Mary McIntosh, who was at Essex for twenty years between 1976 and 1996, died in January. Ken Plummer wrote this on his blog at the time. You can also find his fuller obituary in The Guardian and under ‘Memories’: Mary McIntosh
Goodbye Mary : We Love You
It is with very great sadness I learnt of the death of Mary McIntosh – a very dear person to me and many others – and a great inspiration. She had bounced back from very serious illness several times over the past few years; but finally it was another stroke that took her on Saturday January 5th 2013. Sad news for the start of the new year. Condolences to all her close friends but especially Ange, her long time partner, and Duncan her ‘son’.
Mary was a pioneer: a second wave feminist, an active member of the lesbian and gay movement, one of the most quietly influential of sociologists of the 1960’s through 1990’s, and a wonderful person. She also remained a committed socialist.
She was one of the greatest influences on my life. Very early on, I wrote to her as an undergraduate when she was teaching at Leicester and she sent me several of her unpublished papers on the sociology of homosexuality. These were amazing pieces and a real eye opener for me. Very shortly afterwards, one of these papers was published as ‘The Homosexual Role’ in the journal Social Problems: the rest is history. It has become one of the classical foundational arguments of the sociology of homosexuality. It gave a historical and fully social meaning to the idea of same sex relations. I was to meet her personally just a few years later at the London School of Economics- first at a seminar on ‘deviance’ for graduate students ( when I was giving my first ever paper: Changing Conceptions of Homosexuality in 1968 She was very encouraging). But later and more significantly we became friends in the very early meetings of the London Gay Liberation Front in 1970. She became a very prominent figure in this movement – with her partner of the time, Elizabeth Wilson.She was also becoming even more active in the then flourishing Women’s Movement .
Her activism bridged into a careful and thorough sociology. She had been well trained into the elements at Oxford and Berkeley, and adopted first functionalist ideas then Marxist ones ( there is really only a small (but major ideological) step between them). She became involved in establishing the new and lively group of young academic Turks studying crime- the National Deviancy Conference. She was also engaged in setting up two journals Economy and Society (1978-1994) and Feminist Review (1972-1978) where she became part of the influential first editorship and stewardship (both have gone on to become major world journals). She was also very active in the British Sociological Association.
Finally, I came to know her most of all when she arrived at Essex as a colleague at the University of Essex in 1976/7 – where she worked for the next twenty years. Academically, she straddled several fields: criminology, theory,social policy, the family, feminism, Marxism. She loved teaching and taught the first feminism and gender course in the department – hugely popular with students, but dropped when she retired. Here she was to become a key influence and the first woman ‘Head of Department’ of Sociology ( 1986-9). Sadly, and to the shame of the Essex Department, she was never promoted to the rank of full Professor. She retired in 1996.
After her retirement, she worked a little at Birkbeck College, London; but she gradually left ‘academia’ behind. She worked for some time at the Citizen’s Advice Bureau and continued her political activities. Her papers have been chronicled at the London School of Economics
Even though she did not like writing and suffered writer’s block, she published some influential works including:
- co -editor with Paul Rock of Deviance and social control (Tavistock, London, 1974);
- The organisation of crime (Macmillan, London, 1975);
- co-writer with Michelle Barrett of The anti-social family (NLB, London, 1982);
- co-writer with Lynne Segal : Sex exposed: sexuality and the pornography debate (Virago, London, 1992);
- And a host of pathbreaking articles on an array issues like of homosexuality, prostitution and family policy.
Mary was a serious intellectual and a passionate activist. A strong, caring, quiet presence – she also had a very joyful sense of fun and always ready for a dance and a laugh. I missed her greatly when she left Essex; the department could never be quite the same for me. And now she leaves a gaping hole in the world. But she will be loved in remembrance.
For Mary: The Choir Invisible
Oh, may I join the choir invisible
Of those immortal dead who live again
In minds made better by their presence; live
In pulses stirred to generosity,
In deeds of daring rectitude, in scorn
For miserable aims that end with self,
In thoughts sublime that pierce the night like stars,
And with their mild persistence urge men’s search
To vaster issues.
So to live is heaven:
To make undying music in the world,
Breathing a beauteous order that controls
With growing sway the growing life of man.
So we inherit that sweet purity
For which we struggled, failed, and agonized
With widening retrospect that bred despair.
Rebellious flesh that would not be subdued,
A vicious parent shaming still its child,
Poor anxious penitence, is quick dissolved;
Its discords, quenched by meeting harmonies,
Die in the large and charitable air,
And all our rarer, better, truer self
That sobbed religiously in yearning song,
That watched to ease the burden of the world,
Laboriously tracing what must be,
And what may yet be better, — saw within
A worthier image for the sanctuary,
And shaped it forth before the multitude,
Divinely human, raising worship so
To higher reverence more mixed with love, –
That better self shall live till human Time
Shall fold its eyelids, and the human sky
Be gathered like a scroll within the tomb
This is life to come, –
Which martyred men have made more glorious
For us who strive to follow. May I reach
That purest heaven, — be to other souls
The cup of strength in some great agony,
Enkindle generous ardor, feed pure love,
Beget the smiles that have no cruelty,
Be the sweet presence of a good diffused,
And in diffusion ever more intense!
So shall I join the choir invisible
Whose music is the gladness of the world.
Some former students
Saw a notice in The Guardian this morning re Mary’s passing – very saddening – just felt the need to let folk in the Department know how much I appreciated her teaching – I recall she gave all the Lectures for the 1st year core course 1981-82 – Thursday mornings if I recall correctly. Like all her students I really respected her and held her in high regard.
Steve Willis (Sociology and History 1981-84)