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Cultural Studies
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STUART HALL
Bill Schwarz
Published online: 17 Aug 2006.

To cite this article: Bill Schwarz (2005) STUART HALL, Cultural Studies, 19:2, 176-202,
DOI: 10.1080/09502380500077730
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Bill Schwarz
STUART HALL

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Stuart Hall
CHRIS ROJEK
Cambridge, Polity, 2003
230 pp., ISBN 0 7456 2481 2 pbk, 14.99

In England, there is an ancient, venerable institution of some 60 years or


more, which goes by the name of Desert Island Discs. This is a radio programme
transmitted on Sunday mornings by the most traditional of the BBC radio
channels, broadcast alongside an act of Anglican worship and the equally
ancient and venerable soap-opera devoted to the rituals of rural life, The
Archers. To tune in on a Sunday is to listen to the forms of the English past. The
content of Desert Island Discs is elegantly simple. Figures in the public eye are
invited to imagine themselves castaways on a desert island, and to choose to
take with them eight pieces of music, a book and a single inanimate luxury. It
opens each week, after a few sonorous bars of By the Sleepy Lagoon, with the
familiar announcement: Our castaway this week . . .. Echoes of the
shipwreck-stories of Renaissance colonialism are never far away, and castaways
are invariably relieved to discover that, by good fortune, already on their island
are the Bible  surely the King James Version  and the complete works of
Shakespeare. There is something very genteel, indeed very English, about this
imagined island, for all its supposed tropical properties. Castaways look
forward to taking with them a case of good wine, or a pillow, or a hairbrush.
There is no hint of dangers ahead, or of troublesome natives. These are
not the sort of castaways and seafarers brought to life by Herman Melville or
C. L. R. James, or more recently by Peter Linebaugh and Marcus Rediker in
their recuperation of the hydra-headed radical world of the eighteenth and
nineteenth century Atlantic. In its heyday in the 1940s and 1950s, with the
inestimable Roy Plomley, the programme was so implacably, weirdly genteel
that it represented a moment of BBC high camp. Now it has been modernized,
and it is less weird. Its current presenter, Sue Lawley, though not short when
it comes to gentility, at least distantly is of an R&B generation. It is, these days,
every so often determinedly frank about the personal tribulations of its guests,
needing a bit of past trauma (a habit, bankruptcy, a high-profile divorce) so
that current salvation can be admired and celebrity confirmed. Of course, it is
now overshadowed by any number of other chat-show competitors, whose
commitments to the confessional run deeper than Radio 4 could ever
countenance. But Desert Island Discs can still be a topic for gossip: spectacularly
/

Cultural Studies Vol. 19, No. 2 March 2005, pp. 176 /202
ISSN 0950-2386 print/ISSN 1466-4348 online 2005 Taylor & Francis Group Ltd
http://www.tandf.co.uk/journals DOI: 10.1080/09502380500077730

S T UAR T H A L L

so on the occasion Mrs Thatcher chose as one of her discs How Much is that
Doggie in the Window?. And it can still create a modest frisson, as when one
guest (not Mrs Thatcher) asked to take with her a solar-powered vibrator. It
remains quietly compulsive.
Every so often the producers invite an academic. This is always tricky,
because the habits of mind of academics do not naturally conform to chatting
on air about life, music, one book and one luxury, in 20-something minutes.
Sue Lawley, a skilled professional, is not most at ease in these situations. A few
years back Stuart Hall was invited  an academic, a black Jamaican, a socialist
in which, necessarily given the work he does, he was asked to discuss, amongst
other things, what Britain means. Even though this inevitably pitched things a
little higher than the usual conversation, Lawley was fine with this. But one
cannot help but feel she looked forward to the week which followed, when 
as Stuart Hall (1970) himself put it many years ago  the BBC world would
once again be more comfortably at one with itself, and there would be no
need for unsettling issues to intrude.
This interview features in Chris Rojeks recent critical study of Stuart Hall.
It appears in his conclusion, in the context of a discussion about commodified
cultures. Halls standpoint on some aspects of popular culture is often
censorious, writes Rojek.

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In common with the New Left he abhors the idea of high culture, but is rather priggish in his dislike of commercialism and commodification in
popular culture. This was nicely expressed in an embarrassing moment
during Halls appearance as a castaway on the BBC Radio 4 programme
Desert Island Discs . . . Despite Halls oft-repeated, querulous observation
that he feels an outsider in British culture, his appearance on Desert Island
Discs perhaps proves that he has been more accepted and honoured by the
establishment than he would wish to recognize. Be that as it may, Hall seized the opportunity to discuss with great eloquence questions of his own
relationship to Britishness, the meaning of Cultural Studies and his aspirations for multicultural/multi-ethnic society. But at one telling moment his
eloquence deserts him and he comes close to being tongue-tied on air.
Rojek transcribed this moment. It reads (with minor corrections):
SL: Do you watch Who Wants to be a Millionaire?
SH: Well, um, I knew you would find the limit-point . . . the breakingpoint . . . I cant watch that.
SL: Why not? Its great!
SH: If you ask me, Do I watch soap-operas?, I do.
SL: But, I mean again, its exactly what you are talking about . . . Its
what . . . Its what turns people on, its what shows all kinds of
things about human nature.

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SH: Oh yes, I think thats quite true.


SL: Its got it all!
SH: You asked me whether I watch it and, you know, there are limits
to my taste. But if you ask me whether we should study it? I
think we should study it. I mean it is . . . it comes right out of 
well  everything that has happened in economic life in Britain and
the Western world in the last ten years. Its kind of . . . Its the Urstory of the free market.

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Rojek calls this last statement portentous. He explains: It invests the


programme with a cultural significance it does not possess, and it misses the
reflexive character of both the agent and the audience. There is in Hall
something of the Old Testament prophet who fumes at popular cultures
tendency to worship at the feet of the golden calf (pp. 194 5).
This is a characteristic passage from the book. It is misinformed. It asserts
without arguing. It accentuates the negative. It conflates distinct positions.
Rojek reveals that toward some aspects of popular culture Hall is often
censorious. Well . . . yes. One cannot help but wonder where the scandal is in
this. To talk seriously of the popular cannot mean that all popular forms
(Fox News, Jeffrey Archers novels, pulp sadism on the Hollywood screen?)
must be welcomed: to think otherwise would be to abolish both critical
thought and politics. In common with the New Left he abhors the idea of high
culture: what New Left is this? Whom could Rojek have in mind? Edward
Thompson, perhaps? Or Raymond Williams? What evidence can he possibly
present for this view of Hall? On the very programme from which this
evidence is drawn, he spoke animatedly about Shakespeare, Tolstoy and
George Eliot, chose music from Bach and Puccini, and offered The Portrait of a
Lady as his favourite book. At the same time, Hall is depicted here as rather
priggish in his dislike of commodified popular cultures. Could this be the
priggish Hall who spent his formative years wrestling with the influence of
Leavis in order to show that popular forms could often be serious and were
always important? Is it priggish to emphasize the profoundly contradictory,
double property of the commodity form? Yet if he abhors the idea of high
culture and fumes against popular culture, it must leave us wondering why
Hall bothers with culture at all. What has he been doing all these years?
What though of Halls oft-repeated, querulous comments on his place
within the culture of the British? This issue he discussed on the programme,
explaining that although there was the possibility in the early 1950s that
Oxford University might accept him, he had been unable to accept either the
University or what it represented: it was just not me. Querulous? There is
no complaint here, no peevishness. It marks only a cool judgment about the
workings of a culture, and Halls own response to the larger social situation.
Oft-repeated? Could Rojek point to one, single instance in which could be
/

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S T UAR T H A L L

found a discernible measure of personal complaint? (If you want querulous, try
a chat with Halls Oxford contemporary, V. S. Naipaul.) Halls appearance on
Desert Island Discs, Rojek tells us, perhaps proves that he has been more
accepted and honoured by the establishment than he would wish to recognize.
Perhaps? Does this mean that it does? Or it does not? If it does, where on
earth is the evidence? Rojek insists that his is a book which deals principally
with Halls printed ideas and their influence (p. x). Where in his published
works or in his public lectures has this self-misrecognition been manifest?
There is no answer. Excusing himself with an observation which still leaves the
charge hanging in the air  Be that as it may  Rojek presses on. Hall, it
appears, seized the opportunity to discuss Britishness, and the other matters
noted above. What can this mean? He was invited on to the programme, its
format well-known. He was politely asked questions about his work, as the
genre demands, and he replied with courtesy and engagement. No-one seized
anything.
Rojeks purpose, though, is to set the scene for the moment when (it
seems) Stuart Hall is out-manoeuvred by Sue Lawley: the moment of
embarrassment, when his eloquence deserts him and when he comes close
to being tongue-tied on air. To make these claims depends on a very
particular reading, or over-reading, of a fragment of a text, which even on the
evidence of the transcript is unpersuasive. Listening to the recording produces a
different tone and register. One hears, in this moment, a genial laughter.
There is a parrying between Lawley and Hall, which Hall himself brings out
into the open: I knew you would find the limit-point. For Rojek, though, it is
necessary to present this admission as a collapse on Halls part, so that it can
testify to a more general flaw in his theorization of popular culture. The fact
that Rojek, as much as Sue Lawley, is happy to conflate personal taste with
theoretical interpretation appears to cause him no conceptual difficulty. Rojek
pushes on. Halls identification of Who Wants to be a Millionaire? he finds
portentous. (Why portentous?) He believes this critique misses the
reflexive character of both the agent and the audience, though there is
nothing in Halls reading, fastening as it does on the mythic or formal status of
the programme, which depends on an understanding of audience reflexivity 
about which Hall himself has written important things, as Rojek concedes. No
matter. We arrive at the terminal point, with Hall now cornered, presented in
the guise of the Old Testament prophet, fuming. Punto!
This is dispiriting, ignorant, mischievous prose. I see nothing innocent
here. It purports to engage with Halls ideas. In truth, it repeatedly falls into ad
hominen attack or innuendo. No great textual skills are required to grasp that
this is writing which is systematically negative, and which concerns the person
as much as his ideas. From Stuart Halls declared choice not to watch a single
TV programme, we arrive at the image of him as antediluvian patriarch,
venting his rage at modern life. Why?
/

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There is much more in this vein. Rojek describes his book as an attempt
to critically interrogate his (Halls) ideas and evaluate his cultural and political
influence (p. x). On these grounds it must be judged. He points out that his is
the first full-length solo-authored book on Hall and his work (p. ix).1 He
believes such a study is necessary, in part, because earlier responses have
(he says) largely come from what he identifies as the Birmingham diaspora,
which he explains as those who worked with Hall in the Birmingham Centre
for Contemporary Cultural Studies (p. ix). Later in the book, this diaspora
transmutes into a mafia  a term, he indicates, which is sometimes
negatively applied, though where the term originates (if not with Rojek) and
who employs it is not disclosed (p. 79, p. 72). For Rojek, those once
associated with Hall have not had it within them to be properly critical. They
indulge in an unhealthy degree of protectionism (sic) about (sic) Hall (p. ix).
Colin Sparks, no political or intellectual ally of Hall, is found to be cloying in
the respectful tenor of his remarks (p. 11). The tone of the papers contributed
to a volume published to mark Stuart Halls intellectual life (less than a quarter
of whose authors had any connection to Birmingham) is described as
relentlessly anodyne. Arguably, he suggests, the editors of the volume 
Paul Gilroy, Lawrence Grossberg and Angela McRobbie (2000)  were too
close to Hall, personally, professionally, as well as in terms of intellectual
genealogy, to evaluate his work with sufficient critical distance (p. 11). This
provides Rojek his cue. Not for him the figure of Saint Stuart (his construct);
he has determined to produce no hommage a` Hall (p. 11, p. x). On the
contrary, he set out to achieve and maintain the appropriate level of sangfroid (p. x). It has fallen to him to enter the lions den (p. x).
Given these remarks, it is as well for readers to know that I studied at the
Birmingham Cultural Studies Centre. Intermittently, I have worked with
Stuart Hall since, and I was an author of one of those essays that Rojek found
to be anodyne. Hall has been a profound intellectual influence on me. I cannot
imagine doing the work I do now without his presence. This proximity may
indeed underwrite the sorrow I feel when I read Rojek. When researching the
book with some Birmingham graduates, Rojek writes, I encountered a
depressingly defensive reaction that boiled down to the presupposition that if
you werent there . . . you cant know what it was like (p. x). What it was
like, however, cannot be the issue. Nor does the fact of having been in
Birmingham confer any conceptual privilege. How could it? The work is there
to be judged on its merits. Much of it is now dated. For Hall himself we need
to remember that this temporal emphasis on the Birmingham years also serves
to under-emphasize the subsequent quarter of a century of intellectual activity.
Even so, what Rojek promises  a critical engagement with Stuart Halls
ideas and politics, from one who is outside his immediate intellectual influence
 is not only proper but to be welcomed. It is, though, what he singularly
fails to do.
/

S T UAR T H A L L

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What of the politics? Immediately following the image of Hall as Moses,


descending the mountain to discover the masses in thrall to Who Wants to be a
Millionaire?, Rojek observes that: If Hall is uneasy about commodification and
commercialism, he has not supplied a convincing politics to transcend them.
How is this category of a convincing politics to be determined?
The labour of the organic intellectual must be judged finally on its effect
in socializing society and culture through critical pedagogy and engagement with the public sphere. Ioan Davies ventured the proposition that
one of the paradoxes of British Cultural Studies is that it has not changed
the logic of everyday life very much.
(p. 195)
This gives a maximal, or final, position. It also offers a particular interpretation
of the place of British cultural studies. But what could the paradox be? Cultural
studies is an intellectual practice. It can inform a range of public or political
interventions, but on its own its reach is necessarily circumscribed. The idea
that cultural studies, or cultural studies in its British incarnation, could
transform the logic of everyday life may be rather pleasing to entertain, but
no-one could suppose it to be remotely likely. Rojek imagines that Hall and
his associates would doubtless see Ioan Daviess conclusion as heretical.
Banal, yes; heretical, why? In fact, Rojek goes on to itemize a number of arenas
of public life where what might broadly be conceived as cultural-studies
intellectuals, Stuart Hall foremost amongst them, have in fact intervened in
public life and shifted debate. It is a remarkable political audit. If it does not
amount to the transformation of the logic of the everyday, many individuals
have as a result been able to imagine their lives in new ways, and what is this
but an engagement with the politics of the everyday?
But having conceded this much Rojek is having none of it. Be that as it
may . . .  those ominous words again  the fulcrum of Cultural Studies and
Halls own position in culture remains the Academy, and here Daviess
observation bites hard. (195) Well, it only bites hard if one works with a
notion of the Academy (upper case) which is radically divorced from the rest
of social life; now, of all times, this is very far from the historical reality. Yet,
Rojek makes it clear that he has a particular periodization in mind. When Hall
joined Hoggart in Birmingham it was realistic to conceive of the universities
and the student movement as occupying the vanguard of opposition (p. 195).
However, one may conceive of the opposition, in 1964 this was far from
realistic. Nor was it greatly more so in 1968 or 19-whenever. For Rojek, the
decline in student militancy means the political end of cultural studies. And
with it, more particularly, the political project of Stuart Hall. Rojek closes his
book with this declaration:
/

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If Halls version of Cultural Studies is intrinsically and irredeemably


political, the balance facing it would appear to be stark. Either it will act
as one active element in triumphantly reconciling the people into an
effective popular democratic cultural force from the midst of liquid
hybridity  a prospect that other intellectual traditions hold to be remote
 or it will be hoist by its own petard.
(pp. 197 8)
/

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The starkness invoked here can mean one thing only. Either the politics
represented by Hall will be thoroughly triumphant (deemed by other
intellectual traditions to be unlikely), or it will be thoroughly defeated (more
likely). This is no more than a common-or-garden ultra-leftism, based on the
conviction that politics can only be composed by either the one or the other.
Maybe Rojek believes this. If this is so, in a book of this nature it is incumbent
upon him to make his case. Hall has spent much of his life advocating a
contrary position. Simply to say at the end of the book that what Hall has been
arguing against happens to be right after all doesnt get anyone anywhere. It
offers no intellectual engagement.
Part of the problem is the strong identification of Halls politics with a
particular moment of Birmingham, and a particular moment of cultural
studies, as if his intellectual life and his public commitments have remained
unchanged for the past thirty or forty years. This is one of the difficulties of
centring the preoccupation with Birmingham, or what Rojek calls the
Birmingham Circle (p. ix). But the greater difficulty is his supposition that
subordinate or marginal intellectual formations can only be judged in terms of
wildly inappropriate criteria.
One of the oddest things about Rojeks interpretation of Hall, in this
regard, is his understanding of the New Left. The New Left emerged in Britain
in the latter half of the 1950s, went through a series of deep divisions in the
early 1960s and, by the end of the decade, had ceased to be an identifiable
political current. When Rojek states that there existed a curious atmosphere
of didacticism and remoteness in much of the New Left work in the 1970s, it
is impossible to know about whom he is writing, because by then there was no
New Left (p. 28). When he complains that the New Left produced nothing as
sophisticated as Castellss analysis of network society and the weightless
economy  work produced in the 1990s  we are in the realm of spirits and
mediums (p. 29). About the earlier period, when there was a New Left, Rojek
is ambivalent. Its activists, he notes, were not people who hailed from a long
line of peasants, mill-hands or factory workers (p. 28). It never became a
vanguard of political and cultural transformation (p. 24). It suffered from the
fact that England was never properly able to produce a radical intelligentsia
 if we mean by the term a disciplined movement, attached to a systematic
programme of political, economic and cultural transformation, with strong
/

S T UAR T H A L L

roots in the organized labour movement (p. 26). The New Left, on the
contrary, suffered from the pitfalls of modishness. Yet, in a surprising move,
Rojek supposes that this  modishness  occurred precisely because the
New Lefts commitment to intellectual labour was politically engaged. The
New Left

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favoured a model of intellectual labour culturally and politically engaged


with concrete issues of the day, and as committed to elucidating them in
theoretically informed ways . . . Perhaps this necessarily saddled them
with the appearance of modishness, since they were very deliberately
opening doors in the Academy that had been bolted for a long time and
were using new theoretical influences from continental Europe and
concrete, changing economic, cultural and political circumstances as their
warrant.
(p. 21)
I will come back to this, but it may seem, by this stage, as if we know where
Rojek is going. The early New Left was not a vanguard, had no systematic
programme and was distant from the labour movement. It was composed of
professionals, few of whom  here Rojek is spot on  hailed from a long line
of peasants, and carried with it, or was saddled with, a preoccupation with
modishness. Rojek himself believes that this political deficit derives from the
larger structural malformation of intellectual life in England: in other
countries, he supposes, the intelligentsia function properly. As Edward
Thompson demonstrated many years ago, a priori reasoning of this sort invites
an unabashed, if inverted, Podsnappery. Thus in Rojeks words:
/

In Communist Russia, Hungary, Poland and the Palestine Liberation


Organization, a radical intelligentsia engaged in direct political activity
with a coherent programme based in part on organized violence and a
disciplined party organization. There is no real equivalent in English
intellectual life.
(p. 27)
Indeed not, and thankfully so. But what are these comparisons meant to be
doing? What can they possibly mean? Is he seriously regretting the fact that the
New Left in Britain possessed no programme dedicated to organized
violence? This is so much tomfoolery. It is at one with his final rebuke for
the New Left: it never became a power bloc (p. 27).
The fate of the New Left, in this view, anticipated the fate of the Cultural
Studies Centre: the Centre was never firmly focused around a coherent
political strategy; its trajectories did not always converge; its role as an
instrument of political change was modest (p. 81). The researchers at
Birmingham should have spent more time compiling political analysis of

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corporate business, of commercial branding, and of the aristocracy. The levels


and components of cultural friction, fusion and fission, and their various
implications for cultural intervention were inadequately elucidated (p. 82).
These are charges that are random, in the sense that  politically and
intellectually  they have nowhere to go; they condemn a project that neither
existed, nor was ever even imagined. Our trajectories did not always
converge. Enough!
The provenance of these charges, though, may seem straightforward. They
muster a certain left orthodoxy. That Hall himself has always inhabited a rather
different conception of what politics is appears to be an issue with which Rojek
chooses not to trouble himself. But at the same time Rojek criticizes Hall for
being too conventional strategically. Hall is, apparently, a left-wing loyalist
(p. 5). His sense of political strategy Rojek believes to be traditional, relying
too much on the state  enjoining (sic) the pivotal significance of the state in
the transformation of society (p. 134). More particularly, His socialism is of a
rather old-fashioned kind, based in (sic) the notion of the Keynesian state
(p. 45). This is strange, if one recalls that it was exactly the contradictions
inside the Keynesian state-system that Hall argued, created the conditions for
the popularity of the New Right in the 1970s. Rojek, though, supplies
evidence to the contrary: witness the broadside he fired across the bows of
new Labour for being seduced by the neo-liberal gospel of the global
market (p. 45). But is this to say that if one is critical of global neoliberalism, one is necessarily forced back into the defence of the old Keynesian
arrangement? Hasnt Hall argued precisely against this? Halls traditionalism is
further confirmed, it would seem, as a result of his belief in the necessity of
regulating the market. Does Rojek not think this necessary? Maybe not.
Halls political strategy, he supposes, amounts to the revival of the core
programme of traditional socialism, enhancing the role of the state and
regulating the market. Rojek continues: The evidence of six successive
elections in Britain between 1979 and 2001 is that the public does not want
these policies. To think otherwise is to succumb to an elitism, affecting to
know what is best for the people (p. 135).
There is an argument to be had here about the state. But it never happens.
In its place there occur symptomatic, gestural asides. The vacuum that lies at
the centre of the book is what Rojek himself thinks about those matters for
which he criticizes Hall. Throughout he issues an incessant litany of
corrections. From the introduction alone:
/

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It is unsatisfactory (p. 7); wants to have his cake and eat it (p. 7); an
inconsistent thinker (p. 8); unquestionable imprecision (p. 11); vague,
unsatisfying views (p. 11); pragmatic (p. 13); fails to satisfactorily
resolve . . . (p. 15); not . . . convincing (p. 17); not providing satisfactory
answers (p. 18); the suspicion . . . of intellectual fashion (p. 19);

S T UAR T H A L L

overstates the case (p. 21); (failure) to go beyond the level of critique
(p. 31); not a novel argument (p. 34); not candid (p. 40); the argument is
not novel (p. 42); undeniable flavour of insularity (p. 45); The point is
overstated (p. 45).
If these could be compared to alternative conceptualizations, so that readers
could judge concretely the scale and form of these failings, then there may be
merit to them. Without that  without critique  they can only be negative.
Rojeks supposition that Hall is a traditional political thinker, when the tenor
of his own criticisms is so deeply orthodox, is a problem he gives no indication
of even noticing.
Rojek lays out his position early on. On the opening page of the
introduction he announces that Hall can hardly be classed as an original
theorist (p. 1). (This is where he informs the reader that the job of the
intellectual is to aggravate cliche (p. 1).) He lists the charges: The criticisms
of slippage, absence of methodology, modishness, radicalism, the limitations of
Englishness, embodiment and emplacement will be substantiated in the
following chapters (p. 46). This substantiation doesnt happen. What the
criticism of radicalism involves I dont know: is it that Hall is too radical (in
his elitist manner, prevailing upon Labour to abandon its neo-liberal
commitments), or that he is not radical enough (repudiating parties, vanguards
and violence)? The elaboration of embodiment and emplacement never occurs.
I will say something about the connected issues of slippage, methodology and
modishness, and then close with some remarks on Englishness.
Slippage is arguably the most serious criticism made of Halls work
(p. 7). According to Rojek himself, this is a direct function of Halls
commitments to anti-essentialism: It (anti-essentialism) accounts for the
unquestionable imprecision in his analysis of hegemony, articulation, race and
identity (p. 11). This sounds as if unquestionable imprecision is the
necessary consequence of anti-essentialism. If this were so there could be no
further argument to make, and there could no problem associated with Halls
slippage. It cannot both be the most serious criticism of Hall, in particular,
and an inevitable result of pursuing an anti-essentialism  for then half the
cultural theorists on the planet would be open to exactly the same criticism. It
may be wiser, however, to let this pass.
Discounting this, slippage seems either to be a function of, or connected
to, the absence of methodology. Hall, Rojek claims, makes no contribution
to nuts and bolts methodology (p. 14). Nor, more generally, has cultural
studies subjected epistemology to the same critical interrogation that
sociology has done (p. 14). The fact that Hall himself never studied sociology
as an undergraduate has led to the situation  or, arguably so  that he has
been too cavalier about questions of methodology (p. 16). Rojek proclaims
that the subject of methodology is massively neglected in Halls writings; a

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few pages on that his work is not necessarily unsatisfactory methodologically,


but that it is undertheorized (p. 13, p. 16). In as much as this is so, Hall
almost invites others to fill in the gap in methodology for him (p. 16).
As I understand it, for Rojek, it is this slippage, gap, undertheorization, cavalier attitude, absence or massive neglect  whatever
 that allows modishness to operate. Unless, of course, as Rojek explains
elsewhere, this comes about as a result of the very nature of politicalintellectual work? On modishness, though, there is nothing interesting to say.
Rojek himself jams together theorists of different intellectual and conceptual
persuasions, who may or may not be regarded as modish. On the cover of a
previous monograph his publishers boast that: Chris Rojek brings together the
insights of Marxism, feminism, Weber, Elias, Simmel, Nietzsche and
Baudrillard. The issue is the kind of work produced, as the end result 
thats all. For Rojek to feel compelled to call upon Terry Eagleton in order to
establish Halls modishness may tell us all that we need to know about the
matter.
Rojek makes the claim that Halls paper (1972) on Encoding and
Decoding stands (arguably) as his most important methodological
contribution to Cultural Studies (p. 14). He then back-tracks with the
counter-claim that perhaps this isnt about methodology after all, but
represents rather a contribution to Marxisant semiotics  and is presumably
vulnerable to the overall charge of undertheorization (p. 14). On nuts and
bolts methodology, and on such questions as how to conduct interviews,
Hall remains relatively silent (p. 14). While this latter observation must be
true, there are powerful objections to the larger point.
First, Rojek subscribes to a narrow, technical conception of methodology,
drawn from the conventions of mainstream sociology, as if this is all there is to
say. All Hall has argued is that in order to get to grips with the symbolic
dimensions of social life, it is legitimate in addition to draw from other, lessdisciplinary-bound, traditions  including what Rojek cites here as Marxisant
semiotics.
Second, there has been no massive neglect. Rojek himself draws
attention to Stuart Halls own course at the Birmingham Cultural Studies
Centre, Theory and Method in Cultural Studies, which codified the methodswork of the Centre over the previous decade or more, and which offered
students an explicit encounter with cultural methodologies. Indeed, Rojek
himself reproduces the course outline (pp. 70 2). Historically, the intellectual
work of cultural studies had been built around these core issues, and this
continued through the 1970s.
Third, far from Halls work on methods being undertheorized it is  on
the contrary  his most fully theorized contribution to the field. Rojek refers
to Halls article on Marxs 1857 Introduction (pp. 104 8). According to
Rojek, Hall was drawn to this work (of Marxs) as a means of rebutting the
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economic reductionism of the base-superstructure reading of Marxism


(p. 104). This is only weakly the case  in the sense, only, that the same
could be said of all Halls conceptual work since before the time he had ever
arrived at Birmingham. More to the point, Halls essay sought to provide
precisely the epistemological and methodological categories which he believed
cultural analysis required. It is about the epistemological foundations of
method (Hall 1974, p. 155). And it was based on the conviction that these
foundational categories couldnt simply be borrowed, untransformed, from the
sociologists. In the evolution of cultural studies the search for a method, in
Sartres words, loomed large.
The first version of Halls article appeared in 1973; an abbreviated version
appeared in Working Papers in Cultural Studies the following year, though this is
not cited in Rojeks bibliography; and then more recently  after Rojeks book
was published  it was reprinted again in 2003, in the journal Cultural Studies.
In a prefatory note to these reprinted versions, Hall makes the methodological
dimensions of his analysis explicit. He refers to Marxs Introduction as his
(Marxs) most substantial text on method, and goes on:

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The positions taken by Marx in the Introduction run counter to many


received ideas as to his method. Properly grasped and imaginatively
applied . . . they seem to me to offer quite striking, original and seminal
points of departure for the problems of method which beset our field of
study, though I have not been able to establish this connection within the
limits of the paper. I see the paper, however, as contributing to this ongoing work of theoretical and methodological clarification, rather than as
simply a piece of textual explication. I hope this conjuncture will not be
lost in the detail of the exposition.
(Hall 1974, p. 132)
So far as Rojek is concerned, it seems as if this sustained work of
methodological exploration never occurred. It has indeed become forgotten,
repressed or lost. In the 1974 reprint, just twelve months after it first
appeared, Hall added to the title: Marxs notes on method, and for the past
30 years this has remained its title.
This important essay addresses the question of determination in the human
sciences. This concerns not so much the degree to which the social relations of
production, within the marxist imagination, determine, but more broadly the
means by which categories of thought themselves  concepts, modes of critical
thinking  can be determinate, as opposed to their being haphazard, random
or indeterminate. Or to put this another way, the essay represents a formal
attempt to elaborate a methodology which counters slippage. This is one
of the most philosophically elaborate of Halls writings, written at a high level
of abstraction. Paradoxically, it is a philosophical, abstract attempt to
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demonstrate that philosophy and abstraction can only work fruitfully if the
categories on which they are founded have a determinate relation to the real,
to the concrete and to the historical. It mounts an epistemological defence of
the necessary connections between the historical-concrete and the concrete-inthought, abstractly revealing the limits of formal abstraction. As if, Hall
quotes from Marx, the tasks were the dialectical balancing of concepts and not
the grasping of real relations (Hall 1974, p. 141). Hall is endeavouring to
imagine a method which retains the concrete empirical reference as a
privileged and undissolved moment within a theoretical analysis (Hall 1974,
p. 147; emphasis added). If this anticipates a way of working in which concepts
counter indeterminacy, it also marks a commitment to conceptual categories
which are sufficiently mobile, complex and concrete that they can indeed grasp
the real. This produces theories of a very particular complexion (the concrete
analysis of concrete situations, Hall 1974, p. 147)  which may not look like,
or work like, more formal, elaborated, conventional theory.
More particularly, they may not look like conventional or mainstream
sociological theory. A sociological perspective offers one, but not the only,
means to supply structure and determination to interpretative models. A
different sort of determination, however, can apply if one shifts from a
synchronic emphasis to one which is diachronic. Indeed, what is most striking
about Halls reflections on method in the essay is his centring of questions of
temporality. The categories of classical political economy worked to dehistoricize relations of capitalist production; Marx insisted on starting with
historical specification. In this reading, social relations necessarily exist in
specific durations  in, in other words, historical time. They exist in
movement. Historical time lies at the very heart of Halls method (see
especially Hall 1974, pp. 143 5, 152 3): History . . . articulates itself as the
epistemological premise[,] the starting point, of theoretical labour (Hall 1974,
p. 157). We are dealing here neither with a disguised variant of positivism nor
with a rigorous a-historicism but with that most difficult of theoretical models,
especially to the modern spirit: a historical epistemology (Hall 1974, p. 152).
Hall on method may be wrong: but method is neither absent, nor
neglected, nor undertheorized. My own view is that Stuart Hall is more of
a historical thinker than is customarily appreciated. This is not to say he
produces histories in the image of professional historians. But his determination to understand social relations as constituted by their durations, and in
perpetual movement, does testify to the centrality in his work of a historical
method. He outlined some of the key intellectual components of this
dimension of his thinking in the later essay on The hinterland of science:
ideology and the sociology of knowledge (Hall 1978). Here he made it
clear that his commitment to what Levi-Strauss described as the forgotten
sociological tradition of Durkheim and Mauss not only brought back into the
field of vision the question of mentalities, but took him onto the same territory
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as Maurice Halbwachs and Annales. This marked an appropriation of a tradition


of social theory peculiarly alive to the question of historical time.
Or, to look at this from the other way around, distinctive in his concrete
political analysis is his repeated emphasis on the movement of political forces.
To catch the interplay of determination and contingency, in their actual
movements through time, requires a conceptual approach that is also, in some
respects, mobile: capable of grasping the movements of historical time which
compose a conjuncture, and which underwrite the shifting balance of forces.
Halls tracking of the evolutions of Thatcherism can be seen in this light (Hall
1988). Rojek admits as much, though does no more than state that this is so
(p. 17). For some, this quality of his thinking was what made Halls insights
into Thatcherism possible; for others, it was exactly this mobility in thought
which proved to be most troubling. His identification of authoritarian
populism, for example, came in for particular censure, on the grounds that
his organizing concepts kept on moving around  or, to continue with Rojeks
preferred term, slipping (Jessop et al. 1984) Much of the ensuing debate
turned on what theory could do in the concrete analysis of concrete
situations. More specifically, it highlighted the problem of differing levels of
theorization. Hall put it like this:
/

I do not believe that all concepts operate at the same level of abstraction
 indeed, I think one of the principal things which separates me from the
fundamentalist Marxist revival is precisely that they believe that the
concepts which Marx advanced at the highest level of abstraction (i.e.
mode of production, capitalist epoch) can be transferred directly into the
analysis of concrete historical conjunctures. My own view is that concepts
like that of hegemony (the family or level of abstraction to which AP
[authoritarian populism] also belongs) are of necessity somewhat
descriptive, historically more specific, time-bound, concrete in their
reference  because they attempt to conceptualize what Marx himself
said of the concrete: that it is the product of many determinations. So I
have to confess that it was not an error or oversight which determined the
level of concreteness at which AP operates. It was quite deliberately and
self-consciously not pitched at that level of pure theoretical-analytical
operation at which Jessop et al seem to assume all concepts must be
produced. The costs of operating at this level of abstraction are clear. But
to me  in the wake of the academicizing of Marxism and the theoreticist
deluge of the 1970s  so are the gains.
(Hall 1985, pp. 118 9)
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From a rather different angle, this too is a critique of high formalism.


Not all of Stuart Halls writing works at this level of abstraction, but much
of it does, with its attendant gains and costs. If one turns to the opening

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sentence of the first (signed) article he ever published in Britain, in the


founding issue of Universities and Left Review, we read this: The disorderly
thrust of political events disturbs the symmetry of political analysis
(Hall 1957, p. 21). Conceptually, this anticipates much of his later writings
on politics, and conforms too to his later reading of the 1857 Introduction.
Hall had arrived in Britain in 1951, when Churchill had once more become
prime minister. The rotation between the two parties was back in business,
and on the most pressing foreign and domestic matters a deepening consensus
was cohering between the two front-benches. Ivy League political scientists
began the transatlantic pilgrimage to come and wonder at the harmonious
workings of British institutions. A figure like Harvards Samuel Beer, for
example, formed deep in Parsonian functionalism, was representative in his
understanding of what British politics was, and influential as well. And what
was British politics, if not order and symmetry? However, the destruction of
Anthony Eden in the closing months of 1956, as a consequence of the war with
Egypt, was an occasion of dramatic dysfunction and disturbance in the system.
From it, a new politics was made possible. Instability and disequilibrium
followed in its wake, caught in all the turbulence of irrational forces and the
old neuroses (Hall 1957, p. 21). But imagining politics in this way
was not merely the response to the immediate, conjunctural political crisis.
As we can see from Halls subsequent writings, it runs deeper than that. In this
view, politics essentially is disorderly, disturbing and asymmetrical. The
unpredictable and the contingent are always around the corner, disequilibrium the name of the game. The objects of study outpace the concepts
formed to comprehend them. To this degree, concepts too  necessarily 
will move.
Movement, though, may take different forms. The concept of authoritarian populism, Hall notes, emerged as a sort of footnote to Gramscis Modern
Prince and State and Civil Society (Hall 1985, p. 119). In terms of the
questions raised above  method, temporality, level of abstraction 
Gramscis commitments to the concrete, as a conceptual and methodological
category, are striking. This is particularly evident in his discussion of
intellectuals, which opens the English translation of the Selections from the
Prison Notebooks. Gramscis insistence on extending the classic Marxist reading
of ideology to ideologues, and thence to the more expansive notion of the
intellectual, exemplifies this determination to grasp the concrete. The
frequency of this term, concrete, is conspicuous throughout these opening
pages, serving to remind us both of the operations internal to the mind which
allow thought itself to be properly determinate, and of the means by which, in
the social world, philosophies come to work as integral components of
varied, competing political forces. It is in these terms that Gramsci locates
Machiavelli. The first paragraph of The Modern Prince reads:
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The basic thing about The Prince is that it is not a systematic treatment,
but a live work, in which political ideology and political science are
fused in the dramatic form of a myth. Before Machiavelli, political
science had taken the form either of the Utopia or of the scholarly
treatise. Machiavelli, combining the two, gave imaginative and artistic
form to his conception by embodying the doctrinal, rational element in
the person of a condottiere, who represents plastically and anthropomorphically the symbol of the collective will. In order to represent the
process whereby a given collective will, directed toward a given political
objective, is formed, Machiavelli did not have recourse to long-winded
arguments, or pedantic classifications of principles and criteria for a
method of action. Instead he represented this process in terms of the
qualities, characteristics, duties and requirements of a concrete individual.
Such a procedure stimulates the artistic imagination of those who have to
be convinced, and gives political passions a more concrete form.
(Gramsci 1971, p. 125)
These are arresting, if condensed, sentences. From them we can see that, for
Gramsci, the concrete represents not merely social reality, imagined at a
particular level of abstraction; nor only social relations in movement. For what
Gramsci designates as the domain of the political is also a live, dysfunctional
domain, composed by myths and passions as much as by rational doctrines.
From this perspective, the genius of Machiavelli lay in his capacity to craft a
formal philosophy able to grasp these dimensions of political reality. His was a
political philosophy that stimulates the artistic imagination and gives political
passions a more concrete form. It is neither formally systematized, nor made
up of pedantic classification. In this conception, politics is not only about
rational calculation, but about the making of what Gramsci called a concrete
phantasy (1971, p. 126, emphasis added). To think in these terms adds a
further layer of meaning to the idea of the concrete, for it alerts us to the
subjective identifications in which political objectives take shape, become
embodied, and generate human passion.2 Writing about the crisis within
British Conservatism in 1957, Hall was keen to unearth these interior
manifestations of political life, just as he was, a quarter of a century later,
when he presented his commentaries on the authoritarian-populist drive of the
Thatcherites. Patently, this isnt all that politics is. But it provides a critical
dimension, making the concrete more complex, more intangible in its
subterranean movements, and harder to reach analytically. To close down
debate, though, by dismissing all this as slippage can only serve to reinvent an
old functionalism.
Stuart Halls method, I am suggesting, cannot be divorced from his
insistence on thinking historically, both in his understanding of historical time
and in his privileging of the historically concrete. Inevitably, as Hall affirms,

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this is a way of working which entails losses as well as gains. However if we


were to switch perspective, we can see what can occur if a sense of historical
location is absent. In assessing Halls intellectual output, it would be possible
to move from one piece of writing to the next, in chronological sequence, and
to construct a story of his theoretical evolution. But this would miss the
occasion for each of his articles or books. Hall characteristically is a dialogic
thinker, in conversation with often unnamed interlocutors, and customarily
writing specifically for the moment. To an unusual degree each paper of his
represents an engagement with adversaries, on one flank or the other. This is
true not only of his directly political interventions, but also of his theoretical
reflection. Put simply, the context for each paper needs to be known.
Sometimes this is easily discerned from the text itself; often it is not. But if the
shifts in the political-intellectual context (conjuncture) are not acknowledged,
it may well indeed seem as if there were unwarranted movement in his
theoretical positions. I know this is elementary. I know, equally, that attention
to historical context cannot resolve the issue of slippage. But if it is absent, as
it regularly is in Rojeks commentary, then it is difficult to see what connects
one text of Halls, concretely, to the next. Why, for instance, does Rojek
make no attempt to draw out the shared conceptual provenance of Halls
analysis of Marxs 1857 Introduction and his paper exploring Encoding and
Decoding? Without these connections all we have is an unilluminating cut and
paste. It can prove no surprise that from this vantage, in which one text after
another is levered from the conditions in which it was produced, a cardinal
feature of Halls work turns out to be slippage.
Rojeks final charge is that Halls intellectual positions are marred by the
limitations of their Englishness. This is the most baffling aspect of the book.
The charge is announced in the introduction, under the sub-head: The
problem of Englishness (p. 29). Rojek opens by drawing upon the view of
another critic. John Hartley, he says, argues that a preoccupation with
British questions is a central defect of what he calls Hallism (p. 29). This
recourse to Hartleys condemnation is repeated twice (p. 37, p. 45). As it
happens, Hartley says nothing of the sort. He has critical things to say about
Policing The Crisis. (Hall et al. 1978) But these criticisms derive in no way
from anything to do with either Englishness or Britishness.3 For Hartley
neither constitutes a central defect in Halls work (Hartley 1996, p. 233,
pp. 235 40). No matter. Rojek proceeds by reminding us that Hall himself
has gone on record to declare that he is not, nor ever will be, English 
conceding that Halls relation to Britain is complex (p. 29). In the remaining
page and a half he devotes to the matter in his introduction, he says one or two
things about the New Left, introduces the Marxism Today New Times debate,
and concludes by taking issue with Halls critique of capitalism which 
though obviously still relevant  fails, in Halls case, to go beyond the
level of critique (pp. 30 1). Thus after the first misinformed sentences, the
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sub-head notwithstanding, there is nothing more in this section about either


Englishness or Britishness. He promises that the accusation of the limitations
of Englishness will be substantiated later in the book. And that is the last we
hear of it.
This really is very peculiar, and I cant pretend to understand what is going
on. But all is not lost. Although Rojek chooses not to inform the reader, he has
written on Hall and Englishness before. In an article published in 1998 he set
out to demonstrate that Halls intellectual world had been formed by the old
antinomian traditions of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century England.
Antinomianism, briefly, emerged amongst the radical sects of the Civil
War, its proponents dedicated to an extreme version of the belief that all laws
were internal to the individual self, and that external laws, codified by church,
state or society, could only be followed to the degree that they were
confirmed by the inner moral conviction of the individual. These ideas were
formed deep in the crucible of the social collapse of the 1640s, familiar to most
people today from Christopher Hills The World Turned Upside Down (1972).
Some historians, pre-eminent amongst them Edward Thompson (1993), have
argued that after the Restoration antinomianism and its associated traditions
continued to be espoused by later generations, reproduced from parent to
child in a symbolic underground of small sects in provincial England, in
corners of London, and also in free-thinking communities in the American
colonies, where sectarian passions of this kind could more easily flourish
unmolested. These same historians are persuaded that these underground
traditions then resurface again, or become visible to the historian again, in the
democratic turmoil of the 1790s  and that evidence for this can be found
most of all in the highly charged visionary perception of the world active in the
aesthetic imagination of William Blake.6 Thus rather than Blake being
understood as a singularly eccentric figure, he is  in this interpretation 
placed in a long tradition of plebeian iconoclasm stretching back to the
revolutionary moment of the seventeenth century. This reading has obvious
attractions. But it is also contentious. It is part of a complex, wide-ranging and
specialized historiographical debate that delves deep into seventeenth- and
eighteenth-century popular mentalities. The quality of this scholarship  what
it can and cant demonstrate; its basis in the sources and so on  is recognized
well enough by the historians who contribute to it, whatever their ultimate
conclusions.
But this does not concern Rojek. He introduces antinomianism. Then,
from nowhere, he announces: At this point, I want to insist particularly on the
living presence of antinomianism in contemporary culture. He lists some of
these contemporary manifestations: anti-road protests, poll tax riots, new age
groups and the demonstrations against the Criminal Justice and Public Order
Act (1994), the emergence of rave cultures which celebrate lawlessness and
classlessness . . . and the Eco-warriors of tunnel-makers and tree-dwellers
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(1998, p. 49) On the basis of no evidence, antinomianism comes to be


amplified into a fully-fledged tradition in English political life (1998, p. 60).
The connection between the ideas of the arcane antinomian sects 
Calvinisms lower-class alter ego, in Hills words (1972, p. 130)  and
contemporary protest is, for him, easily achieved. These dissenting groups
stand for a different Britain that contrasts with established configurations of the
nation-state. Their cultural significance is that they practise different ways of
being which refuse the ordinance of existing nation-state axioms and rules
(1998, p. 62). That is it. And thus by extension, this is a tradition that comes
to touch Stuart Hall, as indeed it could  on these terms  touch almost
anyone. Rojek reassures us that he does not believe Hall to be a covert
antinomian. But he offers a reading that he himself champions as being rather
bold: I propose that antinomianism is a crucial and neglected influence in the
content and trajectory of Stuart Halls thought. It reveals him to be a more
English thinker than he or his circle have allowed (1998, p. 60).
He produces not a single piece of evidence to substantiate this. This is so
random  so indeterminate  that Hall might as well be designated a Lollard,
Owenite or Chartist. Rojek makes no attempt to establish homologies between
antinomian thought and Halls writings at the textual level, nor a demonstration of any extra-textual, historical connection. The reader has to rely on one
ill-judged and uninformed assertion: The whole spirit of Halls writing is
against the law (1998, p. 61). This is not just wrong-headed interpretation.
It raises again the question of methodology. How can we take Rojeks
estimation of Halls methodology seriously when his own practice does him
such disservice? In Popperian mood, Rojek implies that Halls theorizations
arent adequately falsifiable (p. 115). His own prove too easily to be so.
In familiar refrain, Rojek opens this 1998 article by asking: How are we to
explain the slippage in the writings of Stuart Hall on culture?. He claims
that this is a defect which is widely alleged, citing two authors as evidence,
Jim McGuigan (1992) and Kuan-Hsing Chen (1996). As Chen doesnt make
the allegation, or any like it, its wideness remains open to doubt, resting as it
does on the word of a single writer. Nonetheless, readers of Rojeks
monograph might assume they know what is in store  such dogged repetition
of the criticism of slippage that it takes on the aura of incantation. But this is
not to be. Instead, confounding expectation, we discover that the antinomian
perspective sheds a new light on Hall such that the problem of slippage is
resolved. It transpires  or it did in 1998  that there is a unity and continuity
to his work, supplied by the overarching influence of antinomian thought.
Slippage ceases to be the issue. Thus, Instead of seeing a break or
slippage in Halls work, it is possible to see an important continuity (1998,
p. 46). In 1998, the great slippage question has been resolved; five years
later, it is back with force. Which is it to be?
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It may be, of course, that by the time Rojek came to write the book his
line on antinomianism no longer seemed to him persuasive. It had to be
dropped because it just couldnt work. If this is right, at least this would
explain the absence of any reference to antinomianism  so powerful an
interpretation a short while before  in the monograph, or any reference to
the article in which the original proposition was made. In terms even of his
own protocols, the abandonment of the antinomian thesis, though, leaves him
with nothing of substance to say about Halls supposed Englishness. This may
in turn explain why the charge of Englishness is left suspended in the book,
hanging around at the end of the introduction with nowhere to go.
There is in any case plenty of confusion in Rojeks presentation about the
consequences of this supposed antinomian influence, and more generally  in
both the article and the book  about the effects of Englishness itself. It is
never clear whether Hall is being criticized for writing mostly about English
subjects; for not heeding sufficiently the impact of globalization; or whether
there is meant to be something deeply English in his manner of thinking, with
deleterious effects. These variant readings pop up on different occasions. The
first of these is of no possible interest; the second represents a retrospective,
and partial, response to Halls earlier work, written at a time when its too
easy to be more knowing about globalization; and the third is so abstract,
arbitrary and subjective in its criteria that it can deliver nothing of significance.
Not only this. Rojek proceeds as if Hall had never himself considered the
question of English civilization. Yet, from early on he was understandably
preoccupied  explicitly so  by the issue, and has continued to be so since
(Hall 1958).
But what of the fact that this putative English intellectual is a black
Jamaican? What of the fact that he describes himself as a diasporic intellectual?
(Hall 1996, emphasis added).
Rojek is having nothing to do, he insists, with this latter identification. On
this his reasoning is luminous. To accept Hall as diasporic exaggerates (his)
marginality to pre-Marxist English traditions of cultural criticism (1998,
p. 58). In other words, to see him as diasporic would mean that he could not
also be designated antinomian  a corollary that wouldnt do at all. Or at
least, it wouldnt do in 1998. Here we can witness what happens when a
concept proves incapable of movement, and when stasis rules. What is this,
methodologically, if not an exemplification of the balancing of concepts at the
expense of grasping . . . real relations?
On Halls Jamaican past, Rojek is less quick to judge. For this, though, we
need to return  after the antinomian hiatus  to his book. With all the
bombast of a pantomime magistrate, he reveals that:
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In researching Halls published writings and trying to trace through the


many complex threads of the shifts of emphasis in his intellectual position

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over the years, I have reached the conclusion that Halls background in
Jamaica must be confronted.
(p. 47)
Indeed. Rojek spends half a dozen pages, drawing from the old, influential 
and hugely debated  social analysis of M. G. Smith (1965), whose emphasis
fell on the lack of cohesion in Caribbean societies.4 Rojek gives this his own
particular spin, by placing his emphasis on the centrality of internal racial
hierarchies in the ordering of Jamaican society. He plausibly suggests that
Stuart Halls deep-seated interest in the generation of social difference may
have originated in his Jamaican formation (p. 55). He posits the likelihood of a
link between Halls later antipathy to the monetarist and nationalist rhetoric
deployed by Thatcher in the 1980s and his memories of Jamaicas first general
election in December 1944, though acceptance of this demands a higher
degree of latitude (pp. 56 7). Less plausibly still  unquestionably, in
Rojeks mind  the strictness of his parents prefigured (sic) (but not of
course determined) his later theorizations of authoritarian populism (p. 56).
And with no plausibility at all, Halls Jamaican background is perceived by
Rojek to account for his purported tendency to romanticize black street
crime; or at least  Rojek goes on  for his refusal to accept police and
populist accounts on a priori grounds (as if these were conceivably the same
things) (p. 55). And there discussion of Halls connections to the Caribbean
stops.5
For all the portentousness of the announcement  Jamaica must be
confronted  it is apparent that this is an interpretation that remains
enclosed, set apart from the rest of the book. The findings he does present are
not only external and mechanistic. They are also organized through an
exclusively British optic. Halls writings of the seventies and eighties on Britain
function as the starting-point, his Jamaican past serving only to provide
confirmation of a pre-given, British-centred, teleology. Why not, for example,
explore how Halls experiences of Birmingham and London inform his
readings of Jamaica? But Rojek cant allow himself to reflect upon the complex
movements back and forth between the Caribbean and Britain, for this would
give credence to the centrality of the diasporic experience  which he has
already ruled out of order. As we can see, understanding Stuart Halls
intellectual world without grasping its continuing locations in a diasporic
experience proves  for Rojek not least  to be tricky.
Rojek presents Hall as a figure who enters intellectual life in the middle
1950s as a ready-made inspiration for the New Left, who thence moved
seamlessly to become the progenitor of what has subsequently come to be
known as British cultural studies. Not only does this ignore the Caribbean
elements in Halls intellectual life in the fifties; it ignores his continuing
involvement with Caribbean organizations in Britain through the 1960s and
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beyond; and it ignores too the complicated but important role he has played in
Caribbean intellectual life itself, in Jamaica and further afield. As none of this is
discussed, maybe Rojek believes it unimportant. My own view, to the
contrary, is that it is of great importance. But it is not easily put into
perspective.
The intellectual labour of decolonization in the Caribbean produced a rich
conceptual legacy, of significance not only for the Caribbean but more
generally. Theoretically, this is most evident in the case of Fanon. But the same
pertains  or should do so, if it were better known  for the Anglophone
West Indies. The experience of decolonization in the British Caribbean can
properly be understood to have been overdetermined. This is so on two
counts. First, in language, religion, literary culture, schooling and sport, the
formal institutions of West Indian culture were peculiarly proximate  in
form  to those of the metropolis. As we know, when West Indian migrants
arrived in Britain in the middle decades of the twentieth century, they were
coming to a civilization with which they were already intimate, for to an
unusual degree it was already (formally) theirs. Second, much of the
intellectual work of decolonization was conducted not in the Caribbean but
in the metropolis. Location, in this respect, matters. Those West Indian
thinkers in Britain in the 1940s and 1950s, attempting to imagine the coordinates of a sovereign Caribbean, were at the same time having to contend
with the actually-existing metropolitan British civilization, in its most
proximate, most immediate, lived manifestations. These circumstances
demanded a peculiarly far-reaching critique of the precepts of British
civilization, for in the Caribbean most of all it was apparent that the transfer
of political power  independence  would only obliquely address the
deeper cultural and subjective legacies of colonialism.
This impulse for decolonization was manifest in many different formations,
some highly codified intellectually, some not. It was present in conceptual
critique (theory), and it was present too in ska and calypso, in cricket and in
a myriad other popular forms of expression. Indeed, it was the purpose of
much of C. L. R. Jamess writings in the late fifties and early sixties, for
example, to show that this was so. His Beyond a Boundary endeavoured not only
to demonstrate this, but itself stands as a formidable decolonizing text,
working through with great intricacy his own inner formation as a colonized
and racially subordinate subject of the British system (James 1963). To
differing degrees, formally accredited intellectuals schooled in the institutions
of British colonialism increasingly perceived the need to divest themselves
of something of the cultural inheritance of empire. In so doing, they
necessarily found themselves confronting more directly their own, and their
respective nations, Creolization. This was necessarily a collective historical
transformation. Indeed, we can witness the protracted and uneven recomposition of Caribbean thought as it strove to incorporate within itself the
/

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vernacular forms of the West Indian nations in the process of their seeking
sovereignty. At every point, the formal legacies of colonialism vied with the
vernacular, blacker, more fluid cultures which constituted the traces of
slavery, of other diasporas, and of a long history of racial mixing. If popular life
in the Caribbean represented the stratum of a cultural order in which the
norms of the colonizers were least internalized, one can appreciate why at this
moment  on the threshold of independence and after  it assumed a new
valency. In such circumstances, thought could lose its purity, become more
profane, and new things happen.7
How Halls intellectual evolution connected to these movements in
thought is not easily reconstructed. My own sense is that certain emergent
emphases of Caribbean intellectual life created in this struggle for sovereignty
 the developing critique of racial systems; the concern with the displacement
of political authority in other symbolic and cultural forms; the implacable
commitments to maximize and cherish the power of innovative vernacular
forms; the expansive conception of what comprised the civilization of the
British; and the consequent understanding that future emancipation required
cultural work on the widest front  are not merely close to the heart of Stuart
Hall. He gave them voice in Britain, in a peculiarly diasporic idiom (Schwarz
2003). As Halls work has developed, the diasporic qualities of his thought
have become more pronounced, not least because he has made them both
increasingly explicit and increasingly central to his theorizations of the cultures
of late modernity. Yet, at the same time, they have represented a continuous
 and a continuously defining  element in his thinking.
In drawing from Smiths anthropology of Jamaican society, Rojek
emphasizes the fact that Halls social background was in the brown middle
class. He is able to make less of the fact that Hall himself believes he
subsequently came to be black in London (Hall 1991, 1998). Although Rojek
concedes that this act of becoming black might work for Britain, it cannot  he
says  work for Jamaica, and results in a muddled message (p. 55). Yet, by
arguing in this way, Hall is able grasp the mobility of ethnicity and, in this
instance, the mobility as well of a specifically diasporic identity. To imagine a
transformation in ethnic identity in these terms (from brown to black) clearly
requires of Hall that he employ a concept of race in which mental operations 
the mind, the imagination, fantasy, culture itself  prevail in the categorization
of racial difference. Necessarily, this distances him theoretically from a more
profoundly empiricist interpretation of race in which, for example, the
category of brown or black can only work as the pre-given function of
epidermal disposition (Tiens! Un ne`gre!). Yet, for all Rojeks enthusiasm for
Marx, Nietzsche, Baudrillard and the rest, this is how he chooses to proceed,
as if race is determined by observable epidermal characteristics. (Otherwise,
we must suppose, all is indeed, for Rojek, a muddle.) How else could he be
persuaded by the power of David Cannadines arguments about race and

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empire which exactly exemplify this unapologetically reductionist approach


toward ethnic identification (p. 169, p. 45, Cannadine 2001)? Divesting race
of its imaginative properties, in a bid to make it less mobile and thus readier
for synchronic analysis, cuts out too much. It becomes, in effect, a sociological
formality. In Rojeks rendition, the fact of blackness comes to be subsumed
by a matter-of-factness about blackness. It isnt only the Caribbean that falls
beyond Rojeks field of vision; it is his subjects blackness too.
Rojeks determination to establish Halls English credentials serves to
trivialize his blackness. Is this also what the anecdote about his appearance on
Desert Island Discs was attempting to convey? To demonstrate that Hall wasnt
an outsider at all, but honoured and accepted at the centre, and complicit
with the ethnic codes of the English past? If one listens, though, contrary things
can be heard which seem not to touch Rojek. Alongside Halls expression of
admiration for Henry James, and for Bach and Puccini, one could also hear
Billie Holiday, Bob Marley, Marvin Gaye, Wynton Marsalis playing Ellington,
and above all, Miles Davis. Rojek knows this, because he lists them  or most
of them. But he gives no indication of hearing. These are musics that testify to
the historical experience of servitude in the making of the modern world. They
are black, both in the sense of the particularity of the history they articulate
and more directly in terms of their authorship. They are not, though,
exclusively, racially black  black in the blood. They possess a greater reach
and mobility than that. These are musics that have shaped Halls imagination,
as he himself explained. Of Miles Davis, he said, he put his finger on my soul;
over the years his compositions matched my own feelings. The consequences
of this are part of a longer argument. Let me say here, in closing, that these are
not expressions of human life which are disconnected from the creative,
critical thinking we associate with Stuart Hall. To grasp these connections,
though, we are compelled to think in more imaginative, expansive terms about
theory and politics, and what each might do. In Halls words, the music of
Miles Davis represents the sound of what cannot be. And what is his own
intellectual practice but the striving, against all odds, to make what cannot be
alive in the imagination? And perhaps in the future . . . be?
/

Notes
1

Published shortly after Rojek are two student-friendly exegeses of Halls


work by Helen Davis (2004) and James Procter (2004). The latter text
especially provides a stimulating, persuasive introduction. Hall also appears
as one of a quartet in Grant Farreds (2003) study, alongside Muhammad
Ali, C. L. R. James and Bob Marley.
There is a further argument here that, given the current dispositions of
critical theory in Britain, needs to be tracked. This concerns the connections
(via Sorel) between Bergson and Gramsci. In part, this has to do with the
question of duration and temporality. In part its to do with the problem of

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method  in which Bergsons reflections on the relation between fixed


concepts and mobile reality are of the first importance. (Bergson 1999,
p. 51) And it is also a matter of the vitalism that so deeply touched
Gramsci, in which theory has to adopt the very life of things, and in
which the vocabulary of social myth, poetry and passion are sustained
(Bergson 1999, p. 53).
Rojek makes no distinction between Englishness and Britishness.
Thompson draws from Erdmans great study of Blake (1954) at this point,
though Erdman himself uses the category of antinomianism itself sparingly.
He misses the opportunity, however, to evaluate Halls (1977) contribution
to this debate.
Earlier he refers to Halls television series on the Caribbean, Redemption Song
(BBC, tx 1991), claiming it was about Caribbean migration to the UK
(p. 42). It wasnt.
This is having to put a complex historical argument abstractly. It is clear
from Walmsley (1992) and from James (2003) that, in the political-aesthetic
field, these issues dominated debate in the Caribbean Artists Movement,
evident especially in two electrifying lectures, subsequently published as
Brathwaite (1967 68) and Goveia (1970).
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3
4
5
6
7

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