Scholars recall Stuart Hall, ‘high priest of the New Left’

Tributes have poured in on all sides following the death of Stuart Hall, one of the founding fathers of cultural studies in Britain

February 10, 2014

Source: Miguel Mateo-Garcia/REX

Laurie Taylor, sociologist, broadcaster and Times Higher Education columnist, said of Professor Hall, who died who died on 10 February at the age of 82: “We now talk very glibly about neoliberalism and the marketisation of just about everything.

“His writings on Thatcherism were extraordinarily prophetic - though he took no pleasure in being proved right and continued to try and find sites of political resistance.

“He was very interested in what ‘Britishness’ might mean and looked optimistically towards the creation of new forms of identity.”

Mr Taylor described the Birmingham Centre for Contemporary Culture, where Professor Hall served as director from 1968 to 1979, as “a wonderful experiment in teaching and learning”.

He praised his “exemplary sympathy and concern for communities which were the object of scorn and prejudice within society”, his “appetite for modern cultural forms” and his “intellectual mobility”.

He added: “Stuart used to say that all the different phases of his life coincided with changing musical styles of his idol Miles Davies.”

Equally attractive, in Mr Taylor’s view, was “his delicious sense of humour - people always wanted to hear the wonderful sound of his laughter… Anyone involved in politics, particularly on the left, always generates feuds and ideological battles.

“It is a testimony to Hall’s generosity of spirit that he never fell out with anyone, that no one ever had a bad word to say about him.”

For Martin Bean, vice-chancellor of The Open University, where Professor Hall served as professor of sociology from 1979 until his retirement in 1997, “Stuart was one of the intellectual founders of cultural studies, publishing many influential books and shaping the conversations of the time.

“It was a privilege to have him at the heart of The Open University - touching and influencing so many lives through his courses and tutoring.

“He was a committed and influential public intellectual of the New Left, who embodied the spirit of what the OU has always stood for: openness, accessibility, a champion for social justice and of the power of education to bring positive change in peoples’ lives.”

Lynne Segal, anniversary professor of psychology and gender studies at Birkbeck, University of London, described Professor Hall as “a beautiful person to know, inspiring and encouraging, like the high priest of those of us who wanted to bring together a left vision.

“He was extraordinarily supportive of all our work, an amazing catalyst at bringing out the very best that could be brought out of us politically and intellectually.

“His eightieth birthday in 2012 was an inspirational occasion and his engagement with the world continued until his last breath - he kept on having things to say about what was going wrong with the coalition government and what the alternatives might have been.

“With his death we have lost the last of the central figures of the New Left, so it marks the end of something we desperately need to hang on to.”

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