Victoria J. Collis-Buthelezi: On Stuart Hall and the Caribbean


by Victoria J. Collis-Buthelezi

This essay has been peer-reviewed by the b2o editorial collective. It is the first entry in a dossier on Stuart Hall. 

As an itinerant Caribbean scholar, I have been profoundly shaped by Stuart Hall. Much of this is legible to me, but so much is not; Hall’s mode of intellectual practice (conjuncture, strategy, contingency, articulation) imprinted on many of us as if by osmosis. My generation of anglophone Caribbean children were taught literature of the Caribbean for O’Levels; we were introduced to Shakespeare through The Tempest, encouraged to read it from our postcolonial, national situation. Kamau Brathwaite’s nation-language informed our literary education; C. L. R. James’s “literary history” of the Haitian Revolution shaped our engagement with West Indian History; and Hall’s notion of what he has called the “cultural question” permeated our social studies. These were not the only intellectuals who shaped my generation’s schooling in the 1990s, but I name them to give some sense of the difference between the anglophone Caribbean schoolroom of my own generation from those of previous generations. We were at least a decade into independence.[i] If nothing else, Hall should live in the pantheon of anglophone Caribbean (West Indian) intellectual-activists I was taught to revere as child. When C. L. R. James passed away in 1989 I was not yet a teenager, but I remember the nation[ii] mourning. Pride seemed to burst forth from every chest about how far one of our bright boys[iii] had gone. There was a sadness that he was no longer amongst us, even if many of my generation struggled to reconcile the image of the frail man we saw on Trinidad and Tobago Television[iv] (TTT) with Pan-African revolt or the vigor of West Indian cricket at its revolutionary zenith. This kind of celebration of a local boy (or girl) who makes it overseas is not uncommon in small places, island spaces, “Caribbean Spaces” (Kincaid 1988; Boyce Davies 2013). As calypsonian David Rudder told us in his Windies anthem for the 1987 Cricket World Cup, “Rally Round the West Indies,” we live in “a divided world that don’t need islands no more”; so asserting Caribbean identity and filiality is about claiming intellectual, metaphysical, and geographic space as it shifts, translocates or erodes in our present. But if in 1989 there seemed to be ample space allotted for mourning James as a Caribbean intellectual, in 2014 the scene of mourning for Hall, a great island scholarship boy himself, was more subdued.

At the 2013 Callaloo conference (held at Oxford University, where Hall was a Rhodes Scholar in 1951) the question was posed if another C. L. R. James were possible.[v] The question, I think, was about the conditions of possibility in the Caribbean (at home and in diaspora?) for such another intellectual to emerge. The reply was no. I wondered why not. Was Stuart Hall not such a one? I remembered the Channel Four interview Hall did of James; it could be read as a kind of passing of the torch from one to the next, James to Hall. It was clearly born of more than a desire to ask a few questions of the man for a curious British public. If that imperative was there, there was also what can be understood to be the desire to talk to another son of the (anglophone) Caribbean soil, familiar with that terrain before independence and the nation-state. A profoundly, uniquely Caribbean moment.[vi] Hall after all was a radical Caribbean intellectual who was arguably Jamesian in a way—deeply knowledgeable on a range of subjects but whose breadth of inquiry is born of a “particular” Caribbean time and place.[vii] Without making this about some kind of closed monarchy with the crown passing from James to Hall to Sylvia Wynter to … I want to think about what figures such as they, but namely Hall and James, mean to the region, and the ways in which they seemed unable to find room for themselves in their island homelands, especially as intellectuals. If these island-spaces incubated their curiosity and promiscuous reading, they were also not the spaces in which they seemed to think that their radical and black radical politics could be sustained. Often this has been understood to say something about the UK and the US in the case of James, and the UK in the case of Hall. Not wrongly so; there were British anti-immigrant policies that resulted in case of the Mangrove Nine in 1970—in which nine West Indian immigrants were charged for protesting police brutality and the targeting of the West Indian restaurant, Mangrove—or the Brixton Riots of the 1980s, 1990s and most recently 2011. As part of the Windrush generation—the West Indian immigrants who moved the UK in the 1950s and ‘60s—Hall came comfortably into himself as a racialized subject alongside many of his fellow windrushers. It is not that he was unaware of racial difference before, but Hall himself acknowledged, he could not easily have been a radical black man in Jamaica. There he was brown, even if too dark for his own mother’s comfort.

Unlike Hall, Wynter and James attempted return; that is, they traveled back to the (anglophone) Caribbean to make lives for themselves, not only to visit family and friends. Born in 1901, James left Trinidad for England in 1932. Between 1958 to 1962 James resettled in Trinidad at the invitation of his then friend and former student at Queen’s Royal College (QRC), Eric Eustace Williams, author of Capitalism and Slavery (1944) and the first prime minister of independent Trinidad.[viii] he left shortly before Trinidad and Tobago gained independence as a result of their falling out, largely over the collapse of the West Indian Federation (Williams having withdrawn his support with the infamous line that primary school children of my generation had to memorize: “one from ten leaves nought”).[ix] In spite of this, James remained active in Trinidad politics until 1968 and continued to hold a place in the hearts of the people of Trinidad and Tobago, returning for a year in 1980. In the 1980s the people of Trinidad campaigned for the government to honor James with a house, and in 1989 his remains were returned to Trinidad and he was laid to rest in state in Tunapuna, the eastern corridor town where he had been born (Cudjoe 1992: 124).

Wynter and Hall are born within a few years of each other, in 1928 and 1932 respectively. In 1963, Wynter was appointed assistant lecturer in Hispanic Literature at the University of the West Indies, Mona; she stayed until 1974, when she leaves for a visiting professorship at the University of California, San Diego and then a permanent post at Stanford University in Afro-American Studies and Spanish Literature from 1977. For Wynter, the growing chasm between her intellectual interest and the curricula in Spanish at UWI  made staying untenable; in the US she could teach to the intellectual questions uppermost on her mind (Wynter 2000: 172 – 3).

I want use the occasion of this dossier commemorating Stuart Hall to think about his place in what we might call the canon of Caribbean thought. As I use the word “canon” in relation to Hall my mind’s eye conjures an image of the great man somewhat discomforted by the supposition that that term could have anything to do with him or his work. Though he began as a literary scholar, Hall left literary studies as a formal home for his intellectual work quite early on in his career—with something like the English literary “canon” at least one of the impetuses of such a change of course. Here I mean canon not in terms of content but a structure of relations. The word “canon” confers authority, power, hierarchy; it deems some texts valuable and worthy of scholarship (those within its borders) and others less valuable (those without its borders). In fact, it is to Hall as one of the progenitors of Cultural Studies, of course, that many of us in literary studies interested in cultural production (not accommodated by the canon, whatever that may be) are indebted. The rise of Cultural Studies helped open up space in most humanities’ disciplines to cross-pollinate our objects of study and challenge our conditions of knowledge production; one could contemplate new media and urban, street culture from literature and sociology. Without question Hall’s stint as editor of New Left Review (1960 – 1962) and authoring and editing texts such s Culture, Media, Language: Working Papers in Cultural Studies, 1972 – 79 (1980), Policing the Crisis: Mugging, the State and Law and Order (1980), and others cemented his place at the heart of the global re-imagining of the university and the humanities from the 1960s – 1980s and gave us new vocabularies for social and cultural critique. Certainly there are many perspectives from which to think through Hall’s body of work and his legacy for the scholars, activists, and every-folk who read him or simply inhabit a world in which terms like “cultural identity, race, and ethnicity” are givens. That these are categories with which we work in today’s humanities, that there is something under the rubric of “cultural studies,” owes much to Hall’s labor. Yet as “cultural studies” itself seems embattled and work on identity, increasingly is denigrated as “identity politics” and even passé, I wonder what the future of such scholarship is. With Hall there was always the assumption of the incomplete work; the article, the radio interview, sites of the unfinished and the urgent, of contingency.

I am not sure it is fair of me to push the two—Hall with his commitment to the conjuncture, the contingent or “without guarantees” and canon—together. I persevere with canon though, mindful of Hall’s own claim that before Marx hated capitalism “he admired it and respected it”; it was his admiration and respect for it that got him beyond capitalism as it were (Hall 1983: 39). Hall’s admiration, love even, of canonical English literature and literary studies is central to his move beyond it into sociology of literature and cultural studies, maintaining a commitment to the “cultural questions” (Hall, “Politics,” 1997: 146).  I do so because at the heart of this, I think, is question of what is considered valuable to thinking Caribbean or uniquely Caribbean thought as opposed to that of an elsewhere. In other words, “to think something like ‘Caribbean studies’ is already to be inside, to be in a conversation with … what the Caribbean supposedly is, supposedly was” (Scott 2013: 1)[x] My simple premise here is that Hall is not always understood “to be inside…in conversation with” the Caribbean as such. Even when deemed “an extension of” James, Hall is never quite read as Caribbean as much or unquestioningly as the former (Hall 1997).[xi] The question I want to ask then is: what “is…was” the Caribbean of Hall’s work? In asking this question I am taking Hall at his word “that the interest never goes away, the interest in the Caribbean and the interest in race” never dissipated for him, even if it was not always “the most prominent and visible part of [his] work” (Hall, “Politics,” 1997: 155). In my attempt to grapple with Hall’s Caribbean I want to explore two moments that bring the toe together. First, his participation in the conference for Rex Nettleford held in Jamaica in 1996 and his interview in the first issue of Small Axe, to which I have just referred, and immediately after his passing.


In March 1996 the first Conference on Caribbean Culture was hosted by the faculty of Social Sciences of the University of the West Indies (UWI) and the Institute of Caribbean Studies at the university’s Mona Campus. The conference was held in honor of the choreographer, historian, and then pro vice-chancellor of UWI, Rex Nettleford.[xii] Supposedly eight leading intellectuals were invited to give plenaries, though the program only lists Kamau Brathwaite, Stuart Hall, and George Lamming. The others were: Rex Nettleford himself, Lloyd Best, Erna Brodber, Edward Seaga, and George Rohlehr (Chevannes 1997: iii; see Figure 1. “Draft Program”).

Figure 1. “Draft Program”

Michael Manley was to open the conference. The Caribbean Quarterly published their addresses in its March-June 1997 issue as “The Plenaries: Conference On Caribbean Culture In Honour Of Professor Rex Nettleford,”[xiii] with Gordon Rohlehr’s piece replaced by Michael Manley’s (Chevannes 1997: vi). Along with Barry Chevannes’s introduction are the following essays: George Lamming’s opening address, in which Lamming gave an overview of Caribbean/Antillean thought and letters and thanked Nettleford for his contribution to thinking Caribbean culture and making space for a “roots”-derived Caribbean culture; Lloyd Best’s “Independent Thought and Caribbean Freedom: Thirty Years Later”; Stuart Hall’s “Caribbean Culture: Future Trends”; Kamau Brathwaite’s “Rex Nettleford and the Renaissance of Caribbean Culture”; Erna Brodber’s “Re-engineering Blackspace”; Edward Seaga’s “The Significance of Folk Culture in the Development of National Identity”; Rex Nettleford’s “The Continuing Battle for Space—the Caribbean Challenge Final Session”; and, Michael Manley’s “Rex Nettleford: A Revolutionary Spirit.” Thus by the special issue, if not at the conference, two former prime ministers of Jamaica—Edward Seaga and Michael Manley—come together with the poet Brathwaite, the novelists Lamming and Brodber, the literary and cultural critic Rohlehr, Nettleford himself, and Hall. Who is Hall here in this milieu?

The plenary papers, as they appear in Caribbean Quarterly, make it is clear that not only was Nettleford the person that the gathering was meant to celebrate, but that “culture,” the question of culture, the Caribbean cultural question was also the star. It was the return of culture as a worthy object of study and site of intellectual discourse in the region. That unique gathering of intellectual stars each in their own right:

represented a powerful symbol of culture coming (back) in from the cold where it had been thrown out by a social science that had lost its bearing and wandered far afield in realms of vanguardism and name-calling; represented, in the thoughtful pronouncement of the Griot Kamau Brathwaite, a healing. (Chevannes 1997: iii)

The “healing” to which Chevannes referred can be understood as the denigration of the arts and culture—whether highbrow (novels, poetry, art, drama, dance not too identifiable with the laboring classes) or low (kaiso, reggae, steel drums, tassa etc)—and the concomitant valorization of economics, history (of a certain kind) and social sciences meant to credentialize the civil service. Of the eight essays only three do not specifically speak to this moment of reconciliation—Brodber’s, Seaga’s and Manley’s (iii). Seaga seems to have received a different brief from the others. Barry Chevannes, then head of sociology and the main organizer of the conference, explains in his introduction that everyone, except Seaga, was asked to speak to “any issue they felt to be of importance.” Seaga was given a strict brief as “an anthropologist” and “a promoter of native art forms…to address the question of the role of the folk in the formation of national identity” (iii). Seaga, as such, makes no reference to Nettleford or what others seem to view as the rebirth of the cultural in the Caribbean context, at least of the anglophone Caribbean context. Brodber tackles the question of completing the emancipation begun in 1834/8; so that while her interest is in the “Caribbean cultural” as it were, it is less in the study of culture in the Caribbean and the social sciences as much as the place of culture in liberating black people (Brodber 1997: 70 – 81). Manley speaks of the two groups (social scientists and cultural practioners/critics) coming together for the conference, but never mentions that they were ever divided (Manley 1997: 96 – 100); the split between the two groups features in all other submissions.

In Kamau Brathwaite’s own words, the conference was a Caribbean first:

[The] first time in our 500 yrs of post Columbian history that we have such a happenin—there was P R in 1958, Carifesta 72 in Guyana & these are LANDMARKS too, but        mainly as PERFORMANCES—distillations & enactments—of the culture. This is the first time we have a concentrated comprehensive reflexion on it. Put together, the two streams strands events begin create an IMAGE of ourselves.(Brathwaithe 1997: 36)

If the conference were a ritual undertaken for healing, it was not to heal the rift between disciplines, but actual persons, namely “Nettleford & the social scientists, who, as this Conference indicates, have come the long road backround to a recognition—i hope—of the centrality of culture to our functional reality & where how why we are ourselves in the world” (50).

George Lamming explained it thus:

the West Indian historian is not an active and informing influence in the popular consciousness. The language of economic advisers conveys little or no meaning to people outside their immediate circle of colleagues. Novelists function without a substantial and      continuing reading class—even among the certified graduates of the region’s university. This literature has hardly aroused the active interest of many who make up the political intelligentsia. (Lamming 1997: 12)

Social science (economists) and culture (historians or novelists) suffer from a split; the economists are incomprehensible to though who are not economists and the novelists rarely write for those at home in the region as they do not provide a reliable and regular readership.

In “Independent Thought and Caribbean Freedom: Thirty Years Later,”[xiv] Lloyd Best argued that what was needed was a turn to the creative arts, for only they “will here open up the philosophical as well as the scientific questions” (Best 1997: 24). He submitted that the crisis that beset the social sciences as the twenty-first century was to emerge was:

a failure at the bottom of which is the epistemological question. How do the Caribbean people learn about themselves and for their own purposes with the resources they now have? How does a community,a tribe, a race, a State, a nation, a people, save itself from impending damnation? How does a culture escape from itself? How does a system generate its own fertility?

The first thing would be to plumb the dimensions of our own predicament. In the  case of the social sciences, had we fixed the manifestations of dislocated personality, plantation economy, segmented multi-ethnic society and submerged subversive culture in their common historical matrix, I doubt we would have had to follow the disciplinary specializations of the European tradition, multiplied the overheads, and confused the heads of the students in the bargain—by compelling them to add Marshallian or Keynesian economics to Parsonian, Weberian or Marxian sociology, to Malinovskyesque anthropology and to the Westminster political science of Mill, all of which are premised on a different set of institutions—all of which are set in a different landscape. You can see why I am advocating an extra-disciplinary approach, a Caribbean approach. (Best 1997: 24)

Best’s contention seems to be that such a split between the social sciences and the arts in the Caribbean occurred because the model of the university and knowledge production was simply transplanted from the UK, with no real consideration as to how to grow a Caribbean derived model. Attention and genuine incorporation of the creative arts and the humanities across (higher) education was his proposed solution.

But if Nettleford, culture, and a new moment of significance for cultural in the Caribbean are the chief, named protagonists, Hall seems an implied one. Lloyd Best names Hall as one of his predecessor, declaring that though

[t]he whole world knows my great teachers…to have been Gocking, Demas, Brathwaite and James…What even Stuart Hall may not know is that it all began at Richmond Road in Oxford where Demas was his [Hall’s] housemate and where Stuart’s New Left Review … I make bold to say we need other conferences mounted on the work of both William Demas and Stuart Hall … (17)

Best makes known the hitherto little known fact that his own thought is indebted to Hall. Best is, of course, one of the most widely read anglophone Caribbean scholars as knowing the Caribbean condition; and there he stood, during this quintessentially, uniquely moment in the study of culture from/in the Caribbean paying homage to Hall, calling for a similar (conference on Caribbean Culture?) in honor of Hall’s work.

Yet in his essay, “Caribbean Culture: Future Trends,” perhaps fittingly, meant to gesture at the next frontier, the next conjuncture, he seems to refuse that potential moment of canonization. By the time Hall gave his plenary, Best had already given his; this is evidenced by Hall’s assertion that he “think[s] about these questions in the context of rereading that marve[l]ous essay to which interestingly Lloyd Best referred this morning” (Hall 1997: 25). After thanking Nettleford for the invitation and his scholarship, Hall commences, telling his audience that he was “asked to say something about the future and in that context it has to be something about how Caribbean culture travels, it being itself the product of an enforced travelling, but also well travelled” (25). He stages his distance from that Caribbean scene, perhaps reminding the audience of what Best may have made them forget for the time:

I have got to figure out how to talk about that because I have lived out of the region for most of my adult life and therefore what I have observed at close hand and worked amongst our people from the Caribbean, from the African Caribbean Diaspora, especially, who helped undertake a second migration, a ‘double diasporization’, I would call it. (25)

He will not make mention of his time on Caribbean Voices, the BBC program that gave most of the writers now considered synonymous with (modern) anglophone Caribbean literature—V. S. Naipaul, Andrew Salkey, Samuel Selvon, Derek Walcott, George Lamming—work for Caribbean periodicals such as Bim or Savacou. Erased are the frequent trips he made to Jamaica (home?) from the 1970s onward (after the cultural revolution of the 1960s makes brown, middle class existence no longer easy or tenable).[xv] The documentaries on the Caribbean expunged. His participation in the Caribbean Artists Movement (CAM, 1966 – 1972) unmentioned (See Walmsley 1992). In fact, according to Anne Walmsley’s account of the second CAM conference (August 31 – September 2, 1968), Hall’s contribution shaped much of the rest of the conference. At least two of these show Hall thinking the Caribbean with diaspora. The first being that, “[t]he Afro-West Indian has had a kind of clarification of experience in the last decade in Britain that the West Indian at home, with the neocolonial regimes, has not had.” Secondly, his contention, following John La Rose, that “the West Indian had been obliged to define himself in global terms, in terms of movements of black peoples throughout the world” (164). Thus in 1968 we begin to hear the outlines of engagement with diaspora, race, and articulation in relation to the anglophone Caribbean community(ies) in the UK, years before Policing the Crisis or “Race, Articulation, and Societies Structured in Dominance.”[xvi]

But in 1996, Hall refuses any of these enunciations that would give his audience definitive and consistent confirmation of his investment in the Caribbean. Instead he wants to use diaspora to problematize theorizations of Caribbean “roots” and “routes” (Hall 1997: 27). It is the “discrepancy between some of the ways in which we still think about culture and in which we still live and practise it” that Hall chooses, “want[s],” to address in his plenary (27).

He ends, provocatively, informing us that only through “retranscription (by resignification)” can diasporic culture occur and sustain itself (33). He urges his audience to hold on to

… a notion of the diasporic which lives with the notion of dissemination, of the        scattering. The seed has gone out. It is not going to come back to its original ecology. It now has to learn to live in new climates in other soils. It has to learn to resist pests that it never resisted before.

The one thing you do not get in nature is a clone. It’s not given to repeat itself as it   was, because to repeat itself would be to die. It’s going to use its new ecology to construct a culture of a different kind. It is going to live with dissemination. It knows that unless we have made the return to our symbolic home in our hearts and minds we will never know who we are, but it knows at the same time that you can’t go home again. (33; italics mine)

What does it mean that one “can’t go home again?” And how to apply that to the discussion of Caribbean culture that is its scene of presentation?


I don’t want to psychologize Hall, but I want to put in conversation his notion of being unable to “go home again” and his interview for the first issue of Small Axe that Hall would have given shortly after this address.[xvii] The interview stages a much more explicit set of interventions about the Caribbean as a formative space for Hall and an object of his study. It is possible that this is more function of genre. It allows for another kind of engagement it is by definition dialogic, two people looking for each other; the plenary on Caribbean Culture calls for a kind of declaration of a self and subjectivity that is less provisional.  In another 1997 interview, Caryl Phillips asks him how he feels about the Caribbean, and Hall speaks of “home” in less definitive terms than the final lines of “Caribbean Culture: Future Trends.” “No,” he says to Phillips:

I don’t feel detachment from [the Caribbean]. I maintain that terrible ambiguity about home. I never know it. I never know what question I’m being asked when I’m asked about home. On the other hand, when I go home I know it’s not my home. And I know it’s not my home principally because it’s a small place and all the people that I was at school with are still there, and all have had a different life from mine, I can literally see the divergence. I can’t possibly recapitulate the way in which they have lived the first 30 years of independence. I didn’t live them like that. It’s not an odd question of whether you can be friends or not, it just, it’s formed us differently. (Hall 1997)

Hall here is ambiguous about the Caribbean, Jamaica, as his home. It is not simply that he is unsure of his answer; he is uncertain of what he is being asked when asked of the Caribbean as “home.”

As far as Caribbean scholarship the Small Axe interview ushers in a moment. Hall’s is the first interview of a series of interviews of Caribbean intellectuals born in the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s that Scott undertakes.[xviii] It appears in the first issue of a journal that has forged a frontier zone in the field over the last while (in two years it will be twenty). At its inception, this moment of birth of which Hall is made a part, the journal was meant to “fashio[n] a vernacular idiom of criticism,” taking up the charge from older outfits such as Lloyd Best’s New World Quarterly and Kamau Brathwaite’s Savacou. Interestingly, Hall was a part of each—Best claims his in this 1996 moment as a kind of third (if silent) parent; Hall attended the conferences of the Caribbean Artists Movement and wrote for Savacou; and he is chosen as the first Caribbean intellectual to be interviewed for Small Axe.

There is a fascinating elliptical moment in the interview; allow me to quote from it at length:

David Scott (DS): … Clearly there you are thinking about the Caribbean. This is     the middle to late ‘70s, yes. What is prompting that rethinking of the Caribbean?

Stuart Hall (SH): Well I suppose what is prompting it is the sense that ll that was   bubbling up in the ‘60s has had a very profound impact on Caribbean societies. It’s a very different place. And its a place that I can re-ground in my o[w]n mind in a way that I’d sort of decided that I couldn’t re-ground the old Caribbean like that. By the ‘70s I start to come back more often. Mainly to visit family. I don’t come back for official purposes. There is a long period in the ‘60s when having taken the decision I don’t come very much.

DS: Do you lecture here when you come back in the ‘70s?

SH: Hardly ever.

DS: Is your work known among intellectuals here?

SH: No, no. Not very much. And it doesn’t feel relevant to me to tell them about it.

DS: No, sure, that I can understand. But certainly the way . . . .

SH: They still don’t . . . .

DS: I know they still don’t . . . .

SH: I’m not complaining about it.

DS: Yes, but I am. (Hall, “Politics,” 1997: 155)

Here is Hall, interviewed for the first issue of Small Axe, a journal committed to a critical tradition in Caribbean studies, largely concerned with Caribbean thought. This set of exchanges between Hall and Scott is riddled with the unsaid. Scott keeps the question of the (anglophone) Caribbean ever present; Hall seems to want this. If Hall’s address of the future of study of Caribbean Culture does not disavow that “[i]t is perhaps too little remembered … that Stuart Hall is a Jamaican and a West Indian whose work has been informed by some of the journeys and debates that constitute this region as a zone of history, culture, and politics,” he does do so in the interview (Hall, “Politics,” 1997: 141). Yet much as the interview tells us about Hall’s development as a (anglophone) Caribbean intellectual and his sustained interest in the region, the ellipses perform a withholding that makes the answer to our very question of Hall’s place in the canon of Caribbean thought, most especially the “why” of it, elusive. And, perhaps, even an acceptance of his lot as a kind of second-class citizen in the pecking order of the home-based academy. What was intended to follow “the way”? Don’t they still do? Is it the way that Hall is marginalized in the region, or the way that he is celebrated elsewhere? Is it that “intellectuals here” still don’t read him, or acknowledge him? The first suggests lack of awareness, knowledge of Hall and his work, his theoretical interventions; the latter suggests a refusal that articulates critique either of scholarly practice (either in terms of concepts or the general eclecticism of Hall’s oeuvre) or geographic location (that he never settles and works from back home and in this way in strong contrast to Lloyd Best, Rex Nettleford, Barry Chevannes and even Brathwaite and Lamming who work from ‘home’ for periods).


Let us leave the 1996 conference and interview for a moment and look at the ways in which Hall has been memorialized since his passing. By now it should go without saying that I am interested in the ways in which he has, or has not been, honored from the Caribbean or Caribbean-centered spaces and platforms.

In her review for the Caribbean Review of Books of John Akomfrah’s documentary, The Stuart Hall Project, Annie Paul writes:

It never fails to astonish me how little Hall and his path-breaking work are known back here in the Caribbean, where he comes from—in Jamaica, where he was born and raised, for instance, he’s a complete nonentity. For those not in the know: Hall is a globally renowned intellectual (an “intellectual rock star,” as one publication has referred to him), a founding editor of New Left Review, and more famously the main progenitor of the influential field of cultural studies. Arising in the 1960s, this interdisciplinary juggernaut that signalled the advent of postmodern scholarship rapidly gained popularity, dealing a body-blow to traditional academic disciplines from sociology to political science to literature, and completely rewriting the scope of intellectual work worldwide. That it only arrived at the University of the West Indies in the 1990s is a measure of what a well-kept secret Hall remains in these parts. (Paul 2013)

Paul, of course, is correct: Hall’s scholarship so profoundly influenced the ways in which we study human experience globally—in terms of subjectivity, power, identity formation, home and diaspora to name but a few—yet continues to be “a well-kept secret in [the Caribbean]”; and this persistent secrecy around Hall is a barometer of something. The paucity of elegies, eulogies or memorials in Caribbean or Caribbean-centric outlets since his passing continues the occlusion of Hall from the region and tells us something not only about Hall’s own sense of who he was, and where he belonged in relation to the island of his birth, but also speaks to his Caribbean legacy, his place in Caribbean thought, and what exactly the Caribbean is now, maybe what it is becoming.

By my count five pieces emerged from the Caribbean or Caribbean-focused sources after Hall’s homegoing. These were: two obituaries; an announcement by the Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival as well as a free screening of The Stuart Hall Project (the Tuesday after he passed);[xix] a moving, searing letter from the editor of Small Axe (Scott 2014) and a special section of that same journal titled “The Gift of Stuart Hall”; and a tribute from the Centre for Caribbean Thought. I want to focus on those that speak explicitly to Hall and the Caribbean.

In their tribute from the Centre for Caribbean Thought, Brian Meeks, Anthony Bogues and Rupert Lewis, assert:

that Hall did not  return “home” like … George Lamming, or Sylvia Wynter (who returned for a while) and others did not mean that he was not Caribbean. What it meant was that the Caribbean was now working through a different geographical and cultural location. (Bogues, Lewis & Meeks 2014: 128)

This was preceded by Meeks’s singular celebration of Hall almost a week before in the Jamaica Gleaner, “Rediscovering Stuart Hall” (Meeks 2014). He tries to attend to the relatively subdued nature of the local response, or lack thereof, in the week of Hall’s passing. Meeks explains that it “should not, maybe, be surprising” that there is such quiet (it took local newspaper several days to pick up the news) as Hall had not lived in Jamaica in over six decades (Meeks 2014). But, for Meeks, Hall’s diasporic existence has little to do with Jamaicans’ ignorance of him, rather such lack of awareness “says more of national inattention to ideas and the people who generate them.” He ends with an invitation to the Hall’s alma mater, Jamaica College, or the government to honor Hall.

But in “Stuart Hall Roots an Legacy” Carolyn Cooper, professor of literary and cultural studies at UWI, Mona, goes directly to the question of Hall having never returned home. Writing in Jamaican patois, in Chaka-Chaka Spelling and again in Prapa-Prapa Spellin, she brings the question of Hall’s place of domicile to the fore. She asks:

So wa mek Stuart Hall never come back a yard? Im did visit. But im live out im life a Inglan. Inna 1997, im do one interview wid Caryl Phillips, one next Oxford man weh     born a St Kitts an go a England when im a four month ‘old’. Phillips aks Hall di said same question: “The time you were leaving Oxford—1957—was exactly the same time that there was a potential for great change in the Caribbean. It was the beginning of the short-lived federation among the islands. Why did you choose not to go back?” Hall gi two answer: “There was no need to hurry back, because by then federation was a dead idea.” Dead fi true. An CARICOM no hearty to dat … See di next answer ya: “But there’s a second reason which is more personal. You see, I came from this peculiar coloured middle class in Jamaica which was oriented toward Britain … I didn’t want to go back to that. To have a job as a lawyer with my family close at hand, watching over me, I couldn’t bear it. I’d always meant to go home, but I’d always had reservations about becoming a member of that class.”

Di problem a no so-so class. Plenty colour did mix up inna it. Hall do one next interview inna 2007 wid one journalist, Tim Adams. Hear wa im seh: “I was always the blackest member of my family and I knew it from the moment I was born. My sister said: ‘Where did you get this coolie baby from?’ Not black baby, you will note, but low-class Indian.” Seet deh now! Good ting Stuart Hall never bodder come back ya so. Im might as well tan a England.[xx]

For Cooper Hall’s legacy is haunted by the incomplete return. It is not that Hall’s ideas were too big for ‘home’ as Meeks hints, but rather there it is color and class questions that disrupt Hall’s return at least in 1957. In this way his not a Caribbean existence simply in another geographic location, but a flight from the color politics of Jamaica, an escape.

For his part Hall does offer several, varied reasons for his decision to settle in the UK. If Caryl Phillips is told that it had everything to do with the death of the West Indian Federation, Hall makes plain his unwillingness (like Claude McKay’s Bita Plant[xxi]) to be sucked into brown, respectable middle class society. He also speaks of the ‘problem’ of his own skin color—decidedly darker than other members of his family—in terms of having easy relations with his family (most of whom were of lighter skin color). In other words Hall might not disagree with Cooper that the question was not only one of class, but profoundly of color.

Yet it seems to me that there is also something of a discomfort, a worry in that earlier moment of the 1996 conference that may add another dimension. In other words, I want to take Hall at his word that the interest, his interest, in the Caribbean never goes away. And, if so, the seeming finality of his “Caribbean Culture: Future Trends” suggests that he can never be a Caribbean intellectual, he can never really be part of that canon. At the same time I think there is a desire (expressed in the dialogic spaces of the interviews) to suture, to make a return.

As editor of Caribbean Reasonings: Culture, Politics, Race, and Diaspora—The Thought of Stuart Hall and one of the organizers of the third Caribbean Reasonings conference held in 2004 in honor of Hall out of that collection emerged, Meeks has been integral in plotting Hall’s return to the intellectual terrain of contemporary Jamaica and the Caribbean academy. In his introduction to that collection, Meeks contends that it was only after giving the keynote for the conference, and receiving a standing ovation, that, Meeks writes in his introduction to the text, “Hall, after more than half a century, had at last, come home” (Meeks 2007).

If that conference was the coming to fruition of what Lloyd Best suggested in 1996, that Hall and his work be the subject of a conference meant to honor him, it was also a retake on that earlier moment in which Hall’s name was placed on the roll under Caribbean intellectual and he stayed clear of answering too loudly in the affirmative. In his talk to the 2004 conference in his honor he tells the crowd that he nearly back out; what business did he have at that point in his career to claim “to be a Caribbean intellectual?” (Hall 2007). But rather than attempt to shake off the label like so many participles of dust, Hall took hold of it, laid claim to it. I would not say that he did so at last, because I suspect in his quieter more private moments he may have accepted the label (remember his time with the Caribbean Artists Movement?). Instead I will say that this talk is the occasion for him to do so publicly, in the haloed halls of the University of the West Indies. Here Hall revises the origin myths about how Cultural Studies started; in essence he leaves literature and turns to Cultural Studies because he “had to confront the problem of trying to understand what Caribbean culture was and what my relationship” (Hall 2007). He may not have a deep investment in the postcolonial project of “nation-building,” but in that regard he is not alone—many of his generation bemoaned the nation state. It is not only that Hall becomes black in there, but he forges community with fellow West Indians he may never have doon amongst other West Indians:

London streets — one more turn in the story of the Middle Passage and a critical moment in the formation of another displaced black diaspora — I resolved to go back, to read, read about, try to understand and to make a part of me the culture which had made me and from which I could never — and no longer wished — to escape. (Hall 2007)

He speaks of himself as one of many other Jamaicans and anglophone Caribbean folk making their way in that work, rather than an isolated, rare individual. Diaspora becomes a kind of double-bind that ties on to home and the world, here and there. Diaspora here is not only that state which induces and produces a kind of homelessness, it also makes home. Diaspora not a way to disavow one home as one tries, if never succeeding valiant in the effort, to make another one’s new home. It is an uneven and imbalanced dance between the locations. It is in this understanding of diaspora Hall finds his Caribbean. Or rather lets the rest of us see it; he has been wrestling with it all the while, the interest always there. His entire career becoming in some ways “[his] very long way of trying to answer the question, in what sense can [he] be ‘a Caribbean intellectual’?” (Hall 2007).

Travel well.

Contributor’s Note

Victoria J. Collis-Buthelezi is lecturer of African Diaspora and African literature and theory in the English Department at the University of Cape Town. Her current book project is Empire, Nation, Diaspora: The Making of Modern Black Intellectual Culture.


Best, Lloyd. 1997. “Independent Thought and Caribbean Freedom: Thirty Years Later,” in special issue “The Plenaries: Conference on Caribbean Culture in Honour of Professor          Rex Nettleford.” Caribbean Quarterly, 43, no. 1/2: 16 – 24.

__________.. 1997. “The Vocation of a Caribbean Intellectual: An Interview with Lloyd Best,”             interview by David Scott. Small Axe 1: 119 – 139.

__________.. 1967. “Independent Thought and Caribbean Freedom,” New World Quarterly      (Croptime): 13 – 35.

Bogues, Anthony, Rupert Lewis and Brian Meeks. 2014. “Stuart Hall, Caribbean Thought and the World We Live in.” Caribbean Quarterly, 60, no. 1: 128.

__________.. 2002. “Michael Manley, Equality and the Jamaican Labour Movement,” in special           issue” Michael Manley: A Voice at the Workplace,” Caribbean Quarterly, 48, no. 1: 77 – 93.

Brathwaite, Kamau. 1997. “Rex Nettleford and the Renaissance of Caribbean Culture,” in special issue “The Plenaries: Conference on Caribbean Culture in Honour of Professor Rex Nettleford.” Caribbean Quarterly, 43, no. 1/2: 34 – 69.

Brodber, Erna. 1997. “Re-engineering Blackspace,” “The Plenaries: Conference on Caribbean Culture in Honour of Professor Rex Nettleford,” Caribbean Quarterly, 43, no. 1/2: 70 – 81.

Chevannes, Barry. 1997. “Introduction” to special issue “The Plenaries: Conference on       Caribbean Culture in Honour of Professor Rex Nettleford,” Caribbean Quarterly, 43, no.1/2: iii – vi.

Cooper, Carolyn. “Stuart Hall Roots an Legacy.” Jamaica Gleaner,, accessed December 20, 2014.

Cudjoe, Selwyn R. 1992. “C. L. R. James Misbound.” Transition, no. 58: 124 – 136.

Hall, Stuart. 2007. “Epilogue: Through the Prism of an Intellectual Life,” in Caribbean        Reasonings: Culture, Politics, Race, and Diaspora—The Thought of Stuart Hall, edited by Brian Meeks, Kingston and Miami: Ian Randle Publishers. Kindle ebook.

_________.  1997. “Politics, Strategy, Contingency: An Interview with Stuart Hall,” by David       Scott. Small Axe, no. 1: 141 – 159.

_________. 1997. “Caribbean a Culture: Future Trends,” in special issue “The Plenaries:    Conference On Caribbean Culture in Honour of Professor Rex Nettleford.” Caribbean    Quarterly, 43, no. 1/2: 25 – 33.

_________. 1997. Interview with Caryl Phillips. Bomb: A Quarterly Arts and Culture Magazine   58,, accessed August 28, 2015.

_________. 1983. “For a Marxism without Guarantees.” Australian Left Review 83: 38 – 43.

_________. 1980. “Race, Articulation, and Societies Structured in Dominance,” in Sociological      Theories: Race and Colonialism. Paris: UNESCO, 16–60.

Lamming, George. 1997. “Opening Address,” in special issue “The Plenaries: Conference on Caribbean Culture in Honour of Professor Rex Nettleford.” Caribbean Quarterly, 43, no. 1/2: 1 – 15.

Manley, Michael. 1997. “Rex Nettleford: A Revolutionary Spirit,” in special issue “The      Plenaries: Conference On Caribbean Culture In Honour Of Professor Rex Nettleford.”            Caribbean Quarterly, 43, no. 1/2: 96 – 100.

Meeks, Brian. February 12, 2014. “Rediscovering Stuart Hall.” Jamaica Gleaner,, accessed December 20, 2014.

_________. 2007. “Introduction: Return of a Native Sun,” in Caribbean Reasonings: Culture, Politics, Race, and Diaspora—The Thought of Stuart Hall, edited by Brian Meeks, . Kingston and Miami: Ian Randle Publishers. Kindle ebook.

Paul, Annie. 2013. “Towards the Next Conjuncture.” Caribbean Review of Books,           conjecture/, accessed May 20, 2015.

Walmsey, Anne. 1992. Caribbean Artists Movement, 1966 –1972: A Literary and Cultural History. London and Port of Spain: New Beacon Books.

Wynter, Sylvia. 2000. “The Re-enactment of Humanism: An Interview with Sylvia Wynter,” interview by David Scott. Small Axe, no. 8: 119 – 207.

Seaga, Edward. 1997. “The Significance of Folk Culture in the Development of National     Identity,” in special issue “The Plenaries: Conference on Caribbean Culture in Honour of Professor Rex Nettleford.” Caribbean Quarterly, 43, no. 1/2: 82 – 89.

Scott, David. 2014. “The Last Conjuncture.” Small Axe, 18, no. 2 44: vii – x.

_________. 2013. “On the Question of Caribbean Studies,” introduction to special issue on “What is Caribbean Studies?” Small Axe, Volume 17, Number 2 41: 1 – 7.

_________. 2005. Interview with Stuart Hall. Bomb: A Quarterly Arts and Culture Magazine 90,, accessed July 10, 2015.

“Draft Program.” 1996. Conference on Caribbean Culture in Honour of Professor Rex Nettleford.

“Film Festival Hosts Free Tribute Screening of The Stuart Hall Project.” 2014. http:// .


[i] The island nation-states of the Caribbean gained independence between 1962 (Jamaica and Trinidad andTobago) and 1983 (St. Kitts and Nevis).

[ii] The Republic of Trinidad and Tobago.

[iii] James did not win a scholarship to study in the UK as Norman Manley, Eric Williams, Stuart Hall, or many others would, but I include him in this number because he was one of those students (and then teacher) of the prestigious island schools who would have been expected to win one of the island scholarship—a middle-class/lower middle-class boy, as he describes himself in the BBC Channel Four interview he did with Stuart Hall (See James, “C. L. R. James in conversation with Stuart Hall,” Channel 4, 1983-85).

[iv] The only television station in Trinidad and Tobago until 1991.

[v] Hortense Spillers asked this of Anthony ‘Tony’ Bogues during his keynote.

[vi] They spoke of George Padmore and the work he and James did together in the African Bureau.

[vii] I use “particular” thinking of James’s invocation of the word in his history of the first Pan-African Conference of 1900 in reference to the actions and history of Henry Sylvester Williams as convenor of the conference and a Caribbean intellectual. See James 1984: 236-250.

[viii] At QRC James also taught V. S. Naipaul.

[ix] Eric E. Williams says this after Jamaica pulls out of the West Indian Federation in order to justify Trinidad and Tobago’s withdrawal thereafter.

[x] Scott’s term of choice (represented by the ellipsis in my citation above) is “archive”; he refers to an “archive of thinking” around what Caribbean means. He writes:

I mean to press the idea, in other words, that to think something like “Caribbean studies” is already to be inside, to be in a conversation with, one dimension or another of the archive of thinking about what the Caribbean supposedly is, supposedly was. (2013: 1)

Archive, I think, does not quite get at what interests me on the question of Stuart Hall and the Caribbean because as much as archives are products of power, there is some sense that within an archive traces might exist, the archive might hold sources the value of which change over time. The canon on the other hand may change content over time, but that which is within is that which is authorized in particular ways; the archive can contain within its borders items that are not deemed valuable, but that sit there as if waiting to be discovered. In other words, Hall’s work may sit within a Caribbean archive, but it is not considered canonical in Caribbean scholarship.

[xi] In this essay, to distinguish between the two 1997 interviews I cite Hall’s interview in Small Axe as Hall, “Politics” 1997 and his interview Bomb with Caryl Phillips as Hall 1997.

[xii] Nettleford remained would become vice-chancellor of UWI (its first graduate to do so) just two years later in 1998 until 2004.

[xiii] Selected literature papers were also compiled for another special issue of Caribbean Quarterly from the conference. See Caribbean Quarterly, Volume 43, Number 4, Conference on Caribbean Culture in Honour of Professor Rex Nettleford The Literature Papers: A Selection (December 1997).

[xiv] This is Best’s return to his 1967 piece in the New World Quarterly, “Independent Thought and Caribbean Freedom.” See Lloyd Best, “Independent Thought and Caribbean Freedom.” New World Quarterly (Croptime 1967): 13 – 35.

[xv] Brown here refers to the mulatto elite. See Anthony Bogues, “Michael Manley, Equality and the Jamaican Labour Movement,” in special issue” Michael Manley: A Voice at the Workplace,” Caribbean Quarterly, 48, no. 1, (2002): 77–93.

[xvi] See Stuart Hall, “Race, Articulation, and Societies Structured in Dominance,” in Sociological Theories: Race and Colonialism (UNESCO, 1980), reprinted in Black British Cultural Studies: A Reader, ed. Houston A. Baker, Manthia Diawara, and Ruth H. Lindeborg (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996), 16–60.

[xvii] The interview is dated March 6, 1996. The draft program for the conference show three plenaries scheduled on: Monday, March 4; Tuesday, March 5; and Wednesday March 6 (See “Conference on Caribbean Culture Registration Brochure,” National Library of Jamaica). Hall would have given his plenary on on of those days, those most likely not in the morning slot as scheduled in the draft program since he refers to Best’s paper having been given in morning before his own.

[xviii] Lloyd Best’s interview also features in the first issue of the journal, and before Hall’s in pagination, but in conversation with Hall again in 2005, Scott says that this was the first interview he did of Hall’s generation of intellectuals for Small Axe. See David Scott, interview with Stuart Hall, Bomb: A Quarterly Arts and Culture Magazine 90 (Winter 2005),, accessed July 10, 2015.

[xix] See . The documentary has yet to be screened in Jamaica.

[xx] Translation:

So what made Stuart Hall never come back home? He visited. But he lived out his life in England. In 1997, he did an interview with Caryl Phillips, another Oxford man who was born in St. Kitts and went to England when he was four months ‘old.’ Phillips asked Hall the same question: “The time you were leaving Oxford—1957—was exactly the same time that there was a potential for great change in the Caribbean. It was the beginning of the short-lived federation among the islands. Why did you choose not to go back?” Hall gave two answers: “There was no need to hurry back, because by then federation was a dead idea.” Dead in truth. An CARICOM is no better … Look at the next answer:  “But there’s a second reason       which is more personal.  You see, I came from this peculiar coloured middle class in Jamaica which was oriented toward Britain … I didn’t want to go back to that. To have a job as a lawyer with my family close at hand, watching over me, I couldn’t bear it. I’d always meant to go home, but I’d always had reservations about becoming a member of that class.”

The problem is not so much class. Plenty color issues are mixed in. Hall did another interview in 2007 with another journalist, Tim Adams. Listen to what he said: “I was always the blackest member of my family and I knew it from the moment I was born. My sister said: ‘Where did you get this coolie baby from?’ Not black baby, you will note, but low-class Indian.” See there now! Good thing Stuart Hall never bothered to come back here so. He might as well tan in England.

[xxi] See Claude McKay. Banana Bottom. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1933.


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