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11/02/2014

The importance of Stuart Hall

Only a small sign of his importance, actually.

The very rare occasions in which I buy a newspaper occur when I am in Italy. I usually buy a daily called 'il Manifesto' of which the subtitle reads, 'Communist paper'. I have been reading Manifesto for the last fifteen years, but in the last five this has become a weird experience. While carrying or reading it in public spaces I have  increasingly been confronted with suspiscious gazing coming from my fellow city users. Part of the reason is that this has always taken place Milan, one of the most neoliberal Italian cities. Yet I always felt there were other and more significant reasons...

Stuart Hall died yesterday, February 10. He was 82.

The only Italian daily which covered the event was il Manifesto (thanks to Bertram for letting me know).

Stuart Hall, 1932-2014
Hall was among the first scholars who understood the importance of social forces other than and yet tightly linked to the economy. And how those forces were able to shape social hierarchies. Culture, ethnicity and race are the most relevant ones, as equally are gender and age. He was literally a pioneer of multidimensional analyses of social distance, stratification, cultural production, and later neoliberalism in times of massive structural changes (the late 1960s onwards). He was as far sighted as very few in his generation. His work was not 'intellectual' in the Weberian sense. It was intellectual-militant in the Saidian sense. It was not Professor Hall speaking. It was Dr-Stuart-Hall-a-black-citizen-of-this-world-and-this-specific-social-setting speaking. His reading of Gramsci granted him global popularity for one main reason, I think: oppressed by the dominant Marxian paradigm of the primacy of the macro-economic structure on social life, due to the current structural social changes, intellectuals needed a different approach in order to uncover contradditions and injustice from below. And this is exactely what Gramsci managed to do. Hall did not go to prison. He did not found and directed the most progressive and antagonistic daily of his time. He did not become a politician and social activist. However, he did what Gramsci but also Bourdieu did: he gave weapons, rather than lessons.

He would be able, I am more than sure, to understand why carrying 'il Manifesto' in Milan public space provokes such a suspiscious gazing. And to explain this, clearly and gently, to me and my fellow city users.


He'll be deeply missed.

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