Stuart Hall (born 3 February 1932, Kingston, Jamaica):
A cultural theorist and sociologist who has lived and worked in the United Kingdom since 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. He was President of the British Sociological Association from 1995-1997.
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.
Hall left the centre in 1979 to become a professor of sociology at the Open University. Hall retired from the Open University in 1997 and is now a Professor Emeritus. British newspaper The Observer called him “one of the country’s leading cultural theorists”.
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 cultural production of “consent” as opposed to “coercion”.)
For Hall, culture is 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.”
Hall has become 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 part of the audience. This means that the audience does not simply passively accept a text.
His 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.
Hall has also widely discussed notions of cultural identity, race and ethnicity, particularly in the creation of the politics of Black diasporic identities. Hall believes identity to be affected by history and culture, rather than a finished product, he sees it as ongoing production.
See: Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices, Open University (1997)