There has recently been considerable debate over the tendency within international cultural studies to privilege British cultural studies as the original cultural studies formation. As Handel K Wright points out, the majority of accounts of the origins and formation of British cultural studies tend to reinforce a mythologised and monolithic interpretation of its historical development. (Wright, 1998) Jon Stratton and Ien Ang have also been highly critical of the tendency within British cultural studies to construct its own myth of origin, a myth which they argue operates within the (white) Great Man (sic) theory of (colonial, patriarchal) history.' (Stratton & Ang, 1996: 368) What concerns them is the way in which the myths constructed around British cultural studies tend to be positioned within a primarily intra-national framework whereby the development of cultural studies is portrayed as being untouched by external forces.
In contrast, Stratton and Ang argue that instead of seeing cultural studies as a primarily British formation which has been subsequently exported to other national sites, it might be better to speak about a geographically dispersed plurality of intellectual trajectories and movements, largely in the post-1960s period and in western, English-speaking countries, which, under precise historical conditions which need to be further explored, converged into the aforementioned international rendez-vous. (Stratton & Ang, 1996: 375) What interests me in this essay is Stratton and Angs argument that the history of British cultural studies might be usefully recast in terms of issues of race and cultural identity.
In particular, I want to take up their suggestion that a figure within British cultural studies, namely the Jamaican-born, British-based intellectual Stuart Hall, might provide a useful way to critique the very myths of origin in which he often plays a starring role. As they note, Halls unique position in cultural studies as an intellectual who has had to continually juggle his blackness, his Britishness and his iconic status within cultural studies provides a useful point from which to launch into a revisionist account of British cultural studies. In particular, they suggest that Halls understanding of his own intellectual and personal biography [as] informed by a speaking position which we want to characterise as diasporic (Stratton & Ang, 1996: 369) offers an inroad into a critique of traditional conceptions of the formation of British cultural studies.
This essay offers up a diasporic reading of British cultural studies via a discussion of the intellectual biography of Hall. In drawing upon a diasporic perspective, however, I am not attempting to displace those accounts of British cultural studies that emphasise the influential role of working class culture and New Left politics; rather I am concerned here with recontextualising those issues in the light of the kind of postcolonial analysis suggested by Halls mode of intellectual practice. My argument involves re-imagining British cultural studies as a site whose history has been marked by a series of contestations over the nature of subjectivity; debates that have seen cultural studies shift the focus of its concerns from class to gender to race and more recently to the more generic notions of cultural identity and ethnicity. However, rather than simply viewing this movement as a progressive one that is, as a shift from bad models of identity and culture based upon class to the good models of hybridised identity - I am interested in the way that these differing approaches all deal with similar sets of concerns, concerns revolving in particular around questions of cultural change and the fragmentation of identity in contemporary society.
In this context, Hall, a figure whose experiences of dramatic cultural transformation and personal dislocation have played a central role in his formation as an intellectual, offers a particularly useful lens through which to view the origins and development of cultural studies as an intellectual-political movement. In discussing British cultural studies specifically in relation to Halls intellectual and political career, however, I am not interested in reducing Hall or cultural studies to questions of race and culture. Instead, I am interested in using the notion of diaspora as a trope that not only expresses the fragmented experience of the colonised, black subject but that also can be applied to questions of identity in general. Taking my cue from Edward Saids conception of exile and its relation to intellectual practice, I want to suggest that the diasporic experience is not only an actual condition [but is also] for my purposes a metaphorical condition, (Said, 1994: 39) one that has played a major role in the formation and development of British cultural studies itself.
Traditionally the narratives constructed around the formation of British cultural studies take their origins from rural Wales and industrial Leeds, the birthplaces respectively of Raymond Williams and Richard Hoggart. The story of these founding fathers (and thus of cultural studies itself) tends to be located firmly on British soil and in particular within British working-class culture. In contrast, I want to suggest an alternative originary narrative, one that begins outside Britain in one of its colonial outposts and that complicates the logic of class culture and marginality underpinning cultural studies founding myths. Somewhat surprisingly, Hall himself is often situated unproblematically within the Hoggart/ Williams cultural studies trajectory with many theorists locating him within a tradition of British cultural Marxism and New Left politics. Halls turn in his recent work to a more self-conscious focus on the relationship between his own black, diasporic identity and his intellectual politics, however, has raised questions not only about the validity of locating Hall within a purely class-based narrative of cultural studies but also the utility of some of these originary myths for British cultural studies as a whole. In particular, Halls re-contextualisation of his own complex intellectual biography within the imagined community of the black diaspora and his foregrounding of the importance of displacement as a critical political/ intellectual trope has offered up the possibility of a radically different myth of origins for British cultural studies. In this next section, then, I want to discuss Halls Caribbean background and his experience of a displaced, colonial identity as a way of not only challenging conventional originary narratives of British cultural studies but also of introducing a new critical vocabulary for understanding the development of this intellectual-political formation, one based around a fractured or doubled sense of identity and culture.
Narratives of Selfhood
In Minimal Selves (Hall, 1993a: 134-138), an essay that foregrounds the centrality of movement and displacement to contemporary experience, and in two recent interviews, one with Kuan-Hsing Chen and the other with Naoki Sakai, (Chen, 1996: 484-503; Hall & Sakai, 1998: 306-378) Hall describes his own experiences as a Jamaican who migrated to Britain in the fifties, emphasising in particular the formative role that these experiences played in moulding his sense of identity. As Hall notes, the experience of being permanently displaced from his place of origin and being forced to endlessly reconstruct himself through new narratives of identity resulted in his being aware of the fact that identity is an invention from the very beginning, long before I understood any of this theoretically.' (Hall, 1993a: 135) The origins of this heightened sense of the constructed nature of identity can be traced even further back to Halls upbringing in Jamaica where he lived in an environment fraught with colonial and class tensions. Halls father, for example, worked for the United Fruit Company and was promoted to a managerial position previously held only by white employees. His fathers social status was further complicated by the fact that he came originally from a coloured, lower-middle class background while Halls lighter-skinned mother was raised in an educated middle-class milieu on a plantation and considered herself to be practically 'English'.
As Hall notes, growing up in a lower-middle-class family that was trying to be a middle-class Jamaican family trying to be an English Victorian family (Hall, 1993a: 135) taught him early on about issues of difference. His familys identification with the culture of the colonisers, rather than Jamaican culture, and their obsession with racial and colour differences (Hall describes his outsider status as the blackest member of the family and recalls his parents refusal to allow him to mix with darker skinned schoolmates) meant that Hall experienced at a very personal level the contradictions of the culture of colonialism. He recalls actively distancing himself from his parents and their class and colonial aspirations. As a young student, for instance, when his parents were mourning the passing of the old colonial era, Hall identified strongly with the anti-imperialist goals of the then fledgling Jamaican independence movement. At the same time, however, he was excelling in a traditional English-oriented education system. While Hall read more broadly than the narrow classical education normally permitted (in his final year at school he studied Freud, Marx and Lenin), he acknowledges that he was very much formed like a member of the colonial intelligentsia.' (Chen, 1996: 487) From an early age, then, Hall experienced the tensions of identifying with two very different cultural systems. While he gained increasing self-confidence from his academic achievements in the hegemonic, colonial education system, at the same time he continued to have an interest in, and ongoing identification with, the Caribbean nationalist movement.
While Hall names as powerful role models a handful of teachers at school who seemed able to negotiate between possessing a sense of Caribbean identity and being academic and English-oriented, (Chen, 1996: 488) his family environment offered no equivalent space in which Hall himself could fashion a similar kind of hybridised subjecthood. Recalling his family life and the reasons for his subsequent emigration to Britain in 1951, Hall captures the subjective effects of the impact of colonialism and its contradictions on the individual. He reflects that when I look at the snapshots of my childhood and early adolescence, I see a picture of a depressed person. I dont want to be who they want me to be, but I dont know how to be somebody else. (Chen, 1996: 488) Ironically, this subjective experience of displacement from both his Jamaican identity and an English identification imposed on him via the Jamaican education system in many ways helped prepare Hall psychologically for his move to Britain. As he notes, his attempt to escape from the colonised home where he felt he never quite belonged took him, via a scholarship, to Oxford university, itself a central colonial institution and a place that his family ironically saw as their real cultural home. Not surprisingly, however, Oxford in 1951 was a place where Hall felt doubly displaced.
The Crisis of British Culture
Commentary on Halls time at Oxford tends to focus primarily on his involvement in socialist politics, (Dworkin, 1997) a political commitment that, as I discuss shortly, saw Hall play a central role in the formation of the New Left. In a recent interview, however, Hall suggests a continuity between the seldom discussed postcolonial political culture at Oxford at that time and the concerns of the emerging New Left. In fact, the picture he himself paints of his first three years at Oxford is one of total saturation in postcolonial politics living as he did at that time in a milieu dominated by first generation, black, anti-colonial or post-colonial intelligentsia, many of whose graduate studies were funded by their governments and who subsequently returned to their countries to become the leading cadre of the post-independence period.' (Chen, 1996: 492)
Halls entree into British leftist politics came when he received a second scholarship and decided to stay on at Oxford. It was at this time that he met various people (like Alan Hall, who later played a role in the New Left, and the philosopher Charles Taylor) who, while interested in Marxism, remained distanced from the Communist Party and the Labour Party. As an alternative to the conventional leftist political groups of the time, Hall and these other independent leftists formed the Socialist Society, a group that sought to bring together a variety of left thinkers (from postcolonial intellectuals to British Marxists) who were critical of both Stalinism and imperialism. Rather than representing a total break with his earlier postcolonial politics, however, I would argue that the leftist politics in which Hall became increasingly involved were imbued with the kind of diasporic concerns that marked Halls own ambivalent relationship with the more traditional institutions of British socialism. Of relevance here is the fact that Halls socialist group was largely made up of foreigners or internal immigrants: [while] a lot of the British people were provincial, working-class, or Scottish, or Irish, or Jewish.' (Chen, 1996: 492) That is, the impetus for the early formation of the New Left along with the move to break away from the traditional structures of the Old Left came from a group of individuals who shared an experience of cultural displacement.
This concern of Hall and others with challenging the bases of traditional leftist British politics came at a time when Britain was undergoing significant social upheaval, provoked in part by external influences. As Ang and Stratton point out, while it may be true that Britain provided a uniquely productive moment for a radical rethinking of culture in the British context this does not mean that British cultural studies emerged solely out of organic, internal forces. (Stratton & Ang, 1996: 376) Rather, the context in which Britain underwent what Hall referred to in an essay in 1958 as a major shift in the patterns of social life in this country (Hall, 1958: 26) was one marked by international rather than purely intra-national forces. As Ang and Stratton argue, one of the major processes contributing to this social transformation was Britains declining role as a major colonial presence, a decline that occurred at the same time as America was emerging as the new Western global superpower.' (Stratton & Ang, 1996: 376)
While Bryan S Turner has argued that other commonwealth nations in the immediate post-war period were starting to grapple more openly than Britain with issues of race and multiculturalism, (Turner, 1992) I would suggest that Britains decline as an imperial force, alongside the remapping of the world system with America at its centre and the increasing importation of American mass culture into Britain in the fifties did, however, witness a significant challenge to Britains monolithic and exclusionary national identity. Indeed, Stratton and Ang suggest that as the structures of the Age of Empire were crumbling, there was a more general eruption of the non-dominant onto the previously neatly hierarchical fabric of British cultural life.' (Stratton & Ang, 1996: 376) This was literally marked by the mass migration of colonial subjects from Africa, Asia and the Caribbean to Britain in the forties, fifties and sixties, a process that brought the internalised racism that was central to British identity to the fore. But it was also, for Stratton and Ang, reflected in the emergence within British intellectual culture of marginal figures like Richard Hoggart, Raymond Williams and, of course, Hall.
What these three figures shared in common was their concern with making visible the conventional and constructed nature of British culture, a process which was underpinned by a concern with opening up the terrain of the cultural for struggle, negotiation, and resistance.' (Stratton & Ang, 1996: 376) Indeed, Stratton and Ang suggest that the energising impulse of British cultural studies has historically precisely lain in this critical concern with, and validation of, the subordinate, the marginalised, the subaltern within Britain.' (Stratton & Ang, 1996: 376) In contrast to Stratton and Ang, I am less interested in the trope of marginality than in the notion of a displaced or fragmented concept of cultural identity. The energising impulse of British cultural studies I would argue was drawn from the tension of being caught between cultures and identities, the contradictory positioning of a figure like Hall who came from a (lower) middle-class background, was educated alongside Britains social elite but was steeped in the culture of British working class socialism being an exemplary case in point. Hall captures this experience of contradiction in an early essay on social mobility and the new classlessness in post-war Britain, in his comments on the plight of the 'scholarship boy', who retains some sense of allegiance to his family and community, [while having to] constantly draw the distinction within himself between the just motive of self-improvement (which took him to university in the first place) and the false motive of self-advancement. (Hall, 1958: 29) Where I do agree with Stratton and Ang, however, is in respect of their argument that central to the formation of cultural studies is the recognition that there is not one culture in 'society' but that any society consists of a plurality of historically specific cultures structured in relations of dominance and subordination to each other,' (Stratton & Ang, 1996: 377) cultures that therefore exist in a relation of struggle and contestation. It was this sense of culture as a site of struggle, I would argue, that underpinned Halls own leftist politics and that saw him during his time at Oxford challenge some of the central political tenets of the old left.
The Emergence of the New Left
While British society in the fifties was undergoing a series of dramatic transformations, an equivalent sense of crisis was being experienced within Britains traditional leftist institutions. As Ioan Davies observes, this crisis was essentially brought about by the events of 1956 with the Russian invasion of Hungary, and the involvement of the British (as well as the French and the Israelis) in the Suez crisis dealing a major blow to the ideological foundations of the British Left. (Davies, 1993) During his time in Britain in the fifties Stuart Hall was confronted by a nation experiencing major socio-cultural changes and whose leftist political institutions were undergoing a process of intense self-examination. What this period of relative social and political instability provided, then, was an opportunity for Hall and other independent leftists to imagine an alternative political pathway for the British left, located somewhere between the consensus politics of the centre (Green, 1982: 79) and the excesses of Stalinism.
Oxford University appears, at first glance to be one of the more unlikely contexts for the development of a leftist political movement that sought to move beyond traditional party politics. Halls depiction of Oxford in the fifties as a place dominated by a deadening cultural conservatism and a willed triviality (marked by nostalgic attempts to recreate a kind of Brideshead Revisited atmosphere on campus) hardly suggests the kind of setting conducive to radical thought. As Hall comments outsiders like myself found it particularly hard to adjust to being catapulted into the centre of the process by which the English class system reproduced itself, educationally and culturally.' (Hall, 1989a: 19) However, it was outsider figures like Hall (along with various British born scholarship boys) who rebelled against the dominant intellectual and political concerns of the day by forming various New Left clubs and publishing leftist journals; the events of 1956 leading in particular to the emergence of two journals, the Universities and Left Review (ULR) and the The New Reasoner (NR).
The NR, which was initially edited by E P Thompson among others, emerged out of the more traditionally leftist circles of the Communist Party and the Popular Front socialist politics of the thirties. In contrast, the ULR, edited by Stuart Hall, Charles Taylor (who was Canadian), Raphael Samuel and Gabriel Pearson (both of whom were Jewish), (Davies, 1991) came out of the Oxford student protest movement and had no direct party connections. Hall recalls the fact that the divisions between these two generations of leftist politics were paralleled by significant geographical and class differences. More specifically, the NR was based in northern England and possessed integral connections to rural working-class communities while the Oxford/ London based ULR-ers were more aligned with cosmopolitan, modernist concerns and tended to be either middle-class or upwardly mobile. As Hall confesses as a colonial, I certainly felt instinctively more at home in the more socially anonymous metropolitan culture, though I regretted ULRs lack of organic connections to non-metropolitan working-class life.' (Hall, 1989a: 23)
Halls feelings of ambivalence towards traditional working class politics are evident in an essay he published in 1958 in Universities and Left Review entitled A Sense of Classlessness.' In the essay Halls depiction of the demise of the traditional working class, while tinged with some nostalgia for the solidarity of working class communities, at the same time offers some early insights into the fraught politics of identity and difference. As Hall comments solid as the old working class communities were, they were often, of necessity, defensive or aggressive towards other communities, other national and racial groups, towards the queer fellow and the odd man out, towards the scholarship boy or even, sometimes, the militant.' (Hall, 1958: 27)
Thus, while class politics continued to dominate left political culture, Hall, along with other intellectuals sensitive to the increasingly fractured nature of British culture, played an important role in pushing the boundaries of traditional British leftist politics. This attempt to make the left more relevant to contemporary Britain saw events such as the merger in 1960 of the NR and the ULR to form the New Left Review, the latter publication (edited during its first two years by Stuart Hall) reflecting an unorthodox ULR -dominated approach to leftist issues and Marxist theory that in turn signalled the New Lefts move away from organised party formations towards a politics built along new social movements lines. Hall argues for instance that the New Lefts attempt to forge a link at that time with the various social and political groups that coalesced around the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) represented a deep involvement with what was one of the earliest new social movements; thus we were in the forefront of what was to become, post-1968, the new politics. (Chen, 1996: 494)
This shift to a coalition-based politics, I would argue, can be seen as a recognition by the New Left and figures like Hall of the breakdown of traditional conceptions of class politics and their replacement with a broader notion of identity politics. While this conception of social identity still tended to be framed within a Marxist paradigm, this paradigm was starting to shift towards a model that would later come to dominate cultural studies. In particular, in the seventies a Gramscian version of Marxism came to the fore at the CCCS that saw political struggle as being played out in the superstructural sphere of culture and ideology rather than located solely in the realm of class and economics.
The impetus for this turn to culture was not only provided by the social movement politics of the New Left but of course also had its roots in the alternative representations of British life offered in Richard Hoggarts The Uses of Literacy (1957) and E P Thompsons The Making of the English Working Class (1963). Furthermore, Raymond Williams legacy of cultural critique, put forward in pivotal texts such as Culture and Society 1780-1950 (1958) and The Long Revolution (1961), had a major influence on Hall and on the future development of British cultural studies. Again what was, of course, pivotal about Williamss impact on cultural studies was his eccentric relationship to British culture. Like Hall, Williams was marked by a fraught political-intellectual identity being at once steeped in a traditional British intellectual culture (specifically Leavisite literary criticism), drawn to the critical Marxist tradition, and, as Ioan Davies notes, possessing a strong sense of colonial marginality derived from his Welsh roots.' (Davies, 1991: 329) What the emergence of Williams work in the late fifties and sixties represented, then, was the beginnings of a critique of English cultural imperialism in which voices from the cultural and political fringes of English life began to be heard, a critique that took another decade or so to gain full force. Williamss insider-outsider relationship to British culture provided him with an ideal vantage point from which to reframe traditional accounts of British history and culture. In particular, he reworked the traditional Leavisite preoccupation with high culture expanding its analytic frameworks to include the everyday cultural processes that made up the lives of ordinary people.
The work of Hall and other New Lefters on popular culture and the media can be seen as following in the footsteps of this approach. For example, in Class and the Mass Media, an essay published in 1967 as part of a more general symposium on class issues, (Hall, 1967) the influence of the work of founding fathers such as Williams on Halls thinking was apparent in his concern with the structures of feeling that give coherency to class culture and his frequent references to texts like Williams The Long Revolution and Thompsons The Making of the English Working Class. However, unlike Williams, Hall was less interested in recovering the purportedly organic working class culture of Britains pre-war past than he was concerned with theorising the new culture of consumerism, the increasing role of the media in contemporary society and the impact of upward mobility on class relations in post-war Britain. As Colin Sparks comments:
| ...the new world of the affluent worker, of the mass media and of upward mobility, which was seen by the other writers as a threat to the integrity and independence of the working class and its culture, were taken by Hall as the starting-point for his analysis... Halls distinctive contribution to the formation of cultural studies was to insist on an urgent sense of engagement with the contemporary. (Sparks, 1996: 78)
Contemporary Cultural Studies at the Centre and the Move to Theory
In 1964 after teaching film and mass media studies at the University of London and publishing (with Paddy Whannel) the groundbreaking work The Popular Arts (1964), Hall and Hoggart set up the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies at the University of Birmingham. If Oxford University seemed an unusual site for the development of the New Left, then the English department at the University of Birmingham steeped as it was in an implicitly Arnoldian ethos was perhaps an even more surprising location for the emergence of a field concerned with questioning the humanist values underpinning the elitist Arnoldian view of culture. As Hall has documented, the English department, having appointed Hoggart to a professorship, was perhaps not surprisingly rather dismayed when he announced his intentions to continue the work he had started in The Uses of Literacy on the impact of mass culture on working-class experience. (Hall, 1990) Hall notes that the department actually refused to fund any such research forcing Hoggart to use his own money to employ a Research Fellow to set up and maintain the CCCS, namely Stuart Hall.
Thus while the Centre was located within a University department, from the outset it had a rather marginal status within the University structure, a status that in many ways allowed the CCCS to develop a much more radical intellectual agenda than was possible in the more academically entrenched disciplines of history, English and sociology. The Universitys treatment of the Centres project as provisional meant that while the CCCS was at times under threat of closure, unlike other academic departments, it was not forced to maintain an undergraduate programme and was therefore able to channel many of its resources directly into researching and theorising the wider social and cultural issues of the time.
While in the mid-seventies the large, multi-authored critiques of British cultural life that have now become synonymous with the Birmingham school approach began to emerge, for the most part, however, the Centres first decade can be characterised by the search for theoretical apparatuses appropriate to British cultural life, a process which saw cultural studies and the New Left largely looking to European intellectual traditions. The New Left Review, in particular, took upon itself the enormous task of translating European texts unavailable in English at that time. When Hall resigned as editor in 1962, the journal changed its format under the editorial guidance of Perry Anderson to that of a more traditional academic journal that was less concerned with the social movement issues championed by Hall than it was with broad theoretical issues. However, as Ioan Davies points out, despite this shift in focus the journal still had a tremendous impact on the British New Left in the sixties and seventies as a result of its central concern with bringing European theory to the attention of what it saw as a stagnating British intellectual culture. (Davies, 1993: 120) For Hall, this second break within the New Left was crucial for the development of cultural studies. Indeed, he has recently suggested that without those Ur-texts (namely, the translated works of the Frankfurt school, Benjamin and later Gramsci) which no one was reading inside the academy, cultural studies could not have developed its own project: it could not have survived; it could not have become a field of work in its own right.' (Hall, 1990: 16)
While in the sixties the New Left Review help shift the New Left agenda to a focus on critical political theory, the seventies saw the development and institutionalisation of a broader critical culture. Thus, while the CCCS (of which Hall was the director from 1968 to 1979) played a pivotal role in the process, those at the Centre were hardly lone voices as the seventies also saw the formation of a number of other university-based departments and research units with New Left orientations as well as the emergence of a series of journals (Screen, Radical Philosophy, m/f, Feminist Review and Spare Rib) and publishing houses (Merlin Press, Pluto Press, Harvester) with critical leftist leanings. (Davies, 1991)
One of the main outcomes of this broad institutionalisation of leftist intellectual thought was the emergence of a considerable body of work that attempted to use European grand theory to open up a series of questions and debates about specifically English cultural concerns, a process that of course raised questions about the status of Englishness itself. While obviously this self-reflexive turn to foreign theory reflected in part the gradual infiltration of British intellectual culture by various outsider figures, the turn within British intellectual circles towards Europe could also be seen as representing a broader shift within British identity as a whole. In particular, this moment could be seen as marking the final breakdown of Britains once sovereign imperial identity and its attempts to resituate itself as a still important, middle-ranking power by forging links (Britain joined the EEC in 1973) with an increasingly integrated Europe. (Milward, 1997: 5)
The opening up of the British left to more global influences, however, obviously was more than just a function of British foreign policy but rather reflected the series of complex socio-cultural changes experienced by a number of Western countries in the sixties and seventies. In particular, one of the main processes to impact on the politics and direction of British intellectual life in the seventies was the democratisation and rapid expansion of higher education from the sixties onwards. The student population in Britain not only doubled in the period between 1960 and 1967/68, it also became increasingly diverse with an increasing number of female students and the presence, for the first time, of black British-born students. It was in this broader context, then, that cultural studies found itself looking outside the English intellectual tradition to European models of culture and society.
Western Marxism and the Politics of Cultural Identity
As a number of theorists have pointed out, the turn to European theory in the seventies represented a pivotal moment for British cultural studies. Bill Schwartz, for example, has argued that the encounter with theory, and in particular Western Marxism, involved a dramatic reorientation away from a primary focus on the meanings of lived experience to a concern with the relations between everyday culture and broader structures of power. (Schwartz, 1994) Likewise, Colin Sparks constructs this theoretical moment as a shift from a more humanist approach to culture as an expressive form to a structuralist Marxist approach, in particular that of Althusserianism. (Sparks, 1996)
In Sparkss narrative the CCCS, under the direction of Hall in the seventies, was dominated to the exclusion of other approaches by a Marxist focus on ideology. Certainly, in his essay on the theoretical legacies of British cultural studies, Hall seems to reinforce this monolithic account when he describes the emergence in the seventies of feminist and race-based approaches to theory as interruptions in the work of the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies. (Hall, 1992: 282) Hall has also confessed that while he and Michael Green (who succeeded Hall as the Centres director in 1979) were aware of the growing importance of feminism and attempted to attract some feminist scholars to the CCCS, (Chen, 1996) when feminism did finally interrupt the status quo at the centre it met with powerful resistance from the fully installed patriarchal power, which believed it had disavowed itself.' (Hall, 1992: 281) Furthermore, in relation to the foregrounding of race as a central social category that needed to be theorised, Hall notes that actually getting cultural studies to put on its own agenda the critical questions of race... the critical questions of cultural politics... was itself a profound theoretical struggle.' (Hall, 1992: 283)
In offering up a diasporic reading of the development of cultural studies, however, I would suggest that a more productive way of reading the various theoretical trajectories that intersected with and interrupted each other at the Centre during this period is to see them as part of a broader struggle, a struggle that paralleled the wider concerns of a British culture whose identity was being challenged from a number of sources. Furthermore, Halls own ambivalent and ambiguous relation to these interruptions once against suggests the multiply displaced experience of the diasporic subject, a subject who in this case was being asked to identify as both oppressive patriarch and as racially marked subaltern. I would suggest that it was just this kind of complexity of experience that cultural studies sought to grapple with intellectually in the seventies and that, read in this light, the shift from an Althusserian to a Gramscian-inflected Marxism marked an attempt to come to terms with the contradictory, socially constructed subject.
As Paul Jones notes in his discussion of pivotal CCCS texts such as Policing the Crisis (1978), the first of the Centres collectively produced works to deal systematically with the structural role of racism in the production of British identity in the post-war period, such publications have been less theoretical abstracts, than interventions into popular/intellectual and political consensuses.' (Jones 1982: 119) Thus, while cultural studies has tended to be portrayed as having progressed from culturalism, through structuralism and formalism to a point of theoretical clarity, Jones concludes that such narratives are of less concern than the fact that the programmes ongoing strength has been its ability to articulate adequately the interests, and the actual social being and consciousness of those to whom it has remained politically committed.' (Jones, 1982: 119)
Like Jones, I would suggest that the developmental history of the CCCS is more than just a history of the open embrace of theoretical Marxism in Britain. As Hall himself has commented, both the New Left and subsequently cultural studies always regarded Marxism as a problem, as a trouble, as danger, not as a solution.' Furthermore, in Halls case this encounter with Marxism required a not-yet-completed contestation with the profound Eurocentrism of Marxism.' (Hall, 1992: 279) The pattern of the Centres engagement with Western Marxism was marked, then, by this awareness of a gap between the explanatory models offered up and the complexity of socio-cultural relations in contemporary Britain. The initial attraction of Althusserian Marxism, for instance, was that its conception of the relative autonomy of ideological production enabled a move away from the purely expressive model of culture associated with vulgar Marxism. However, Althusserianism itself was limited by its tendency to view the cultural field purely as a realm for the production and reproduction of dominant ideologies, allowing little space for moments of contestation or resistance.
The turn to Gramsci, and particularly his complex conception of hegemony, offered cultural studies a way out of some of the more restrictive and totalising aspects of structural Marxism. What was particularly crucial in Gramscis model of power was the notion that hegemony belongs to an historic bloc, representing an alliance between a range of social groups. The subject of ideology presupposed in this model thus refuses any idea of a pre-given unified ideological subject recognising instead the plurality of selves or identities of which the so-called subject... is composed.' (Hall, 1996: 433) At a time when class began to be challenged as the marker of subalternity by feminist and race-based accounts of social inequality what I want to argue is that Halls Gramscian turn enabled rather than foreclosed a turn within British cultural studies towards foregrounding the politics of cultural identity.
Thus, while the emergence within the CCCS of a feminist critique of culture, for example, has been depicted as a moment of interruption in the Centres Marxist-dominated agenda, another reading of this moment might be that the introduction of gender into the debates over culture intersected with and expanded upon a Gramscian concern with conceptualising the social subject as contradictory and socially constructed. This is not to deny that the arrival of feminism and, in particular, the publication in 1978 of Women Take Issue represented a major challenge to the institutional and intellectual politics of the male dominated CCCS. (Brunsdon, 1996) As Hall has noted in a recent interview, along with a number of other factors, one of the reasons he finally left the CCCS for the Open University in 1979 was because of the difficulty of being pro-feminism at the same time as being positioned as the senior patriarchal figure at the Centre. (Chen, 1996: 500) Nevertheless, as Anne Balsamo has argued, alongside the various other strains within feminist thought that impacted on British cultural studies, such as Lacanian psychoanalysis, the revisionist version of Marxist cultural studies put forward in Women Take Issue crucially contributed to the development of an understanding of the articulation of sex, gender, and class in the organisation of social relations.' (Balsamo, 1991: 53)
Another crucial turning point for the CCCS in relation to its foregrounding of questions of cultural identity was the emergence of the issue of race in cultural studies. While some of the Centres work on subcultures had touched upon questions of ethnicity, Policing the Crisis was the first CCCS publication to deal systematically with race. Based around a specific event, the case of three racially-marked youths who were given extreme prison sentences for the mugging of a man in 1972 in the black dominated area of Handsworth in Birmingham, Policing the Crisis attempted to provide a broad-sweeping analysis of the break-down of political consensus that characterised seventies Britain and the way in which this crisis of consensus was ideologically managed by generating a sense of moral panic within Britain around the issue of black criminality. Analysing the way in which traditional working class themes such as work, respectability, and nationhood were mobilised as shared signifiers to build a cross-class consensus, the account provided in Policing the Crisis illustrated Gramscis notion of hegemony as a historically specific process that relies upon forging an historic bloc or alliance between often apparently disparate social groups. More specifically, what it demonstrated was that the values of the British working class had no particular attachment to a progressive politics but instead could be mobilised for essentially conservative ends, in this case to support an authoritarian consensus based structurally upon racism.
Furthermore, what the CCCSs analysis also illustrated was the increasingly central role played by race in shoring up British identity thus indicating the growing internal tensions around questions of identity and culture in post-imperial Britain. As Hall has commented, the publication of Policing the Crisis represented a decisive turn in my own theoretical and intellectual work, as well as that of the centre (Hall, 1992: 283) in the sense that it recognised that social categories other than class play a formative role in hegemonic struggles while also moving some way towards an understanding of the mutually constitutive nature of blackness and Britishness in contemporary Britain. This work was further consolidated with the publication in 1982 of The Empire Strikes Back: Race and Racism in 70s Britain, a book that was co-authored by a group of up-and-coming new black intellectuals including Paul Gilroy, Hazel Carby and Pratibha Parmar and that acted as a catalyst for a dispersed set of black activists, artists and critics operating around the country but especially concentrated in London and around the CCCS.
Charting the trajectories of a cultural politics of diaspora within Britain in the eighties and nineties, Kobena Mercer has argued that the publication of The Empire Strikes Back and a number of other cultural studies-oriented critiques of race in the early eighties saw the gathering of critical mass through collectivist activities whose emergent agendas began to impact upon public institutions during the mid-eighties around the key theme of black representation. (Mercer, 1994: 14) These developments subsequently saw the emergence of a field known as black cultural studies with Paul Gilroys pivotal and influential book There Aint No Black in the Union Jack (1987) arguably representing the first self-consciously black British cultural studies text.
Thatcherism, New Times and the Return of Ethnicity
In 1979 Stuart Hall left the CCCS to take up a position at the Open University where he continued working through the eighties and nineties. only recently retiring as Head of Sociology. One of his major published works during this period was The Hard Road to Renewal, a collection of essays which addressed what Hall characterised as a historic turning-point in postwar British political and cultural life,' (Hall, 1988: 1) that is, the turn, in the mid-seventies towards the right and the subsequent iron reign of Thatcher from 1978 to 1988. Central to Halls Gramscian-based analysis of the conservative populism inspired by Thatcher was his argument that Thatcher had managed to forge an imaginary sense of unity among the people around the issues of race and Englishness. Thus, while Britains national culture had been under threat for some time following the decline of imperialism, the impact of globalisation and the transformation of the world market, Hall argued that Thatcher exploited this crisis of identity by relocating Englishness within a narrower but firmer definition than it ever had before.' (Hall, 1993b: 25)
In the late eighties, however, Halls work on race, culture and identity took a decisive turn away from a focus on race and blackness as marginal and negatively represented within hegemonic constructions of Englishness, to a rather different mode of analysis in which ethnicity rather than race became the privileged term. Rather than seeing ethnicity as othered, Hall began to argue that what characterised everyday experience in contemporary societies such as Britain was the foregrounding or centring of ethnicity and cultural identity. For example, in an essay first published in 1988, Hall made the claim that migrancy had now paradoxically become the representative modern experience! (Hall, 1993a: 134) In his New Times work and other writings he proceeded to argue that the increasingly complex and differentiated nature of social life in Western societies had resulted in an expansion of identities available to the ordinary person and had opened up a space for a new politics of identity. One of the hallmarks of this foregrounding of identity as a prime site of cultural contestation was the surprising return of ethnicity.' (Hall, 1989b: 133) However, unlike the reactionary notions of race and ethnicity that circulated within conservative debates over the crisis of British identity, Hall counselled the left to embrace what he termed at the time the new forms of ethnicity. (Hall, 1989b: 133) For Hall, a more diverse conception of ethnicity could be set against the embattled, hegemonic conception of Englishness which, under Thatcherism, stabilises so much of the dominant political and cultural discourses, and which, because it is hegemonic, does not represent itself as an ethnicity at all.' (Hall, 1988: 29) Such an approach to ethnicity would work to show that Englishness is, after all, a very specific and peculiar form of ethnic identity. It is located in a place in a specific history... It is located in relation to a whole set of notions about territory, about where is home and where is overseas, what is close to us and what is far away.' (Hall, 1993b: 22)
Hall argued that while Englishness had always been constructed as coherent and natural, in fact it was always negotiated against difference. It always had to absorb all the differences of class, or region, or gender, in order to present itself as a homogenous entity.' (Hall, 1993b: 22) The dissolution of the relationship between national cultural identity and nation-states that accompanied the process of globalisation therefore revealed the constructed nature of Englishness. At the centre of this process of rethinking English identity was the figure of the diasporic subject, a figure whose position between cultures worked to foreground the conventional and exclusionary nature of unified cultures and ethnicities and who, as I have suggested in this essay, has played an important role in steering the development trajectory of British cultural studies.
Since the late eighties, then, there has been a broad shift within Halls work towards relocating British cultural studies concerns within a globalised framework and foregrounding the essentially decentred nature of ethnicity and identity, a shift that has also been mirrored in the diasporic work of black cultural studies figures like Paul Gilroy whose 1993 book The Black Atlantic attempts to make a radical break with the dogmatic focus on discrete national dynamics which has characterised so much modern Euro-American cultural thought.' (Gilroy, 1993: 6) I have argued, however, that British cultural studies has from the outset been forged out of the tensions between national and transnational influences, that is, that British cultural studies has always to a certain degree had a globalised or diasporic identity. As Bill Schwartz notes, however, re-contextualising cultural studies within a global setting carries with it certain dangers one of which is the reduction of the specific, conjunctural moments out of which British cultural studies emerged to a reified abstraction. In contrast, what I have attempted to do in this essay is to retain a sense of the specifically British context out of which British cultural studies emerged while at the same time striving for a sharper sense of how the local has been constituted globally.' (Schwartz, 1994: 387)
As a leading black British intellectual, Stuart Hall has provided a particularly useful figure through which to re-locate the development of British cultural studies and to think more imaginatively about the historical conditions which allowed cultural studies and its related fields of work to emerge. (Schwartz, 1994: 387) In particular, by allowing the concerns of the British New left to be recontextualised within the broader setting of a transnational politics of cultural identity, Halls biography has provided a useful way of complicating a conventional class-based account of the formation of British cultural studies. In focusing on questions of cultural identity, however, I have sought to problematise the notion that cultural studies emerged solely out of an engagement with marginality. Instead, the diasporic framework put forward in this essay focuses on the tensions and contradictions that have often marked Halls life and career as a middle-class, university educated, black British intellectual. The notion of diaspora mobilised here has functioned as a space existing between and across (rather than outside) various cultures of identity. In other words, reading British cultural studies through a diasporic lens has provided a mechanism for understanding why and how this intellectual project has intersected with and been embraced by a number of similar movements and bodies of thought throughout the world.
Balsamo, A (1991) Feminism and Cultural Studies, The Journal of the Midwest MLA, Vol. 24, No. 1.
Brunsdon, C (1996) A Thief in the Night: Stories of Feminism in the 1970s at CCCS, in Morley, D & Chen, K H (ed.) Stuart Hall: Critical Dialogues in Cultural Studies, London: Routledge.
Chen, K H (1996) The Formation of a Diasporic Intellectual: An Interview with Stuart Hall, in Morley, D & Chen, K H (ed.) Stuart Hall: Critical Dialogues in Cultural Studies, London: Routledge.
Dworkin, D (1997) Cultural Marxism in Postwar Britain: History, the New Left, and the Origins of Cultural Studies, Durham: Duke University Press.
Davies, I (1993) Cultural Theory in Britain: Narrative and Episteme, Theory, Culture and Society, Vol. 10, 115-154.
Davies, I (1991) British Cultural Marxism, International Journal of Politics, Culture and Society, Vol.4, No.1, 323-344.
Gilroy, P (1993) The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness, London: Verso,
Green, M (1982) The Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies, in Widdowson, P (ed.) Re-Reading English, London: Methuen.
Hall, S (1958) A Sense of Classlessness, Universities and Left Review, Vol. 1.
Hall, S (1968) Class and the Mass Media, in Mabey R (ed.) Class: A Symposium, London: Blond.
Hall, S (1988a) New Ethnicities, in Mercer, K (ed.) Black Film, British Cinema, BFI/ICA Documents 7, London: Institute of Contemporary Arts.
Hall, S (1988b) The Hard Road to Renewal: Thatcherism and the Crisis of the Left, London: Verso.
Hall, S (1989a) The First New Left: Life and Times, in Oxford University Socialist Discussion Group (ed.) Out of Apathy: Voices of the New Left Thirty Years On, London: Verso.
Hall, S (1989b) The Meaning of New Times, in Hall, S and Jacques, M (ed.) New Times: The Changing Face of Politics in the 1990s, London: Lawrence and Wishart.
Hall, S (1990) The Emergence of Cultural Studies and the Crisis of the Humanities, October, Vol. 53.
Hall, S (1992) Cultural Studies and its Theoretical Legacies, in Grossberg, L, Nelson, C & Treichler, P (ed.) Cultural Studies, London: Routledge.
Hall, S (1993a) Minimal Selves, in Gray, A and McGuigan, J (ed.) Studying Culture: An Introductory Reader, London: Edward Arnold.
Hall, S (1993b) The Local and the Global: Globalization and Ethnicity, in King, A D (ed.) Culture, Globalization and the World-System: Contemporary Conditions for the Representation of Identity, Binghamton: Macmillan.
Hall, S (1996) Gramscis Relevance for the Study of Race and Ethnicity, in Morley, D & Chen, K H (ed.) Stuart Hall: Critical Dialogues in Cultural Studies, London: Routledge.
Hall, S & Sakai, N (1998) A Tokyo Dialogue on Marxism, Identity Formation and Cultural Studies, in Chen, K H (ed.) Trajectories: Inter-Asia Cultural Studies, London: Routledge.
Jones, P (1982) 'Organic Intellectuals and the Generation of English Cultural Studies, Thesis Eleven, Vol. 5/6.
Mercer, K (1994) Welcome to the Jungle: New Positions in Black Cultural Studies, London & New York: Routledge.
Milward, A S (1997) The Springs of Integration, in Gowan, P and Anderson, P (ed.) The Question of Europe, London: Verso.
Said, E (1994) Representations of the Intellectual: The 1993 Reith Lectures, London: Vintage.
Schwartz, B (1994) Where Is Cultural Studies?, Cultural Studies, Vol. 8, No. 3, 377-393.
Sparks, C (1996) Stuart Hall, Cultural Studies and Marxism, in Morley, D & Chen, K H (ed.) Stuart Hall: Critical Dialogues in Cultural Studies, London: Routledge.
Stratton, J & Ang, I (1996) On the Impossibility of a Global Cultural Studies: British Cultural Studies in an International Frame, in Morley, D & Chen, K H (ed.) Stuart Hall: Critical Dialogues in Cultural Studies, London: Routledge.
Turner, B S (1992) Orientalism, Postmodernism and Globalism, London: Routledge.
Wright, H K (1998) Dare we De-centre Birmingham? Troubling the Origin and Trajectories of Cultural Studies, European Journal of Cultural Studies, Vol. 1, No. 1.