Stuart Hall (cultural theorist)

Stuart Hall (cultural theorist)

Stuart Hall (born February 3 1932 in Kingston, Jamaica) is a Jamaican cultural theorist and sociologist who has lived and worked in the United Kingdom since 1951. Hall, along with Richard Hoggart and Raymond Williams, was an early and influential contributor to the school of thought that is now known as British Cultural Studies or The Birmingham School of Cultural Studies. At the invitation of Hoggart, Hall joined the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies at Birmingham University in 1964. Hall would take over from Hoggart as director of the Centre in 1968, and remained there until 1979. While at the Centre, Hall is credited with playing a role in expanding the scope of Cultural Studies to deal with issues dealing with Race and Gender, and with helping to incorporate new ideas derived from the work of French theorists. [Schulman, Norman."Conditions of their Own Making: An Intellectual History of the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies at the University of Birmingham." Canadian Journal of Communication, Vol 18, No 1 (1993) [] ] Hall left the Centre in 1979 to become a Professor of Sociology at the Open University. [Chen, Kuan-Hsing. "The Formation of a Diasporic Intellectual: An interview with Stuart Hall," collected in "Stuart Hall: Critical Dialogues in Cultural Studies" David Morely and Kuan-Hsing Chen eds.: New York, Routledge, 1996] Hall retired from Open University in 1997 and is now a Professor Emeritus. [Radical Philosophy. "Stuart Hall: Culture and Power," available at [] ] British newspaper The Observer called him "one of the country's leading cultural theorists".cite news
title = Cultural hallmark
publisher = Guardian Unlimited/The Observer
date = September 23, 2007
url =,,2175203,00.html
accessdate = 2008-01-12
] His wife is Catherine Hall, also an academic.

Early life

Hall was born into a middle class Jamaican family. In Jamaica he attended a primary school modelled after the British primary school system. In an interview Hall describes himself as a "bright, promising scholar" in these years and his formal education as "a very 'classical' education; very good but in very formal academic terms." With the help of sympathetic teachers, Hall expanded his education to include, "T.S. Eliot, James Joyce, Freud, Marx, Lenin and some of the surrounding literature and modern poetry," as well as "Caribbean literature." [Kuan-Hsing, 1996 p486-487]


In 1951 Hall moved to Bristol, where he lived before going to Oxford University. He studied as a Rhodes Scholar at Merton College, Oxford, and obtained an M.A. He worked at the University of Birmingham, where he became the leading light of the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies. He held a post with the Open University between 1979 and 1997.

In the 1950 and 60s, after working on the "Universities and Left Review", Hall joined E. P. Thompson, Raymond Williams and others to launch the "New Left Review" in the wake of the 1956 Soviet invasion of Hungary (which saw many thousands of members leave the Communist Party (CPGB) and look for alternatives to previous orthodoxies). His career took off after co-writing "The Popular Arts" with Paddy Whannel in 1964. As a direct result, Richard Hoggart invited Hall to join the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies in Birmingham.

In 1968 Hall became director of the unit at Birmingham University. He wrote a number of influential articles in the years that followed, including: "Situating Marx: Evaluations and Departures" (1972), "Encoding and Decoding in the Television Discourse" (1973). He also contributed to the book "Policing the Crisis" (1978) and coedited the very influential "Resistance Through Rituals" (1977)

After his appointment as a professor of sociology at the Open University in 1979, Hall published further influential books, including: "The Hard Road to Renewal" (1988), "Formations of Modernity" (1992), "Questions of Cultural Identity" (1996) and "Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices" (1997). He retired from the Open University in 1997.


Hall's work covers issues of hegemony and cultural studies, taking a post-Gramscian stance. He regards language-use as operating within a framework of power, institutions and politics/economics. This view presents people as "producers" and "consumers" of culture at the same time. (Hegemony, in Gramscian theory, refers to the cultural production of 'consent' as opposed to 'coercion'.)

Hall has become one of the main proponents of reception theory, and developed Hall's Theory of encoding and decoding. This approach to textual analysis focuses on the scope for negotiation and opposition on part of the audience. This means that the audience does not simply passively accept a text — whether a book or a film — and that an element of activity becomes involved. The person negotiates the meaning of the text. The meaning depends on the cultural background of the person. The background can explain how some readers accept a given reading of a text while others reject it.

Hall developed these ideas further in his model of encoding and decoding of media discourses. The meaning of a text lies somewhere between the producer and the reader. Even though the producer encodes the text in a particular way, the reader will decode it in a slightly different manner — what Hall calls the "margin of understanding". This line of thought has links with social constructionism.

In Policing the Crisis: Mugging, the State and Law and Order (1978), Stuart Hall and his colleagues studied the reaction to the importation into the UK of the heretofore American phenomenon of mugging. Employing Cohen's definition of moral panic, Hall et al. theorized that the "rising crime rate equation" has an ideological function relating to social control. Crime statistics, in Hall's view, are often manipulated for political and economic purposes. Moral panics (e.g. over mugging) could thereby be ignited in order to create public support for the need to "police the crisis." The media play a central role in the "social production of news" in order to reap the rewards of lurid crime stories. [Hall, S., et al. 1978. Policing the Crisis: Mugging, the State and Law and Order. London: Macmillan Press. ISBN 0333220617 (paperback) ISBN 0333220609 (hardbound)]

His works — such as studies showing the link between racial prejudice and media — have a reputation as influential, and serve as important foundational texts for contemporary cultural studies.

One can see Hall's political influence in New Labour, though Hall would recoil at the thought. Hall wrote many influential articles in the CPGB's theoretical journal, "Marxism Today" ("MT"), which challenged the left's views of markets and general organisational and political conservatism. This discourse had a profound impact on the Labour Party under both Neil Kinnock and Tony Blair, especially as many of those around both leaders came to political maturity at the apogee of the influence of "MT".

However, Hall regards himself as unreconciled with the Labour Party as ever. Television-viewers in Britain know him for his gentle, thoughtful explanations of issues confronting a multi-cultural society and as a widely-respected role-model.



*Hall, S. (1973) "Encoding and Decoding in the Television Discourse"
*Hall, S., Critcher, C., Jefferson, T., Clarke, J. & Roberts, B. (1978) "Policing the Crisis", London: Macmillan
*Hall, S. (1979) 'The Great Moving Right Show', "Marxism Today", January


*Hall, S. (1980) 'Cultural Studies: two paradigms', "Media, Culture and Society" 2, 57-72
*Hall, S. (1981) 'Notes on Deconstructing the Popular' In "People's History and Socialist Theory", London: Routledge
*Hall, S. & Scraton, P. (1981) 'Law, Class and Control' In: Fitzgerald, M., McLennan, G. & Pawson, J. eds. "Crime and Society", London: RKP


*Hall, S. (1997) "Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices"


From Johnathan Rutherford, ed., "Identity:Community, Culture, Difference" (London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1990, 223-237, Chapter Titled "Cultural Identity and Diaspora"

External links

* John O'Hara interview with Stuart Hall for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's Doubletake program, originally broadcast May 5, 1983: " [ The Narrative Construction of Reality - Stuart Hall] ". Republished in's "Context" online edition, No. 10. Retrieved on 2008-04-16.
* Mitchell, Don. [,M1 Chapter 24: Stuart Hall] . In: "Key Thinkers on Space and Place". Phil Hubbard, Rob Kitchin, Gill Valentine (2004), pp. 160ff. ISBN 0761949631. Retrieved on 2008-01-12. (Google Books)
* [ Marxist Media Theory]
* [ A brief biography]
* [ darkmatter Journal: S. Hall discussing globalization and power (audio)]
* [ Listing on the "people" section of]

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