An Interview with Stuart Hall


Zoe Williams in The Guardian:

He became one of the seminal figures of the New Left Review in the 50s (alongside Ralph Miliband, whose rolling or otherwise in his political grave, let's leave aside); it is interesting to note that the memorable ideas from that publication, into the Thatcher years and beyond, were often Hall's coinage. Beatrix Campbell, in a letter to the London Review of Books this January, mentions Thatcher's “retrogressive modernisation”, as described by Hall. But his greatest mark in terms of popular thinking was in the field of multiculturalism, as a faculty member and later director of the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies at Birmingham University.

Until very recently, Hall's articulation of the multicultural society looked like the one fixed advance of the 60s, the one improvement that no amount of political rhetoric or social polarisation could undo. He mildly rejects the idea that academia was the engine of the new world order. “We drew the line in the 60s. We were here. They were there. It wasn't going to look like Dunkirk. It was never going to look like that again. I think some advances were made academically, but it was more what I think of as a multicultural drift, just having them [people from other cultures] around, they weren't going to eat you, they didn't have tails. The smartest guy in the store is probably black. You turn on the television and the guy singing is probably black. That mattered a lot in accustoming people to think about it.”

And he still maintains that this country, which has adored Bob Marley for three decades, is a very different place to the one he arrived in. And yet, he says, “I'm more politically pessimistic than I've been in 30 years.”

This pessimism is not down to the failure of multiculturalism, or rather, that speech last year in which David Cameron claimed it had failed – Hall takes a benign, if dismissive, attitude to Conservative posturing here, commenting mildly that Cameron is talking about equal-opportunities legislation, as he perceives it, rather than multiculturalism as part of the culture. No, it's the state of the left that strikes him as the most problematic. “The left is in trouble. It's not got any ideas, it's not got any independent analysis of its own, and therefore it's got no vision. It just takes the temperature: 'Whoa, that's no good, let's move to the right.' It has no sense of politics being educative, of politics changing the way people see things.”