Redefi ning the political
he political essay has a long and honourable history: indeed
essay as a literary form is peculiarly suited to politics. The
essay is for-the-moment, composed to address a particular historical
configuration, capturing emergent histories as they come into sight.
Or, as Stuart Hall was fond of conceiving of his own essays, they are
interventions, often with foes to be dispatched to the left and to the
right. The political essay is seldom dispassionate. The essay-form is
not an innocent medium. It is combative, working to organise intel-
lectually its constituency of readers.
Th is is certainly true of the political essays in this collection.
But the essay form was also ideally suited to Hall’s more theoretical
preoccupations, since one of his abiding concerns was to tease out
the complex contours of signifi cant political moments and to get a
sense of what was shaping them. In most of the essays gathered here
we can see him trying to identify the nature of the specifi c shifts
and currents that have coalesced into the moment he is analysing.
Th is is a clearly discernible characteristic of even his earliest essays,
but, as we outline below, Hall later theorised this way of writing
as ‘conjunctural’ analysis. Th e wide range of elements he draws on
in his writing is central to Hall’s unique contribution as a political
Hall’s essays also embody a more philosophical or abstract purpose,
which nevertheless remains focused on real-world concerns: they
continually return to the question of what politics is and where it
happens. Th is abstract question is worked into the interstices of his
concrete political analyses. His work thus represents a striking refusal
of the prevailing codifi cations of what politics entails and where it is
to be located; his appropriation of Gramsci’s conception of hegemony
enlarged the conception of what constitutes class politics;1 and he also
contended that emergent political forces did not always look ‘political’