Most people I know have never heard of Stuart Hall, but his loss diminishes us all.
As a cultural studies student, I fell in love with his writing in the '80s, when his thoughtful approach to ideas and to teaching made the Birmingham school the center for the new marxian criticism which paid attention to power relationships as much as text. He was not the only scholar there, but it was his name which brought so many of us to look across the ocean to understand the relationship between class and power. He made Marx elegant. He was grounded in praxis as much as Gramsci, and firmly tied to the idea that the responsibility of a scholar was to make the world better for those without privilege.
I heard him present just once, at a seminal Cultural Studies conference in Champaign-Urbana in the late 80s. In a conference notable for upheaval and power struggle, he stood out as a calm, intelligent voice. As so many of the presenters discussed the abstruse issues of marxism, semiotics, and postmodernism, Hall pointed out one thing which everyone else were overlooking: "Yes, but how shall we teach this to the undergraduates?"
That one sentence became the center of my previously-unclarified goals. To understand theory is important; to develop theory can save us. But theory only will make a difference if we come up with a way to show the new generation how it explains things, and how we can use it. If we play with theory like a sandbox, we are untrue to the tenets of British Cultural Studies and to all the privileges which allowed us to study it.
Like Pete Seeger, also recently passed on, ceasing to breathe will not stop the light that was Stuart Hall. He was one of the great thinkers of the 20th century, and I am grateful to have heard him.
Passing through, Passing through
Sometimes happy, sometimes blue,
Glad that I ran into you.
Tell the people that I saw you passing through.