Geoffrey Hawthorn on Essex

Geoffrey Hawthorn was one of the original lecturers in the department. He came around 1964 and left in 1970.

He has been interviewed for a video series of intellectuals interviewed by Alan Macfarlane and here he speaks a little about his time at Essex. You can find this at:

Starting at Essex was utterly terrifying; I was the first non-professorial appointment so I was on every committee to plan everything; the first year teaching, on the social structure of modern Britain, didn’t worry me very much because at LSE I had done some extra-mural teaching on the subject; I had taught in Brixton with West Indian immigrants; that was a good education for me because these people did not have an academic interest in the subject but wanted to know how Britain worked; there were four members of the sociology department at Essex – the Professor, Peter Townsend, Herminio  Martins, Paul Thompson, Ernest Rudd, and me; the department started a master’s course in the first year; the week before it started, Townsend came to me and said that Rudd wouldn’t teach the methods course, would I; I had been to a methods course at LSE which was wonderful, run by Claus Moser, Ernest Gellner and Ronald Dore; I had to teach it and can remember that first class; all these students had done social science as undergraduates so feared they knew more than I on the subject; it was fun until 1968 and the revolution when I found myself in the middle; I thought the University authorities were behaving obtusely in reaction to a student protest, and it was better managed elsewhere, such as Sussex; on the other hand the revolutionaries’ demands were ludicrous and fantastic; because I had the ear of both sides and was sympathetic to views on civil rights, Vietnam, but also to progressive forms of university governance; found myself having to chair meetings trying to bring the two sides together; also chaired meeting between students and the townspeople of Colchester; later in life I read something by David Daiches who was at Sussex in those years talking about their educational philosophy which was to concentrate on the modern world but not be subject to the tyranny of the present; I didn’t put it that way to myself at the time but realize that was exactly what I felt at Essex; it had decided to teach sociology, politics and economics, but not history or philosophy, or English literature; I thought that this was going too far, that the curriculum together with the force of these events of 1968 suggested that this place was subject to the tyranny of the present; I was also politically lonely and emotionally lonely; the Sociology Department was huge by then with twenty-eight people, twenty-seven of whom were married; I was getting rather fed-up with being introduced to people at dinner parties, and in fact I met my first wife in London when I was on leave from Essex; I decided to leave and come back to an older university; there were jobs in Oxford and Cambridge for which I applied; the Oxford interview was first, and the sociology job was tied to my old college; as I had made myself unpopular in the past there, I was told that all the University people had voted for me, all the College people against; was offered the job at Cambridge; the interview was in the Old Schools, February 1970; there was a power cut in the middle of the interview and candles were found for the rest of the interview; remember that Meyer Fortes was on the committee, asked most of the questions, but also answered them all himself; Leach gave the impression of being asleep then asked how I thought men were different from animals; the job was a university lectureship in sociology (statistics), to teach methods; I didn’t really want to do this but I wanted to get out of Essex; John Barnes very politely asked if I knew anything about statistics, which I said I didn’t; in the darkness I stumbled out of the room followed by an administrator who asked me how much I was being paid at Essex, and told me I was being grossly overpaid; I think in the darkness they must have made a mistake, but anyway I got the job

  1. Geoffrey Hawthorn ( 1964-1970:staff) « ESSEXSOCIOLOGYALUMNI

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