Stuart Hall RIP

Guest post by Dr Anna Notaro, Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design, University of Dundee

This is an educated guess, but I bet that many among the readers of this blog have heard of Professor Stuart Hall, who died on  February 10, aged 82. A giant of cultural theory and sociology, former Director of the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies at the University of Birmingham, Professor of Sociology at the Open University (1979 – 1997), Stuart’s influence has spread well beyond national and disciplinary boundaries, from film to media, from cultural history to politics, from literature to sociology.

My personal memories of Stuart Hall date back to the 1980s, when as an undergraduate student in the Department of English Literature at the Orientale University in Naples I sat in one of his seminars. Stuart Hall personally knew most of the staff working in English at the Orientale at the time, since they had spent study periods in Birmingham, and he enjoyed coming to Naples for seminars and lectures. With the enthusiasm of my 20s I remember asking quite a few questions (perhaps too many and not all good ones!) but he answered them with his distinctive kindness and grace. Reading the many obituaries in the press, the online tribute page, or viewing The Stuart Hall Project documentary, one cannot but note a common denominator: Stuart was not only an excellent scholar and communicator, but he knew how to listen and how to inspire young scholars.

Often on this forum, prompted by its author, we debate key aspects of academic life, we argue, bitterly sometimes, and we learn (personally quite a lot) from each other’s insight. Occasionally though we come across examples of academic practice that are true to the meaning of the most abused word in today’s academia: excellence. Stuart Hall is one such examples; no matter whether one agreed with his political stance or not (and he was a committed public intellectual in the best Gramscian tradition), Stuart was inspiring, he was a star researcher (to use today’s terminology), and yet he loved teaching.

Curiously he never wrote a book: he preferred the form of the article (not something that a contemporary promotion committee would consider positively). Together with Richard Hoggart, the other ‘father’ of Cultural Studies and also a visitor to the Orientale in those years, no one else had more of an impact on how I think, teach, and write. Any undergraduate student should have the privilege to come across such an inspirational scholar. So when we think about academia and its contested future, of the many challenges ahead, of the impact of new technologies, and so forth, we might like to pause and reflect upon the core pedagogical values our institutions are going to be based on in years to come. To fully appreciate what such values are we need to look no further than at Stuart Hall’s exemplary life.

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