Stuart Hall

Words cannot express our sense of loss. There is no-one who can fill the gap Stuart has left – intellectually, politically or personally. His role as a founder and co-editor of Soundings was just of one of the many projects he was involved in, but for all of us who worked with him on the journal he was a much-loved and irreplaceable colleague and friend.

Stuart was both an innovative and exciting thinker and a wonderful teacher. This is why so many of us regard him as our political lodestar. He was always a participant in debate – he was further away from an ivory tower than any other contemporary academic. For me he was the most important and formative thinker of my life.

Stuart opened up whole new worlds to me and many others through his pioneering insights about the centrality of culture to politics, a constant theme of his intellectual and political work. From the late 1970s onwards, cultural studies – under Stuart’s tutelage – became an intellectual smorgasbord, as the ideas streaming out of the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies helped us to make sense of some of the knotty problems we were wrestling with. This was a time when many on the left were trying to find ways out of the straitjacket into which orthodoxy had confined marxism, and to find models of change beyond the revolutionary putsch. And Stuart’s ideas helped us think through these issues – to find a ‘marxism without guarantees’. Not least, his readings of Gramsci gave us novel and exciting ways of thinking about politics – which found their most notable first expression in his writings on Thatcherism.

Stuart saw Thatcherism as the response of a particular political formation to longer-term trends in the British economy and society. He coined the term Thatcherism in his 1979 article The great moving right show, in which he discussed how this emerging political formation was constructing and articulating together new political forms. He emphasised that this was a hegemonic project, which was responding to the changed political situation in an extremely radical way. He used the term authoritarian populism to describe Thatcherism, which he saw as an attempt to inaugurate a new moral order. The wide ranging nature of his analysis was something I had not seen before. And his ideas about hegemony also pointed to ideas about counter-hegemony, and thus different forms of left response.

These ideas about analysing whole formations, and their rootedness in both the specifics of the moment and longer-term trends, as well as the need to look at how they articulated together many other elements, were a completely new way of looking at politics for many of us. (Readers of Soundings will be aware of the way Stuart continued to develop such ideas to understand New Labour and then Cameronian Toryism – which he saw as distinct phases of the neoliberal conjuncture.) For Stuart politics always involved so much more than a narrow contest of economic interests. Although he drew inspiration for many of these ideas from Gramsci, Stuart developed them in creative ways, so that they became something new. What he shared with Gramsci, however, was an inexorable focus on the specifics of a political moment, and a drive to analyse that came from deep political commitment.

Stuart was a regular contributor to Marxism Today in the decade following the moving right show article, and as it progressed he kept on producing analyses of Thatcherism and its times that were unequalled anywhere else. I think this was partly because Stuart liked to be so deeply immersed in the culture he was writing about – as he once said, he liked to get up close and ‘smell’ Thatcherism. People sometimes mistook this for approval, but in reality it was a close critical appreciation – Stuart often used to laugh with genuine amusement as he analysed the sheer effrontery of the ploys of the powerful, but his opposition was always relentless.

And in the mean time cultural studies was transforming the ways we thought about so many aspects of politics – and especially about identity. Stuart’s work here was transformative – both for my generation and those that came after. For myself this involved thinking differently about feminism, and for many other friends it opened up new and liberating ways of thinking about race and representation. For all of us the 1980s was a decade of new and horizon-widening ideas, and Stuart was the central figure within that experience.

When Stuart became one of the three founding editors of Soundings  (with Doreen Massey and Michael Rustin) I was thrilled to be part of the team as publisher. And ever since then I have felt privileged to have had opportunities of being more closely involved with Stuart’s work.

As I am working on Soundings now I am dealing with articles and projects that Stuart was involved in from the beginning – especially the Manifesto, a project which was very important to him in recent years – and I feel bereft that he is no longer here to talk with us about what happens next. We of course have to carry on the conversations, but it things will never be the same without his warm, witty and wise presence.

 

This piece will published in the next issue of Soundings, due out in March 2014.