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Stuart Hall (cultural theorist)

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Stuart Hall (cultural theorist)

Stuart Hall
Born Stuart McPhail Hall
(1932-02-03)3 February 1932
Kingston, Colony of Jamaica
Died 10 February 2014(2014-02-10) (aged 82)
London, England
Fields Cultural Studies, Sociology
Institutions University of Birmingham and Open University
Alma mater Merton College, Oxford
Known for Founder of New Left Review, Articulation, Encoding/decoding model of communication, Reception theory
Influences Karl Marx, Antonio Gramsci, Raymond Williams, Louis Althusser, Michel Foucault

Stuart McPhail Hall, FBA (3 February 1932 – 10 February 2014) was a Jamaican-born cultural theorist and sociologist who lived and worked in the United Kingdom from 1951. Hall, along with Richard Hoggart and Raymond Williams, was one of the founding figures of the school of thought that is now known as British Cultural Studies or The Birmingham School of Cultural Studies.[1] He was President of the British Sociological Association 1995–97.

In the 1950s Hall was a founder of the influential New Left Review. At the invitation of Hoggart, Hall joined the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies at Birmingham University in 1964. Hall took 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 race and gender, and with helping to incorporate new ideas derived from the work of French theorists.[2]

Hall left the centre in 1979 to become a professor of sociology at the Open University.[3] Hall retired from the Open University in 1997 and was a Professor Emeritus.[4] British newspaper The Observer called him "one of the country's leading cultural theorists".[5] He was married to Catherine Hall, a feminist professor of modern British history at University College London.


  • Biography 1
  • Ideas 2
    • Encoding and decoding model 2.1
  • Publications (incomplete) 3
    • 1960s 3.1
    • 1970s 3.2
    • 1980s 3.3
    • 1990s 3.4
    • 2000s 3.5
    • 2010s 3.6
  • Legacy 4
    • Film 4.1
    • Book 4.2
  • References 5
  • Further reading 6
  • External links 7


Hall was born in Kingston, Jamaica, into a middle-class Jamaican family of African, British and likely Indian descent.[5] In Jamaica he attended Jamaica College, receiving an education modelled after the British school system.[6] 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, he 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."[7] Hall's later works reveal that growing up in the pigmentocracy of the colonial West Indies, where he was of darker skin than much of his family, had a profound effect on his views of the world.[8][9]

In 1951 Hall won a Rhodes Scholarship to Merton College at the University of Oxford, where he studied English and obtained an M.A.,[10] becoming part of the Windrush generation, the first large-scale immigration of West Indians, as that community was then known. He continued his studies at Oxford by beginning a Ph.D. on Henry James but, galvanised particularly by the 1956 Soviet invasion of Hungary (which saw many thousands of members leave the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) and look for alternatives to previous orthodoxies) and Suez Crisis, abandoned this in 1957[10] or 1958[6] to focus on his political work. In 1957, he joined the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) and it was on a CND march that he met his future wife.[11] From 1958 to 1960, Hall worked as a teacher in a London secondary modern school[12] and in adult education, and in 1964 married Catherine Hall, concluding around this time that he was unlikely to return permanently to the Caribbean.[10]

After working on the Universities and Left Review during his time at Oxford, Hall joined E. P. Thompson, Raymond Williams and others to merge it with The New Reasoner, launching the New Left Review in 1960 with Hall named as the founding editor.[6] In 1958, the same group, with Raphael Samuel, launched the Partisan Coffee House in Soho as a meeting-place for left-wingers.[13] Hall left the board of the New Left Review in 1961[14] or 1962.[9]

Hall's academic 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 at the University of Birmingham, initially as a research fellow and initially at Hoggart's own expense.[9] In 1968 Hall became director of the Centre. He wrote a number of influential articles in the years that followed, including Situating Marx: Evaluations and Departures (1972) and Encoding and Decoding in the Television Discourse (1973). He also contributed to the book Policing the Crisis (1978) and coedited the influential Resistance Through Rituals (1975).

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). Through the 1970s and 1980s, Hall was closely associated with the journal Marxism Today;[15] in 1995, he was a founding editor of Soundings: A Journal of Politics and Culture.[16]

Hall retired from the Open University in 1997. He was elected Fellow of the British Academy (FBA) in 2005 and received the European Cultural Foundation's Princess Margriet Award in 2008.[17] He died on 10 February 2014, from complications following kidney failure a week after his 82nd birthday. By the time of his death, he was widely known as the "godfather of multiculturalism".[18][19][20][21]


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 socio-cultural production of "consent" and "coercion".) For Hall, culture was not something to simply appreciate or study, but a "critical site of social action and intervention, where power relations are both established and potentially unsettled".[22]

Hall became 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 the part of the audience. This means that the audience does not simply passively accept a text—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.[23]

Hall's 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. He also widely discussed notions of cultural identity, race and ethnicity, particularly in the creation of the politics of Black diasporic identities. Hall believed identity to be an ongoing product of history and culture, rather than a finished product.

Hall's political influence extended to the Neil Kinnock and Tony Blair, although Hall later decried New Labour as operating on "terrain defined by Thatcherism".[20]

Encoding and decoding model

Hall presented his encoding and decoding philosophy in various publications and at several oral events across his career. The first was in "University of Leicester. It was produced for students at the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies, which Paddy Scannell explains: "largely accounts for the provisional feel of the text and its ‘incompleteness’".[24] In 1974 the paper was presented at a symposium on Broadcasters and the Audience in Venice. Hall also presented his encoding and decoding model in "Encoding/Decoding" in Culture, Media, Language in 1980. The time difference between Hall’s first publication on encoding and decoding in 1973 and his 1980 publication is highlighted by several critics. Of particular note is Hall’s transition from the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies to the Open University.[24]

Hall had a major influence on cultural studies, and many of the terms his texts set forth continue to be used in the field today. His 1973 text is viewed as marking a turning point in Hall's research, towards structuralism and provides insight into some of the main theoretical developments Hall was exploring during his time at the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies.

Hall takes a [27]

According to Hall, "a message must be perceived as meaningful discourse and be meaningfully de-coded before it has an effect, a use, or satisfies a need". There are four codes of the Encoding/Decoding Model of Communication. The first way of encoding is the dominant (i.e. hegemonic) code. This is the code the encoder expects the decoder to recognize and decode. "When the viewer takes the connoted meaning full and straight and decodes the message in terms of the reference-code in which it has been coded, it operates inside the dominant code". The second way of encoding is the professional code. It operates in tandem with the dominant code. "It serves to reproduce the dominant definitions precisely by bracketing the hegemonic quality, and operating with professional codings which relate to such questions as visual quality, news and presentational values, televisual quality, ‘professionalism’ etc."[28] The third way of encoding is the negotiated code. "It acknowledges the legitimacy of the hegemonic definitions to make the grand significations, while, at a more restricted, situational level, it makes its own ground-rules, it operates with ‘exceptions’ to the rule".[29] The fourth way of encoding is the oppositional code also known as the globally contrary code. "It is possible for a viewer perfectly to understand both the literal and connotative inflection given to an event, but to determine to decode the message in a globally contrary way." "Before this message can have an ‘effect’ (however defined), or satisfy a ‘need’ or be put to a ‘use’, it must first be perceived as a meaningful discourse and meaningfully de-coded."[30]

Hall challenged all four components of the mass communications model. He argues that (i) meaning is not simply fixed or determined by the sender; (ii) the message is never transparent; and (iii) the audience is not a passive recipient of meaning.[26] For example, a documentary film on asylum seekers that aims to provide a sympathetic account of their plight, does not guarantee that audiences will decode it to feel sympathetic towards the asylum seekers. Despite its being realistic and recounting facts, the documentary form itself must still communicate through a sign system (the aural-visual signs of TV) that simultaneously distorts the intentions of producers and evokes contradictory feelings in the audience.[26]

Distortion is built into the system, rather than being a "failure" of the producer or viewer. There is a "lack of fit", Hall argues, "between the two sides in the communicative exchange". That is, between the moment of the production of the message ("encoding") and the moment of its reception ("decoding").[26] In "Encoding/decoding", Hall suggests media messages accrue a common-sense status in part through their performative nature. Through the repeated performance, staging or telling of the narrative of "9/11" (as an example; but there are others like it within the media) a culturally specific interpretation becomes not only simply plausible and universal, but is elevated to "common-sense".[26]

Publications (incomplete)


  • Hall, Stuart (1960). "Crosland Territory", New Left Review, no. 2, pp. 2–4.
  • Hall, Stuart; Anderson, P. (1961) "Politics of the Common Market", New Left Review, no. 10, pp. 1–15.
  • Hall, Stuart (1961). "The New Frontier", New Left Review, no. 8, pp. 47–48.
  • Hall, Stuart (1961). "Student Journals", New Left Review, no. 7, pp. 50–51.
  • Hall, Stuart; Whannell, Paddy (1964) The Popular Arts. London: Hutchinson.
  • Hall, Stuart (1968). The Hippies: An American Moment. Birmingham: Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies.


  • Hall, Stuart (1971). Deviancy, Politics and the Media. Birmingham: Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies.
  • Hall, Stuart (1971). "Life and Death of Picture Post", Cambridge Review, vol. 92, no. 2201.
  • Hall, Stuart; Walton, P. (1972) Situating Marx: Evaluations and Departures. London: Human Context Books.
  • Hall, Stuart (1972). "The Social Eye of Picture Post", Working Papers in Cultural Studies, no. 2, pp. 71–120.
  • Hall, Stuart (1973). Encoding and Decoding in the Television Discourse. Birmingham: Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies.
  • Hall, Stuart (1973). A ‘Reading’ of Marx's 1857 Introduction to the Grundrisse. Birmingham: Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies.
  • Hall, Stuart (1974). "Marx’s Notes on Method: A ‘Reading’ of the ‘1857 Introduction’", Working Papers in Cultural Studies, no. 6, pp. 132–171.
  • Hall, Stuart; Jefferson, T. (1976) Resistance Through Rituals, Youth Subcultures in Post-War Britain. London: HarperCollinsAcademic
  • Hall, Stuart; Critcher, C.; Jefferson, T.; Clarke, J.; Roberts, B. (1978) Policing the Crisis: Mugging, the State and Law and Order. London: Macmillan. London: Macmillan Press. ISBN 0-333-22061-7 (paperback) ISBN 0-333-22060-9 (hardbound).


  • Hall, Stuart (1980). "Encoding / Decoding." In: Hall, D. Hobson, A. Lowe, and P. Willis (eds). Culture, Media, Language: Working Papers in Cultural Studies, 1972–79. London: Hutchinson, pp. 128–138.
  • Hall, Stuart (1981). "Notes on Deconstructing the Popular". In People's History and Socialist Theory. London: Routledge.
  • Hall, Stuart; Scraton, P. (1981) "Law, Class and Control". In: M. Fitzgerald, G. McLennan & J. Pawson (eds). Crime and Society, London: RKP.
  • Hall, Stuart (1988). The Hard Road to Renewal: Thatcherism and the Crisis of the Left. London: Verso.





  • In November 2014 a week-long celebration of Stuart Hall's achievements was held at the University of London's Goldsmiths College, where on 28 November the new Academic Building was renamed in his honourr, as the Professor Stuart Hall building (PSH).[31][32]
  • The establishment of the Stuart Hall Foundation in his memory and to continue his life's work was announced in December 2014.[33]


Hall was a presenter of a seven-part series entitled Redemption Song, in which he examined the elements that make up the Caribbean, looking at the turbulent history of the islands and interviewing people who live there today. GB, Barraclough Carey for BBC tx BBC2 30/06/91-12/08/91 Series episodes were as follows

  • "Shades of Freedom" (11/08/1991)
  • "Following Fidel" (04/08/1991)
  • "Worlds Apart" (28 July 1991)
  • "La Grande Illusion" (21 July 1991)
  • "Paradise Lost" (14 July 1991)
  • "Out of Africa" (7 July 1991)
  • "Iron in the Soul" (30 June 1991)

Hall's lectures have been turned into several videos distributed by the Media Education Foundation:

  • Race, the Floating Signifier (1997).
  • Representation & the Media (1997).
  • The Origins of Cultural Studies (2006).

Mike Dibb produced a film based on a long interview between journalist Maya Jaggi and Stuart Hall called Personally Speaking (2009).[34]

Hall is the subject of two films directed by John Akomfrah, entitled The Unfinished Conversation (2012) and The Stuart Hall Project (2013). The first film was shown (26 October 2013 – 23 March 2014) at Tate Britain, Millbank, London,[35] while the second is now available on DVD.[36]

The Stuart Hall Project was composed of clips drawn from more than 100 hours of archival footage of Hall woven together over the music of jazz artist Miles Davis, who was an inspiration to both Hall and Akomfrah.[37]

The film’s structure is composed of multiple strands. There is a chronological grounding in historical events, such as the Suez Crisis, Vietnam War, and the Hungarian Uprising of 1956, along with reflections by Hall on his experiences as an immigrant from the Caribbean to Britain. Another historical event that was vital to the film, was the showing There of the riots that occurred in Notting Hill, London due to the murder of a Black, British man; these protests showed the presence of a Black community within England. When discussing the Caribbean, Hall discusses the idea of hybridity and he states that the Caribbean is the home of hybridity. There are also voiceovers and interviews offered without a specific temporal grounding in the film that nonetheless give the viewer greater insights into Hall and his philosophy. Along with the voiceovers and interviews, embedded in the film are also Hall's personal achieves; this is extremely rare as there are no traditional archives of the Middle Passage.

The film can be viewed as a more pointedly focused take on the Windrush generation, those who migrated from the Caribbean to Britain in the years immediately following World War II. Hall, himself a member of this generation, exposed less glamorous truth underlying the British system bound in empire, contrasting West Indian migrant expectations with often harsher realities once arriving in the Mother Country.[38]

A central theme in the film is Diasporic belonging. Hall himself confronted his own identity within both British and Caribbean communities and at one point in the film, remarks: "Britain is my home, but I am not English."

IMDb calls the film “a roller coaster ride through the upheavals, struggles and turning points that made the 20th century the century of campaigning, and of global political and cultural change.”[39]

In August 2012, Professor Sut Jhally conducted an interview with Hall that touched on a number of themes and issues in cultural studies.[40]


  • McRobbie has also written an article in tribute to Hall:


  1. ^ Procter, James (2004), Stuart Hall, Routledge Critical Thinkers.
  2. ^ Schulman, Norman. "Conditions of their Own Making: An Intellectual History of the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies at the University of Birmingham." , Vol. 18, No. 1 (1993).Canadian Journal of Communication
  3. ^ Chen, Kuan-Hsing. "The Formation of a Diasporic Intellectual: An interview with Stuart Hall," collected in David Morley and Kuan-Hsing Chen (eds), Stuart Hall: Critical Dialogues in Cultural Studies, New York: Routledge, 1996.
  4. ^ "Stuart Hall: Culture and Power," Interview, , November/December 1998.Radical Philosophy
  5. ^ a b
  6. ^ a b c Grant Farred, "You Can Go Home Again, You Just Can't Stay: Stuart Hall and the Caribbean Diaspora", Research in African Literatures, 27.4 (Winter 1996), 28–48 (p. 30).
  7. ^ Kuan-Hsing, 1996, pp. 486–487.
  8. ^ Farred 1996, pp. 33–34.
  9. ^ a b c Tanya Lewis, "Stuart Hall and the Formation of British Cultural Studies: A Diasporic Perspective", Imperium, 4 (2004).
  10. ^ a b c Caryl Phillips, "Stuart Hall", BOMB, 58 (Winter 1997).
  11. ^ Marcus Williamson, "Professor Stuart Hall: Sociologist and pioneer in the field of cultural studies whose work explored the concept of Britishness" (obituary), The Independent (London), 11 February 2014.
  12. ^ Farred 1996, p. 38.
  13. ^ Bishopsgate Institute Podcast: The Partisan Coffee House: Cultural Politics and the New Left. Mike Berlin, 11 June 2009.
  14. ^ Jonathan Derbyshire, "Stuart Hall: 'We need to talk about Englishness'", , 23 August 2012.New Statesman
  15. ^ Alex Callinicos, "The politics of Marxism Today", International Socialism, 29 (1985).
  16. ^
  17. ^
  18. ^
  19. ^ David Morley and Bill Schwarz, "Stuart Hall obituary: Influential cultural theorist, campaigner and founding editor of the New Left Review", The Guardian (London), 10 February 2014.
  20. ^ a b
  21. ^
  22. ^ Procter 2004, p. 2.
  23. ^ Hall et al. 1978. Policing the Crisis: Mugging, the State and Law and Order.
  24. ^ a b Scannell 2007, p. 211
  25. ^ Scannell 2007, p. 209.
  26. ^ a b c d e Procter 2004, pp. 59–61.
  27. ^ Hall, S. (1973). Encoding and Decoding in the Television Discourse. Birmingham: Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies, p. 1.
  28. ^ Hall 1973, p. 16.
  29. ^ Hall 1973, p. 17.
  30. ^ Hall 1973, p. 18.
  31. ^ "Goldsmiths renames academic building after Professor Stuart Hall", Goldsmiths, University of London.
  32. ^ "Goldsmiths Honour Stuart Hall By Naming Building After Him", The Voice, 4 December 2014.
  33. ^ Stuart Hall Foundation.
  34. ^ "Personally Speaking: A Long Conversation with Stuart Hall (2009)", IMDb.
  35. ^ "BP Spotlight: John Akomfrah, The Unfinished Conversation", Tate Britain.
  36. ^ Mark Hudson, "The Unfinished Conversation by John Akomfrah: a beautiful paean to identity", The Daily Telegraph (London), 15 October 2012.
  37. ^ Clark, Ashley. "Film of the Week: The Stuart Hall Project | Sight & Sound". British Film Institute. 29 September 2014. Web. 24 November 2014.
  38. ^ Jeffries, Stuart. "Stuart Hall's Cultural Legacy: Britain under the Microscope." The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 10 February 2014. Web. 24 November 2014.
  39. ^ "The Stuart Hall Project." IMDb. Web. 24 November 2014.
  40. ^

Further reading

External links

  • Marcus Williamson, Obituary in The Independent, 11 February 2014.
  • John O'Hara interview with Stuart Hall for the
  • Mitchell, Don. Chapter 24: Stuart Hall. In: Key Thinkers on Space and Place. Phil Hubbard, Rob Kitchin, Gill Valentine (2004), pp. 160ff. ISBN 0-7619-4963-1.
  • Race, the Floating Signifier (1997).
  • Representation & the Media (1997).
  • The Origins of Cultural Studies (2006).
  • Personally Speaking (2009).
  • Marxist Media Theory
  • A brief biography
  • darkmatter Journal: Stuart Hall discussing globalization and power (2003, audio)
  • darkmatter Journal: Stuart Hall in conversation with Les Back (2010, audio)
  • Listing on the "people" section of
  • Stuart Hall in conversation with Pnina Werbner, March 2006 (film)
  • Professor Stuart Hall, Desert Island Discs, BBC Radio 4.
  • BFI Obituary
  • Stuart Hall in perspective by Alex Callinicos
  • Reflection on Stuart Hall, colleague at The Open University
Academic offices
Preceded by
David Morgan
President of the British Sociological Association
Succeeded by
Michèle Barrett

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