You are on page 1of 13


ICS0010.1177/1367877915599609International Journal of Cultural StudiesAng

International Journal of Cultural Studies

2016, Vol. 19(1) 2941
The Author(s) 2015
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/1367877915599609

Stuart Hall and the tension
between academic and
intellectual work

Ien Ang
Western Sydney University, Australia

Throughout his long career Stuart Hall has personified a shifting range of political-intellectual
positionalities, responding to the changing historical conjuncture in the West since the late 1950s.
From his engagement with the New Left to the generation of new spaces for critical intellectual
intervention in the 1970s (as embodied by the Birmingham Centre for Contemporary Cultural
Studies) to the tightening up of such spaces as a consequence of the neoliberal ascendancy (which
Hall himself theorized through his analysis of Thatcherism) from the 1980s onwards, the role of
the intellectual/academic has changed significantly throughout this period, as universities have
become increasingly corporatized. This article tracks this evolution by tracing the paradoxical fate
of cultural studies as an intellectual project and academic formation, and Halls ultimate distancing
from it at the end of his life.

Australia, CCCS, cultural studies, Stuart Hall, institutionalization, neoliberal academy

It would have been some time in the mid-1980s. Stuart Hall was visiting Amsterdam,
where I worked as a young lecturer at that time. I had just published Watching Dallas
(Ang, 1985), which was my Masters thesis, and had started to think about doing a PhD.
This was a time when acquiring a doctorate was not yet considered an essential require-
ment for an academic career up till then university professors in Europe were not
expected to obtain a PhD until later in their career path, if at all but times were

Corresponding author:
Ien Ang, Institute for Culture and Society, Western Sydney University, Australia.

Downloaded from at Western Sydney University on January 10, 2016

30 International Journal of Cultural Studies 19(1)

changing and I knew that if I wanted to climb the academic ladder, I needed to get the
Doctor title. So I had begun to search for a supervisor. I gathered all my courage and
asked Stuart whether he would be willing to supervise me the idea of working under
his guidance was deeply attractive to me. He listened to me with interest, but ultimately
declined. Why dont you write another book?, he said in the friendliest possible way.
Thats much better than wasting your time working on a PhD thesis.
This vignette encapsulates Stuart Halls attitude towards academic culture. It is an
attitude of deep ambivalence, which in itself as I will elaborate shortly has become
entrenched as a key characteristic of cultural studies. Halls advice to me to write a
book rather than a PhD thesis was informed by a profound scepticism towards the for-
mal hierarchies and rigid credentialism of university life. By exhorting me to write a
book instead of a thesis, he articulated the point of view that it was far more important
for us as intellectuals to engage in the public sphere of society at large, rather than
dwell on the purely academic and esoteric exercise of doctoral research.
Of course, Hall himself never did a PhD. He was appointed Professor of Sociology at
the Open University in 1979 without the need of formal proof of his academic worth (in
the form of a degree), as his reputation as the charismatic leader of the Birmingham
Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies (CCCS) had already preceded him. Even then,
Hall was already an intellectual celebrity. The work of the CCCS attracted passionate
interest and had become influential among many students, not only in the UK but inter-
nationally, who looked up to him as founding father of a new field of inquiry: cultural
studies. As a result, he didnt need a PhD to demonstrate that he was deserving of a pro-
fessorship; he could get away with not adhering to the established academic protocols
and still be accepted into the ranks of that establishment, at least formally.
Indeed, over time when his celebrity status had reached stratospheric proportions
he was said to have been inundated with tempting offers of lucrative chairs at US univer-
sities (Jaggi, 2000). Yet he chose to stay in Britain. His reasoning, when asked about it,
was that he preferred to be on the margins than in the centre of global power: America
is an imperial culture now; its what Rome must have felt like, or England in the 19th
century. But I feel better taking a sighting on the world from the periphery than the cen-
tre (quoted in Jaggi, 2000). One might quibble that a post-imperial Britain in decline is
still not the periphery in a world-wide sense, but Halls comment reflects his life-long
self-positioning, even in Britain itself where he rose to command enormous authority as
one of the countrys most important left intellectuals, as always speaking from a periph-
eral point of view. Although he lived in Britain all his adult life he never felt comfortably
British, and his outlook on British society (and the world at large) was strongly shaped
by his position as a black colonial outsider who had come home a homecoming, how-
ever, which was never settled. As he once said, he couldnt disappear into Englishness.
I understand Britain; but Im only British in a hyphenated way (Jaggi, 2000). I would
argue that this existential unsettledness of identity has been a core determinant in Halls
engagement with the politics of culture right to the end of his life.
Halls comment about America as an imperial culture also needs to be considered in
relation to his more specific observations (and reservations) about the nature of US aca-
demic life. In Cultural studies and its theoretical legacies, Hall (1992) reflects on the
differences between British cultural studies and American cultural studies by referring to

Downloaded from at Western Sydney University on January 10, 2016

Ang 31

what he saw as the rapid professionalization and institutionalization of cultural studies

in the US, compared with the difficulties he experienced in setting up a marginalized
Centre in a university like Birmingham (1992: 286). One consequence of the rapid
uptake of cultural studies within this highly ratified and enormously elaborated and
well-funded professional world of American academic life (1992: 286) was the theo-
retical fluency of cultural studies in the United States (1992: 287). Hall found this devel-
opment not only astonishing, but also dangerous. As he put it:

There is no moment now, in American cultural studies, where we are not able, extensively and
without end, to theorize power-politics, race, class, and gender, subjugation, domination,
exclusion, marginality, Otherness, etc. There is hardly anything in cultural studies which isnt
so theorized. And yet, there is the nagging doubt that this overwhelming textualization of
cultural studies own discourses somehow constitutes power and politics as exclusively matters
of language and textuality itself [where] power [is constituted] as an easy floating signifier
which just leaves the crude exercise and connections of power and culture altogether emptied
of any signification. (Hall, 1992: 287)

The danger Hall spotted was not just that the discourses of cultural studies circulating
within the American academy had become overly theoretically sophisticated, but that
theoretical sophistication had become an end in itself. This pursuit of theory for theorys
sake was (or is) possible in the US because of the enormous capacity of the American
university system to absorb new intellectual trends within its dense frameworks of profes-
sional scholarly production, especially through its expansive infrastructure of graduate
schools. In this context, ever more complex and proficient talk of power, race, class, gen-
der, otherness, etc. could go on and on feeding on itself indefinitely, without ever having
to be grounded within, or connected to, actual practices outside the walls of academia. For
Hall, this kind of academism, with all its radical posturing and erudite display, falls far
short of his own vision of cultural studies as an intellectual and political practice. Key here
is the critical distinction Hall makes between intellectual work and academic work: they
overlap, they abut each other, they feed off one another, the one provides you with the
means to do the other. But they are not the same thing (Hall, 1992: 287).
It is clear that for Hall, it is intellectual work that matters. Despite his own success
within the academic world, he was ultimately dismissive of it. As he quipped in a rela-
tively recent interview, reflecting on his career: I was going to be dirty word an
intellectual. Academia was just how I made my money (quoted in Williams, 2012). His
commitment to intellectual work as a political project was unwavering throughout his
working life: it was an indelible part of his personal and public identity. Starting with
early activities such as editing the New Left Review and teaching film and media, includ-
ing lecturing on westerns in a prison (Jaggi, 2000), Hall conceived of intellectual work,
not as the production of knowledge as the will to truth, but as a practice which always
thinks about its intervention in a world in which it would make some difference, in which
it would have some effect (Hall, 1992: 286). Academic work, on the other hand, was
merely the necessary means by which the pursuit of intellectual work was made possible:
it was what allowed you to make a living and provided you with an income, but it was
not worth pursuing in and of itself.

Downloaded from at Western Sydney University on January 10, 2016

32 International Journal of Cultural Studies 19(1)

It is for this reason that Hall recommended me to write a book rather than do a PhD.
He wanted me to do intellectual work, not academic work. I understood his argument,
and to a certain extent I accepted it. After all, it was precisely the critical nature of the
work of the CCCS at that time that attracted me to his guidance in the first place. Like so
many others in those years, I was experimenting with new ways of doing intellectual
work, both inside and outside the university. In my student years I participated in numer-
ous study groups reading Gramsci, Althusser, Freud and Lacan, Foucault and many oth-
ers. I was an active member of the feminist movement. I wrote about television and
popular culture for a Dutch magazine for film criticism, Skrien, hugely inspired by the
exciting and innovative work in film, television and cultural studies that came from the
UK in the 1970s and 1980s. It was these activities that formed the background and the
resources which led me to write Watching Dallas: to me, this was an intellectual project
motivated primarily by a desire to intervene in public debate, not by a drive for academic
recognition. Yet, as the book received positive responses from all kinds of corners,
mostly from other young lecturers or postgraduate students like myself, I realized how
important the academic recognition was, not only to make me eligible for an academic
job in the first place, but because academic recognition opened doors: to speak at confer-
ences, to publish in journals and, last but not least, to be treated as an authority. In other
words, I realized how the academic world was an essential context which made the intel-
lectual work possible. I knew that whatever else I was going to do, I needed to secure my
place in that academic world if I wanted to continue with the kind of intellectual work I
was passionate about; that is, if I wanted to continue doing cultural studies. It is for this
reason that I was convinced that I had to do a PhD, despite Halls advice. A PhD was a
passport to the academic ranks, and I needed it.

Institutionalization and its discontents

The relationship between intellectual work and academic work, then, is more complex
than Hall allowed for. It is a relationship characterized by friction, to be sure, but I would
argue that just as we have to acknowledge the deadly seriousness of intellectual work,
as Hall (1992: 287) contends, we cannot afford not to take academic work seriously. This
is especially the case for those of us who are committed to cultural studies. One of the
central elements of cultural studies as an intellectual project, according to Hall (1992:
285), is that it holds theoretical and political questions in an ever irresolvable but per-
manent tension. It constantly allows the one to irritate, bother, and disturb the other,
without insisting on some final theoretical closure. I would argue that the tension
between intellectual work and academic work in cultural studies can be described in a
similar way. The two are in an irresolvable and permanent tension, the one constantly
irritating, bothering, and disturbing the other, for which there is no final closure.
The history of the Birmingham centre itself can illuminate what this means, and it
relates strongly to the question of institutionalization, which Hall has discussed in terms
of its danger or risks. Institutionalization, he stressed, is a moment of profound danger
(Hall, 1992: 286). At the same time, however, with his typical penchant for embracing
paradox, he underlined that dangers are not places you run away from but places that
you go towards. The Birmingham centre was one such dangerous place, but in more

Downloaded from at Western Sydney University on January 10, 2016

Ang 33

senses than one. In Halls own logic, the centre had to face the danger of becoming too
institutionalized, which would risk turning cultural studies into a mere academic enter-
prise. During the centres heyday in the 1970s, when Hall himself was director of the
centre, this risk seemed negligible: as Angela McRobbie has recounted, this was a time
when the traditional hierarchies of the academy were overwhelmingly abandoned and
when the question of what kind of degree was being pursued was subordinate to the real
issue, which was that of doing research that could be combined with political work
(2000: 215). Thus, although the CCCS occupied an institutional space within the acad-
emy, its intellectual work was not, for Hall and for many of the students who converged
at the centre at that time, oriented towards achieving academic goals; its drivers were,
instead, political. For Hall, drawing on Gramsci, the politics of the centres work was the
production of organic intellectuals intellectuals who, somehow, would align with an
emerging historical movement (Hall, 1992: 282) in society at large, even though even
then, Hall conceded, it was difficult to pinpoint precisely where the locus of this emerg-
ing historical movement was.
But we should not forget that the 1970s were a time when this articulation of the intel-
lectual and the political was not only plausible, but also entirely practicable. Coming
closely after the revolutionary upheavals of 1968, the 1970s were a time pregnant with
imaginations and desires of radical social change; and it was a time when diverse mani-
festations of what we now call cultural politics think the youth movement, feminism,
movements for ethnic and racial recognition, to name just the most influential had
begun to proliferate. Much of the work of the CCCS at that time was closely aligned
with, contributed to, and formed interventions within these radical cultural-political
movements, blurring the boundaries between the academic institution and its outside. As
Hall recalls, these were heady days. We made the curriculum up. It was the inaugura-
tion of, not of a discipline, but a field of inquiry that, unlike fine art, is interested in how
culture organizes everyday life (quoted in Jaggi, 2000).
Halls role in this period was, by all accounts, that of a charismatic leader whose
authority rested on his ability to keep the debate as open as possible, on a style of theoriz-
ing that was profoundly dialogic and collaborative. Charlotte Brunsdon, who like
McRobbie was a student at CCCS at that time, conjures up the image of Hall arriving at
CCCS seminars with a huge pile of books, which he would put on the table at the begin-
ning of the seminar. What he was doing, says Brunsdon (2014: 95), was bringing with
him, making available, what might be useful in the coming discussion. And he had to
bring lots of books because, depending on the way the discussion went, different scholar-
ship would be relevant.
This image of Halls eclectic pile of books encapsulates the transdisciplinary excess
and interdisciplinary promiscuity (Brunsdon, 2014: 95), which are now recognized as
the hallmarks of cultural studies as a field of inquiry. It also reflects the importance Hall
attaches to the continuing process of intellectual work, to keep oneself permanently open
to external influences as they make their presence felt, without which, for Hall, cultural
studies cannot possibly thrive. As Hall memorably put it, I am not interested in Theory,
I am interested in going on theorizing (in Grossberg, 1996: 150).
This insistence on valuing and embracing the fundamental open-endedness of intel-
lectual work resonates strongly with a subject position which is used to and accepting of

Downloaded from at Western Sydney University on January 10, 2016

34 International Journal of Cultural Studies 19(1)

being unsettled; a decentred, diasporic position which profoundly informs Halls style of
engaging with the world, not just personally but also intellectually and politically. As
David Scott (2005: 8) has remarked, what matters for Hall is how to intervene in an
existing predicament to expand or revise (or both together) the cognitive terrain on which
an ethics of action can be conducted. In this regard Halls relationship to existing
authoritative theories and disciplines is wilfully exploratory and experimental: the only
theory worth having is that which you have to fight off, he once said (Hall, 1992: 286).
But it is easy to see how this kind of intellectual ethos would ultimately clash with the
requirements of the academic institution, where the lack of closure associated with
going on theorizing was becoming increasingly unsustainable. In this sense, one could
argue that CCCS was a dangerous place not because it was too institutionalized, but
because it was not institutionalized enough. Its position within the University of
Birmingham had always been precarious, and this precarity met its dramatic apotheosis
with the eventual shutting down of the Department of Cultural Studies (into which the
CCCS had morphed by then) in 2002. This marked the abolition of the CCCS legacy at
the university and, as Ann Gray (2003) has argued, marked the increasing impossibility
of the kind of critical intellectualism which Hall spearheaded. The CCCS, in short, had
become incompatible with the contemporary university.
Brunsdon (1996) recalls that very few students, especially women, completed a PhD
at the CCCS in the 1970s and 1980s, and that key reasons for this were the political and
social attractions of collective intellectual work and the sense that earning a qualification
was not the main purpose of their enrolment within the CCCS. Much in the image of the
organic intellectual, the priority lay in political engagement with different groups and
social movements outside. Today, however, we know only too well how important it is
for students to succeed in getting their qualifications. Successful completions are imper-
ative, not only for the students themselves, given that their individual futures depend on
it, but also for the universities, for whom completion rates are determinants of revenue
and reputation. In general, the overwhelming focus in universities today, in both teaching
and research, is on measurable outputs and outcomes. Needless to say, this instrumental-
ist orientation towards knowledge and education, which has become the dominant tenet
of the neoliberal academy in the 21st century, is decidedly at odds with the critical intel-
lectual ethos nurtured by Hall at the CCCS. Institutional survival within the academy
today requires adherence to strict performance criteria imposed by an increasingly
imposing audit culture: indeed, the termination of Birminghams Department of Cultural
Studies came after the department received a disappointing score in Britains Research
Assessment Exercise (RAE) in 2001, which gave the university management an incen-
tive to shut it down (Gray, 2003). This was, of course, many years after Stuart Hall had
left the CCCS.

The academic turn

The damaging impact of neoliberal managerialism on the institution of the university and
on academic life are issues that have already received extensive attention (e.g. Gill,
2009; Readings, 1996). I suspect that Hall himself would have been dismayed by the turn
of events at Birmingham. What arguably would have been a more urgent issue for him,

Downloaded from at Western Sydney University on January 10, 2016

Ang 35

however, is to what extent and how the kind of critical intellectual work that CCCS rep-
resented could continue in new circumstances. Is there still space for such work within
the university? Is it still possible to practise cultural studies in these neoliberal times?
These questions are as important in 2015 as they were in 2003.
Obviously, we cannot simply answer no to these questions, if only because so many
of us have become academics and scholars who have a stake in the active presence of
cultural studies as a recognized field within the academy. And this is one of the para-
doxes of Stuart Halls legacy: even though he himself cared little about the academic
institutionalization of cultural studies (and even found it dangerous), what he has inspired
through the work of the CCCS in particular is the emergence of a whole range of
cultural studies institutions academic programmes, research centres, professional
organizations, and so on world-wide. As Ted Striphas has remarked, each of these
institutional presences would have adopted their own strategies by which they have
gone about institutionalizing and their own responses to the challenges that institution-
alizing brings (Striphas, 1998: 454). In the process, different modalities and forms of
institutionalization, involving different configurations of cultural studies, have been
able to take shape, depending on context and actors involved. Yet, irrespective of these
differences, what institutionalization in general terms makes possible is the creation of
organizational spaces where the practice of cultural studies, however defined, can be
pursued. It is in its context-specific institutional expressions that we can discern the prac-
ticability of multiple glocalizations of cultural studies in different parts of the world.
Speaking personally, I can testify to the significance of cultural studies institutionali-
zation in my own career. In 1991, I decided to relocate from the Netherlands to Australia
to take up an academic position at Murdoch University (Perth). An important reason for
this was that I found at Murdoch an institutional context where cultural studies was
recognized as a core part of the teaching programme in communication studies, unlike at
Amsterdam where positivist and quantitative communication research ruled at that time.
By contrast, cultural studies was already a thriving intellectual enterprise in Australia.
Together with John Hartley, I organized a conference playfully titled Dismantle
Fremantle, the aim of which was to make a breach in what some see as rapidly solidify-
ing orthodoxies within cultural studies (Ang, 1992: xi). The conference brought together
a great group of prominent Australian and international cultural studies intellectuals,
confirming the dynamism of the field at this historical juncture in Australia.1 In 1996, I
took up a position as Professor of Cultural Studies at the University of Western Sydney
(UWS) one of the countrys first designated professorships in the field. Throughout the
1990s, cultural studies was central to national debates on the renewal of the Humanities
disciplines in Australia, culminating in the establishment of a Cultural and Communication
Studies section within the Australian Academy of the Humanities in 1998. This meant
that Cultural Studies now sat next to traditional disciplines such as History, Philosophy,
English and others within this elite institution of learned academicians. Since 2008,
Cultural Studies has also had bestowed on it its own Field of Research code within the
Australian and New Zealand Research Classification framework, a new system for the
categorization and measurement of research and development activity in Australia and
New Zealand.2 These developments signify the steady institutionalization of cultural
studies not just within university programmes, but within the national research system as

Downloaded from at Western Sydney University on January 10, 2016

36 International Journal of Cultural Studies 19(1)

a whole. The upshot is that cultural studies is now firmly ensconced as a distinct aca-
demic field or discipline in Australia.
This formal status of being a discipline has been an enormously enabling factor in the
growth of institutional spaces for cultural studies across universities in Australia. I myself
took up the opportunity and the assignment of institution-building at UWS, where uni-
versity management gave me the resources to establish a research centre in the field, the
Centre for Cultural Research (CCR), which since 2012 has become the Institute for
Culture and Society (ICS), a name chosen to evoke Raymond Williams (1961) classic
book and his endeavour to think culture and society together. In contemporary insti-
tutional understanding, this signalled a transdisciplinary joining together of the humani-
ties and the social sciences, which is of course what has precisely been a key feature of
cultural studies as an intellectual and academic project.
But institution-building involves tasks that are very different from that which we gener-
ally associate with intellectual work, even though it is an essential part of academic work:
far from engaging with the intricacies of cultural theorizing, it includes forming a suitable
and shareable vision, developing apposite strategic plans, envisaging feasible projects,
recruiting and managing staff, establishing appropriate working protocols and governance
structures, and, of course, devising approaches to financial viability. All this requires both
advocacy and diplomacy: convincing the university that you are worth supporting, negotiat-
ing with administrators, assembling alliances and collaborators, and so on, enacting what
Meaghan Morris and Mette Hjort (2012: 1) call the art of the possible in academic life.
Thus, the ICS (and previously the CCR) is an assemblage of overlapping, yet quite hetero-
geneous intellectual interests and approaches, joined together by the unifying enterprise of a
shared institutionalizing project which worked within the context of the UWS. As I have
elaborated elsewhere, our work within the institute can be described as a kind of post-
cultural studies, building on the orientations and aspirations of the original cultural studies
project but adapting it to the academic exigencies of our time, including the now mandatory
requirement for community engagement (see Ang, 2006). The art of the possible, in short,
requires accommodations to actually existing formations and contingencies.
Ultimately, the politics of institution-building revolves around the creation of a sus-
tainable organized environment where valuable intellectual work can be done; where
collective critical agendas can be pursued and collaborative networks and communities
are formed in relative autonomy from the academic institution (the university) at large.
However, in order to survive university-based institutes such as the ICS cannot escape
the rules of neoliberal rationality which dominate higher education today. Recognition as
a distinct discipline or field of research is an advantage in this regard: it imparts institu-
tional realness to cultural studies as a specialist domain of expert knowledge, and it
makes it possible for our work to be judged on our own terms. As I have pointed out
elsewhere (Ang, 2013), the fact that cultural studies is coded as a distinct Field of
Research in Australias research system means that academic researchers can make their
research activity count as cultural studies, and gives universities the ability to assess and
measure their performance within this particular field. On balance, then, the institution-
alization of cultural studies has effected the steady consolidation of cultural studies as a
community of scholars, providing them a viable professional identity and a secure space
for internal deliberation and debate.

Downloaded from at Western Sydney University on January 10, 2016

Ang 37

However, the constraints imposed by the neoliberal audit regime, which was intro-
duced by the Thatcher government in the 1980s and since then has spread around the
world, have fundamentally altered the conditions within which intellectual work can be
done.3 As the focus within the academy is now so overwhelmingly on the competitive
pursuit of excellence, Halls idea of intellectual work as radically open-ended, as pro-
foundly dialogic and collaborative, as a matter of going on theorizing, is very difficult
to sustain. Brunsdon notes that cultural studies as practised in Birmingham in the 1970s
did not have a single content, it did not have a single aim, it could not be theorized tidily,
and it resisted recruitment into the contemporary bureaucratic definitions of impact
(2014: 96). It was intellectual work that thrived on being principally undisciplined,
constantly searching, resisting premature closures, spurred by an open responsiveness to
the contingency of the present. Looking back, we know that the conditions of possibility
for such work the relative freedom from administrative accountability, the ability to
indulge in experimenting with ideas without the need to deliver a measurable product
had started to erode only a decade later, when Thatcherism became a dominant force.
Against this background, the institutionalizations of cultural studies, as I have described
above, were necessary strategic attempts to create spaces for cultural studies work within
the neoliberal academy. Without such institutionalizations we simply would not have
cultural studies today. But institutionalization has also come with losses: the close rela-
tionship with the social and political struggles outside and the emphasis on collaborative
experimentation has diminished, and the focus has turned, inevitably, to the production
of academically sanctioned knowledge. This doesnt mean that cultural studies today, as
an academic field, does not churn out interesting, important or insightful works, many of
which exhibit significant theoretical fluency and innovative interdisciplinary research,
but it is a far cry from the heady days of open-ended experimentation and exploration
in the 1970s. It is this contradictory reality that we have to live with as academics work-
ing within universities today: here, the tension between intellectual work and academic
work comes into sharp relief.4

Beyond cultural studies

Although the kind of cultural studies being produced in the academy today still benefits
from, and may still be inspired by Stuart Halls legacy, Hall himself, towards the end of
his public career, seemed to have lost interest in it. When asked by Laurie Taylor in an
interview in 2006 whether he still cared about cultural studies, he answered: Yes, I do
want to go on thinking about cultural studies. But not as a field. I never defended it as a
field. I think that as a field it contains a lot of rubbish (quoted in Taylor, 2006: 17). This
is a very strong statement against the conception of cultural studies as a discipline or
academic field, and it articulates once again how, for Hall, what matters is the practice of
cultural studies as a radical intellectual project to understand and intervene in the social
and cultural struggles of the day, driven by an ineluctable longing for a better world. I
think that Hall had given up on the institutional space of the university as a site for the
kind of critical intellectual work he favoured. Although he himself had made his living
as an academic Professor, this institutional context was no more than a convenient
arrangement which enabled him to pursue what was of true importance to him. This is

Downloaded from at Western Sydney University on January 10, 2016

38 International Journal of Cultural Studies 19(1)

not to criticize Hall, nor to suggest that he did not take his university positions seriously.
But it is to highlight that, for Hall, it was his practice as a public intellectual that really
Indeed, it is notable that in John Akomfrahs absorbing and moving documentary film
about Hall, The Stuart Hall Project (2013), almost no attention is paid to his academic
work. Instead, the film is composed almost entirely from fragments of Halls extensive
radio and television appearances through which his public intellectualism was most pow-
erfully articulated, from his role as a spokesperson of the CND in the late 1950s to his
Open University TV lectures in the 1990s. To be sure, although the Open University was
of course an academic environment, what was important for Hall about his appointment
there was not the academic consolidation of cultural studies as a field, but the opportu-
nity it provided him to engage in public pedagogy: My instincts were towards widening
access to adult education. Birmingham was an intellectual elite, whereas the average age
at the OU was 40, whod not been in a classroom since 16. It was an intellectual chal-
lenge (quoted in Jaggi, 2000). Here again, Halls commitment to intellectual work as
going on theorizing is confirmed.
If, by the time he retired in the late 1990s, there was little space left for this intellectual
vocation in the context of the academy, it was also increasingly difficult to maintain such
a space within the mass media. In his introduction to The Stuart Hall Project, Mark
Fisher (2013: 2) remarks that the film is a reminder of how we have now lost a media
landscape where Hall could be a regular face and voice on mainstream media, a kind of
broadcasting infrastructure which included elements of the BBC, Channel 4, the Open
University that gave him a space to speak to a mass audience. Today, public service
broadcasting too is beholden to competition for short-term ratings success; it is no longer
a hospitable site for the patient, thoughtful and long-term educational work that Halls
media engagements embodied. Of course we should be mindful that Halls exposure to
mass media audiences was limited to the British media context; elsewhere, including
Australia, this was never the case. Nor, for that matter, did cultural studies as such ever
get much airplay in Australian media: the circulation of its discourses remained more or
less limited within the academic world. This in itself accounts for the fact that, in
Australia and elsewhere, there was never much doubt that the appropriate place for cul-
tural studies was in the academy; inroads into the public realm were (and are) rare and
By the early 21st century, Hall admitted to being deeply politically disillusioned
(Taylor, 2006). He also felt he was no longer in touch with the world he lived in. I think
for the first time I feel like a dinosaur. The points of reference that organised my politi-
cal world and my political hopes are not around anymore (Taylor, 2006: 17). But, as
Taylor noted, he was disillusioned but not defeated. Perhaps this is one reason why, late
in life, he turned towards a much more personal engagement with the arts, especially
with the work of young diasporic artists of Afro-Caribbean and Asian backgrounds (such
as Akomfrah) who have come to the fore since the 1980s, and for whom Halls own work
on cultural identity, race and diaspora has been intensely formative and influential. Halls
notion of identities as fluid rather than fixed, as the unstable point where personal lives
meet the narrative of history, as an endless, ever unfinished conversation, were, as
Jaggi (2000) observes, instrumental in freeing artists from the burden of representation,

Downloaded from at Western Sydney University on January 10, 2016

Ang 39

to speak from, but not for black experiences. This engagement seemed to be very satisfy-
ing for Hall: I was writing about identity and they were practising it. It made me more
alert to the way artistic work is exploratory space in which ideas work themselves out
(in Jaggi, 2000).
Contemporary art is perhaps one of the few cultural domains today which oper-
ates as a zone of freedom, allowing artists to explore ideas in circumstances set
apart from the mundane and functional character of everyday life, and from its rules
and conventions (Stallabrass, 2006: 1). This is not to suggest that the art world is
insulated from the neoliberal imperatives which now govern culture and society, on
the contrary. But artistic identities tend to thrive on being unsettled, on being open to
a multiplicity of influences. And, by its nature, artistic creativity is still, ideologi-
cally and materially, sanctioned by the prerogative of being undisciplined, to be
protected from external institutional pressures, hence able to maintain a space for
free experimentation. This is reminiscent of the intellectual space occupied by the
CCCS in the 1970s. But I cant help feeling that Halls resorting to the art world was
also an acknowledgement on his part that he no longer saw an opening for the kind
of critical intellectual intervention which his approach to cultural studies was capa-
ble of achieving in more socially accessible institutional contexts, be it the university
or the mass media. While these are explicitly pedagogical institutions, contemporary
art tends to have a much more tenuous relationship to the work of public pedagogy.
In art ideas matter less for their intellectual content than for their aesthetic form;
taken up in an art world context, the political significance of Halls practice of cul-
tural studies will almost inevitably be overshadowed by the aesthetic performance of
the art work, its impact limited to the relatively marginalized but elite context of the
art gallery. This is not to say that the politics of artistic representation doesnt matter,
but to my mind, this was not the kind of space Hall had envisaged his main field of
intervention to be.
I think things are stuck. I am not so disillusioned as to think that history is finished.
But I do think that what Gramsci would call the balance of social forces are very power-
fully against hope, he told Taylor (2006: 17). In this deep pessimism of the intellect, it
may be difficult for us to maintain an optimism of the will. To honour Stuart Halls leg-
acy, however, we could do worse than continue to follow his lead in resisting the solace
of closure and working against the violations that grow out of complacent satisfactions,
secure doctrines, congealed orders, sedimented identities (Scott, 2005: 1). This is still,
in my view, the task of cultural studies, even in academia. It is for this reason that for me,
personally and professionally, simply opposing the neoliberal academic instrumentalism
of the contemporary university is not an option. For better or worse, we need to continue
working within the interstices which are still available to create and nurture institutional
spaces where Halls notion of going on theorizing and engaged intellectual work can be
pursued within the restrictions imposed on us. The Institute for Culture and Society at the
University of Western Sydney, which I had the opportunity to establish, is only one
example of the multitude of spaces belonging to the dispersed cultural studies endeavour
in the 21st century. I did not know back in the 1980s, when I asked Hall to be my supervi-
sor, that things would turn out this way. But I know now that getting a PhD was essential
for me, and moving to Australia.

Downloaded from at Western Sydney University on January 10, 2016

40 International Journal of Cultural Studies 19(1)

This research received no specific grant from any funding agency in the public, commercial, or
not-for-profit sectors.

1. Dismantle Fremantle was a conference so titled to refer to Fremantle, Perths port city
and the favourite centre of gatherings for Murdoch University academics. The citys geo-
graphically marginal but symbolically central status in the development of cultural studies
in Australia made it an apt location for dismantling what we saw as emergent dominant
discourses in the field.
2. In the Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification framework, established
in 2008, Cultural Studies is grouped within the Division for Language, Communication and
Culture (Division 20). Cultural Studies (Field of Research (FOR) 2002) is subdivided into
13 subfields: 200201 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Cultural Studies, 200202 Asian
Cultural Studies, 200203 Consumption and Everyday Life, 200204 Cultural Theory, 200205
Culture, Gender, Sexuality, 200206 Globalisation and Culture, 200207 Maori Cultural
Studies, 200208 Migrant Cultural Studies, 200209 Multicultural, Intercultural and Cross-
cultural Studies, 200210 Pacific Cultural Studies, 200211 Postcolonial Studies, 200212
Screen and Media Culture, and 200299 Cultural Studies not elsewhere classified.
3. The first Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) to evaluate the quality of research in Britain
was undertaken in 1986. In Australia, the first Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA)
round was not held until 2010.
4. The introduction of ERA in 2010 has certainly had a constraining influence on the kind of
work we could pursue within the CCR/ICS. For example, activities such as writing newspaper
articles or catalogue essays, or holding community meetings, do not count as valid outcomes
of academic research; only refereed journal articles (as well as books and book chapters) do.
This discourages academics, especially younger ones, from doing more engaged intellectual
work beyond the confines of the academy.

Akomfrah J (2013) The Stuart Hall Project. London: British Film Institute/Smoking Dog Films.
Ang I (1985) Watching Dallas: Soap Opera and the Melodramatic Imagination. London:
Ang I (1992) Dismantling cultural studies? Cultural Studies 6(3): xixxi.
Ang I (2006) From cultural studies to cultural research. Cultural Studies Review 12(2): 183197.
Ang I (2013) Cultural studies matters (does it?): engaging inter/disciplinarity. Inter-Asia Cultural
Studies 14(3): 432437.
Brunsdon C (1996) A thief in the night: stories of feminism in the 1970s at CCCS. In: Morley D
and Chen K-H (eds) Stuart Hall: Critical Dialogues. London: Routledge, pp. 276286.
Brunsdon C (2014) On being made history. Cultural Studies 29(1): 8899.
Fisher M (2013) The Stuart Hall Project. In: The Stuart Hall Project: Revolution, Politics, Culture
and the New Left Experience. London: BFI (DVD booklet).
Gill R (2009) Breaking the silence: the hidden injuries of the neoliberal university. In: Ryan-
Flood R and Gill R (eds) Secrecy and Silence in the Research Process: Feminist Reflections.
London: Routledge, pp. 228244.
Gray A (2003) Cultural studies at Birmingham: the impossibility of critical pedagogy? Cultural
Studies 17(6): 767782.

Downloaded from at Western Sydney University on January 10, 2016

Ang 41

Grossberg L (ed.) (1996) On postmodernism and articulation: an interview with Stuart Hall. In:
Morley D and Chen K-H (eds) (1996) Stuart Hall: Critical Dialogues. London: Routledge.
Hall S (1992) Cultural studies and its theoretical legacies. In: Grossberg L etal. (eds) Cultural
Studies. London: Routledge, pp. 277286.
Jaggi M (2000) Prophet at the margins. The Guardian, 8 July. Available at: (accessed 9 July 2007).
McRobbie A (2000) Stuart Hall: the universities and the hurly burly. In: Gilroy P, Grossberg L
and McRobbie A (eds) (2000) Without Guarantees. London: Verso, pp. 212224.
Morris M and Hjort M (eds) (2012) Creativity and Academic Activism. Durham, NC: Duke
University Press.
Readings B (1996) The University in Ruins. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Scott D (2005) Stuart Halls ethics. Small Axe, March: 117.
Stallabrass J (2006) Contemporary Art: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University
Striphas T (1998) The long march: cultural studies and its institutionalization. Cultural Studies
12(4): 453475.
Taylor L (2006) Cultures revenge. New Humanist March/April: 1417.
Williams R (1961) Culture and Society. Harmondsworth: Penguin.
Williams Z (2012) The Saturday interview: Stuart Hall. The Guardian, 11 February.

Author biography
Ien Ang is Distinguished Professor Cultural Studies at Western Sydney University (formerly the
University of Western Sydney), where she was the Director of the Institute for Culture and Society,
until the end of 2014. She has published widely, including Watching Dallas, Desperately Seeking
the Audience, On Not Speaking Chinese: Living Between Asia and the West and The Art of
Engagement: Culture, Collaboration, Innovation. Her current projects include a multi-year
Australian Research Council Project together with the City of Sydney on Sydneys Chinatown in
the 21st Century: From Ethnic Enclave to Global Hub.

Downloaded from at Western Sydney University on January 10, 2016