A screening of the film The Stuart Hall Project and panel discussion with Dr.Sarah Jackson (Communications Studies), Dr.Suzanna Walters (WGSS & Sociology) and Dr.Nicole Aljoe (English).
As a cultural theorist, Stuart Hall was a trailblazer credited with expanding the literature on power and politics to include the affects of race and gender. For years before his death, Hall spent his time championing for social and political equality. At the time of his passing, academics, writers and politicians paid tribute to the man known as “the godfather of multiculturalism.” Filmmaker John Akomfrah joined in commemoration efforts with his documentary, The Stuart Hall Project, which explores the major influence he had on many disparate fields of study, situating identity studies as a central question worthy of deep investigation.
Born in Kingston, Jamaica during a time of colonial and racial oppression, Hall excelled academically but found himself stifled by British command over Jamaica. Compounded by the affects of colonialism was the island’s own social and political limitations.
Raised in a mixed-race family, Hall stood out because of his darker complexion. His parents feared the country’s pigmentocracy would be a detriment to their son’s future. At their behest, Hall left Jamaica to attend Oxford University on a Rhodes scholarship at the age of 19. When he arrived, Hall was hit with a sense of displacement. As the years passed, his newly acquired love for politics, bebop and cultural difference did not jive with his posh schoolmates and all that encompassed Britain in 1951.
Postwar Britain would give way to Marxism, which inspired Hall to cofound the New Left Review in 1960, where he voiced concerns about social issues such as civil rights, feminism, and racial diversity. Experiencing the societal changes of Britain in those years led to the creation of a new academic field—cultural studies. Hall stated that cultural studies would explore “the changing ways of life of societies and groups and the networks of meanings which individuals and groups use to make sense of and communicate with one another.” By 1964, he found himself at the newly founded Center for Contemporary Cultural Studies, and would become its director by the early 1970s.
Cultural studies has long since expanded out of the UK as a common academic discipline. Some view it as a “politically correct assault on Western Culture. But for Hall, the field was about power and politics and understanding the forces that shape them, including race and class. This legacy has permeated the academy, shaping decades of study and theory.