If you look around the culture landscape in 2014, you are just as likely to see a serious feature article written about Flappy Birds as you are Flaubert. This is in no small part the legacy of a great cultural thinker who has tragically died today (Monday) aged 82. Stuart Hall was a first-generation Jamaican immigrant who managed to teach the UK what it meant to appreciate the culture around them.
The genesis of Cultural Studies as a serious academic discipline can be traced back to the 1960s where Richard Hoggart and Stuart Hall first began to combine youth culture with literary theory and anthropology in order to create the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies at Birmingham University. These groups of academics were so influential that their methodology was later known simply as the ‘Birmingham School’.
Stuart Hall’s impact has been enormous, to the point that he is still widely used across all of the British A Level Media and Sociology curriculums: which is ironic considering how radical his initial thinking was.
His crucial insight was to consider how ethnic minorities negotiated mainstream media messages, a model that is now applied to all audiences consuming any media message. One has to only look at the Daily Mail comments section to see how much variety there is in audiences preferring or opposing the messages contained within what they read.
He taught across a number of disciplines at numerous institutions, beginning with Film and Media at London University before moving to Birmingham to establish Cultural Studies. He later edited the radical journal New Left Review before coining the term Thatcherism in an article in Marxism Today.
He was always a fiercely political figure and eloquently attacked the Moral economic populism of Thatcher and the quantitative ‘targets’ obsession of New Labour.
His progressive left-wing patriotism and egalitarian approach to inclusive media theories about ethnic and gendered audiences have made the British media industry an infinitely more interesting place, and he has inspired a generation of people to appreciate popular culture with the reverence it often deserves.