Culturing the Conjuncture

February 2024

Julian Henriques and David Morley, eds., Stuart Hall: Conversations, Projects, and Legacies (London: Goldsmiths, 2017); 328 pages; ISBN 978-1906897475 (hardcover)

In 1951 a young Jamaican left his country for Oxford, England, on a Rhodes Scholarship. He was nineteen years old. No one knew that by the time he died in 2014, this callow youth, Stuart Hall, would rock the foundations of academia globally, his impact on the intellectual life of England rippling outward in ever-widening circles to influence scholars worldwide.

Toward the end of November 2014, nine years before the time of writing this review, Goldsmith’s College in London convened a gathering of Hall’s closest friends, associates, and collaborators at a conference titled “Conversations, Projects, and Legacies.” It was eight months since Hall’s death in February. Designed to take the measure of this extraordinary man, the Goldsmiths confab was also an attempt to repurpose and retrofit ideas and strategies developed by Hall in response to particular late-twentieth-century conjunctures to better tackle new conjunctures formed in and by the twenty-first century.

Stuart Hall: Conversations, Projects, and Legacies, an almost comprehensive selection of the presentations made at the 2014 conference, was published in 2017, edited by Julian Henriques and David Morley, both professors at Goldsmiths and close associates of Hall’s. The book plumbs the range and reach of Hall’s intellectual work. Angela Davis, whose activism was informed by reading Hall’s ideas and interventions all the way in California, pinpoints one of his major contributions:

He helped to shift our epistemological focus from discipline-based theories and methods to problems—the possible but always contingent resolution of which would require us to consult many disciplines—and, indeed, to think beyond the framework of disciplines, and to also recognize the production of knowledge in venues other than academic ones—in other words, also through political practice.” (“Policing the Crisis Today,” 259)

Cultural studies is the name of the field most closely associated with Hall, and this book provides an insider’s look at the formation and development of this innovative mode of inquiry and scholarly practice in the UK. The book is divided into seven parts, each introduced by the editors, who contextualize what is unique about the contributions. Remarkably the book is a faithful recreation of the 2014 conference, publishing all but one of the presentations made. Each of the twenty-four chapters is a succinct, well-articulated engagement with different aspects or stages of Hall’s sprawling lifework.

James Curran describes how Policing the Crisis, Hall’s coauthored 1978 book, became a foundation text of critical political communications research by departing from the usual sociological methods:

Instead of relying on a single data set to examine a narrowly circumscribed topic, the book roams across two decades to offer a Marxist interpretation of the role of the media in the renewal of a regime of power—and instead of relying on longitudinal panel studies, the book situates its investigation of media influence within a panoramic historical setting that contextualized audience responses. (“Stuart Hall Redux: His Early Work, 1964–1984,” 40)

In a section titled “The Politics of Conjuncture,” John Clarke observes that conjunctural analysis was Hall’s greatest gift to Cultural studies. He quotes Stuart’s definition of a conjuncture:

The conjuncture is a period during which the different social, political, economic and ideological contradictions that are at work in society come together to give it a specific and distinctive shape. (“Doing the Dirty Work: The Challenges of Conjunctural Analysis,” 80)

Pointing out that the work of studying a conjuncture is necessarily a collective and collaborative one, Clarke laments the fact that the currently hegemonic forms of the academy “run in exactly the opposite direction. They fetishize individual work, individual careers and individual outputs. In particular, they fetishize the heroic great scholar” (84).

Heroism was not something Hall aspired to; he liked to roll up his sleeves and get to work in the trenches when needed. Noting Hall’s activism, David Edgar, for example, writes that it took him a while to realize that the “brilliantly fissile group” he and his wife belonged to included the great theorist:

To tell the truth, it took me some time to pick up that the elegantly spoken Jamaican seated in Buddhist detachment on our and others’ sofas—possessed even then of his unique talent for laughing through speech as opposed to before or after it—was indeed Stuart Hall. (“The Politics of Conjuncture: The Stuart Hall Projects—Outcomes and Impacts,” 94)

We learn that applied theory, rather than theory for the sake of being recondite or recherché, was an integral element of Hall’s practice. According to political campaigner Lola Young, “Stuart’s legacy is not just what he thought, but how he ‘did thinking’—with others, in constant dialogue, a practice of exploring, of learning, of teaching, of making thinking” (“Policy, Politics, Practice, and Theory,” 152).

In “Reflecting and Remembering the Work of Stuart Hall” (172–78), Avtar Brah points out that Hall’s use of the concept of diaspora was a critical response to the racialized discourse of “immigrants” and of the overemphasis on the nation-state.

One of the longest and most eloquent chapters is “The Partisan’s Prophecy: Handsworth Songs and Its Silent Partners,” by the acclaimed filmmaker John Akomfrah, who directed The Unfinished Conversation (2012) and The Stuart Hall Project (2013). According to Akomfrah, growing up Black in 1970s Britain

involved living a Wagnerian dramaturgy with the doppelgänger. You were aware from very early on that there was this abject and anarchic figure, loosed on the world, as Yeats described it, “educationally sub-normal,” unclubbable and on the rampage. . . .

. . . Usually in public but occasionally privately, you have this moment of epiphany, this mirror scene when you realize that this doppelgänger is, in fact, you; you are the mugger, the trouble, the nightmare from which others are trying to wake. (187–88)

Reading Policing the Crisis made Akomfrah (who describes himself as “a harbinger of a certain conceptual untidiness, an emblem of asymmetry” [197]) realize the distinction Hall was making between the processes of racism and racialization and the latter’s complicity in the double’s ventriloquizing of himself: “You start to grasp the full reach and breadth of how the doppelgänger became your silent partner in this contact zone of unbecoming. You grasp the immense lifeline of new thinking that you have been thrown by this man, this Stuart Hall fellow” (189).

Part 5 attempts to chart the dissemination and adoption of Hall’s work around the world. In “Stuart Hall, Brazil, and the Cultural Logics of Diaspora” (229–35), the Rio-based communications professor Liv Sovik tells us that in Brazil it arrived in the late 1970s, as the military government’s reign was waning, imported by local Marxists and academic intellectuals. Still, it was not till 1993 when a second wave of Hall’s writings landed, with the publication in Portugal of the third chapter of Policing the Crisis, that the impact of his work began to be seriously felt. Soon after, Spanish translations of Hall’s Encoding/Decoding in the Television Discourse (1973) entered Brazil via Argentina, followed by his essays on cultural identity. According to Sovik, Hall even had a bestseller when his “The Question of Cultural Identity” was translated and published as a small book, selling approximately forty thousand copies. Hall’s writings on race and racism arrived only in the aughts and contributed significantly to intellectual debate on the subject in Brazil. Even more influential was Hall’s foregrounding of diaspora as a hermeneutic, which found great resonance there.

In a similar vein Kuan-Hsing Chen charts the take-up of Hall’s work in East Asia, from Tokyo and Taiwan to South Korea to China. The Inter-Asia Cultural Studies (IACS) Project was a structured network engaging with Hall’s work on authoritarian populism that resonated strongly in the region. In 2015, “to keep Stuart’s ideas alive and to track how his work has become a source of thought in different parts of Asia,” Chen organized a double panel at the IACS conference in Indonesia, which included scholars of different generations from China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and Thailand. After the conference a field trip was made to Bandung and nearby rural villages, where an extraordinary meeting took place with members of the confederation of the Indonesian people’s movements. According to Chen, they “were told by the theorist leader of the movement that Stuart’s work on Gramsci, in particular on race and class, and his theory of articulation were instrumental for thinking and building the popular democratic movement” (“Stuart Hall and the Inter-Asian Cultural Studies Project,” 239).

Conspicuous by its absence in the book is any contribution from the Caribbean. Although the Jamaican theorist and editor of Small Axe, David Scott, did present a paper at the conference titled “Why Identity Is Not a Journey of the Mind,” it is not included in the book. In addition to charting the spread of Hall’s work in South America (1993) and East Asia (late 1980s) as the book does, it would have been good to get a sense of how Hall’s work has been received in the Caribbean. In 1994 a visiting scholar from India to Jamaica remarked on the fact that apart from a couple of lecturers in the Department of Literatures in English at the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona, there seemed to be little to no knowledge of Hall’s work. It would be 1996 before Hall was invited to give a lecture at UWI, at a conference in honor of the anglophone Caribbean’s culture czar Rex Nettleford. Subsequently two conferences in Hall’s honor were held at UWI, Mona, in 2004 and 2017, but the reasons for the glacial take-up of Hall’s work in the region that birthed him deserve critical attention.

Stuart Hall: Conversations, Projects, and Legacies is a must-read for those interested in the new modes of thinking about political culture and cultural politics that dominated the final decades of the twentieth century in the fields of cultural studies and postcolonial and diaspora studies.

Annie Paul, who was born in Kerala, India, is the editor-in-chief of the online magazine of Caribbean writing PREE ( and was the 2023 Lakes Writer-in-Residence at Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts. She has published extensively on art and culture, including a biography of Stuart Hall (University of the West Indies Press, 2020). Her blog Active Voice is at and her twitter is @anniepaul.

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