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Familiar Stranger: A Life Between Two Islands (Stuart Hall: Sele

Familiar Stranger: A Life Between Two Islands (Stuart Hall: Selected Writings)

Familiar Stranger is a memoir by Stuart Hall, one of the most influential intellectuals of the 20th century. It tells the story of his early life, from his birth in Jamaica in 1932 to his departure from London for Birmingham in 1964. It is a fascinating account of how his experiences shaped his intellectual, political, and theoretical work, and how he became one of the founders of the field of cultural studies.

Who was Stuart Hall?

Stuart Hall was a scholar, activist, and public figure who played a key role in the development of the New Left and the emergence of cultural studies as a discipline. He was born in Kingston, Jamaica, to a middle-class family of mixed-race ancestry. He grew up in a colonial society that was undergoing profound changes, as nationalist movements challenged British rule and racial hierarchies. He felt uncomfortable in his own home, where he lived among the "stiflingly respectable brown middle class" who measured themselves against the white elite.

Familiar Stranger: A Life Between Two Islands (Stuart Hall: Sele

In 1951, he won a Rhodes scholarship to study at Oxford University, where he met other young Jamaicans from different backgrounds, as well as writers and thinkers from across the Caribbean, such as V.S. Naipaul and George Lamming. He also encountered Raymond Williams, Charles Taylor, and other leading intellectuals, with whom he helped found the intellectual and political movement known as the New Left. The New Left was a radical critique of both capitalism and communism, and a search for alternative forms of democracy and social justice.

After graduating from Oxford, Hall worked as a teacher, journalist, and editor. He joined the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and the Anti-Apartheid Movement, and became involved in anti-racist and anti-colonial struggles. He also became a prominent voice in the media, appearing on television and radio programs such as The Listener and The BBC Third Programme. He was one of the first to analyze the role of mass media and popular culture in shaping public opinion and identity.

In 1964, he moved to Birmingham to join the newly established Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies (CCCS) at the University of Birmingham. There he developed the method of cultural studies, which combined Marxism, sociology, literary criticism, and anthropology to study the meanings and practices of everyday life. He explored topics such as youth subcultures, media representations, ideology, race, class, gender, and sexuality. He also mentored a generation of scholars who went on to become influential figures in academia and beyond.

What is Familiar Stranger about?

Familiar Stranger is not a conventional autobiography. It is a hybrid of memoir and meditation, a dialogue between Hall and his editor Bill Schwarz, who conducted interviews with him over many years. It is also part of a larger project of selected writings by Hall, published by Duke University Press. The book covers only the first half of Hall's life, ending in 1964. A sequel is planned to follow.

The book is organized into thematic chapters that explore different aspects of Hall's personal and intellectual journey. It begins with his childhood in Jamaica, where he describes his family background, his education at an elite school modeled on English public schools, his exposure to literature and music, his awareness of racial and class divisions, and his involvement in student politics. It then moves to his years at Oxford, where he discusses his academic interests, his friendships with other Caribbean intellectuals, his encounters with British culture and society, his participation in the New Left, and his marriage to Catherine Hall.

The book also reflects on broader themes such as colonialism and postcolonialism, identity and belonging, diaspora and migration, nationalism and cosmopolitanism, culture and politics. It offers insights into Hall's theoretical influences and contributions, such as his concept of "the West Indian intellectual," his critique of "the myth of Englishness," his analysis of "the politics of blackness," and his articulation of "cultural identity." It also reveals Hall's personal struggles with depression, illness, and mortality.

Why should you read Familiar Stranger?

Familiar Stranger is a rich and engaging book that illuminates the life and work of one of our greatest minds. It is also a compelling portrait of a turbulent era that shaped the world we live in today. It is a book that challenges us to think critically and creatively about the complex and contradictory realities of our own times. It is a book that invites us to join Hall in his quest for understanding and transformation.

If you are interested in learning more about Stuart Hall, his ideas, and his legacy, you can find more information and resources at the following links:

  • [The Stuart Hall Foundation]

  • [The Stuart Hall Project]

  • [The Stuart Hall Library]

  • [The Cultural Studies Reader]


  • Stuart Hall, Familiar Stranger: A Life Between Two Islands, ed. Bill Schwarz (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2017), 3.

  • James Epstein, "Stuart Hall. Familiar Stranger: A Life between Two Islands," The American Historical Review 124, no. 1 (2019): 193-196.

  • Duke University Press, "Familiar Stranger," [1].

The Stuart Hall Foundation, "[Home](

The Stuart Hall Project, "[Home](

The Stuart Hall Library, "[Home](

  • Simon During, ed., The Cultural Studies Reader, 4th ed. (London: Routledge, 2012).


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