Stuart Hall (and Tony Jefferson) Changed My Life

February 10, 2014

Back when I was looking at different grad schools, I knew that I was coming in with some disadvantages. My background was in music history, with an almost-double-major in journalism, but I didn’t have the background in social or cultural theory that a lot of people from fancier institutions almost certainly had. But I made a decision to acknowledge this void, rather than try to hide it. It was a gamble, I knew, but I figured that people would either appreciate this boldness or not.* 

So, everywhere I went, I asked everyone the same question: What books would you recommend to someone in my position? 

A lot of them recommended traditional ethnomusicology texts. Sure, that was fine, but whatever; I had already figured those out, and they were for the most part as un-theoretical as my undergrad experience. Two people at Columbia recommended the same book, though: Resistance Through Rituals, edited by Stuart Hall and Tony Jefferson. Both of the dudes recommending it seemed pretty cool (one of them would later become my dissertation advisor), and they actually got my question. 

I’m not joking when I say that the book changed my outlook on popular music studies. And, though 22-year-old me thought everything in the book was ridiculously dated, it still offered a sense of possibility for taking popular culture as a serious object of study. And, as a bonus, all the bad rock music criticism that attempted to do sociology now made sense to me. 

Armed with the Birmingham School and its descendants (especially the work of Angela McRobbie), I now had a research framework for my grad school applications. And, though I ended up moving ever more resolutely in the direction of feminist and queer theory, I’ve built that on a foundation of cultural studies that understands identity’s importance within popular culture. 

And, for that, I have to thank Stuart Hall (and Tony Jefferson and Angela McRobbie and pretty much anyone in the first two generations of British subcultural studies).

OK, so, all of this is to say that I got into grad school to write about popular culture, and I’ve been doing that for the past fifteen years. It’s all I’ve ever really wanted to do, in fact; however, I’m not doing it now. For the past six months, I’ve mainly been writing on this blog about adjunct issues, which has turned out to resonate with far more people than I ever expected. However, writing about my failure all the time is pretty exhausting. So, here’s what’s going to happen: I’m going to keep writing about adjunct issues, because I still have a lot to say on that topic. But I’m also going to write more about music in this space, too, because that is what I love.

There won’t a set schedule for this, but I’m guessing it’s going to mean one adjunct post and one pop culture post per week. 

*I got in everywhere I made this gamble, so the gamble worked. 


3 Responses to “Stuart Hall (and Tony Jefferson) Changed My Life”

  1. mazzaus said

    Both are crucial issues, so I’d call that an excellent direction. Looking forward to reading what you write!

  2. GarrettFM said

    Thanks for this, Elizabeth. Stuart Hall is one of my idols as well, and although he lived a long and rich life, the news of his passing yesterday really kicked me in the gut. The Hall book that changed and continues to change my world is Policing the Crisis, which, as a conjunctural study of the intersections between culture and society and power, has yet to be bettered, in my opinion.

    (And perhaps it’s an indication of how deeply I’ve internalized Hall’s voice that I KNOW he would object immediately and cuttingly to the suggestion that PtC, a collaborative effort, is in any way a “Hall book.” But I can’t help it: the rigor and intensity of the thinking, the grace and accessibility of the prose… PtC is Stuart Hall through and through.)

    Anyway, thanks again for this piece. It has been gratifying to see during the past couple of days how many people Hall influenced and inspired.

  3. deb said

    Hi Elizabeth, Just coming around again after quite a few months away from postac blogs and twitter, landing randomly on this post to comment after reading several others. As always, so many things resonating: freelancing, Stuart Hall, and the fact writing about adjuncting issues alone became exhausting – that is why I took a break. Even though it’s been so long, seeing that everyone is still going through what I did 10 years ago wore me out and brought it all back, esp. as my own career was going through another transition. But I also found I missed this community of people who understand what it was like.

    In the meantime, you have become a real estate agent? Congrats on that. I’m imagining this is another piece of the “freelance” idea (love that idea of freelance academic). I also wanted to say I’m sorry about your IVF experience and thought that was a very brave post. People can be so insensitive about pregnancy.

    OK – as usual I’m leaving a long comment. just stopping by to say hi – hope all is well!

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