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Ethnic and Racial Studies

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Stuart Hall: articulations of race,

class and identity
John Solomos
Published online: 06 Aug 2014.

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Ethnic and Racial Studies, 2014

Vol. 37, No. 10, 16671675,

Stuart Hall: articulations of race, class and

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John Solomos
(Received 3 June 2014; accepted 3 June 2014)

The passing of Stuart Hall on 10 February 2014 came at a time when his
contribution to scholarly and wider social, cultural and political life was
being recognized in a number of ways. His death was marked by many
obituaries, statements and expressions of loss, both by his close friends
and by students and admirers of his work. He was seen as a key figure in
the development of cultural studies as a field of academic scholarship and
research a discipline that has grown in many ways out of the Centre for
Contemporary Cultural Studies (CCCS) at the University of Birmingham
that Hall directed for a period. More generally, he gained recognition
outside of academic circles for his work in helping to raise the profile of
black diasporic cultural institutions in Britain and beyond. Indeed, it is this
unique ability to cross the boundaries between academia and the wider
public spheres of politics, art and the cultural industries that helps situate
Hall as a public intellectual in the broadest sense of that term (Hall,
Morley, and Chen 1996; Hall and Back 2009; Davis 2004).
It is tempting in the aftermath of Halls death for commentators to both
overplay and to oversimplify the extent and depth of his influence. Yet
there can be little doubt that Hall was a key figure in a number of
intellectual fields, including the study of race and ethnicity, and his loss
has been felt deeply. He was a public figure from the late 1950s onwards
through his role in the New Left, his critical political interventions in
magazines such as Marxism Today and Soundings, and his engagement
with black artists and intellectuals. As an academic he helped to shape the
CCCS at the University of Birmingham and the Faculty of Social Sciences
at the Open University. He also played a leading role in the development
of cultural studies as a field of scholarship in both the UK and beyond.
The breadth of his intellectual contribution was recognized in a number of
books about his work as well as a Festschrift put together by a number of

2014 Taylor & Francis

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J. Solomos

his ex-students and colleagues (Davis 2004; Procter 2004; Rojek 2003;
Gilroy, Grossberg, and McRobbie 2000). During his long period of
retirement he remained a strong voice in a number of fields, supportive of
the work of others as well as engaging in his own research and writing.
This was in spite of long periods of ill health that became part of his
everyday life.
What has been perhaps less recognized was the influence that his
theoretical perspective had on the field of race and ethnic studies. His
contributions to this field have been in general less well documented,
given the tendency to see his work through the lens of his broader
intellectual profile than his specific contributions to race and ethnic
studies. It is for this reason that this appreciation of his work will focus
less on his wider oeuvre and more on the ways that his contributions to
debates about race and racism have shaped important facets of research
agendas in this field, particularly in the period since the 1980s.
Situating Stuart Hall
Just before Halls death, I had been to see John Akomfrahs (2013)
documentary entitled The Stuart Hall Project. This was a reflective
documentary that relied heavily on Halls own recollections of his various
roles as activist, intellectual, educator and cultural commentator. I left the
screening thinking about Halls project from a range of angles, including
his contributions to cultural studies, the study of race and his political
engagements on both Thatcherism and New Labour. The film did not
present a simple celebratory account of Halls project, focusing instead
on presenting his work as multilayered and evolving at the same time. It
was perhaps this that resonated with my own experiences of engaging both
with Halls work over the years as well as meeting him in various contexts.
I first came across Halls work as a student in the late 1970s while
engaging with his jointly authored Policing the Crisis (Hall et al. 1978).
This was a study of the moral panics about the phenomenon of street
mugging in Birmingham and beyond. Hall and his colleagues sought to
explore both the public and political debates about the phenomenon of
mugging and the way that it was portrayed and amplified through media
coverage. The premise of this study was that the construction of black
communities as social problems was premised on the notion that street
mugging was a product of the social and cultural experiences of black
youth in deprived inner-city localities. This was a theme that Hall had
discussed earlier on in 1967 in a pamphlet on The Young Englanders,
where he drew on his own experiences as a teacher to reflect on the lived
experience of young blacks growing up in, but not necessarily being part
of, Britain (Hall 1967). Policing the Crisis took this focus a step further by
exploring in detail how the moral panics about black youth and crime were

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Ethnic and Racial Studies


closely tied to ideas about race, culture and identity. Hall and his
colleagues argued that the discussion of mugging through the lens of
race and the construction of inner-city areas as criminal areas gained a
clear racial dimension, which in turn was further accentuated by the wider
social and economic processes that confined black communities to innercity localities and excluded them from equal participation in the labour
market and in society more generally.
The influence of Policing the Crisis in the period since it was published
in 1978 has ranged across a number of scholarly areas, including media
studies, cultural studies, criminology and cultural geography. Yet in some
ways it did not become an integral part of the field of race and ethnic
studies until somewhat later when its analysis of the period of the 1970s
became part of the scholarly debates about policing, urban policy and
youth policy. Yet it was to be the main book-length scholarly work that
Hall was to produce during his long scholarly career.
Perhaps the main influence of Policing the Crisis on scholarly debates
about race and racism in the period of the late 1970s and 1980s can be
found in the work of the Race and Politics Group at the CCCS, leading to
the production of The Empire Strikes Back (Centre for Contemporary
Cultural Studies 1982). This book was written mostly by Halls doctoral
students and other researchers based at CCCS and it sought to produce a
critique of race relations research as well as to outline an alternative
conceptualization of race and racism in British society. The Race and
Politics Group drew to some extent on Halls work in writing The Empire
Strikes Back, a book that is now recognized as a key contribution to the
critical study of race and ethnicity in the period since the 1970s (see the
symposium on The Empire Strikes Back in this issue).
During the 1980s, however, there was much more interest in Halls
contributions to debates about Thatcherism his political essays in Marxism
Today (Hall 1979, 1980a; Hall and Held 1990). During this time, he
continued to make important theoretical contributions to the study of race
and ethnicity through a number of largely theoretical essays that were to
form a point of reference among critical theorists of race (Solomos 1986). It
is to these essays that we now turn.

Articulations of race, class and identity

Apart from the discussion about race in Policing the Crisis, the first stages
of Halls engagement with questions about race, ethnicity and racism
emerged in the form of essays that he wrote on Pluralism, Race and Class
in Caribbean Society and Race, Articulation and Societies Structured in
Dominance (Hall 1977, 1980b). These essays were followed by another
on Gramscis Relevance for the Study of Race and Ethnicity, which
sought to outline the relevance of Gramscis conceptual frame to the

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J. Solomos

analysis of race (Hall 1986). Of these essays, the most influential on

discussions of race and racism was the 1980 essay on Race, Articulation
and Societies Structured in Dominance, which became a point of
reference in subsequent discussions about neo-Marxist and post-structuralist theories of race and racism (Miles 1984, 1987; Essed and Goldberg
2002). Halls reflections in this essay were very much focused on theory,
and were influenced by the analytical frame of neo-Marxist debates shaped
by the work of Louis Althusser among others. He saw himself as working
through the conceptual issue of how to make sense of what he defines as
economic and sociological approaches to race (Hall 1980b). In a reflective
piece on this essay, he argued that in his theoretical work on race he had
wanted to explore the idea that [r]ace, in that sense, is a discursive system,
which has real social, economic and political conditions of existence and
real symbolic and material effects (Hall 2002, 453).
In a sense this is a summary of the key narrative that was at the heart of
Halls various contributions to this field. Halls notion of race as a
discursive system was precisely based on the notion that race is never
purely ideological or cultural but situated in everyday social and economic
relations. This explains the detailed way in which Hall seeks to show both
that race cannot be reduced to other sets of social relations and at the same
cannot be fully understood outside of these very same relations. It also
signals his discomfort with reducing his writings on race to the cultural
turn, to the idea that race is purely ideological or cultural (Hall 2002,
453). Although his work on race is often read through the lens of the
cultural turn (Kyriakides and Torres 2012), he continued throughout his
life to question such a reading of his theoretical frame.
This line of analysis is even more evident in Pluralism, Race and Class
in Caribbean Society. This was one of Halls first systematic attempts to
explore the complexities of racialized and class identities in Caribbean
societies, and he sought to provide both an overview of the history of this
question as well as to explain the relevance of this history to the
contemporary situation. Much of the emphasis of his account was placed
on his effort both to situate the specificity of the Caribbean experience of
race as a result of centuries of slavery and the embeddedness of racialized
social relations and to explore how understandings of race and class can be
shaped in unique ways, in particular geopolitical environments. He was to
return to the particularities of Caribbean social relations in some of his
later work, signalling both his continued engagement with Jamaica and his
interest in addressing questions about the complexities of diasporic
identities (Hall 1995, 1999).
Taken together, these essays provide an important point of reference for
scholars interested in exploring the origins and evolution of Halls
engagement. Perhaps because he did not develop them into a singular
book-length account of his theoretical frame about race and class, they
have not exercised the degree of influence that one may have expected.

Ethnic and Racial Studies


But they provide an insight into the origins of his engagement with
theorizations of race that needs to be explored as we come to terms with
his key contributions.

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New ethnicities, culture and difference

While it is difficult to estimate the influence of the essays discussed above,
Halls writings on race and ethnicity from the late 1980s onwards moved
towards an exploration of the shifting boundaries of racial and ethnic
identities in societies such as Britain (Hall 1987, 1988, 1990, 1991). Halls
explorations of what he saw as the changing boundaries of race and ethnicity
came to the fore when he began to investigate, particularly from the late 1980s
onwards, the shifting boundaries of black cultural politics and identities in
British society. Halls writings from this period were to become in some ways
much more influential in scholarly discourses during the 1980s and 1990s.
An example of this influence can be found in his exploration of how the
coining of the term black during the 1970s became a political construct
that was used to reference a common experience of racism and marginalization. He suggests that this moment of the construction of the political
identity around the category black, particularly during the 1970s and
1980s, was a product of a political challenge within the dominant regimes
of representation, which included both academic and media discourses. He
also argues that this definitional politics is best understood in terms of a
struggle that took place over the relations of representation in which a
counterposition of positive black imagery was offered to unsettle the
reified images of black culture (Hall 1988, 1991).
Hall characterized this counterposition as the first phase in the
development of black cultural politics in Britain. He accepts that an
unintended consequence of this politics was a tendency to homogenize
cultural, class and sexual difference within blackness. This was to be a
strand of analysis that was developed, perhaps from rather different angles,
in the work of Paul Gilroy (1987, 1990). Hall went on to argue, however,
that from the 1980s onwards, there was a noticeable reframing of social
and political debates about race through the development of new forms of
racial and ethnic identity, leading to complex intersections with questions
of class, gender, sexuality and ethnicity as well as race. It was this new
ethnicities frame that came to exercise a strong influence on both
scholarly and activist debates about race and identity in British society.
A recurrent theme in Halls writing from this period is the notion of
racial identity as a fiction, but one that is necessary in order to make both
politics and identity possible. This aspect of Halls work involved an
engagement with questions of the plurality of ethnic, racial and cultural
identities that he saw as emerging and increasingly shaping British society.
This interest seems to have grown to some extent from Halls own


J. Solomos

engagement with the expressive cultures of Britains black arts movement,

a feature of both his writing and activism in the last two decades of his
life. As The Stuart Hall Project vividly illustrates, it was in the various
practices and discourses of black cultural production that he saw some
evidence for a new conception of ethnicity, a new cultural politics that
engages rather than suppresses difference and that depends, in part, on the
cultural construction of new ethnic identities. This was a theme that he
reflected upon in a number of his latter writings (Hall 2006).

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Living with difference, struggling for equality

In developing his approach to the emergent new ethnicities, Hall
expanded this conception of identity through difference and stressed the
importance of placing black and ethnic minority cultural production in the
context of global networks. Thus, new ethnicities are produced in part
through a productive tension between global and local influences. Hall in
particular sought to articulate a critical framing of ethnicity in order to
avoid the tendency to define ethnicity in primordial ways and acknowledge the simultaneously local and trans-local nature of these identities.
Hall wanted to show how new ethnicities not only challenged what it
meant to be black but also called into question the dominant coding of
what it means to be British. This opens a range of issues that are related to
the way that notions of authenticity and belonging are defined within racist
and absolutist conceptions of culture.
Halls engagement with these issues simultaneously drew on feminism,
psychoanalysis and the work of Frantz Fanon, in order to shift the
emphasis away from focusing on unitary forms of identity to plural
processes of identification. The influence of Fanons (1986) classic study
Black Skin, White Masks is particularly evident in Halls writings from this
period, particularly as he sought to think through and make sense of how
racialized identities are constructed and reconstructed through migration,
living with difference and forms of racial and ethnic absolutism.
A clear statement of the conceptual frame of this body of his work can
be found in an essay that he published in 1993 on Culture, Community,
Nation (Hall 1993). This can be seen as an effort by Hall to systematically
discuss themes that he had started discussing from the late 1980s onwards.
In particular, he sought to explore the changing meanings of what it meant
in a society such as Britain to live with difference. The following
particularly resonant passage encapsulates his key argument:
Since cultural diversity is, increasingly, the fate of the modern world, and
ethnic absolutism a regressive feature of late-modernity, the greatest danger
now arises from forms of national and cultural identity new or old which
attempt to secure their identity by adopting closed versions of culture or
community and by the refusal to engage with the difficult problems that

Ethnic and Racial Studies


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arise from trying to live with difference. The capacity to live with difference
is, in my view, the coming question of the twenty-first century. (Hall
1993, 361)

More importantly, he sought in this article to explore the ways in which

closed versions of culture were being adopted in different geopolitical
environments, leading to forms of ethnic absolutism both in the West and
the Global South. It was this theme in the article that led to an intense
debate with Saba Mahmood around the question of fundamentalism in
Muslim societies (Hall 1996; Mahmood 1996).
Halls writings on questions about the lived experiences of living with
difference led him to explore the question of multiculturalism, a theme that
became an important facet of his work at the beginning of the twenty-first
century (Hall 1999, 19992000, 2000). He also managed to engage with
the policy and political context of debates about multiculturalism through
his participation in the production of the report on The Future of MultiEthnic Britain, which became known as the Parekh Report (Parekh 2000;
McLaughlin and Neal 2007).
Influence and critiques
The focus of this appreciation has been on those facets of Stuart Halls
oeuvre that can be seen as a contribution to the study of race, ethnicity and
racism. In practice, of course, it is incredibly difficult to separate out these
facets of his work from other significant aspects of his scholarly output
and intellectual contribution. As The Stuart Hall Project so movingly
emphasized, Hall was a complex thinker, academic, activist and teacher
whose work could not be easily pigeonholed as belonging to a particular
school of thought. But in exploring the various stages of his contribution
to race and ethnic studies, we hope that we have been able to highlight the
need for more detailed discussion of his contribution in this area. Indeed, it
is important for the fuller understanding of his work that we bring the
various aspects of his scholarship together rather than seeing them in
isolation. This means being able to explore the linkages between the
diverse contributions that he made as well as the specificity of particular
facets of his work. It is also important to note that Halls style was never to
argue that his work was a repository of a truth as such. He saw his work
as in some sense always in development, always unfinished. This level of
humility is all too rare in todays fevered academic environment, if not
absent. In saying farewell to Stuart, it is important that we remember his
sense of being part of wider communities of both scholars and activists.
What perhaps will be an enduring part of Halls legacy is the extent of his
willingness to listen to a range of voices and perspectives. In the
immediate aftermath of his death, a number of commentators made a
point of talking about his inquisitiveness and his interest in listening to


J. Solomos

new ideas from younger generations of scholars and activists rather than
assuming that his project was complete.

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JOHN SOLOMOS is Professor of Sociology at the University of Warwick.

ADDRESS: Department of Sociology, University of Warwick, Coventry
CV4 7AL, UK. Email: