Ray Pahl (1935-2011)


Raymond Edward Pahl (17 July 1935 – 3 June 2011)

helped set up the British Household Panel Study in the late 1980’s  and  transferred to the Institute of Social and Economic Research at Essex a few years later, being given the title of visiting research professor in sociology in 1999. He died of cancer in 2011, aged 75





This is the obituary from The Guardian. Clare Wallace writes on 26th July 2011:

Ray Pahl, emeritus professor of sociology at the University of Kent, who has died of cancer aged 75, was known for a number of startling and path-breaking insights in sociology. His PhD thesis, Urbs in Rure (1965), which looked at how commuters reinvent village life, spawned many further studies, and his book Whose City? (1970) reinvigorated the flagging field of urban sociology. Then, in the late 1970s, Ray’s small exploratory study of the informal economy of the Isle of Sheppey, in Kent, grew into a major research project, which came to be known as the Sheppey Project. It helped change the way sociologists think about work and was read at the highest levels of government.

No longer was work thought of as something that took place at a workplace between set hours – the work of everyday living takes place in the home and in the community, too, in ways that had not then previously been recorded. A series of articles with Jonathon Gershuny and eventually a book, Divisions of Labour (1984), had a lasting impact on concepts of work. In a follow-up book, After Success (1995), Ray explored the impact of work on high-flying individuals.

His later work was on the topic of friendship. Ray developed a concept of friendship as a form of social cohesion in modern fragmented societies, first through the book On Friendship (2000) and later, with Liz Spencer, in Rethinking Friendship: Hidden Solidarities Today (2006).

Ray was also active in public life. From his participation in the Greater London Development Plan inquiry in the 1970s to his contribution to the archbishop of Canterbury’s team for the report Faith in the City in the 1980s, he used his sociological insights for good. During his latter years at Bishop’s Castle, Shropshire, he was actively involved in community development to the extent of helping to sustain the local brewery by buying shares in it.

I first met Ray in 1978 when I joined the Sheppey Project. It was my privilege to count Ray as a friend and our lives were intertwined from that first encounter. Ray introduced me to Jirˇí Musil, Ernest Gellner and George Soros, who were setting up the Central European University in Prague in the early 1990s as a way of educating a new generation of social scientists in the wake of the collapse of communism. Ray’s energetic advice helped to get the programme going in the shortest possible time, with part-time contributions from a variety of academics, students and “volunteers”.

All his projects, academic and other, were characterised by Ray’s restless intelligence, his sharp mind and equally sharp tongue. Ray never courted easy popularity. He chose what he saw as the right way, which was often the hard way. You may not have liked what he said, but he never hid his views. His acerbic attacks on theories of class, on urban sociology and on community studies were all of this kind. In this respect, he was always better as a critical outsider than as a builder of teams. Ray’s rapier insights could slice through the candy-floss constructions of social theory, of local government plans and of university administrations equally sharply.

Ray was born in London, and educated at St Albans school, Hertfordshire, St Catharine’s College, Cambridge, and the London School of Economics. He was appointed lecturer at the University of Kent at Canterbury in 1965, and to a personal chair in 1972. It was following a characteristic moment of self-reflection that in 1984 Ray decided to continue in the post half-time, to give himself space for reflection and research.

He later transferred to the Institute for Social and Economic Research at the University of Essex (with the title of visiting research professor in sociology from 1999), better to contribute to the “ideas factory” that was being built around the British Household Panel Survey, which gathers information from households across the UK for social and economic research, and the UK Data Archive based at the university.

When, in the mid-1990s, he moved from Canterbury to a remote Shropshire village, many thought he would not be able to continue his influential role. Instead, he made his home, a rambling, beautifully restored old house and garden, into a convivial centre for intellectual exchange and often had friends and colleagues to stay. It was also a place to house the art collection that he had amassed through judicious purchases and a keen eye. Here he put into practice his ideas of social capital, community and friendship. He continued to contribute regularly to British intellectual life and was composing a letter to the London Review of Books when he died.

Ray was never a dry academic. He combined a stylish sense of personal flair with a Picassoesque romantic sensibility. His impact was helped by his vivid, evocative and often barbed literary style. Many will remember his plangent phrases and metaphors, including those in his many contributions to the magazine New Society.

He once gave me a picture of Don Quixote. Ray was never afraid to tilt at windmills, real or imaginary, to destroy illusions and to build dreams.

He married Jan Cockburn, who retained the name Pahl after their divorce and went on to become emeritus professor of social policy at the University of Kent. He is survived by his two sons and a daughter from their marriage, by seven grandchildren and by his partner Kaye Chambers.

• Raymond Edward Pahl, sociologist, born 17 July 1935; died 3 June 2011

• This article was amended on 28 July 2011 to add by way of clarification that Ray Pahl’s wife retained the name Pahl after their divorce, and that her own career led to her becoming emeritus professor of social policy at the University of Kent

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