I woke up this morning to the news that Stuart Hall has died at the age of 82. Hall was not only one of the "founding fathers" of the cultural studies tradition but also one of the clearest, most persuasive advocates for a cultural studies that matters. Never one to retreat into the world of aesthetic contemplation and theoretical play, he always argued that thinking through and about culture could help us understand the fundamental features of our common life.
Reading his obituary and some personal reminiscences this morning, I realized Hall was probably the most "important"—that is to say, influential, canonical, etc.—person of colour working in my field. The title of "theorist" and the prestige that accompanies it is still largely reserved for white men from France. It meant a lot to have his example as a racialized scholar who—although he certainly wrote from and about his own experience—contributed to such a wide variety of theoretical and political debates.
Gary Alan Fine once suggested that although symbolic interactionism in some sense lost its struggles with the sociological mainstream of the mid-twentieth century, its major tenets eventually snuck back in through the back door as the uncontroversial common sense of the discipline. I think Hall's influence is like that—reaching far beyond those who have read his scholarship, taken his classes, or heard him speak. His ideas—and the ideas he helped introduce to the Anglophone academy—have become part of the bedrock of how we think.