My reasons for describing Stuart Hall as an inspiration are partly about what he did, and partly about what he was. Stuart and I worked together in the Faculty of Social Sciences at the Open University for almost 20 years. By 1979, when he joined the Open University as Professor of Sociology, Stuart was already famous. Along with Raymond Williams, Richard Hoggart and others at the Birmingham Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies, he had in effect founded a new academic field. For Stuart, cultural studies represented the opening up of a way of understanding society and politics through culture which could be used to advance progressive causes of several kinds. In classical Marxism, culture is regarded as an epiphenomenon, a mere function of the economic and political structure. But a core insight of Stuart’s work, in what came to be known as ‘the cultural turn’, was that culture, and of course the role of the media within it, is not merely reflective but constitutive. In other words, it has autonomous power to shape individual experience, social relations and political outcomes. How did this work? How could the Left take advantage of it?
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