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The Conversation Continues: We Are Still Listening by Trevor Mathison (audio)

The Conversation Continues: We Are Still Listening is a 40-minute immersive soundscape from artist Trevor Mathison that offers a re-examination of the lives and histories of those laid to rest at the cemetery in the context of contemporary anti-racism movements, honouring Stuart Hall’s memory and his ongoing impact on contemporary national debates. Audiences are invited to listen to the soundscape on headphones as they follow their own pathway through Highgate Cemetery’s beautifully conserved landscape of monuments, buildings, flora and fauna.

The piece is available for the first time from Saturday 11th June 2022 as part of Highgate Festival in London (11th – 19th June). We recommend audiences experience the soundscape from within Highgate Cemetery as intended by the artist Trevor Mathison.

Commissioned by the Stuart Hall Foundation in partnership with Highgate Cemetery and LUX, and with funding from Arts Council England and The Elephant Trust.

This discussion and performance was part of a special preview of Trevor Mathison’s newly commissioned artwork ‘The Conversation Continues: We Are Still Listening’. The audio-based piece is an immersive soundscape which explores the legacy of Stuart Hall (1932-2014) and the radical thinkers laid to rest at Highgate Cemetery.

The preview was accompanied by a live conversation between commissioned artist Trevor Mathison and Aasiya Lodhi, former BBC radio producer and Senior Lecturer at University of Westminster. Aasiya Lodhi’s research explores race, coloniality and voice in mid-twentieth century BBC radio programming, especially in relation to Caribbean writers. Aasiya and Trevor discussed some of the inspirations behind the commission, the legacies of the thinkers resting in the cemetery, and sonic engagements with Stuart Hall’s ideas. The event also included a live reading from Hall’s posthumous memoir ‘Familiar Stranger’, performed by actor Joseph Black.

Attendees were the first to experience Trevor Mathison’s latest work, intended for listening whilst wandering through the Highgate Cemetery grounds. The soundscape is now available to all at the cemetery and via the Stuart Hall Foundation’s website.

More information is available here.

The Conversation Continues: We Are Still Listening is a 40-minute immersive soundscape from artist Trevor Mathison that offers a re-examination of the lives and histories of those laid to rest at the cemetery in the context of contemporary anti-racism movements, honouring Stuart Hall’s memory and his ongoing impact on contemporary national debates. Audiences are invited to listen to the soundscape on headphones as they follow their own pathway through Highgate Cemetery’s beautifully conserved landscape of monuments, buildings, flora and fauna.

The piece was made available for the first time from Saturday 11th June 2022 as part of Highgate Festival in London (11th – 19th June) and is available to stream from the Stuart Hall Foundation website. We recommend audiences experience the soundscape from within Highgate Cemetery as intended by the artist Trevor Mathison.

Commissioned by the Stuart Hall Foundation in partnership with Highgate Cemetery and LUX, and with funding from Arts Council England and The Elephant Trust.

More information is available here.

This discussion and performance was part of a special preview of Trevor Mathison’s newly commissioned artwork ‘The Conversation Continues: We Are Still Listening’. The audio-based piece is an immersive soundscape which explores the legacy of Stuart Hall (1932-2014) and the radical thinkers laid to rest at Highgate Cemetery.

The preview was accompanied by a live conversation between commissioned artist Trevor Mathison and Aasiya Lodhi, former BBC radio producer and Senior Lecturer at University of Westminster. Aasiya Lodhi’s research explores race, coloniality and voice in mid-twentieth century BBC radio programming, especially in relation to Caribbean writers. Aasiya and Trevor discussed some of the inspirations behind the commission, the legacies of the thinkers resting in the cemetery, and sonic engagements with Stuart Hall’s ideas. The event also included a live reading from Hall’s posthumous memoir ‘Familiar Stranger’, performed by actor Joseph Black.

Attendees were the first to experience Trevor Mathison’s latest work, intended for listening whilst wandering through the Highgate Cemetery grounds. The soundscape is now available to all at the cemetery and via the Stuart Hall Foundation’s website.

More information is available here.

The state backlash against the mass protests for racial justice in June 2020 is well underway. A reaction punctuated by the recent passing of the Police, Crimes and Sentencing Bill, which has increased the maximum penalty for criminal damage to a memorial from three months to ten years. As the state rushes to protect its memorials, this conversation focuses on questions of memory to ask: who speaks for the past?

For this event in the #ReconstructionWork series, the Stuart Hall Foundation welcomed artists and educators Barby Asante and Shawn Sobers to discuss the ways in which events can be remembered and misremembered, offering a space to interrogate the politics of memory.

‘#ReconstructionWork: Whose Memorials?’ is produced in partnership with the Centre on the Dynamics of Ethnicity (CoDE).

Supported by Arts Council England.

This event took place online.

On 9th June 2022, the Stuart Hall Foundation hosted Special Preview: ‘The Conversation Continues: We Are Still Listening’, launching Trevor Mathison‘s newly commissioned audio-based artwork exploring the legacy of Stuart Hall (1932-2014) and the radical thinkers laid to rest at Highgate Cemetery. Following a preview of the soundscape experience on-site, the event featured a conversation between artist Trevor Mathison and lecturer Aasiya Lodhi, a reading from actor Joseph Black and introductions from Ian Dungavell, Chief Executive of the Friends of Highgate Cemetery Trust, and Becky Hall, child psychotherapist, psychoanalyst and trustee of the Stuart Hall Foundation. Becky Hall’s introduction to the evening presenting the commission is published in full below:

And so it was that I held the watering can and my mother the secateurs as we briskly set about the now familiar route through our much-loved Highgate Cemetery. The task in hand: some midsummer graveside weeding and pruning, straightening, and sorting out, making my father look respectable. It was an inclement morning, thick with the tang of wet, earthy smells. Not a morning for pausing at the huddles of Hellebores clustered in their melancholy colours between ancient stones or marvelling at the unruly parties of forget-me-nots running riot through the trees. A cool, sad June morning, in 2020, London locked down and locked into a new reckoning with the ghosts of Empire, rattling their chains in syncopated time with the beat across the Atlantic where fault lines shuddered at the murder of George Floyd.

This is where the conversation began. Turning right at Marx, straight on to The Mound where, on a sunny day the warmth of the stone at Stuart’s grave still gives one a temporary brush with his vitality. What would he have made of it all? What turn will this dialogue with history take, what are the stakes and the conditions of belonging to the new territories being claimed? And so it was that we joined the community of Highgate visitors who talk, sometimes aloud, to their loved ones lost – words alighting in the trees, nestling under stones, settling in the soil – fragments of conversation given a new home in the extraordinary palimpsest of sounds and states and feeling that artist Trevor Mathison has brought for our attention today. I would like to thank him and his assistant editor Beverley Bennet on behalf of the family and the Stuart Hall Foundation for this work, and for the invitation to pay attention. I would like also to thank Ian Dungavell and the Friends of Highgate Cemetery Trust for listening, to the Arts Council and Elephant Trust for their funding, to Ben Cook and LUX for their collaboration, Caro Communications for their PR support and to Gilane, the Trustees, Harriet, Orsod and Ilze (our team at the Stuart Hall Foundation) for pulling this off. Thanks to everyone who has contributed and supported this project.

Stuart was never going to be buried ‘back home’ in Jamaica. There was no such ‘home’ place to return to. In the end one has to find a position, he always said, and it was the once strange Lyme trees of North West London, not the glade of an illusory mango grove or the dusty yards of Constant Spring which finally felt most familiar: the home he made with my mother, the family, friendships, political projects, Cultural Studies, collectives of Birmingham and Kilburn, The Open University, black British artists, generations of students, at his typewriter, teaching, through intellectual enquiry and always, in conversation. Perhaps it could have been anywhere – Stuart really was a modest man – but his choice of Highgate Cemetery was a rare admission that his life, his contribution, had earned him a proper place and that he wished, in death, to claim it. He described on film in later life the lonely feeling of being out of sync with the times – not out of touch – but no longer quite in step. I think the prospect of being re-settled in the company of old friends, in this beautiful place, among the traditions of radical thought, near enough to home and in British soil must have felt a good place to rest.

Highgate is most likely filled with venerable ghosts, the serious nature of radical tradition setting the tone amongst its residents – it’s not easy to get a place here after all. I trust then that Stuart has smartened up his act since his hammy performance as the Ghost of McPhail in a piece of family theatre on a damp Scottish holiday – an eerie home-made soundtrack on the tape recorder as he stepped forth from the dusty drapes of a high windowsill, swathed in an ancient eiderdown and holding forth a kipper (to the great alarm of the younger members of the audience). I hope there is room for such high spirits in Highgate and suspect that it was Stuart’s mischievous, Midsummer sprite, his rebellious insistence on using as many exclamation marks as he fancied, that conjured up in me, on that cool, June morning – in the grim gloom of racialised violence, the disgrace of the un-welcomed Windrush arrivals and those without leave to remain – the wish to rattle, the urge to make a stink – “You have a black body here, make it matter.”

“I feel an email coming on,” I said, rousing a smile in my mother at the prospect of me rolling my terrible eyes and gnashing my terrible teeth, putting in a spirited performance as the high-minded custodian of my father’s reputation. And so it was that at 3 minutes past 9 on Midsummer day 2020, I wrote an email to The Friends of Highgate Cemetery Trust imperiously entitled ‘Query’. At 11.53 on that same morning, Ian Dungavell (the Chief Executive) wrote back, and an old-fashioned telephone conversation began.

We last stood in this chapel to bury Stuart and never thought at that time that the Miles Davis blues and greens that my brother chose to play us out, would ever bring us back in new dialogue with such old tunes. Trevor has chosen Familiar Stranger, the unfinished, posthumously recovered text that Stuart was working on until he died – his late life efforts to lay out and lay down the unrest of his own history – to speak in a new arrangement. It is the book in which the uneasy rhythm of Stuart’s lifelong preoccupation with what it was he left behind sings out, like his love of the Blues, as it always did, with what he made of his arrival. And so it is that we come here in memory and with the necessity of new things, the thrust and verdant greens of new shoots; a soundscape that speaks with the past to the urgency of the times.

Photo: Jessica Emovon

How can we make sense of the concept of ‘care’ in today’s political and economic landscape? After twelve years of austerity, large scale public funding cuts to education, state support for low-income communities, and essential healthcare services have all led to a crisis of care – a crisis thrown into sharp relief by the Covid-19 pandemic and the structural inequalities it continues to amplify.

In this event, Dharmi Kapadia who led on the recent NHS Race and Health Observatory Report on ethnic inequalities in healthcare, and Dzifa Afonu, artist and clinical psychologist, reflected on the concept of care in relation to austerity, institutional inequalities, and the ways communities have built and are building networks of care in response.

#ReconstructionWork: The Politics of Care was produced in partnership with the Centre on the Dynamics of Ethnicity (CoDE).

Supported by Arts Council England.

5th Annual Stuart Hall Public Conversation – ‘Manufacturing Dissent: Moments of Solidarity’ took place on 3rd February 2022, with speakers Raymond Antrobus, David Austin, Liz Fekete, Catherine Hall, Sado Jirde, Farzana Khan, Pragna Patel, Fatima Rajina, Gilane Tawadros and Joshua Virasami. Chaired by Gary Younge.

A year on from the global political protests for racial equality, and through a period marked by growing inequality, intolerance and authoritarianism in Britain and across the globe, we invited speakers to respond to these questions: Is there a discourse capable of speaking to a wide range of people from different backgrounds? What social, cultural, political, and economic differences can coalitions transcend? How can difference be expressed within a collective whilst maintaining cohesion? How can we move from forming coalitions/alliances towards a more unified and transformative politics fit for our times?

Our Public Conversation event has been our yearly moment to pause and reflect, inviting an audience to engage with the work of artists and thinkers on a chosen theme that responds to recent political, cultural and social changes. Previous years have pursued themes through multiple lenses, providing a chance for questions and discussion, and punctuated with interventions by poets, artists and musicians that open up a different space for thinking.

 

“How can we organise these huge, randomly varied, and diverse things we call human subjects into positions where they can recognise one another for long enough to act together, and thus to take up a position that one of these days might live out and act through as an identity? Identity is at the end, not the beginning, of the paradigm. Identity is what is at stake in political organisation. It isn’t that subjects are there and we just can’t get to them. It is that they don’t know yet that they are subjects of a possible discourse. And that always in every political struggle, since every political struggle is always open, is possible either to win their identification or lose it.” – Stuart Hall, ‘Subjects in History: Making Diasporic Identities’ (1998) from ‘Selected Writings on Race and Difference’ published by Duke University Press, 2021.

Supported by Arts Council England.

4th Annual Stuart Hall Public Conversation: Movement and Stillness: Art in a Time of Crisis and Upheaval with Linton Kwesi Johnson, Roger Robinson and Jay Bernard on 3rd February 2021.

What is the role of art in a time of crisis and upheaval? Is it to speak up and speak out against injustice or to provide a space of quiet reflection? Should protest and movement take precedence over stillness and contemplation? And what part does imagination play in shaping alternative futures? Join us for our 4th Annual Public Conversation, which took place online this year, to welcome three of Britain’s leading artists and poets, Linton Kwesi Johnson, Roger Robinson and Jay Bernard as they came together to read and reflect on the role of art and poetry in our turbulent times.

Since 2018, our Public Conversation event has been our yearly moment to pause and reflect, inviting an audience to engage with the work of artists and thinkers on a chosen theme that responds to recent political, cultural and social changes taking place. Previous years have pursued themes through multiple lenses, providing a chance for questions and discussion, and punctuated with interventions by poets, artists and musicians that open up a different space for thinking.

A discussion celebrating the publication of Stuart

Hall, Selected Writings on Marxism, chaired by

Catherine Hall

This article is an edited and abridged version of a discussion organised by the Stuart Hall Foundation in partnership with Duke University Press (June 2021). Transcribed and published by Lawrence Wishart’s Soundings Journal (Volume 2021, Issue 79).

Introduction

Catherine: This book is one in a series of edited volumes of Stuart’s work over the years, edited by Bill Schwarz and myself. Stuart and I shared a life for fifty years, and as a personal note, I could say that I witnessed, at second hand, the writing of these essays, from the incessant clacking of the typewriter keys in the long nights of the 1970s to the quieter work at the computer in the later decades – a quiet that was frequently interrupted with despairing exclamations as to the horrors of new technology … There are many different kinds of memories associated with this body of work. I’d like to ask Greg to open our session by telling us something of his thinking about the book, the issues he wanted to focus on, and the selection he made.

Gregor: As Catherine said, there’s this mega series that she and Bill Schwarz have edited, coming from Duke, but there are other publications too, which testify to Stuart Hall’s increasing, indeed remarkable, renown these days, and his repute, and the spread and reach of his work continue to grow all the time. But I meet a lot of people, maybe especially students or younger colleagues and readers, who seem surprised when I say that for the prime middle years of his career and life, which I would point out is the period in other thinkers’ work that Stuart himself often most liked, he was unquestionably – and I’m talking about at least fifteen years – centrally and deeply engaged in the question of Marxism. Now, I nearly entitled this volume, ‘Stuart Hall on the Question of Marxism’, rather than ‘On Marxism’, because I think it’s fair to say that even if you want to conclude he’s a neo-Marxist, in my view that’s still a form of Marxism that’s of vital significance to the life and nature of Marxism as a discourse. So, Hall was constantly wrestling in a very intense way with Marxist concepts, problems and readings.

Of course, this volume just testifies to something – it can’t contain all his relevant writings – but I hope it gives a good flavour of the different ways in which Hall engaged with central questions of Marxism and indeed transformed them in his distinctive way of handling them. So, I’m seeking to encourage everyone to read and engage with Hall engaging with Marxism. It’s an absolutely central dimension of his overall trajectory. This might be particularly relevant now, because, although Marxism declined amongst left theoretical and political circles in the 1990s and the early part of the Noughties, since the so-called global financial crash of 2008 there’s no doubt that Marxism has achieved a certain wider understanding, attraction and readership than those decades where it was rather out of fashion. Neither Marx nor Marxism has been, as it were, fully rehabilitated, but that just poses the question even more sharply: what kind of Marxism or neo-Marxism seems important to the contemporary era? And how crude, subtle, or complex do we think it needs to be to continue to have an intellectual life, and distinctive consequences?

I hope, then, that the volume poses that kind of general issue, not least because my sense of appreciation of Hall is that if you want a complex Marxism, a subtle Marxism, an agonistic Marxism where nothing is taken for granted in any corner of debate, then there’s no one that embodies that spirit of enquiry and engagement better than Stuart Hall. That’s the fundamental rationale for the volume.

Secondly, within that, I wanted to illustrate the different ways in which Hall articulated his evolving sense of Marxism and the type of text and context in which he did that. That’s reflected in the structure of the book, so that Part 1, the longest part, features four sustained theoretical encounters where Hall’s working with Marx – in Marx, for Marx – against some aspects of Marx himself and against other kinds of Marxism. I stress that these are theoretical ‘readings’, and I bring this out in the commentary, because this is something about Stuart Hall’s method of understanding that’s very important to him. He likes to work with the grain of thinkers through careful textual progression, even if in due course he wants to take some distance from them. And this naturally applies to Marx as well, along with later thinkers, not least Louis Althusser and Antonio Gramsci – his favourite Marxist, and the most politically consequential for Hall. So that’s the first part of the book.

Part 2 is more ‘applied’, for want of a better term; it’s more thematically focused and organised, offering slightly more concrete overviews of problem fields. So, for instance, the writings I excerpt from there include classic ‘Birmingham Cultural Studies’ work – Policing the Crisis, a long and complex book, and Resistance through Rituals, a canonical volume on subcultures and youth, together with one of his many, extraordinary Open University set textbook overviews, this one being on Liberalism as the quintessential political discourse of modernity itself.

We’re coming down the levels of abstraction here, if you like, even if Stuart Hall is still taking things in a big sweep, and many readers over the years have found these works of huge ‘conjunctural’ value without any very specific implications concerning Marxism as a whole. But I’ve edited these readings to show that, especially in retrospect, these ‘Birmingham School’ era works represent committedly Marxist framings, albeit, as always with Hall, in broad and encompassing style.

The third part of the book then brings along a little light relief, if you like. Its pieces are shorter and slightly more polemical, directly involved in encounters with other thinkers in the Marxist tradition, bringing out with some clarity what Hall thought about the business of theory and theorising, about core questions of culture, structure and ideology. Those exchanges are with E.P. Thompson, the great historian, with political and cultural economy scholar Bob Jessop and associates, and with Nicos Poulantzas, the Greek Marxist structuralist thinker.

Towards the end, in the last two chapters, I tackle the issue that many people familiar with Hall’s overall work and persona will want to pose, which is, ‘Hey, yes, a kind of Marxist, but come on, surely Hall pulled right away from Marxism in the1980s so that certainly by the early Noughties he couldn’t really be thought to be a Marxist in any serious sense?’ Well, that’s a valid and challenging question and I address it by selecting two readings from Hall which pinpoint two different ways in which this question of his departure from Marxism emerges quite sharply. One is in relation to postcoloniality/post-colonialism, and that’s essential because not only is the essay I’ve chosen excellent in itself and worthy of a place in these volumes of his most distinctive papers, but of course the main observational and political fact is that it was postcoloniality, ethnicity, race, identity, that steadily came to the very centre of Hall’s attention, substantively and politically constituting ways of thinking that indeed represented a point of departure from the earlier Marxist or neo-Marxist Hall. At least in important respects. Yet, without denying that shift of focus and emphasis, my selection and commentary is meant to remind us that, as so often with Hall, this is a fascinatingly complex matter, and that while he works through the issues with typical astuteness and eloquence, there are telling tensions within his discourse too.

And then the other point of departure from Marxism I try to bring out in the selection is based on a thesis Hall put forward in the later 1990s to do with the increasing centrality of culture to both the social formation that we live in, and also to our analytical categories of understanding. And I try to indicate that there are important ways in which the ostensibly bold headline thesis turns out to be somewhat misleading or compromised, simply because Hall never quite lets go – never quite wants to let go – of a residual Marxist commitment, the residual Marxist commitment of his earlier period, of the Part 1 readings in this book. Those who knew Stuart Hall well will I’m sure acknowledge – and it’s there in his writings – that whilst he could be among the first to radically question older positions and styles of thinking, he was most reluctant to ever actually abandon anything or anyone that he considered useful or important. Raymond Williams would be a key instance of this: Hall developed some quite profound reservations about Williams, but he never deserted his general project and example. He (Hall) was a wonderfully inclusive persona and thinker.

Okay, but here comes another thing I wanted to get across, something that hasn’t been talked about much, at least directly. It seems to me that just because Stuart Hall was a radiant, charismatic personality, we tend to assume that his distinctiveness as a thinker needs no further explanation; it just comes down precisely to that compelling winningness of his, especially perhaps as a great speaker. Without wishing to deny all that – it was of formative importance for my own development – I develop the slightly more theoretical notion of Hall as mediator. Now this idea of mediator probably needs a bit of upgrading – it can sound too soppy, a bit of this and a bit of that, ‘getting to yes’, tension-less intellectual cuddling. Well, no, that’s not what I mean. Mediation includes hard work and hard arguing by way of synthesising inclusivity in the journey of ideas, respecting aspects of a position without endorsing whole positions; and in so doing transforming the problem under consideration. In other words, it’s an intellectual style, a modality, and not (only) a personal characteristic. In suggesting this I draw a little bit from Bruno Latour, who is certainly not a Marxist, and a bit more from Jean-Paul Sartre, who I’m not otherwise a tremendous fan of. But in Sartre’s short book The Problem of Method – which Hall liked – there’s a stimulating series of reflections about what it means to be a mediator and why Marxism in particular needs to be seen as a series of mediations rather than a propositional philosophy. And Hall exemplifies both that mode and that location brilliantly, mediating within Marxism – structuralism versus culturalism; economism versus ideologism; class and non-class phenomena relative to the cultural and ideological spheres – and between Marxism and other discourses, mediations that constitute ongoing zones of engagement. For Hall, of course, this meant ethnicity and race, cultural studies itself, feminism, psychoanalysis in various ways, post-Marxism in the form of Foucauldian thinking, and so on. None of these formations and interventions are ‘Marxist’ as such, in fact they can often be posed as anti-Marxist and not just non-Marxist; but Hall wanted them all to be part of the same universe of discourse and progressive horizon, to be as closely intertwined with Marxism as possible.

In sum: I wanted to illustrate from the selected texts, and bring out in the commentaries, that Hall was a peerless, dialectical (neo-)Marxist mediator; also to suggest that, in a strange kind of way, although he critiqued and revised and drew away somewhat from Marxism, Hall needed Marxism too. It gave him a kind of anchor, some consistent terms of reference, without which his notably pluralistic mediations might have risked slipping into mere eclecticism, with a loss of ultimate coherence and integrity.

Catherine: Thank you so much, Greg. I completely agree that Marxism did indeed do a lot for Stuart, and not only did he never abandon it as some kind of anchor, it also became increasingly important to him in the last years in the context of neoliberalism and his thinking around that. We’ll now welcome Bruce Robbins to the discussion.

Bruce: Greg’s description of Stuart Hall as a mediator seems to me spot on – like all the commentary in this brilliantly edited volume. But I want to put a slightly different spin on the idea of mediation. In fact, I’m going to do some of the upgrading that Greg just mentioned. I want to tug this idea of mediation gently in the direction of a concept that may seem played out, or closer to flattery than to serious analysis – Gramsci’s concept of the organic intellectual.

The obvious objection to describing Stuart Hall as an organic intellectual – aside from his own repudiation of the idea – is that what Gramsci had in mind was intellectuals thrown up by the working class and helping to organise both the class’s consciousness and the activities of the political party that represented it. It’s in this sense, I assume, that Stuart Hall says, speaking with his signature modesty about his work at the Birmingham Centre, ‘We were organic intellectuals without any organic point of reference’ – ‘organic point of reference’ meaning, I assume, class and party. In order to make the concept of the organic intellectual work under such different circumstances, the premise we would have to accept is that what defines the concept – relationship with, accountability to, a given political constituency – can be stretched beyond class and party so as to cover the diverse social collectivities that composed the new left. In other words, the non- and post-Marxist discourses that Greg sees Hall as mediating between. So, no assumption of a shared class, no assumption of a shared party – though you might indeed have both.

Mediation in the case of the collectivities that animated these discourses and movements was obviously a challenge. The idea of serving them as an organic intellectual is an even greater challenge. It would entail trying to discover or impose a political unity on collectivities that didn’t just happen to be diverse – for many of them diversity or difference was arguably a principle of self-definition. This kind of mediation is a bigger job than trying to bring together the so called class fractions that were the potential components of the unified working class. In the context of race, gender, sexuality and so on, the very idea of political unity can no longer be taken for granted. As Hall says in the essay in the book on the Post-Colonial: ‘Isn’t the ubiquitous, the soul-searing lesson of our times the fact that the political binaries do not (any longer) – did they ever – either stabilise the field of political antagonism in any permanent way or render it transparently intelligible’ (p295). It’s the challenge posed by the multiplicity of the post-60s movements. If political antagonism can’t be defined in binary terms, do you still have political antagonisms?’ My point here is not to give my blessing to the idea of Stuart Hall as the godfather of multiculturalism, but to be more precise about both the multiplicity of multiculturalism, and about the Marxism that is, after all, what we’re here to discuss.

On the one hand, difference was not the exclusive defining principle of the 1960s movements. It was certainly not the defining principle of the anti-war movement, the anti-imperialist movement, the environmental movement; and – as comes out in this collection – even the movements associated with race, gender and sexuality were not committed in any absolutist way to identity, subjectivity or culture: this is why, when Hall expressed his impatience with those who’d like to replace an economic reductionism with an exclusive or overriding concern with identity, subjectivity or culture, as he does in the passage just quoted, he knew he had an audience. Where was he trying to take that audience? That’s the point on which the concept of the organic intellectual adds something to the concept of mediation.

As Greg says, the idea of mediation may suggest asking everyone to compromise a little in the interest of peace and tranquillity, asking them to listen to everyone else, asking them to play nice. But what Hall means by mediator corresponds, more or less, to what Bruno Latour means by it: it does not mean an intermediary who takes the social and its problem fields as given – let’s say takes identities as given. True mediators ‘reconstitute the very concerns being addressed, in effect, they propose and co-produce a new social in and through their acts of problematisation and the network effects they trigger’ (p342, ‘Editor’s discussion of the Part III writings’). In this sense, Latour says, mediators are game changers. One might also say, as Latour would not, that the work of mediation Stuart Hall did was the work of a Gramscian organic intellectual. It was doing something to the players and the identities, helping to create a collective self-consciousness, reconstituting them in order to prepare them to take power.

For Gramsci, an organic intellectual was defined by ‘a capacity to be an organiser of society in general, including all its complex organisms of services right up to the state organism, because of the need to create the conditions most favourable to the expansion of their own class’. The function to which such an intellectual aspired, in other words, was ‘organising social hegemony and state domination’. The phrase ‘state domination’ is not sloppy or accidental. Gramsci’s abstract description of the working class is ‘any group that is developing toward dominance’. The phrase ‘any group’ may have been there only to avoid censorship – he couldn’t say ‘class’. But it also leaves the door open for us to shift the notion of the organic intellectual from class to the 1960s constituencies, including class. The problem is that most, if not all, of the 1960s constituencies did not see themselves as developing toward dominance. Dominance was what they suffered from, not what they were seeking. That’s where Stuart Hall’s Marxism comes in, in my view. For better or worse, his Marxism does not come in the form of an insistence that the other constituencies should follow the lead of the working class. And it does not come in as an insistence on economic determination in the last instance, though there are certainly places in this volume where that’s what Hall seems to assert, and maybe rightly so. It comes in as the simple, if mainly unarticulated, proposition, that there must be a coalition, that the eventual goal of the coalition is to take power, and that in order for this to happen, no one can rest content with their own given identity, their own given subjectivity, their own given experience. There would have to be some reconstituting.

When Hall defends theory against E.P. Thompson, and in particular against Thompson’s invocation of historical experience, I can’t help feeling that behind Thompson’s reliance on experience Hall is seeing all the present-day social collectivities that are putting a great deal of weight on their experience. If so, then theory would stand in for the necessary coerciveness, or, if you prefer, the impoliteness, not of Marxism as such, but of Marxism as the reminder that the goal of the project, however delayed, is taking power – something that can only be imagined at the eventual result of a successful coalition of collectivities that have no single antagonist and no pre-given form of unity. Bowing down to the sacredness of anyone’s experience is inconsistent with the project of developing toward dominance.

The project of developing toward dominance also makes sense, retrospectively, of Hall’s trademark concern with the state. The prospect of successfully taking over the state was, of course, never close enough to make the articulating of that goal seem like anything other than a bad joke. But as a long-term goal, the putting together of a coalition that would be capable of governing and capable of governing differently, seems a better way of understanding Hall’s career than, say, his concern for culture, which has frequently sucked all the oxygen out of the discussion. About the state, there was no established Marxist orthodoxy in the name of which Hall could be dismissed as a shameless revisionist. There was controversy, as Greg points out, and he contributed meaningfully to it.

There was also controversy, maybe even more of it, on the other side of his mediating efforts. The philosopher who was most consistently affirmed by the new social movements was Foucault, who, as Greg says, refused to trace power back to any single organising instance such as the state. Whether you think of Foucault as anti-statism, as sinister and neoliberal, or as anarcho-libertarianism – which could also be seen as sinister – there is no doubt that his position was utterly alien to the project of developing toward domination. Which means, in effect, that Hall was fighting Foucault for the soul of the movement.

As this volume brings out, it was in wrestling with Nicos Poulantzas’s theory of the state, especially what Poulantzas called authoritarian statism, that Stuart Hall came up with the alternative formula, authoritarian populism. I think he was fascinated by authoritarian populism – maybe there was even some excess in that fascination beyond his epoch-making insight into its extraordinary political success. If so, the obvious reason is that, like Gramsci, he thought the left could learn from the right’s capacity to bring popular feeling into a new ruling coalition, riding it into state power. So, yes, the idea of taking state power and governing might have seemed to him grandiose, ruled out for the moment, both because it was too far from the immediate goals and concerns of the new social movements and because of the weakness of the organised working class, but I don’t think he was ever not informed by that idea.

And under present circumstances I cannot help adding that even at non-revolutionary moments there is nothing reprehensibly reformist or revisionist about saying that we need the state to take on certain functions that private individuals and local collectivities cannot take on for themselves. One does not need the world historical incompetence of Donald Trump, and the hundreds of thousands of unnecessary deaths that resulted from it, to bring that point home. It’s not just in the US that you have to factor in the importance of the state to the anti-war movement – which was obliged to come to some understanding of military violence – or the importance of the state as an interlocutor for the women’s movement and the civil rights movement, which were trying to get their constituencies protected by legislation. Do we really think this was a mistake? If not, then the fury over culture and culturalism fades somewhat into the background.

It’s possible that everything I have been saying is shameless, special pleading for my own generation. Call it the 60s generation. What Stuart Hall called ‘generational consciousness’ is obviously not the soul prerogative of youth. At the same time, I’m consciously trying to balance Stuart Hall’s powerful and uncompromising commitment to the present conjuncture – to what could be done and had to be done here and now – with his commitment to the historical long term, which is a signature move of Marx and of Marxism.

For Stuart Hall it mattered that patriarchy, racism and military violence all have non-capitalist sources, and pre-capitalist as well as capitalist trajectories. It’s that long term as well as the generational short term that permitted him and permits us to entertain the unfashionable idea of progress – an idea that the new social movements have been reluctant to acknowledge. Stuart Hall ends the piece on Edward Thompson by focusing on ‘the complex moment of 1968, a contradictory inheritance which has to be neither simply revived nor simply denigrated, but reckoned with’. As usual, I think he was too modest here. He was not merely reckoning with that inheritance but reconstituting it, teaching the movements of 1968 a Gramscian lesson. Getting the generation to acknowledge what he called, in a significant phrase, ‘theoretical gains’. I think it’s fair to say that not all the gains were purely theoretical.

Catherine: Thank you so much, Bruce. How pertinent your comments are to now and to the decades that have gone. We’re now going hear from Angela. We look forward very much to what you have to say.

Angela: Re-reading the work which Greg has so meticulously gathered and so judiciously edited has been a great pleasure. One can see the threads of a ‘complex unity’ (a phrase favoured by Stuart) across the breadth of the work here, just as one can also see Stuart immersed in the process of working with and wrestling with Marx in a quite sensuous way, as a kind of intellectual craftsmanship. But I would also say that there is a sense of excitement which pervades the volume. There is a clear project that Stuart was constantly working on. And it was also risky work dedicating such time and energy to Marx’s writings, in a context where such endeavours did not win friends in the academy. (I must say however I depart from Greg’s emphasis on Stuart’s engagement with Sartre, which I would say was fleeting. Rather I would suggest Stuart was looking, quite far and wide, for writing which would permit a fuller phenomenological engagement with everyday life and with questions of subjectivity after the various ‘culturalist’ dialogues with Hoggart, Williams and indeed E.P. Thompson. He then quite quickly shifted in favour of European structuralism, language and the politics of meaning.)

One of the first points I was thinking about was who were Stuart’s interlocutors within the left in the early 1970s when he was preparing the first article in this volume. What was the constituency for this particular body of work? Was it the New Left Review crowd still? Was it his colleagues in the anti-imperialist movement? Or was it just himself and some students and a few academic scholars here and there across the world? It was different with the works that make up the middle section of the new volume. Resistance through Rituals and Policing the Crisis, when they were first published, had an immediate readership within what were seen as exciting new debates in sociology including the so-called New Criminology. Stanley Cohen in the UK had published his very well-known work Folk Devils and Moral Panics, and there was also, of course, the long tradition in youth cultural studies of the American Chicago School of Sociology.

What made Policing the Crisis and Resistance Through Rituals (which were joint-authored within the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies) distinctive, was that both books foregrounded Stuart’s insistence on a study of the historical conjuncture, something that did not go down well in sociology at the time. I remember this quite distinctly, the charge being that attempting some sort of historical analysis meant that the work could not be considered as properly sociological. But for the CCCS writers there was a need to look more widely over the years and to try and grasp something of the ‘social totality’. Policing the Crisis paved the way for Hall’s subsequent work on Thatcherism, and the scale of the study allowed him the space to rehearse a full range of concepts. In each of these studies, the authors (myself included, re Resistance through Rituals) introduced a specifically Marxist vocabulary, including elements of continental Marxism in the form of Althusser’s theory of ideology and, of course, Gramsci’s notion of hegemony.

Greg’s choice of chapter from Policing The Crisis ‘Black crime, black proletariat’ is laudable for the reason that here we see Stuart reflect on the position of black unemployed youth in the UK in the 1970s within a neo-Marxist historical frame which refutes their being understood as simply a ‘reserve army of labour’ at capital’s disposal and hence part of the lumpenproletariat, pulled in when capital might have some need for them and expelled when no longer needed. Hall writes:

The ‘wage-less’ are not to be equated with the traditional disorganised and undisciplined ‘lumpenproletariat’. This false identification arises only because the black working class is understood exclusively in relation to British capital. But, in fact, black labour can only be adequately understood, historically, if it is also seen as a class which has already developed in the Caribbean – vis-à-vis ‘colonial’ forms of capital – as a cohesive social force. In the colonial setting ‘wage-lessness’ was one of its key strategies. It is not surprising that this wage-less sector has reconstructed in the metropolitan ‘colony’ a supporting institutional network and culture.

Hall provides a historical gloss on the importance of a cultural politics of race and resistance on its own terms. And then in a move I found surprising, Hall digresses to reflect further on the Race Today writing and its engagement with the autonomist strand of Italian Marxism. Actually this is surprising only for reasons of my own amnesia. I had entirely forgotten that at Birmingham in the mid to late 1970s (albeit in this instance percolated through debates in the journal Race Today) there had been animated discussion about this writing, particularly for its emphasis on work, labour and industrial action. The Italians had drawn on Volume 3 of Capital to develop a fuller understanding of capitalism’s post-war expansiveness across so many institutions. Hall explains how this brought to attention the idea of ‘reproduction’,0 with ‘the transformation of the whole of society into a sort of “social factory” for capital’. This ‘massive concentration of capital’ which is smoothed over and ‘harmonised’ by the state leads to a mass proletarianization effect and the degradation of labour. This envisages popular alliances and forms of class and race struggles beyond the factory floor. Stuart shows how the idea of the recomposition of the working class, especially as understood with reference to the black working class in 1970s Britain, can portend new forms of resistance. Hall is especially prescient here, suggesting that there has been a progressive integration of labour into low skill jobs such that the boundaries between unemployment and ‘hustling’ almost break down.

This is of course more fully developed in his later writing on Thatcherism, but he hints early on that this situation (the degradation of labour) prompted Capital to ramp up the ideological work being undertaken ‘in the superstructures’ to disguise the pervasiveness of low skill work, and instead to decoratively re-brand and upskill such work with a constellation of aspirational and lifestyle values, especially at that point where women fully enter and remain in the labour market. (We might think about what used to be called pink collar work.) Back in the late 1970s Hall is envisaging a breaking down of the boundaries between unemployment, under-employment, zero hours jobs etc. He uses the word proletarianization (as does Maurizio Lazzarato writing on ‘immaterial labour’ many years later), which points to a potential for alliances and new forms of resistance, and there were indeed glimmers of this in the punk-n-reggae youth cultures of the 1980s including Rock Against Racism and the Anti-Nazi League.

Stuart was at the forefront of a group of thinkers (often in dialogue with Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe) who were developing a neoMarxism, in his case without grandiosity, and which later into the 1980s and 1990s became a Marxism ‘without guarantees’ which also insisted on moving away from meta-categories of political economy to look forensically downwards to the politics of language and the vernacular of everyday life. It was this that allowed Hall later to warn the left about the ways in which the working class was being successfully wooed by the right. His methodologies relied on an open-ended mode of inquiry, including a non-directive, self-questioning, de-centred, non-authorial, template for future work and study. In short, a kind of ‘ecriture’ which has Marxism at its centre but which pulls into play and foregrounds a post-structuralist sensibility, with no absolute beginnings, no linear narratives and no tight conclusions, and a search for a theoretical mode which gives depth and shape to empirical details and history. In many ways his distinctive post-structuralist Marxism is more fully displayed in the later writings published in Marxism Today, where he in effect invented what is nowadays referred to by the new and alt right (we can assume Steve Bannon read and took notes from Hall) as ‘cultural Marxism’. This too was among his major achievements.

I want to conclude, then, by pointing to the power of ideology – the way Hall’s writing from the mid-1970s engages with the right’s deployment of so many ideological strands in the form of popular vernacular, and how these are organised, orchestrated, assembled and reassembled in determinate ways, while at the same time they also seem to be loose and free-floating. Analysing the orchestration of these elements – which have accumulated over time so that they become sedimented as common sense – has helped us to understand the popular hegemony of the right over the decades. In the Aftermath of Feminism, published in 2008, I very consciously adopt a kind of Hallian conjunctural analysis, looking at the relationship between the New Labour government in the decade 1997 to 2007 and the thematics of that time as genres in popular culture – where young women were being brought forward as subjects of ‘female success’ but on the grounds that feminism had to be repudiated. Tony Blair reportedly could not abide the ‘f word’.

In my most recent book (Feminism and the Politics of Resilience, published in 2020) I turned to Hall’s phrase which he reclaimed from the title of a right-wing pamphlet from the 1980s, i.e. the slogan ‘breaking the spell of the welfare state’. Hall then used it as an analytic for decoding some of the key elements of the Thatcher agenda. I use it to understand the media attacks on welfare through the idea of poverty-shaming. Then shortly before his death in his writing on neoliberalism, Hall referred to the use of the vernacular by George Osborne, then the Chancellor of the Exchequer, to further turn the tide against the welfare society by describing recipients as ‘sleeping off a life on benefits’.

My final point this evening is to slightly challenge Greg’s comment at the very end of the volume, where he refers to Stuart, with characteristic modesty, conceding some ground in reflecting that he and others like him ought perhaps to have paid more attention to the economic. He was maybe referring to the attacks from various quarters arguing that cultural studies had been ‘merely cultural’. Stuart reflects and thinks, ‘Well, maybe we should have spent more time with the economic’. But, at the same time, when Stuart took part in Isaac Julien’s film Kapital in 2013, he absolutely took a stand against David Harvey, to a huge sigh of relief on my own part and many in the audience. Harvey said that we should have stuck to his particular kind of economistic Marxism all the way along, and Stuart opposed that in a characteristically polite and eloquent way. So I would suggest that we might benefit also from looking at Isaac Julien’s Kapital.

Catherine: Thank you Angela. We turn now to our final speaker, Brett St Louis.

Brett: The structure of what I want to do in my fifteen minutes is to first of all briefly sketch two of the main issues that jump out at me in relation to this volume, and then to offer some remarks that seek to bring these points together, and to say something about their significance to our present moment.

The first of the two main themes I want to discuss concerns the methodology of theory – the methodology of theory in the sense of theory in its social, political, cultural and critical formulations. I want to say something about the nuanced valances of understanding the social in its complexity that is crucial in relation to this volume.

Then I want to say something about what I see as an implicit – perhaps more implicit than explicit – humanistic and ethical intervention at play within this volume. One of the things that it is possible to see, to read, in this collection, is the way in which it pulls together various analytical commitments and practical concerns in relation to the deprivations and affirmative potential of human social lives. I think that there’s a humanistic and ethical intervention running throughout the volume that’s worth considering.

I also want to offer a few personal framing comments, and to say that my own intellectual preoccupations and concerns are largely focused on sociological questions of racialisation and racism, and on these questions as they emerge within and across given social situations. It seems to me obvious that Hall’s work is important in this regard, and indeed, as Greg points out in his introduction to the book, the distinction sometimes suggested between Hall’s ‘earlier’ Marxist work and the later work on ethnicity, on representation, on cultural politics, is somewhat of a misunderstanding: the concerns with ethnicity, with representation, with cultural politics, in their elegant critical theoretical formulations, cannot be considered or dismissed as idealist theoretical abstractions, even when one takes into account their occasional psychoanalytic flavour. Rather, we can see them as empirically informed, and with a material referent – and I’ll say more about this shortly. It’s in that sense, then, that Hall’s Marxism constitutes an ongoing thread in his work, albeit one that takes different forms at different times.

I’d like to also agree about the wonderful work that Greg has done, not just in collecting these chapters together but also in the commentary that he offers. One of the important aspects of Greg’s commentary is that it situates Hall’s work within its formative context in a way that is suggestive of its continued relevance and its applicability – though I don’t mean applicability in the literal sense of utility, but more in terms of a style of thought and a style of engagement. And this question of thought and engagement is what I want to focus my brief observations on, particularly in relation to what Greg has characterised as Hall as mediating Marxism.

So first I’ll say a few words on the methodology of theory, and the interface between the social, political, cultural and critical dimensions of theory. I want to look at two examples, starting with the ‘Subcultures, cultures, and class’ chapter, an extract from Resistance through Rituals. What we see in that chapter is an attention to the distinctiveness of youth culture and the cultural aspects of youth. Youth is characterised as emergent within a given social moment and relations; and it is understood as being reflective of a distinction between dominant and subordinate social classes. There’s this sense of youth as subject to hegemony and struggle over cultural power. And subcultures are understood as emergent, and in a certain sense as solutions to problematic social class experience; and as being distinct from, and yet linked to, ‘parent cultures’. And there is that key idea of subcultures as formed through the activities of groups – their rituals, the ways in which they occupy space, their embodied and expressive styles, modes of relations, and so on. In short, what we have here is the foregrounding of social context, of social relations, social interests, social agendas, social processes.

To move on to a different example, let’s look at the excerpt taken from Policing the Crisis, the ‘Black crime, black proletariat’ chapter, which Angela also discussed. And this chapter, for me, is notable in terms of the thoroughgoing discussion that it offers of the debate over the position of the ‘criminal’ classes in relation to labour, largely in terms of the extent to which they might be understood as outside of, and without, class consciousness; it discusses the argument that the lumpenproletariat could possibly constitute a counterrevolutionary force, that they have been incorporated by capitalism; and the issue of the criminalised sector of the social class, as well as how that corresponds to both the waged and the unwaged members of the black labour force. And this question is then used to stage a distinction between, and discuss the relationship between, a sectoral (black and antiracist) struggle perspective, and a social-class (that is, working class, workerist and class conscious) struggle perspective.

What I see here, in terms of the methodology of theory, is Hall undertaking a balancing act, combining commitments to both analytic and practical observation, combining the explanatory and the critical, being prescriptive but also seeking accord and consensus building, if that’s at all possible. And there is a sense also of being cautious of the dangers of reductivism, scientism, historicism, obscurantist idealism but also wary of sense, experiential, impressionism, intuitive speculation – what might be characterised in some quarters as mysticism. So, one of the key things that’s happening in this work is Hall addressing the problem, assuming the challenge, of conceptualisation regarding social description.

I want to say a little something about what I understand to be a humanistic and ethical intervention – and I think sometimes, within debates seeking to understand race, ethnicity, racism, within a Marxist framework, this kind of humanistic and ethical intervention can be overlooked. One of the things that is clear, to me at least, is that Hall’s work is populated by people, by subjects, by actors, so there’s a concern with agents, a concern for their lives, which are impacted by economic, social and cultural forces. While this is not a soft moralism, for me there’s nonetheless an underlying sense of human immiseration and resistance animating Hall’s concerns and works, and as such there’s a humanistic undercurrent and ethical thrust. So, if we think of the ‘Subcultures, cultures, and class’ chapter, there’s this sense of subcultures taking shape through collective activity, and that there are these key areas of education, work, leisure, which give rise to the generational specificity of youth subcultures. So in terms of generational consciousness, a wonderful way in which Hall phrased this is to say that ‘Youth felt, and experienced itself, as different’.

So, there’s this humanistic undercurrent and ethical thrust, and within ‘Black crime, black proletariat’, we have a rehearsal of the significance of Marx’s hierarchy of labour powers but done in relation to black youth, and this discussion is framed within a debate over, on the one hand, their self-activity, and on the other hand, their subjugation. But notably here, black youth are not simply a social category or a process in relation to labour: they are also agents expressing themselves, or having that capacity actively suppressed. It’s this understanding of them as agents, with their own self-activity, or collective activity, that demands attention.

For my last few points, I want to try to draw this together, and it seems to me that there are two key issues here. First is the careful and detailed exposition that Hall offers, that he’s acutely appreciative of authorial context and intent. Second, that there’s a measured and balanced approach, giving disparate positions what we might characterise as a ‘fair hearing’, and I think this is really important, that the theoretical work undertaken by Hall engages in the question of how to conceptualise groups, not as empirical and demographic facts, or as normative and nominalist, but with a regard for formative complexity, and it goes beyond simply being an intellectual ambition, it is something that is achieved through the work. So there’s a constant attention to how groups emerge and exist within given social contexts and relations, and consideration of the impacts of those groups’ individual and collective experiences of those social contexts and relations, as well as how groups respond, and their own individual actions.

And I’m also struck then, lastly, by the issue of debate and tone, and this, I think, is crucial in terms of the point about Hall’s measured and balanced approach, giving disparate positions a fair hearing.

That ‘Black crime, black proletariat’ piece is deeply significant – in that chapter Hall very carefully rehearses the distinction between the Race Today and Black Liberator positions. The Race Today position focused around the refusal to work, while the Black Liberator position focused on the question of the reserve army of labour as super-exploited, as an underclass. But both of these positions are presented fairly. They’re presented in a nuanced and balanced manner, and I think this is an important commitment and undertaking. Angela made the point about the open and generous character of Hall’s work, and its being in a non-didactic formulation that serves as an invitation, and I think that’s a crucial point that I would also want to take away here. That this is something we can reflect on in relation to our own approach – and when I say ‘our’, I mean progressive, leftist political culture, which can be deeply adversarial and antagonistic. To say this isn’t to preclude discussion and debate, but rather to consider the register of our discourse and communication, and I think this is also part of the discourse of mediation that Greg refers to: how Hall’s mediation brings together the analytical, practical and polemical commitments of left politics.

Panel discussion

Gregor: All three speakers have made me think that I haven’t brought out enough that Stuart’s investment in the cultural is not simply an academic, or a cultural studies priority. It is a political project, and I’m wondering if I brought that out enough. After all, one of the chapters in the book is a response to Bob Jessop and colleagues’ arguments about ideologism, which have been more or less repeated in a recent essay by Perry Anderson in New Left Review called ‘Heirs of Gramsci’. In which Hall is 4th on a list of 4, really, in terms of getting all the ticks. Whereas I think what you’ve all brought out, in different ways, that that’s really not right. Hall’s investment in culture is deeply political, including in the way that Brett suggests, in his notion of group life, and humanist self-constitution, which goes beyond class.

That’s why Hall’s not an orthodox Marxist. That these are political cultural forms of bringing things into existence. In my commentary I try to draw attention to Sartre’s idea that part of Marxism, should be, not just respecting, but bringing to light, the profundity of the lived as a political impulse. And Hall had that in bags, and all three colleagues here have brought that out very nicely.

There’s so much to talk about, I just wanted to say about method, which Brett and Angela particularly touched upon. And Angela’s mentioned this before in a very stimulating way in her chapter on Hall, in my view the best book on cultural studies, where she talks about the importance, in general, as well as the importance to Hall, of a certain kind of creative messiness. Not bringing things to a rounded, validity-seeking coherence, but leaving some strands open, partly because who the hell can solve everything in the head? Stuart was very clear that he didn’t, but no-one else can either. So that’s another invitation for everyone reading him to join in the project of keeping debate open.

And I think one self-criticism in the book is when I discuss Hall’s reading of the 1857 introduction, I’m so fascinated by the intellectual and philosophical multiplicity and tensions in it, that I don’t think I actually simply say what a marvellous, creative, ongoing, unfinished thing it is, and it’s great partly because of that. He’s got this marvellous ability to come back at the end and round things off, remind us of what he’s done and what he’s not done. But there is something constitutively open about his thinking. And I think my commentators here have reminded me of a few things, so maybe I didn’t bring that out quite well enough.

Angela: I also wanted to ask you about what I saw as perhaps a slight glossing-over in the text of issues that I remember, or think of, as being formative on Stuart’s work, for example, his debates with Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe. I thought – but you seem to disagree – that their book Hegemony and Socialist Strategy was enormously influential on the way that Stuart’s path through neo-Marxism developed – through the chains of equivalence, through alliances, coalitions, through contingency. But you suggest in your notes that Stuart was actually much more influenced by the earlier work of Ernesto and Chantal.

Gregor: Yes, that’s really interesting. When I revisited some of the work, I was surprised by how firmly Stuart says I want the early stuff, and I don’t really want the later stuff so much. Which was not my perception. I thought the later stuff, or the mid-1980s, Hegemony and Socialist Strategy influenced and troubled him quite profoundly, but he seems to just hold the line a bit, in terms of his own recounting of it, rather more firmly than I remember. And of course, we all have our views on these things, and I’ve already included quite a lot of commentary in there, and a few little critical comments of my own. Because you know, the great classics – which Hall now is – should never be simply admired, and left at that. But I couldn’t really go into it too much, because if I did there would be too much of me in the book. But I take your point, and I agree with it as well.

Catherine: I think, Angela, you’re right about the chain of equivalences. Stuart really used that in his analysis in The Fateful Triangle, which of course wasn’t published until much, much, later than the time when the talks were given. It was very important to him in his analysis of how race works. And it’s interesting that these things he wrote were then published decades later – of course one of the reasons that happened was that he never wanted it to be complete, he never thought it was finished, he was always revising. So, Greg, you say when you went back you found that he was clear on this, but on another occasion he might not have been, and he might have said something different about Laclau and Mouffe.

This is part of what all of you are talking about – the openness, the conviction that he would never have finished, that he’d never have it all right, and nobody else would have it all right either. That the whole point is to be engaged in critical dialogue. That’s what’s valuable, that’s what’s important.

I agree with Bruce that the work was about ‘how might we ever win power? – which was always something far off in the future, as it is for us now. But that has to be the question: how are coalitions going to be made, how are alliances going to happen? Once you no longer have any certainty about class, how is that going to change? How is the new common sense to be secured? And I think that’s the question that always underpinned what he was thinking about.

Questions from the audience

In Hall’s work in the 1970s and 1980s, did he fundamentally change his reading of Marx via Gramsci, alongside his reading of race and blackness? And I ask this deliberately to think across this wonderful volume, and the volume on Hall and Race?

Catherine: I’d like to say something on this. One of the points that Paul Gilroy and Ruth Gilmore Wilson make so central to their volume is a refutation of the idea that Stuart wasn’t thinking about race until the 1980s, which of course, is absolutely not true. He was thinking about race from the moment he was born, when he experienced what it was to be in a colonial family, and what it was to be a colonial subject in Jamaica. And he wrote about it in different ways, from that moment onwards, and some of the writing that hasn’t appeared anywhere yet is his writing when was in Oxford. His fiction, his poetry. A lot of it was about race. So, it’s there as part of what he’s thinking about, from the very beginning, and I think it’s very important to know that, and to see how the particular kind of turn to questions of race and ethnicity in the 1980s is, of course, in response to what was happening in Britain, and the politics of race in Britain at the time.

Gregor: I think that’s true, and you can see it in the chapter that others have highlighted, taken from Policing the Crisis, ‘Black crime, black proletariat’. Retrospectively, I was bowled over by the fact that Stuart is not just, as it were, adding a dimension of black politics to an underlying Marxist analysis. He’s transforming the categories themselves, as Brett brought out, in terms of wage labour, wagelessness, and the politics of that. There’s a lot of reasoning going on in that essay that’s giving a different reading of the economic categories, such that it becomes much more culturally open to the politics of race, and the politics of gender. There’s a lot in it on the categories of production and reproduction. And Hall didn’t just make those arguments up on the spot, they must have been with him a long time, and he finally found a way of articulating all those dimensions. It’s just a terrific piece in that regard. But he didn’t then make a big deal of that. He didn’t then say, ‘And by the way, don’t you see what I’m doing, I’m actually transforming, extending, modifying and, in a way, critiquing Marxist economic categories’. Why? Well, because he’s never been a polemicist for the sake of it. He’s keeping all the relevant political audiences together under one space.

Catherine: One of the reasons that Gramsci was so important to Stuart was Gramsci’s analysis of the South, and the way in which that brought up a whole set of different questions about region and regional culture, which then opened up Marxism in a different way, and gave him other kinds of access to thinking with different categories.

Can Brett say a little more about the emotional and relational nature of Hall’s mediating the complexity of a hostile British post-war society?

Brett: I’d like to to say something in relation to that but combine it with another audience question: I’d love to hear a reflection on how Hall might’ve turned to this moment in time, seeing Covid as a conjuncture that might be a point for the left to change the conversations, specifically in terms of neoliberal economics.

One of the things I have been trying to think through in relation to Covid-19 is ethnicity and risk, and this offers us a useful illustrative example of some of the key interventions that are staged in this volume. One of the issues that is really coming out is that we are seeing the central issue of where and how people live and work. Even when we think we’re talking about race – which we are – we’re also talking about how people live, how people labour. A report from the Runnymede Trust, Overexposed and Under-protected: the devastating impact of COVID-19 on black and minority ethnic communities in Great Britain, published in August 2020, details how people from UK black and minority ethnic populations are more likely to work outside of home, to use public transport, to be in key-worker roles, to have poor access to PPE; and to be more likely to live in overcrowded, intergenerational homes, making it harder for them to shield, harder for them to self-isolate. So, in terms of the social conceptualisation of Covid-19, ethnicity and risk, we have seen that ethnicity is a key marker of Covid-19 risk, but it’s not a causal determinant in and of itself.

But at the same time – and this is where it links to the question about the emotional and relational nature of Hall’s writing – it reminds us that when we are thinking about the experience of risk, it is an experience, it is felt by individuals, by groups and by communities. We might consider these risks as embodied, but they also involve multiple factors. And another point here is that the Public Health England report of June 2020, Disparities in the risk and outcomes of Covid-19, pointed out that black, minority ethnic, people reported low levels of satisfaction with their experiences of healthcare provision.

So, that account of the experiential, and emotional, understanding of risk is as important as the social context within which people live and work. And the bringing together of these different facets of social, individual and collective life comes through in many of the analytical and practical commitments that are staged within the book.

Angela: One of the things that I found interesting in Greg’s commentaries was his reference to Stuart finding Raymond Williams’s concept of ‘structure of feeling’ unsatisfactory, perhaps because of wanting to get the balance right between structuralism and culturalism. I wondered about that – in the light, for example, of feminist theories of affect, and the attention given to emotion within more recent cultural studies, as in the work of the late Lauren Berlant. So I wondered, Brett, if there was more that you would like to say about feeling and emotion in Stuart’s Marxism?

Brett: In some debates emotion and feeling are seen as something that is incompatible with theory, as irrelevant. But thinking back to those responses from interviewees in the Public Health England report – these are people’s stories, they are accounts of experiences. They aren’t simply woolly and intuitive impressions. And these experiences have an impact on the decisions people make in relation to how they access healthcare, and how they treat public health advice. That’s what’s important, and that’s why there’s an ethical aspect here, insofar as it’s not the story, or the narrative, in itself, that is significant or meaningful; it’s its political and social reference. It is not a question of wanting to validate any kind of intuitive, sense-experience commentary. Something outside of the experience, outside of the account, has to have some kind of political and social relevance.

Gregor: Angela and Brett are right that Stuart does later move away from an Althusserian dismissal of experience as a dubious, empiricist, resort, compared with the higher realms of correct theory, etc. But then, later on again, his critique of Williams takes a slightly different turn. If experience is seen as a holistic thing – if people are ‘Bespeaking’ their worlds, where the worlds seem to have a kind of precious and perhaps even inviolable meaning-making status – then that is something we’ve got to be careful about. There’s an aspect of Williams’s resort to ‘structure of feeling’ that Stuart later sees as validating a rather narrow, parochial fight – British or Welsh culture. So, either way, you can’t go all the way with affect, because of the dangers of a purely self-reaffirming notion of one’s identity.

And yet, of course, you’re entirely right, Brett, Stuart’s humanistic sensibility, and his sense of what Sartre called ‘the profundity of the lived’, meant that he never bought into a hard-nosed Marxism of the ‘if it’s not class experience, what use is it?’ kind. He has to be sensitive to the power and the potential of transformative agency, which if it lacks an affect dimension, goes nowhere.

An essential question for Marxism in the twenty-first century has been how to reconcile the question of ecology with the ongoing struggle for social and political emancipation. A pivotal moment in Stuart’s own political engagement was an engagement with an environmental movement, namely, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. How can we use Stuart’s thought for theorising the current eco-social impasse?

Catherine: I would immediately recommend a book by Mark Harvey that’s coming out at the end of next month, which is on the climate emergency and which is absolutely about the relation between the social, the ecological and the climate. The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament was certainly a huge commitment of Stuart’s, for many years. And he kept me waiting for many hours while he attended long, and difficult, and dialogic, meetings of the committee of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. And it was a critical moment of politicisation for many people of my generation certainly. But that doesn’t really speak to this moment. Can any of you comment on that?

Angela: I would suggest that we can fruitfully re-read Stuart’s work from the viewpoint of the politics of contemporary protests and activism, and his attention to the intersections and alliances that emerge across different social movements, in ways that can be contingent, but can also be expansive. We’re living in an incredibly interesting moment of new and diverse forums of struggle and activism, including, for example, the new feminist politics from the global south, which has had very different perspectives on issues such as violence against women, femicide and neoliberalism from those, say, of traditional feminists in the global north. I think Stuart would absolutely be interested in that. We’re all the time learning from diverse and different experiences, from across the globe. And obviously the climate movement is one of the best examples of that.

Bruce: The environmental question is a really good one to raise at this point, because it’s the point that all the movements feel they have to be committed to, and this is a movement where different movements are exploring their commitments to other movements. I have been very moved for example by the way Black Lives Matter in the US came out very strongly in favour of Palestinians. I don’t think that ever would have happened in the same way before. In a sense, it’s a very Stuart Hall moment, because the movements are communicating with each other, and passionately so, in ways that he must be smiling upon as he looks down from the heaven we don’t believe in.

Gregor: I think something to hang onto is that, if Hall had a complex Marxism back in the 1970s, it would have been bound to have been even more super-complex today, when what we’ve called the zones of mediation between Marxism and non-Marxism, different angles of politically important things, have become compounded. And his underlying, very simple message is, in some way or another, that these things are all connected, and we should never give up the integrative pluralism of political thinking. The great danger is fragmented pluralism, where the politics of difference, wherever the differences are, leads to political de-alignment, rather than to what Angela’s called coalitional unity. No matter how complex the world got – and perhaps, like most of us, he didn’t feel that he had the answer to it – the project of integrative, progressive pluralism would, I think, be one his fundamental emphases.

Catherine: I think that seems a really good thought to end on. It refers back to different aspects of what all of you have said, very helpfully. And that sense of the connections that make up the whole – we don’t understand it in a simple way, it’s extremely complex, but the struggle to try and make the connections between one arena and another, one side and another, one movement and another, has to be the political project for all of us.

About the Speakers

Catherine Hall is Emerita Professor of History and Chair of the Centre for the Study of the Legacies of British Slavery, University College London. She has published extensively on questions of race, gender and empire. She is co-editor (with Bill Schwarz) of the Duke University Press series of specialist collections of Stuart Hall’s work.

Gregor McLennan is Professor of Sociology at the University of Bristol. He was a graduate student in the 1970s at the Centre of Contemporary Studies in Birmingham, and was a close colleague of Stuart’s at the Open University through the 1980s and early 1990s. He is the author of several books on Marxism, pluralism and social theory, and is editor of the Selected Writings of Stuart Hall on Marxism.

Bruce Robbins is Old Dominion Foundation Professor of the Humanities at Columbia University, and he previously taught at the universities of Geneva, Lausanne and Rutgers. His most recent books are The Beneficiary, published by Duke, and Cosmopolitanism, co-edited with Paulo Horta. He’s also the director of two documentaries, Some of My Best Friends are Zionists and What Kind of Jew is Shlomo Sand?.

Angela McRobbie is professor of cultural studies at Coventry University and a emeritus professor at Goldsmiths University of London. She studied, as Greg did, at the Birmingham Centre in the mid-1970s, and her research on girls’ magazines was widely seen as path breaking. Her most recent books include, Be Creative: Making a

Living in the New Cultural Industries, and Feminism and the Politics of Resilience.

Brett St Louis is senior lecturer in sociology at Goldsmiths, University of London, having previously been lecturer in sociology at Bristol University and assistant professor in ethnic studies at the University of California, San Diego. He is the author of C.L.R. James’ Critique of Modernity: Race, Politics and Poetics (2007) and is currently completing a book on racial eliminativism that develops a critical genealogy and analysis of post-racial thought.

Notes

  1. Stuart Hall, Selected Writings on Marxism, edited by Greg McLennan, Duke University Press 2021: open access introduction by Gregor McLennan.
  2. The series also includes: Cultural Studies 1983, edited by Lawrence Grossberg and Jennifer Slack (2016); Selected Political Writings, copublication with Lawrence & Wishart (2017); Essential Essays (two-volume set) (2018), edited by David Morley; Selected Writings on Race and Difference (2021), edited by Paul Gilroy and Ruth Wilson Gilmore, Writings on Media (2021), edited by Charlotte Brunsdon.
  3. For more on Gramsci’s conception of intellectuals, including organic intellectuals, see David Forgacs (ed), The Antonio Gramsci Reader, L&W 1988, pp300-301.
  4. Antonio Gramsci, Selections from the Prison Notebooks, ed and trans Quintin Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell Smith, L&W 1971, pp5-6.
  5. In chapter 9, ‘In Defence of Theory’.
  6. Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe, Hegemony and Socialist Strategy: Towards a Radical Democratic Politics, Verso 1985, re-issued 2013.
  7. Stuart Hall, The Fateful Triangle, Race Ethnicity, Nation, edited by Kobena Mercer, Harvard University Press 2017.
  8. See note 2 for details.
  9. Mark Harvey, Climate Emergency. How societies create the crisis, Emerald Bingley 2021.

Land both contributes and is affected by climate change. It is the frontlines of the climate crisis where livelihoods, resources and inherited knowledge are fought for against industrial extraction, the militarism of imperial ventures, and colonialism’s erasure of indigenous epistemologies. This conversation asks how land is central to efforts to both deepen and circumvent the crisis?

For this #ReconstructionWork event the Stuart Hall Foundation welcomes three leading climate activists: Abeer M. Butmeh , Dr Hamza Hamouchene and Sam Siva to share their experiences, imaginings and reflections around land and the climate crisis.

Part of our Contextualising Climate Crisis series and our #ReconstructionWork online conversation series.

Supported by Arts Council England

“The climate crisis wasn’t solely caused by empowering an exploitative logic, it was caused by disempowering the very communities which could counter this logic.”

The concept of ‘Anthropocene’ argues that humans (Anthropos) are altering the earth on such a scale that we have left the previous geological epoch (the Holocene) and entered a new one. The pervading narrative around the climate crisis, this age of Anthropocene, is that all humans have contributed to creating a crisis which we must now come together to solve. Blaming all of humanity might seem benign but its important to emphasise that we have not all played an equal part in bringing forth this crisis. As Jairus Victor Grove explains, this apocalyptic era has been unequally created by a minority bent on the accumulation of wealth and a self-interested political order” that affirms the humanity of some and denies the humanity of others.[1] The Jamaican writer and cultural theorist Sylvia Wynter explains that she will not miss the concept of the anthropos “because, among so many things, she was never considered human to begin with.”[2]

The climate crisis was caused by a European project, one in which slavery, the genocide of indigenous peoples, the globalisation of an insatiable extractive economic model, species loss, ecological destruction and climate change are all part of the same global ordering.[3] In other words, the same logic that enslaved human beings and robbed people of their resources under colonialism continues to forcibly extract labor through privatised prisons while pillaging natural resources for profit from a planet in crisis. This exploitative and extractive economic model that has historically emanated from Europe has been with us for centuries and continues to cause unspeakable violence. The climate crisis we are witnessing today can be read as the accumulation of all the death and destruction that brought the modern world to bear.

The need to contextualise the climate crisis isnt about assigning blame, its about being clear about who we ought to be listening to in our search for solutions. The climate crisis wasn’t solely caused by empowering an exploitative logic, it was caused by disempowering the very communities which could counter this logic. This is what we must redress.

In her book A Billion Anthropocenes or None, Kathryn Yusoff states:

If the Anthropocene proclaims a sudden concern with the exposure of environmental harm to liberal communities, it does so in the wake of histories in which these harms have been knowingly exported to Black and brown communities under the rubric of civilisation, progress, modernisation and capitalism. The Anthropocene might seem to offer a dystopic future that laments the end of the world, but imperialism and ongoing (settler) colonialism have been ending worlds for as long as they have been in existence.”5

When Black, brown and indigenous communities suffered, when their worlds ended, it was deemed an acceptable price to pay for a version of progress that continues to rely on the destruction of environments, livelihoods and communities. As we face this unprecedented crisis, we must empower communities on the frontlines of climate breakdown, we have to listen to colonised people because this isnt the first time they are contemplating the apocalypse. We have faced it before – and time and time again our ancestors found ways for us to survive. I count myself as one of the survivors. We, the descendants of Black, brown and indigenous communities, have survived by finding new ways to live under a global system which sees the end of our lives and ecologies – our literal genocide – as a sign of our weakness and its right to dominate and oppress us.

We can survive this crisis because weve survived other endings of worlds through a multitude of small ways: holding onto values, traditions, arts, languages and ways of connecting and relating with one another which are deemed primitive, backward and antithetical to ‘progress’. We hold onto our faith, our families, our food and our lands because our existence depends on our resistance. Solving the climate crisis doesnt need a big overarching solution. What we need is to listen to the millions of answers that are offered every single day by colonised communities who have found and continue to find intergenerational ways to survive the ending of worlds. As Grove reminds us, “the end of the world is never the end of everything”.

This piece explores themes that Arwa Aburawa has been working on for an archival film commissioned by the Liverpool Arab Arts Festival 2021.

  Footnotes

1 Jairus Victor Grove, Savage Ecology, War and Geopolitics at The End Of the World, 2019, pg49

2 Jairus Victor Grove, Savage Ecology, War and Geopolitics at The End Of the World, 2019, pg11

3 Jairus Victor Grove, Savage Ecology, War and Geopolitics at The End Of the World, 2019, pg38

4 United in Struggle by Nick Estes, Ruth Wilson Gilmore and Christopher Loperena, August 2021, https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/10714839.2021.1961444

5 A Billion Black Anthropocenes or None by Kathryn Yusoff, 2018, preface xiii.

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Arwa Aburawa is a London-based documentary filmmaker and writer with an interest in the environment and race. She is also co-founder of Other Cinemas, a community project which shares the films and stories of Black and non-white people in spaces and ways which aren’t alienating to these communities.

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This piece was commissioned as part of the Contextualising Climate Crisis series.

Widely derided as a “talking shop” that failed to deliver on the climate action we need, the pageant around COP26 – the UN’s 26th “Conference of the Parties” that took place in Glasgow in December – pointed towards a deeper systemic malaise that’s emblematic of our times.

We find ourselves at the back of a decade of broken promises and inaction by international governments and transnational corporations that has seen the earth’s atmospheric temperatures rise to 1.2˚C above pre-industrial levels, driving us ever closer to the guardrail of 1.5˚C.

“1.5 to stay alive” was the slogan of campaigners from the world’s most climate vulnerable countries at COP14 in Copenhagen in 2009. The target was enshrined in the Paris Agreement at COP21 in 2015, then centred by leading climate scientists in the IPCC’s 2018 report as a crucial threshold not to be breached for the preservation of water, food, housing and biodiversity systems around the world.

Earlier this year, a blueprint for what it would take to achieve 1.5˚C came from the unlikely quarter of the International Energy Agency [IEA], highlighting the urgency of bold immediate term (2025) and short-term (2030) commitments to decarbonisation.

Yet the UK government, president of COP26, approached the moment focused on long-term goals of achieving Net Zero by 2050 and based on questionable approaches including carbon-offsetting schemes that can only deepen existing inequalities of power and productivity and on speculative technological solutions that to-date remain unproven.

The strategy represented a failure of imagination of epic proportions, reflected too in questions of resource allocation where G7 leaders, including self-proclaimed climate champion Joe Biden, attempted to spin a victory out of plans to come good on a 12-year old (broken) promise to commit $100 billion a year in climate finance.

Given that during this past decade of rising global temperatures, with an increased frequency of extreme weather events, costs of loss and damage alone have now risen to in excess of $150 billion a year, the proposal that was on the table amounted to little more than sign-off on a deficit that climate breakdown runs deep through the global economy. (Though even on this they failed to deliver.)

So here’s the reality check. Based on existing rates of carbon emissions, as corroborated by the most recent report of the IPCC, we will breach 1.5˚C within a decade – driving food scarcity, conflict, forced migration and continued economic breakdown around the world.

These effects will incur costs that will escalate and will be felt most by future generations (our children’s children) and by communities living on the frontlines of climate breakdown who are, above all, black and brown people living in the global south.

The failure to adequately plan and mitigate against those costs, alongside the challenge of decarbonisation, needs to be read now as a failure of governance that will perpetuate and exacerbate the inequalities of a 500-year old history of empire and racial capitalism.

It’s this deeper system, of empire’s inequality, that lies at the roots of both COP26 in all its failures, and of the 21st century’s environmental crisis itself. It now demands its transformation.

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Ashish Ghadiali is a filmmaker and activist who organises with the climate justice collective Wretched of the Earth. He is a member of the co-ordinating committee of the COP26 civil society coalition and a commissioning editor at Lawrence and Wishart Books where he’s developing a new Soundings imprint, to be launched with a slate of books on Race and Ecology in 2022. He was formerly Race Editor, then Co-Editor of Red Pepper magazine (2017-2020) and part of the team that set up the Freedom Theatre in Jenin Refugee Camp (in 2006).

Ashish’s 2016 feature documentary, The Confession, explored the geopolitical arcs of the War on Terror through the testimony of former Guantanamo detainee Moazzam Begg. The film was described by The Guardian as “a documentary of great clarity and gravitas” and by Sight and Sound as “an interrogation of the very nature of truth-telling, freedom and responsibility”. Ashish is currently developing new projects for film and TV with BBC Studios and BBC Films and is a regular contributor to The Observer New Review.

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This piece was commissioned as part of the Contextualising Climate Crisis series.

The Black Lives Matter protests in the summer of 2020 produced an unprecedented amount of public statements from corporate media in support of the movement. Such media usually shy away from making political pronouncements, especially around racism. This was particularly the case for the publishing industry which research shows remains the whitest and most privileged cultural sector.

In this event, join Margaret Busby and Anamik Saha as they discuss how publishing can better engage with questions of race, and whether this recent reckoning with racism, expressed in the BLM statements realised by nearly all the major publishing houses, can lead to meaningful change and transformation.  Introduced by Bridget Byrne, Director of CoDE.

With British Sign Language interpretation.

This event was produced in partnership with the Centre on the Dynamics of Ethnicity (CoDE).

Supported by Arts Council England.

Born in South India and raised in Oman, Aneesa Khan joined the climate justice movement as a student with a passion for environmental law and creative storytelling. She started by organising for climate reparations at the UN climate talks where she worked to make sure the voices of black, brown, indigenous, and Global South youth were heard loud and clear over those of polluting industries. She has multiple years experience of organising in the US and globally as an activist with Friends of the Earth International, The Wilderness Society, and most recently, SustainUS – a youth-led climate justice organisation where she served as the Executive Director. She currently works as the Communications Officer for Oil Change International to expose the true cost of fossil fuels on people and the planet. She specialises in telling stories of environmental inequity and injustice through graphic design. Aneesa holds a BA in Human Ecology from College of the Atlantic and a Masters in Environmental Policy and Regulation at The London School of Economics.

This piece was commissioned as part of the Contextualising Climate Crisis series.

Read during our #ReconstructionWork conversation entitled, ‘Can the Museum be Decolonised?’

Watch the full conversation here.

What can the concept of decolonisation look like in practice and in relation to the museum? We welcomed Ahdaf Soueif, Mohammed Ali, Sado Jirde and Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan to share their experiences working within and without the museum to examine whether or not the museum can be a space for realising disruptive and radical possibilities. They discussed what and who the museum is for, the relationship between the museum and the construction of racial hierarchies as well as the museum’s entanglements with the history and legacies of colonisation.

Read more about our #ReconstructionWork series here.

The past few years have been something of a climate awakening in the Global North. Across Europe and North America, the movement to decarbonise our economy has not only become more organised, but the analysis of how we got here and who is responsible has become clearer. The imagination of what constitutes climate action has begun to be wrenched from the grips of liberal environmentalism – an ideology that abstracts our relationship with nature from how we run our political and economic systems. It is slowly dawning on us that we are staring down the barrel of 5 degrees warming by the end of this century, not because people don’t eat organic or have their own compost heaps. Rather, it’s because the way we have designed the modern world demands we exploit ourselves, each other and the world around us at all costs. From the Sunrise Movement, to Black Lives Matter, to the Youth Climate Strikers: the streets are making it clear that climate action cannot just be about reducing, reusing and recycling. It has to also be about revolting, resisting and rebuilding.

The Green New Deal Shift

At a policy level, this shift in thinking is being articulated through the framework of a ‘green new deal’. Although varying dramatically in their radicalism, most green new deals acknowledge that climate action cannot be about incentivising ‘greener’ individual behaviours. Rather, vast amounts of capital and political will must be channelled into reconstructing our society around renewable energy – creating public infrastructure and millions of ‘green jobs’ in the process.

To be clear, this is not climate leadership. It’s climate catch-up. Movements in the Global South and in Indigenous communities have been situating climate breakdown as an explicit product of colonial capitalism for decades. Their analysis has been actively and violently removed from decision making processes by the very institutions claiming to be at the forefront of climate action.

Yet, even as the penny starts to drop on the systemic nature of climate breakdown, we have not grappled with the global implications of climate breakdown, and our responses to it. Much of this stems from the legacy of Roosevelt’s original New Deal – which the Green New Deal builds on.

The New Deal’s Nationalism Problem

The New Deal was a historically exceptional example of the state intervening to shift resources away from capital and towards labour. It is true that it offered many working class North Americans a social safety net during a time of crisis. Yet, baked into this were the racialised and geographic exclusions that have always defined social democratic notions of ‘progress’. From redlining, to the internment of more than 100,000 Japanese people, there were strict boundaries around who was and was not included in Roosevelt’s vision of public investment. Indeed, the racialised inclusions and exclusions of the New Deal is summarised no better than in the image of Japanese internment camps being built by employees of the Work Projects Association, one of the largest state agencies set up under the New Deal.

What’s more, the New Deal was designed to be a distinctly national programme. It did not concern itself with the global impacts of the financial crash, despite the central role played by US institutions in creating the crisis. It also did not question the premise that the US can and should use its geopolitical power to secure its economic interests abroad – particularly in Latin America and the Caribbean.

It is within this context that we must scrutinise the assumptions underpinning Green New Deal frameworks emerging out of the Global North. Who is, and is not included in these visions of ‘green growth’ – and on whose backs is this development being built?

Good green jobs for whom?

One angle we can look at this from is that of ‘green jobs’. The green new deal promises Europeans and North Americans millions of secure, unionised jobs. Like the original New Deal, the vision is that these green jobs will be created through the building of massive public infrastructure projects, which will need to be built as part of a green transition – things like renewable public transport, green housing and solar panels. Rightly so, much of this has been focused on ensuring that already precarious oil and gas workers will not be abandoned in the shift to renewable energy. Rather, their expertise and skills are to be repurposed under a just transition. Research by Platform has found great appetite amongst offshore workers in the North Sea Oil for being part of such a change.

It is absolutely correct that the green new deal focuses on this workforce, who have a right to to be skeptical about the likelihood of a just transition. You only have to look at how successive governments have gutted and then abandoned industrial towns and cities, to understand why there’s little faith in the state to protect local communities during transition periods. However, when approached globally, this represents just one part of a much bigger story about work and climate crisis.

Without a global justice lens, visions of abundant public infrastructure fuelled by renewable energy in the North will be upheld by the exploitation of human labour and resources in the South. We must not forget what a renewable energy revolution looks like for those further down the supply chain, particularly those in industries that are assumed to continue – and possibly even expand – in a system based on renewable energy. Global production of batteries, solar panels, electric cars and wind turbines relies on rare earth minerals like cobalt that are overwhelmingly sourced from the Global South under horrific ecological and labour conditions. Not only does the digging of mines displace and endanger those living near them, but the mining industry is responsible for some of the most exploitative labour practices in the world. The International Labour Organisation found that in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where much of the world’s cobalt is extracted, 93% of the mining workforce experiences labour exploitation – many of whom are children as young as seven. As the demand for renewable technologies massively expands, downward pressure is worsening the working conditions of Chinese assembly lines.

Much of this demand is coming from companies headquartered in the Global North. The scale with which this expansion is taking place is driven by a ‘green growth’ agenda, which looks to essentially continue the current way in which our society is organised, but where carbon is replaced by rechargeable batteries and green energy. Existing visions of abundant green infrastructure in the Global North have not adequately grappled with what this means for the workers globally.

This is the danger of pursuing a green new deal that focuses primarily on workers in certain sectors or geographies of the supply chain – or that limits its imagination within national boundaries. The reality is that supply chains that make possible green technologies and other consumer or infrastructural products are transnational – and these supply chains are heavily implicated in any vision of a green new deal – global or otherwise. These workers, because of their geographic, class and racial locations, tend to be out of the purview of policymakers, especially in the global north. They are made vulnerable by some of the more West-centric green new deal discourses, despite being already at the sharp end of climate breakdown.

Care jobs are green jobs

Many of the working conditions that are most severely impacted by climate breakdown – and which will be heavily implicated in our responses to climate breakdown – are in forms of labour that aren’t even considered work.

Climate discourse in the Green New Deals of the Global North tend to focus on those masculinised industries deemed “productive” to GDP  – like energy, transport and construction. However, the conditions of both paid and unpaid social reproductive labour – the work that goes into caring, cleaning, cooking and educating – tend to remain unaddressed. This is despite the fact that this kind of work is not only the building blocks upon which the rest of society relies, but it is essential to surviving climate-induced crises.

This is also part of the legacies left to us by the framework of Roosevelt’s New Deal, which transformed the working rights in many industries – but still relied on women doing the lion’s share of unpaid domestic labour in the home – and did not address the conditions of largely racialised, paid domestic work. This invisibilisation of domestic work is baked into capitalism itself. Today over 75% of unpaid care work in the world is undertaken by poor women and girls. Their contribution to the global economy when valued at minimum wage is $10.8 trillion – more than three times the value of the global tech industry.

Indeed, COVID-19 showed us what happens to the working conditions of women when crisis hits. When food supply chains are disrupted and care systems are overwhelmed, it’s marginalised women that absorb the fall out. They fill the care gaps, they strategise around food and energy stability and provide emotional and mental support to the community around them.  Climate-related crises are no different. As our sense of stability is and will continue to be shaken, the labour of caring for one another will increase in its scale and intensity. A global green new deal must reckon with this, and ensure that women – particularly in the South – are not paying the highest price for climate breakdown. This means distributing social reproduction fairly, and building our infrastructures of mitigation and resilience around collectivising this labour and providing a material safety net for all.

Reimagining work

A key reason why the issue of global and gendered inequality continues to pervade our responses to climate breakdown is because we are still relying primarily on the political units of change that created this crisis. Units such as the nation-state, capitalist growth and patriarchal notions of ‘productive’ labour. There are of course practical reasons why some of our thinking needs to be articulated at the national level, but the existing model of nationally bound green new deals make it almost impossible to not reproduce colonial logics of green development – also known as ‘green colonialism’.

The green new deal can begin to work through these contradictions by re-imagining what it is actually trying to do. We often hear that the aim of climate action is to ‘save the world’ – understandably so given the loss of life we can expect if we continue as we are. But we must also be clear that we do not want to save the world as it currently exists; a world that engineers inequality in order to sustain its model of growth and development. We want to change the world. We want to change how we connect to one another, and what assumptions underpin the systems in which we live.

In the case of work – we want to change what it is we are working for: are we working to build more roads so companies like Amazon can provide next day delivery? Or are we working to make sure that we all have our care needs attended to in meaningful ways? Is the aim for everyone to have a 9 to 5 industrialised job in order to sustain unhealthy capitalist demand, or is it for the essential work of living to be distributed fairly, freeing up time for things other than work – things that give us joy, pleasure and safety? By asking fundamentally different questions, we create the space in which truly radical and global answers can begin to emerge.

The climate crisis presents us with an existential threat that requires a global response. But the scale of response needed also offers us a unique opportunity to do something much bigger than simply save work. It gives us the chance to reimagine it.

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For more on what a global green new deal could look like, check out Dalia’s co-curated illustrated book ‘Perspectives on a Global Green New Deal’. You can order a copy of the book for free from www.global-gnd.com. You can also hear from activists from around the world in Dalia’s co-hosted podcast, Planet B: Everything Must Change, which explores the key pillars of a globally just green new deal. You can find Planet B wherever you get your podcasts. Supported by the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung with funds of the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development of the Federal Republic of Germany / the German Federal Foreign Office.

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Dalia Gebrial is a PhD researcher at the London School of Economics. She is also an associate researcher at Autonomy UK, and co-author of Empire’s Endgame: Racism and the British State.

This piece was commissioned as part of the Contextualising Climate Crisis series.

Our #ReconstructionWork online conversation series continues with another special event with support from Arts Council England.

In the global north and south, low-income communities are the first to experience the impacts of pandemics, water scarcity, power shortages, poor air quality and subpar living standards, which amplify vulnerabilities to extreme weather conditions. These communities are also agents of potent political resistance who have consistently advanced community-based solutions to the climate crisis that are often ignored, or silenced, by the mainstream.

On Tuesday 26th October, the Stuart Hall Foundation welcomed Jhannel Tomlinson, Cofounder of the Young People for Action Jamaica and GirlsCARE and is also the Sustainability Lead for the JAWiC board, and Leon Sealey-Huggins, Lecturer in Global Sustainable Development at the University of Warwick, to discuss intersectional approaches to addressing the climate crisis and its colonial roots. Coinciding with COP26, Jhannel and Leon will share their experiences, think through examples of community-based organising against climate antagonisms, and complicate corporate-led solutions to addressing climate change.

This event is a part of the Contextualising Climate Crisis Series. Read more here.

To mark the publication of Stuart Hall, Selected Writings on Marxism, edited by Gregor McLennan, the Stuart Hall Foundation partnered with publishers Duke University Press to host an online roundtable taking place on Wednesday 30th June. A panel of esteemed authors each presented their response to the book, followed by further exchange and discussion reflecting on Stuart Hall’s political and intellectual relationship to Marxism:

  • Gregor McLennan, Professor of Sociology, University of Bristol
  • Angela McRobbie Professor of Cultural Studies, Coventry University and Emeritus Professor, Goldsmiths, University of London
  • Bruce Robbins, Old Dominion Foundation Professor of the Humanities, Columbia University, New York
  • Brett St Louis, Senior Lecturer in sociology, Goldsmiths, University of London
  • Chair: Catherine Hall, Emerita Professor of History and Chair of the Centre for the Study of the Legacies of British Slavery, University College London.

On Wednesday 7th July, the Stuart Hall Foundation an online roundtable as part of their #ReconstructionWork series to think through the possibilities of decolonising the museum. The event included short presentations from the panel of guest speakers followed by a chaired discussion:

• Mohammed Ali, Artist/Curator, Founder of Soul City Arts and Trustee of Birmingham Museums

• Sado Jirde, Director, Black South West Network

• Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan, Writer and Poet

• Ahdaf Soueif, Writer

• Intro: Bridget Byrne, Director, the Centre on the Dynamics of Ethnicity (CoDE)

• Chair: Orsod Malik, Digital Content Curator, Stuart Hall Foundation

What can the concept of decolonisation look like in practice and in relation to the museum? We welcomed Ahdaf Soueif, Mohammed Ali and Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan to share their experiences working within and without the museum to examine whether or not the museum can be a space for realising disruptive and radical possibilities. The panel explored what and who the museum is for, the relationship between the museum and the construction of racial hierarchies as well as the museum’s entanglements with the history and legacies of colonisation.

In partnership with the Centre on the Dynamics of Ethnicity (CoDE) with support from Arts Council England.

Stuart Hall, the British-Jamaican cultural theorist, would have been open to and pragmatic about the ideas of the younger generations of anti-racists now in the making.

There are some scholars and intellectuals whose indispensable work one returns to over and over again. For me, as for so many others, it is the late Cultural Studies’ founding father, professor Stuart Hall (1932-2014). For though much of Hall’s rich oeuvre came in response to  concerns in the context of Black and anti-racist struggles in his adopted homeland of the UK in a period spanning from the 1950s until his death in 2014, it still feels remarkably prescient and relevant to the present conjuncture.

Read the full article on Africa is A Country.  

In many ways, the pandemic has deeply unsettled the routines and rhythms of social life. That which seemed immovable or unquestionable suddenly appears much less perennial. The disruptions of the pandemic have been particularly apparent in education. In the UK, schools were closed or moved online and, almost unthinkably, examinations were cancelled or replaced by algorithms and then teacher predicted grades. As the UK begins to emerge from the pandemic, in education, as elsewhere, the conditions in which we find ourselves are ripe for exploring how things might be different; how things might be better.

Whilst some things may look less immutable, if we look beneath the surface, some things remain depressingly intransigent – this is evident in the global distribution of vaccines, as well as racial patterns in exposure to the virus and in responses to the pandemic (policing, for example). In education, specifically, the negative impacts of Covid-19 have been particularly detrimental for working class students, and students of colour. This was evident in the furore over how examination alternatives will (re)produce inequalities, and the way that the uneven distribution of resources (between schools and between families) have shaped capacities for home learning, exacerbating a ‘learning gap’ or, more accurately, a provision gap.

As we imagine brighter futures, propelled as we are by a sense that things will never be the same again, our task necessitates a focus on systemic transformation with the most marginalised in mind. This is not a question of simply rearranging the furniture but one of dismantling and rebuilding the whole structure.

Amidst the devastating impact of the pandemic, the grassroots education movement ‘No More Exclusions’ (NME) has insisted that we need a moratorium on school exclusions, an urgent call that has since garnered the support of the National Education Union, amongst others. They highlight the extensive use of exclusions through the pandemic, often in a deeply worrying attempt to ‘manage the additional pressures, turbulence and trauma of the pandemic and its impact on children and young people’.

NME’s call is important for at least three reasons. Firstly, it highlights, and pushes back against, the reliance on punitive and disciplinary responses to crises. Such punitive authoritarianism has been evident not only in schools but at the level of government which – consistent with the direction of travel in recent years – has put policing and ‘law and order’ at the heart of its response.

Secondly, and relatedly, the call is based upon a recognition that in schools, as in wider society, the effects of such approaches have been deeply racialised and classed. That is, a reliance on school exclusions, like a reliance on the police, disproportionately impacts upon working class and racially minoritised communities.

Thirdly, and crucially, NME’s call is important because it brings us to the question of imagined futures. It offers a glimpse of a brighter future, an indication of how we might transform society for the better. Though the call initially focuses on the pandemic period, particularly highlighting the need for care at a time of such monumental upheaval, it has the potential to serve as a catalyst for the permanent abolition of school exclusions: radical long-lasting change beyond the pandemic.

Amongst an abiding sense that things will never be the same again, the conditions seem ripe for social change. Imploring us to keep those at the sharp end in mind, NME’s moratorium shows how communities engaged in resistance can push to ensure that such change transforms, rather than reinforces, the status quo.

Imagining schooling without exclusions points to a more caring and nurturing education system. In this regard, the moratorium call ties in with the work of other campaigns to offer a fuller vision of a transformed education system. For instance, the work of the Halo Collective, a group of young Black organisers ‘fighting for the protection and celebration of Black hair and hairstyles’, points to a future in which school policies no longer discriminate against Black students and other students of colour, and the No Police in Schools campaign imagines a future in which schools are supportive environments free from the presence of police officers. Relatedly, the work of young activists at Body Count encourages us to imagine educational futures that looks to transformative, rather than punitive, approaches to justice.

As the Black Studies scholar George Lipsitz observes, ‘domination produces resistance, and resistance plants the seeds of a new society in the shell of the old’. With this in mind, those of us committed to social justice would do well to take these oppositional movements as a springboard for our imaginations.

 
 

Remi Joseph-Salisbury is a Presidential Fellow in Ethnicity and Inequalities at the University of Manchester. He writes on race, ethnicity, racism and anti-racism, particularly in the context of education and policing. He is co-author of the forthcoming ‘Anti-Racist Scholar-Activism’, author of ‘Black Mixed-Race Men’, and co-editor of ‘The Fire Now’. He has also authored and co-authored several reports recently on race and racism in education. He is a member of the Northern Police Monitoring Project, and the No Police in Schools campaign.

This piece was commissioned as part of the Imagined Futures Series.

The abolitionist call to ‘defund the police’ was dismissed tout court as ‘nonsense’ by Labour leader Keir Starmer last summer, after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, and at the height of Black Lives Matter protests in the UK. Starmer added that he would have ‘no truck with that’, as his support for the police was ‘very, very strong’. More recently, home secretary Priti Patel declared herself in full agreement with a colleague who justified the police’s violent response to the Sarah Everard vigil on the grounds that it had been hijacked by ‘those who seek to defund the police and destabilise our society’.

At the heart of this knee-jerk rejection of the calls to ‘defund and divest’ is a distorted vision of abolitionism as a crude attack on the police that undermines a vital public service for the maintenance of the ‘natural’ order. However, if policing does not deliver safety and destabilises community life instead, shouldn’t we be able to advocate for alternatives?  Increased funding for policing (new weaponry, the expansion of the immigration and counter-extremism units, the embedding of quasi paramilitary squads in multicultural working-class neighbourhoods) has coincided with neoliberal economic policies that privatise state assets and shrink the welfare state. Abolitionists’ daring response to the social crises that this has engendered is to suggest that we divest from ‘law and order’ and redirect resources upstream so as to address mental ill-health, fund youth clubs, build affordable homes, and counter the harms done by racism and sexism at their roots. That’s not ‘nonsense’, or ‘anti-police’, it’s a simple demand for a more rational and more humane use of resources.

Today, abolitionists are under attack from those who believe that the violence of policing is necessary to maintain the existing order. Imagining a world where state violence is no longer an acceptable way of resolving social problems necessitates an active engagement with history.

The tumultuous period we are living through is redolent of earlier periods when ordinary people rejected the existing order, whether it was the divine right of kings or tyrannical forms of governance.  Rejecting the idea that history was made by the great and the good, or educated, professional modernisers, they set out to make history themselves, and abolitionist demands – far from being new – were at the centre of such calls for justice.

Today’s abolitionist arguments, associated with Critical Resistance and the  Movement for Black Lives (MBL) in the US reverberate across continents and time, echoing the English Diggers of the seventeenth century (abolition of the aristocracy and property in land),  Olaudah Equiano, Frederick Douglass, Ellen Craft,  Robert Wedderburn  and Harriet Tubman (abolition of slavery), the Communist organisers Rosa Luxemburg and Claudia Jones  (opposition to militarism/abolition of   imperialist wars), the Brazilian indigenous environmentalist and trades unionist  Chico Mendes (abolition of the savage extraction of resources from the Amazon). And there are pre-democracy resonances too. For even before the existence of the modern state, subjugated people, rebelling against exploitation, illegitimate authority, cruel punishment and oppressive laws, spoke from their unique abolitionist frameworks. such as the 1381 Peasants Revolt against the poll tax. Taking advantage of periods when ‘the old world… is running up like parchment in the fire’, the leaders of rebellions, their visions of a fairer world immortalised in abolitionist tracts, voiced scepticism about institutions, beliefs and systems of punishment. Each and every one of these abolitionist thinkers were ridiculed and condemned in their times. Their persecutors were those who believed that the seemingly ‘natural’ order was sacred and immutable.

Looking back gives us the historical tradition in which to contextualise abolitionist demands but they do not explain the current moment. We need to acknowledge that the modern state and modern policing are very different to those of the past. It is the state that provides the authority and scaffolding from which all other violence flows – its power, to paraphrase Bertold Brecht, is the ‘storm’ that ‘bends the backs of the roadworkers’ – we need to understand how the state operates in the neoliberal context.

In a neoliberal market state – where government serves the interests of the market – state power is far less constrained than it was in the twentieth century. After the Chartists, and following the rise of the trade union movement, the industrial working class had bargaining power and clout. Today, the power of trades unions has been dissipated and working-class communities have been decimated by decades of neglect and austerity.  Much of ‘law and order’, including the running of prisons, is provided by private security companies. Today’s private/public police corps keeps a lid on the crisis, while serving the interests of both state and market.

As shown by death after death in police custody (Sean Rigg, Leon Briggs, Kevin Clarke, George Nkencho, to name a few), the escalation of police force is lethal. If the police cannot be trusted to take someone experiencing a mental health crisis to a place of safety then we need to create a community corps trained in de-escalation techniques and motivated by a creed of care. This is what is meant by an abolitionist step based on a pragmatic demand to de-escalate violence.

This is the time when a dynamic counter culture to an unbridled capitalism can take root. But counter cultures can fail when they (however inadvertently) replicate the violence of existing power relations. Many of the social movements that we were involved with in the 1980s and 1990s failed to remove harmful power relations from their structures, replicating the state’s racism and patriarchy, for instance. State power today has become more opaque – and herein lies a new challenge for contemporary abolitionism.

Repeated panics about law and order, as Stuart Hall famously said, serve an ideological function related to social control, creating public support for ‘policing the crisis’. Under neoliberalism this involves mass criminalisation and an expanded prison state. It is not ‘nonsense’ to suggest we take money away from the police and redirect it upstream. What abolitionism offers is a road map to the future, which begins with addressing the social crisis and misery in front of us. If this is utopia, it is within reach.

“Progress is the realisation of Utopias” – Oscar Wilde, The Soul of Man Under Socialism (1891)

 
 

Liz Fekete is Director  of the Institute of Race Relations and  author of A suitable enemy: racism, migration and Islamophobia in Europe (Pluto press, 2009) and Europe’s Fault Lines: racism and the rise of the Right (Verso, 2018)  which won the Bread & Roses award for radical publishing 2019. Active in anti-racist movements since the 1980s , she was  an expert witness at the Basso Permanent People’s Tribunal on asylum and the World Tribunal on Iraq.

This piece was commissioned as part of the Imagined Futures Series.

“The guerrilla studies! The guerrilla studies!” — exclaims Huey P Newton to an amorphous assembly of believers. The camera is zoomed a little too close to his face, abstracting him, abstracting expression. Huey is grieving, as one does when one is black and alive and a revolutionary. Grief is a revolutionary fervour, except when it isn’t.

I’m watching a documentary, piecing things together, studying I guess, that’s how you learn about the map, you listen to stories told by decipherers, you decipher, you study, you play.

A believer himself — you have to see it to believe it — Huey is stark, animated, severe, his body willing other bodies, to believe-see-become, to know for themselves the flailing common sense of deprival, to gather each other together, to gather in order to grieve-rename-articulate. To gather in order to trust.

Huey is grieving and/or I am grieving the dreams I did not or could not or would not author, but clung to nonetheless. Perhaps they are never dreams, instead, illusions. We are asleep for and/or to our dreams, awaking to persistent allusions of longevity and/or protection, illusions of a safety somehow unmade, uninsured insurance, ensured endurance.

Sleep! Where dreams come to live and die and be born, in the juice-dark renewal of rest. This is what happens in the dark, between dust and books and soil, left vulnerable to misinterpretation — is this, too, a tactic? — to the labour play of prayerful solutions, aghast, empty, disbelieving believers, containers of the lost colony, found over and again in jest, unjust, extrapolated and fed to children, to pigs rolled around and worn, as masks are and are not.

“The guerrilla studies!” — it’s been a riff slow roasting in the oven of my mind. I have painted it black and called it something holy, wrapped it up and swallowed it, hole. I have looked in the mirror and seen no answers, then I looked in other mirrors and saw some thing, discovered someone else that already discovered this; that other someone long ago and soon, who left some thing for the undead guerrillas.

In the annals of our freedom finding, we find our way, our treason trail. Feverishly, mouthful by unwholesome mouthful, we gather recipes, a cataclysm and another, again, we are reminded of the violence of this process, again, this blood-filled wreckage, its choppiness. We acquaint ourselves with the ingredients of our undoing, yes, we must be undone by our finding, our study — study will undo you — the this/them/that will graduate and be gone from our makeshift nests.

Won’t it? Will it? I? We? Us? All? Our pieces? What? Will be? Will be? — “The guerrilla studies!” — the warfare, the welfare, of the people — yours — people, which is to say community, except that it isn’t that simple, you can’t go around saying things like that, you won’t be believed, you won’t be able to believe it, and there must be something drifting beyond the sanctity of black and alive and revolutionary, something else in motion, tangible, in front of you. An imagined community, un-starved of touch, contactless, held because of it, within it, despite it — in order to spite it, this notion of a nation. We feel for each other in the night light.

To be sure, we must untether from this ghostly wifi, the unseverable connection of illusory cords, turns out your mother is a liar, if she ever was a mother, with all that interference. Abolition is — well, you will have to study it to be sure, — entailing admonition, admittance — in the future we will call abolition history, we will call it presence.

The guerrilla knows that the history of abolition is all around them, adding salt to taste, dividing portions, plating up, washing cutlery with an alkaline preparation. We grieving abolitionist guerrillas, having fessed up to our guilt, our deviant flagellant shame, having consented to each others flesh and mortified it, having been wrong wrong and wrong-er, without the rest of our maps — at a certain point your study will become you — we will eradicate this oppressive vocabulary of pretence, this warlike ledger, water-logged, waterlooed, blue as in hue, as in 14 and 92, hear we, re-membering our recipes, studying how to feed ourselves…


 

Imani Robinson is an artist and interdisciplinary writer whose practice combines performance, oration, poetry and critical theory, exploring themes of black geographies, the afterlives of transatlantic slavery, abolition and radical resistance. They are one half of Languid Hands, an artistic and curatorial collaboration with Rabz Lansiquot.

This piece was commissioned as part of the Imagined Futures Series.

Words of Colour Productions and the Evidence for Equality National Survey (EVENS) present Poetic Licence – a digital series featuring black poets and artists speaking on identity and the impact of Black Lives Matter and George Floyd’s murder during a time of crisis.

With thanks to writer, poet, and mental health activist Derek Owusu.

Poetic Licence was curated by Words of Colour Productions in collaboration with the Evidence for Equality National Survey, the first and largest survey of its kind in the UK to document the impact of the pandemic and the lockdowns on black, ethnic and religious minority communities. Your experience of Covid-19 matters. Fill in the survey: bit.ly/evensurvey or find out more on the website www.evensurvey.co.uk

Words of Colour Productions and the Evidence for Equality National Survey (EVENS) present Poetic Licence – a digital series featuring black poets and artists speaking on identity and the impact of Black Lives Matter and George Floyd’s murder during a time of crisis.

With thanks to poet, essayist and former Young People’s Laureate of London, Momtaza Mehri.

Poetic Licence was curated by Words of Colour Productions in collaboration with the Evidence for Equality National Survey, the first and largest survey of its kind in the UK to document the impact of the pandemic and the lockdowns on black, ethnic and religious minority communities. Your experience of Covid-19 matters. Fill in the survey: bit.ly/evensurvey or find out more on the website www.evensurvey.co.uk

Words of Colour Productions and the Evidence for Equality National Survey (EVENS) present Poetic Licence – a digital series featuring black poets and artists speaking on identity and the impact of Black Lives Matter and George Floyd’s murder during a time of crisis.

With thanks to poet, playwright and creative entrepreneur Nick Makoha.

Poetic Licence was curated by Words of Colour Productions in collaboration with the Evidence for Equality National Survey, the first and largest survey of its kind in the UK to document the impact of the pandemic and the lockdowns on black, ethnic and religious minority communities. Your experience of Covid-19 matters. Fill in the survey: bit.ly/evensurvey or find out more on the website www.evensurvey.co.uk

Words of Colour Productions and the Evidence for Equality National Survey (EVENS) present Poetic Licence – a digital series featuring black poets and artists speaking on identity and the impact of Black Lives Matter and George Floyd’s murder during a time of crisis.

With thanks to poet, playwright, producer and educator Tolu Agbelusi.

Poetic Licence was curated by Words of Colour Productions in collaboration with the Evidence for Equality National Survey, the first and largest survey of its kind in the UK to document the impact of the pandemic and the lockdowns on black, ethnic and religious minority communities.

Your experience of Covid-19 matters. Fill in the survey: bit.ly/evensurvey or find out more on the website www.evensurvey.co.uk

Sky News set out to discover whether conversations around race and inequality after George Floyd’s death had made any impact on the lives of people from ethnically diverse backgrounds.

But it’s impossible to measure this with existing sources of data.

For example, the poet Louisa Adjoa Parker is one of only 1,000 Black people living in rural Somerset and experiences like hers are often overlooked by studies.

That’s why we’re following closely the Evidence for National Equality Survey www.evensurvey.co.uk which hopes to fill the data gaps to help politicians make better decisions.

The biggest project of its kind aims to fill the gaps in statistics on ethnicity such as small and unrepresentative samples – Read more

On Thursday 17th September 2020, the Stuart Hall Foundation welcomed world-famous author and activist Angela Davis for ‘An Audience with Angela Davis’, an online event hosted in partnership with Southbank Centre.

This video is an extract from the event, sharing Angela Davis’ keynote speech reflecting on what led us to this historic chapter in our history and what might come next.

Davis was also in conversation with lecturer and author Dr Brett St Louis about the political scene in the US heading into the upcoming election and the ongoing struggle for economic, racial and gender justice. Davis and St Louis then responded to questions submitted by the general public in advance of the event. We hope to make a transcript of this conversation available to the public soon.

‘An Audience with Angela Davis’ marked a highlight in the Stuart Hall Foundation’s #reconstructionwork online conversations, launched in June 2020 and bringing together writers, artists and activists, for a series of intergenerational conversations considering how we can build a better society and culture, connecting education, culture and politics, as Stuart Hall did. The event was also the inaugural event for Southbank Centre’s new Inside Out series as part of their Autumn season of events.

On Tuesday 11th May, the Stuart Hall Foundation and the Centre on the Dynamics of Ethnicity (CoDE) hosted #ReconstructionWork: Racial Disparities in Mental Healthcare – a conversation between James Nazroo, Fellow of the British Academy and Professor of Sociology at the University of Manchester, and award-winning director and choreographer, Lanre Malaolu, to explore the racial inequalities and injustices that surround mental health in the UK. The event included an introduction from Child Psychotherapist, Psychoanalyst and Trustee of the Stuart Hall Foundation, Becky Hall:

It is with great pleasure that I welcome you all here this evening for the 5th in our online series of #reconstruction events – this one in partnership with CoDE – the Centre of Dynamics of Ethnicity. These are public conversations with an intergenerational and interdisciplinary flavour which have to date included writers, historians, journalists, students, politicians and activists. The Foundation is a small but confident charity with big hopes – and a zesty website. Inspired by the life and work of Stuart Hall it remains committed to matters close to his heart: public education, power and inequality, race and identity, representation and visual culture. Stuart was also committed to complexity – not only the asking of difficult questions (for which he is often quoted), but the need to wrestle with the difficult answers that present themselves. Our #reconstruction series is offered in that spirit, hoping to generate further enquiry and help us in the task of imagining a more just and equal society for all.

This last year has seen a rapid rise in the recognition that the life of the mind matters: mental health is suddenly everywhere! Few would now dispute our primary need for human contact and the devastating impact of loneliness, deprivation and loss. There has been much to make all of us feel mad with rage, fear and helplessness, not least being locked in with the daily diet of news confirming that greed is wrecking the planet, injustice is rife and the effects of being locked out by poverty, being a woman or having brown skin: potentially catastrophic. NHS services have seen a troubling rise in depression, self-harm, and the relentlessly controlling habits of eating disorders amongst children: a response perhaps in part to a grown-up world that feels increasingly careless and dangerously out of control.

You would search in vain for a Hall paper on something called Mental Health, and yet Stuart’s preoccupation with the ‘conjuncture’ – what we might call the conditions in which we become a person – and his concern with questions of belonging, experience, identity and identification are lines of enquiry that are central to the matter of psychological integrity, which depends so much on the fundamental need in us all to have a proper home in somebody’s mind. His preoccupation with his sister’s breakdown during adolescence and his reflections on Fanon distil something of the psychic cost of imperial history and invite complex questions about how the world outside gets under our skin and how our inside life – the life of our mind – meets and is met by our most immediate and wider environments. We know that domestic violence between parents gets into the blood and bones of young children (by which I mean their very core, not their DNA) through their ears and eyes and the pores of their skin. We know that parental states of mind – prolonged depression, undigested trauma – work into the layered fabric of a child’s mind. There is now increasing clamour for indexes of inequality to be a serious part of the enquiry into psychological vulnerability and how to treat it.

For some time now there has been compelling evidence that Black British men are among those most likely to suffer the most severe mental illnesses. This troubling fact suggests a complex conspiracy between external structural inequalities such as poverty and other key factors of vulnerability: early childhood experience, disrupted patterns of relationships, parental mental health and intergenerational trauma. There comes a point when a mind has too much to bear. The lack of proper care and timely support for this vulnerable group is another disturbing fact and speaks to the wider dismantling of early intervention, the over-medicalisation of mental health models and a historical disregard for the kind of mental pain, grievance and distress that the repeated injuries of racism can foster. Such arguments expose a national deficit of attention to the accumulative psychological harm that feeling pushed out (of an equal chance at life) can do. They insist that to disregard the invasive experience of being projected into, distorted and bloated by all the most hated and feared bits of the human condition, is a national dereliction of care.

In the course of my life as an NHS employed Child Psychotherapist, a number of experiences could be brought together in the composite sketch of a primary school age Black British boy, referred for or already burdened with the ubiquitous diagnoses of ADHD and ODD (saying no). A boy already excluded from one or more primary school, diagnosed by a range of caring, thoughtful professionals as aggressive, lacking empathy, mindless; a cause of despair for his already struggling family. Usually a closed off, lonely, homeless feeling sort of boy, who has stuffed his vulnerability deep into the pockets of his already too low-slung trousers and mastered a swagger to show in every possible way what a ‘bad boy’ he already believes himself to be.

Such a child is already on the edge of life, making a home from the homeless state in his mind: a state with roots in his family, their history, the eyes of his teachers and the wider world. This is a state of emergency for an 8 year old boy. Such deep and disturbed states of mind, will not simply be solved by a diagnosis or medication, a mentor or diversity training, more money, a revised curriculum, cold water swimming or six sessions of online counselling – useful as all of these things might be. If we are really to talk about what has gone wrong, we have to want to know about the whole, complex picture, which includes, but is not determined by being a little brown-skinned boy growing up in postcolonial Britain. We also have to be prepared to wrestle with the difficult answers that might present themselves.

I am very pleased to introduce our two discussants this evening James Nazroo and Lanre Malaolu to begin a conversation about inequalities and injustice in mental health.

James Nazroo initially trained in medical sociology at St George’s Hospital Medical School and is now, amongst other things, Professor of Sociology at the University of Manchester and founding and Deputy Director of the ESRC Centre of Dynamics of Ethnicity (CoDE). He has an extensive history of research on issues of inequality and social justice in relation to ethnicity, age and gender and how these relate to health. He is currently investigating ethnic inequalities in severe mental illness.

Lanre Maloulu is an exciting director, choreographer and writer for film and theatre who uses collaborations of text, movement psychology and dance to mesmerising and unforgettable effect. His award-winning film The Circle, is one of a number of projects addressing the complexities of being a black man in 21st century Britain. Some of you may have been lucky enough to see his stunning live performance of Elephant in the Room and otherwise I hope you have been able to access the link.

As usual, our format for the evening is that Lanre and James will be in conversation for 35 minutes or so, followed by a Q and A which we hope you will join via the Q and A button.

Final words:

It just remains for me to give deep thanks to James and Lanre for their time and contributions this evening. They leave us with much to think about and I hope will encourage further conversations amongst you all.

Among our many institutional partnerships at the Foundation, we have developed a model with the Tavistock Clinic to address the under-representation of Child Psychotherapists in the NHS from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic backgrounds. Owing to the success of this model we have recently joined the Tavistock and Health Education England to support four further students this year. We can only continue to do this work of this kind with your generous support. Times are hard we know, but any small amounts you can spare will be well used.

– Becky Hall, Child Psychotherapist, Psychoanalyst and Trustee of the Stuart Hall Foundation