Monday, February 10, 2014

Stuart Hall (1932-2014): Jamaican 'sugar at the bottom of the English cup of tea'

Stuart Hall (1932-2014), who died today at the age of 82, was surely one of the most important British-based thinkers of the 20th century. With a few others he pretty much invented 'cultural studies' and his work on multiculturalism and identity is cited throughout the world. He was visiting professor at Goldsmiths in New Cross in the 1990s, and delivered a number of influential lectures there, most notably  his 'Race: the floating signifier' (1997) where he criticises the idea that 'race' is a 'biological' fact.

My personal favourite Stuart Hall quote is from his 1991 essay 'Old and New Identities, Old and New Ethnicities':

'People like me who came to England in the 1950s have been there for centuries; symbolically, we have been there for centuries. I was coming home. I am the sugar at the bottom of the English cup of tea.I am the sweet tooth, the sugar plantations that rotted generations of English children's teeth. There are thousands of others beside me that are, you know, the cup of tea itself. Because they don't grow it in Lancashire, you know. Not a single tea plantation exists within the United Kingdom. This is the symbolization of English identity - mean, what does anybody in the world know about an English person except that they can't get through the day without a cup of tea? Where does it come from? Ceylon - Sri Lanka, India. That is the outside history that is inside the history of the English. There is no English history without that other history'.

In the late 1950s, Hall worked for several years at a school at the Oval, as he recalled in 2009 in At Home and Not At Home: Stuart Hall in conversation with Les Back (from Goldsmtihs):

'when I left university I came to London, I was editing Universities & Left Review [predecessor of the New Left Review], which had an office in Soho. I lived in South London in Clapham in the house of a wonderful old Trotskyist called Jock Haston, and I wanted to stay in London until I went home - still not quite deciding when I’m going. So I thought well, what can you do? Practically, nothing! I couldn’t then drive, so I couldn’t drive a milk float. You can teach. So I got a job in a secondary school as a supply teacher, and you’re sent round to different schools, but my school was unable to retain any of its supply teachers, or  indeed its teachers. So once I’d got in there they never let me go. I was a supply teacher in a school at the Kennington Oval, for quite a while, about three or four years, and I used to leave there, get on a train, go to Soho, and edit the journal, and go back on the night bus - try to wake up in time to get to the Oval for the opening of class'.

The school was a boys secondary modern, so I think may have been Kennington Boys School. I believe the house in Clapham where he stayed with Jock Haston was at 11 Larkhall Rise SW4 (at least that was Haston's address in 1958).

I found a great film on youtube of Hall interviewing CLR James (1901-1989, I think at the latter's then flat in Brixton at 165 Railton Road, SE24 in 1986.

- John Akomfrah's, The Unfinished Conversation, is a three-screen video installation investigating cultural, ethnic and personal identity through the memories of Stuart Hall. It is being shown continuously at Tate Britain until 23 March 2014 (admission free)


Ian D Smith said...

Brilliant post. I have a Facebook group Against UKIP's Diktat on Multiculturalism is you're interested

Anonymous said...

I am to write an article about Stuart Hall's educational impact.
Please confirm the fact of the name of the Secondary Boys' School at which he was a teacher. You name Kennington Boys' School. Can you confirm this as fact?

Hoping to adopt---Leslie and Joe, a rainbow family said...

Please verify the factually correct name of the secondary school at which Stuart Hall taught.

Thanks very much,

Anonymous said...

I can confirm the school as Kennington where I taught during the 790s and 80s. Stuart was well known there