My arrival at the University of Essex came rather late, biographically speaking. At the age of twenty-nine, after some thirteen years working as a journalist, bookseller and in various other marginal occupations, I became what was ironically termed a “mature student” in what was then the School of Comparative Studies. The first year course gave a fascinating glimpse into the worlds of art history, literature, political science, and eighteenth century history. But in the end I chose to major in sociology, because it seemed to me that within sociology you could do, write, and even think just about anything.
The university itself was still almost brand new, and everyone was finding their way, which was just what I wanted. The rigid traditional college had no appeal for me. At Essex there were educational experiments going on in every department.
It was an odd experience, being a mature student, especially when my wife Sheila decided to join me in the School of Comparative Studies, specializing in art history. We were at least ten years older than most of the other students, and we had a little house in Wivenhoe, a dog, a cat, a Mini, and all the other paraphenalia of suburban life. So our presence in the midst of the student “revolution” of 1968 was inappropriate, to say the least.
However the events of those turbulent years, apart from being very entertaining in themselves, steered me towards my special interest in radical political movements. I was able to observe some of the key events in Paris, and in Berkeley California. It was the perfect research topic.
So when I graduated in 1971 I was keen to continue with academic work, and was fortunate to be appointed as a lecturer in the department (those were the days!) The experience was rather like rising in the ranks of the army from private soldier to second lieutenant in the army – something that had also happened to me ten years before.
So began fifteen years of teaching in the Department, during which I specialized in theory, social movements, the Enlightenment, and American studies. The latter was an interest I had acquired after travelling all over the US in the 1960s. My talented colleagues, many of whom are still good friends were generously supportive of me as I took my first steps into the academic world.
After three years of teaching I had completed a PhD at the London School of Economics, which eventually became the book Idealism and Revolution. Later I spent separate years as a visiting professor at the University of Californa, Santa Cruz, the University of Connecticut, and the State University of New York at Stony Brook, published more books, and generally learned my trade as a teacher and a sociologist.
In 1986 my new (American) wife Diane, who was and is also a sociologist, abducted me to New York, and I’m still there. In the first few years I taught sociology at the State University, and other institutions. But I slowly slipped back into my old habits of writing and broadcasting as a journalist rather than an academic sociologist. The New York Times and other newspapers ran my columns, and I found that the sociological perspective, once learned, never forgotten, is enormously useful for a writer. It turned out in the end that humor was my métier, and radio was my medium.
In 2002 I retired from teaching to spend more time working as a commentator and classical music host with our local National Public Radio station. The books I publish these days are much less serious than they used to be, but still have more than a touch of sociology in them. The latest is called Peripheral Vision (2011).
You can find my personal web site here: http://www.davidbouchier.com