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Stuart Hall
Born February 3 1932
Kingston, Jamaica
Residence UK
Fields Cultural Studies
Institutions University of Birmingham and Open University
Alma mater Merton College (Oxford)
Known for Articulation, oppositional decoding
Influences Karl Marx, Antonio Gramsci, Raymond Williams, Louis Althusser

Stuart Hall (born 3 February 1932, Kingston, Jamaica) is 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[1] the school of thought that is now known as British Cultural Studies or The Birmingham School of Cultural Studies.

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.[2]

Hall left the Centre in 1979 to become a professor of sociology at the Open University.[3] Hall retired from the Open University in 1997 and is now a Professor Emeritus.[4] British newspaper The Observer called him "one of the country's leading cultural theorists".[5] He is married to Catherine Hall, a feminist professor of modern British history at University College London.



Stuart Hall was born into a middle class Jamaican family of African descent. In Jamaica he attended a primary school modelled after the British primary school system. In an interview Hall describes himself as a "bright, promising scholar" in these years and his formal education as "a very 'classical' education; very good but in very formal academic terms." With the help of sympathetic teachers, Hall expanded his education to include "T. S. Eliot, James Joyce, Freud, Marx, Lenin and some of the surrounding literature and modern poetry," as well as "Caribbean literature."[6]

In 1951 Hall moved to England as part of the Windrush generation, the first large-scale immigration of West Indians, as that community was then known. He won a Rhodes Scholarship to Merton College at the University of Oxford, where he obtained an M.A.[citation needed].

In the 1950 and 60s, after working on the Universities and Left Review, Hall joined E. P. Thompson, Raymond Williams and others to launch the New Left Review in the wake of the 1956 Soviet invasion of Hungary (which saw many thousands of members leave the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) and look for alternatives to previous orthodoxies). His career took off after co-writing The Popular Arts with Paddy Whannel in 1964.

As a direct result, Richard Hoggart invited Hall to join the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies at the University of Birmingham. In 1968 Hall became director of the Centre. He wrote a number of influential articles in the years that followed, including Situating Marx: Evaluations and Departures (1972) and Encoding and Decoding in the Television Discourse (1973). He also contributed to the book Policing the Crisis (1978) and coedited the influential Resistance Through Rituals (1975).

After his appointment as a professor of sociology at the Open University in 1979, Hall published further influential books, including The Hard Road to Renewal (1988), Formations of Modernity (1992), Questions of Cultural Identity (1996) and Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices (1997). He retired from the Open University in 1997.


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."[7]

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 — whether a book or a film — and that an element of activity becomes involved. The person negotiates the meaning of the text. The meaning depends on the cultural background of the person. The background can explain how some readers accept a given reading of a text while others reject it. This theory is also one of the main proponents used to describe audience reception.

Hall developed these ideas further in his model of encoding and decoding of media discourses. The meaning of a text lies somewhere between the producer and the reader. Even though the producer encodes the text in a particular way, the reader will decode it in a slightly different manner — what Hall calls the margin of understanding. This line of thought has links with social constructionism.

In Policing the Crisis: Mugging, the State and Law and Order (1978), Stuart Hall and his colleagues studied the reaction to the importation into the UK of the heretofore American phenomenon of mugging. Employing Cohen's definition of moral panic, Hall et al. theorized that the "rising crime rate equation" has an ideological function relating to social control. Crime statistics, in Hall's view, are often manipulated for political and economic purposes. Moral panics (e.g. over mugging) could thereby be ignited in order to create public support for the need to "police the crisis." The media play a central role in the "social production of news" in order to reap the rewards of lurid crime stories.[8]

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's political influence extended to the Labour Party, perhaps related to the influential articles he wrote for the the CPGB's theoretical journal Marxism Today (MT) which challenged the left's views of markets and general organisational and political conservatism[citation needed]. This discourse had a profound impact on the Labour Party under both Neil Kinnock and Tony Blair.



Hall's paper 'Encoding/decoding' published in 1973 had a major influence on cultural studies, and many of the terms it set forth remain influential in the field. Generally the essay is viewed as marking a turning point in Hall's research, towards structuralism and provides insight into some of the main theoretical developments Hall was exploring during his time at Birmingham. The essay takes up and challenges longheld assumptions on how media messages are produced, circulated and consumed, proposing a new theory of communication.[9]

Hall's essay challenged all three components of the mass communications model. It argued that (i) meaning is not simply fixed or determined by the sender; (ii) the message is never transparent; and (iii) the audience is not a passive recipient of meaning.[9]

For example, a documentary film on asylum seekers that aims to provide a sympathetic account of their plight does not guarantee that audiences will also view them sympathetically. Despite its being realistic and recounting cats, the documentary form itself must still communicate through a sign system (the aural-visual signs of TV) that simultaneously distorts the intentions of producers and evokes contradictory feelings in the audience.[9]

Distortion is built into the system, rather than being a 'failure' of the producer or viewer. There is a 'lack of fit' Hall argues 'between the two sides in the communicative exchange.' That is, between the moment of the production of the message ('encoding') and the moment of its reception ('decoding').[9]

In 'Encoding/decoding', Hall suggests media messages accrue a common-sense status in part through their performative nature. Through the repeated performance, staging or telling of the narrative of '9/11' (as an example; but there are others like it within the media) a culturally specific interpretation becomes not only simply plausible and universal, but is elevated to "common-sense."[9]

Publications (incomplete)


  • Hall, S. (1973) Encoding and Decoding in the Television Discourse
  • Hall, S., Critcher, C., Jefferson, T., Clarke, J. & Roberts, B. (1978) Policing the Crisis, London: Macmillan
  • Hall, S. (1979) 'The Great Moving Right Show', Marxism Today, January


  • Hall, S. (1980) 'Cultural Studies: two paradigms', Media, Culture and Society 2, 57-72
  • Hall, S. (1981) 'Notes on Deconstructing the Popular' In People's History and Socialist Theory, London: Routledge
  • Hall, S. & Scraton, P. (1981) 'Law, Class and Control' In: Fitzgerald, M., McLennan, G. & Pawson, J. eds. Crime and Society, London: RKP
  • Hall, S. (1988) The Hard Road to Renewal: Thatcherism and the Crisis of the Left, London:Verso


  • Hall, S. (1997) Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices


  1. ^ Proctor, James. (2004) Stuart Hall, Routledge critical thinkers.
  2. ^ Schulman, Norman."Conditions of their Own Making: An Intellectual History of the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies at the University of Birmingham."[1] Canadian Journal of Communication, Vol 18, No 1 (1993)
  3. ^ Chen, Kuan-Hsing. "The Formation of a Diasporic Intellectual: An interview with Stuart Hall," collected in Stuart Hall: Critical Dialogues in Cultural Studies David Morely and Kuan-Hsing Chen eds.: New York, Routledge, 1996
  4. ^ Radical Philosophy. "Stuart Hall: Culture and Power," Interview, November/December 1998[2]
  5. ^ "Cultural hallmark". Guardian Unlimited/The Observer. September 23, 2007.,,2175203,00.html. Retrieved 2008-01-12. 
  6. ^ Kuan-Hsing, 1996 pp. 486-487.
  7. ^ Proctor (2004), p. 2
  8. ^ Hall, S., et al. 1978. Policing the Crisis: Mugging, the State and Law and Order. London: Macmillan Press. ISBN 0333220617 (paperback) ISBN 0333220609 (hardbound)
  9. ^ a b c d e Proctor (2004), p. 59-61

Further reading

  • Rutherford, Johnathan, ed. Identity:Community, Culture, Difference (London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1990, 223-237, Chapter Titled "Cultural Identity and Diaspora")

See also

External links


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