26 March 2014

godfather of the unintended

● If I had to say who was influential in determining my views on society then, apart from the obvious answer, the late Stuart Hall probably comes somewhere near the top.
Professor Hall, described as the “godfather of multiculturalism”, may seem an unlikely choice. A leading light of the intellectual Left in the seventies and eighties, teaching highly ideologised versions of cultural studies and sociology, we seem poles apart.
Yet Hall was a more interesting figure than first impressions might suggest. Born in Jamaica, he got to Oxford on a Rhodes Scholarship and decided to settle in Britain, becoming one of the first people to take popular culture seriously as a source of insight into society. If the version of cultural studies which he pioneered was biased, it was at least fresh and innovative in those early days, and not merely a repository for dogma and cliché, as it has now become.
Hall helped to create an Open University course called “The state and society” which I took as a one-off during the nineties, and which got me interested in the topics of state intervention and liberty. The course was clearly partisan, but made more effort to be balanced than most social studies courses. Highly ideological, it was nevertheless thoughtful and stimulating, perhaps reflecting the qualities of the man himself.