at least we have been without any kind of moral or political leadership.
Out of that anger came the New Left Review.
Watching it now, over fifty years later, I felt intensely that we had somehow let this young man down, that it would be entirely possible for another such young man or woman to sit down today and say exactly the same thing. And it is indeed what we have been saying this past year. The spectre that entered the room was this question: will this demand still be unmet in fifty more years from now? Or was leadership perhaps the wrong thing to ask for? Reflecting back on 1956, a moment he felt “defined” him, Hall noted in terms so familiar to us:
Another history is always possible.
The film ends with this caption
For Stuart Hall. In gratitude. And respect.
My eyes filled with tears. In the crowded screening room, I was not alone.
On Twitter, condolences streamed in from all corners of the globe:
— Basia Lewandowska (@mishearance) February 10, 2014
— René Smith (@renealicia) February 10, 2014
— Alondra Nelson (@alondra) February 10, 2014
— Ruth Serwotka (@ruthserwotka) February 10, 2014
alas, it was not meant to be. but i am grateful for #stuarthall's intellectual & political labors, for opening the space for so many
— josh guild (@wardellfranklin) February 10, 2014
Some Twitter users shared the aspects of Hall's work that affected them the most:
#StuartHall's most powerful idea for me: we can negotiate with the culture we consume. No need for passive spectatorship.
— Cameron Bailey (@cameron_tiff) February 10, 2014
Others suggested what they felt were the most appropriate ways in which to honour his memory:
With due respect to my fellow academics the way to honor Hall is not with a special issue but to engage the political pic.twitter.com/tLVcgu5tV9
— Ben Carrington (@BenHCarrington) February 10, 2014
A tribute to Stuart Hall, who passed today. Let's adapt Joe Hill–"Don't mourn– think, analyze, and then organize!" http://t.co/rA3pkBElVg
— Nicholas Mirzoeff (@nickmirzoeff) February 10, 2014
Some just admitted that the world – and its intellectual space – felt emptier without him:
— Kelly Sloane (@kesloane) February 10, 2014
#Stuarthall 's departure is a massive loss for critical intellectual thought. Learnt so much from him in my early postgrad years.
— Sahar Ghumkhor (@SaharGhumkhor) February 10, 2014
— Jason Bergen (@mryahbut) February 10, 2014
— Helen Pallett (@HelenPallett) February 10, 2014
Gerry Hassan acknowledged Hall's astute analytical powers:
The death of #StuartHall. Changed how we think abt politics, culture, race & identity, analysed Thatcherism & New Labour.
— Gerry Hassan (@GerryHassan) February 10, 2014
One Twitter user, Sean Fernyhough, quoted director John Akomfah:
"One of the few people of colour we saw on TV who wasn't crooning, dancing or running," John Akomfah #stuarthall
— Sean Fernyhough (@Sean_Fernyhough) February 10, 2014
— தோழன் (@cfidelmorris) February 10, 2014
Professor Nicholas Mirzoeff summed up the general feeling with this tweet:
— Nicholas Mirzoeff (@nickmirzoeff) February 10, 2014