Today, Professor Stuart Hall died at the age of 82. Many obituaries have been written but I wanted to write about what he meant to me.
I am not an expert on his work by any means. My awareness of Stuart Hall is mainly through my father who used the course materials prepared by him when he was doing a foundation course in Social Sciences with the Open University in the 1980s – when I was a child.
This was a time when there was mass unemployment, strikes and riots. Margaret Thatcher was in power and in my household she was a massive hate figure. We grew up on benefits but this doesn’t mean you are a lazy scrounger like the modern media likes to suggest, rather, my father decided to get educated. In those days I think people on benefits could get their fees for the OU paid by the government, so he did a few modules in Social Science. Stuart Hall was the course leader of the D102 unit, Conformity, Consensus and Conflict, and wrote the unit handbook. He wrote in a very accessible, respectful and friendly way. In this unit he explained the concept of ideology and why the working classes voted for Thatcher. There is a lot in there about striking and industrial relations and a critique of the concept of ‘false class consciousness’. Of course I couldn’t really read them then – being a child and all (although they are also illustrated with photos and drawings), but my dad who used to go off on one about Thatcher quite regularly, was now able to underpin his rants with sociological theory and deeper understandings of ideology, power and British society in the 1980s.
These course books were so excellent that we didn’t throw them away. Rather I even referred to them when I was doing my Sociology degree and MA years later. When my dad died in 2005 and we had a big tidy up, we eventually did get rid of the course books, but I kept this one as well as the core text that goes with it.
The passing of Stuart Hall is sad in itself, but for me, it is tangled up with the sadness of my father’s death. I see our handwritten notes side by side in the OU text and I feel a connection between the three of us through these course books. I am now doing a PhD in sociology about lifelong learning and higher education. This OU text really symbolises to me the importance of education for working class and unemployed people and their children.
I thank Stuart Hall for helping us to understand more about the society in which we live through his magnificent gift of writing, speaking and teaching.
(c) 2014 Annika Coughlin