The 100th Blog entry: Annemarie Naylor M.B.E and ‘Common Futures’


Annemarie Naylor was a sociology student at Essex in the mid late 1990’s, gaining a distinction for her sociology degree. She went on for a while to study for a PhD, and became the manager and designer  of the sociology department’s first web site. After leaving Essex, she went on to community activism.

She writes about her work:

I am a Director of Common Futures, a modest new venture working with the public, private and third sectors to explore and kick at the boundaries of the community ownership landscape.

The ownership and management of land and buildings by communities for public benefit is nowadays a feature of neighbourhoods the length and breadth of the UK.

There is no shortage of ambition – with communities engaged and hard at work in socially conscious attempts to take control of an altogether bewildering range of assets. Likewise, the social enterprise sector and interest in social and impact investment is growing apace. However, technological advancements are transforming the operating context at break-neck speed. Increasingly, people expect super-fast broadband and 24/7 access to public services.

Government is investing to upgrade our digital infrastructure. It is implementing a digital-by-default approach to public service transformation. And, it is investing significant public funds in open and big data alongside cutting-edge technological innovation. But, there are potentially very serious ramifications for deprived communities – whether we’re talking about accessibility, affordability or confidence, knowledge and skills. Equally, there are concerns about the preparedness of the third sector and communities, more broadly, for the revolution that is already well underway. Nonetheless, there are also significant opportunities and considerable scope for socially conscious types to identify with the principles of openness and mutuality that underpin so much that is good about our ‘brave new world’. In fact, we can all get involved in developing our digital communities.

A handful of communities have made a start already – becoming ‘civic engineers’ and establishing themselves as community broadband pioneers. Elsewhere, the creative industries are flourishing, and a local manufacturing revolution borne of the hacker and maker movements is increasingly discernible, with social enterprises beginning to come to the fore. Still others have spotted the potential to begin developing digital services and internet enterprises to deliver social impact and improve their income generation prospects.

We’re here to advise the public sector as well as to help communities with all of that. If you’d like to know more, please take a look at our website and get in touch.


In January 2014, it was announced in the Queen’s Honour List that she had been awarded an MBE for her work.

Congratulations Annemarie!


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Damian WHITE (1995-2000): 101 on the roll call.




Damian WHITE (PhD 1995-2000). Taught Sociology at East London and Goldsmiths after Essex. Then headed off to the USA.

5 years at James Madison University in Virginia. Now in New England, Associate Professor of Sociology and Head of the Department of HIstory, Philosophy and Social Science at the Rhode Island School of Design.

He is the 101 entry on the ROLL CALL. Thanks Damian!

The next entry will be the 100th entry on the Blog will it come from  you?



A Note:

Damian White is a sociologist and political theorist with interests in urban and environmental sociology, historical sociology, political sociology, urban political ecology, critical theory, science and technology studies, the sociology of the future and the sociology of design and architecture. He has a BA (First Class) in Political Science and American Studies from the University of Keele, an M.Sc in Political Sociology and Political Theory from Birkbeck College, University of London and a Ph.D in Sociology from the University of Essex. He is the winner of the Edna Schaffer Humanist Award (2008) and the John.R.Frazier Award (2012) for excellence in teaching.

Damian has published three books to date: Bookchin – A Critical Appraisal (Pluto Press, UK/University of Michigan Press USA 2008), Technonatures: Environments, Technologies, Spaces and Places in the Twenty-First Century (Wilfred Laurier Press, 2009) and Autonomy, Solidarity, Possibility: The Colin Ward Reader (AK Press, 2011).

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Leonore Davidoff: An Obituary by Paul Thompson

Leonore Davidoff: An ObituaryLeonore3

by her life long colleague Paul Thompson 

Leonore Davidoff, who died on 19 October 2014 at the age of 82, is internationally recognised as a key pioneer of gender studies in history and sociology. Her book Family Fortunes (1987), written jointly with Catherine Hall, is a brilliant demonstration of the new insights which gender perspectives can yield.

Leonore was born in New York in 1932, but her later childhood was in New Canaan, a small Connecticut community of white Protestants in which a family of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe stood out, despite having become believers in science rather than religion. This was an early lesson in marginality.

Leonorre’s family were striking professional achievers. Her father became a New York surgeon, her brother and her older sister were also doctors, and her younger sister a museum director married to a psychologist. Leonore was the exception, seen in the family as a rebel because she did not want to become a doctor.

Leonore’s father’s father had been a Latvian shoemaker and ritual butcher and the family then lived in an earth-floored hut behind the butchery; and in New York he again set up a tiny cobbler’s shop. Leonore’s father himself started as a factory worker, but won the support of a manager who paid for him to go to medical school at Harvard – where he met Leonore’s mother. He went on to become a distinguished surgeon. However, as a child, Leonore never found him easy to talk to.

By contrast, her mother was a powerful model, touch and energetic, `a towering presence’ as Leonore put it, who had run the Hillel Society at college and hence met her father. She subsequently took motherhood very seriously, insisting that in 1939 they move the family home from New York to the small rural town of New Canaan in Connecticut. She joined the Child Study Association and its Book Committees, so she would get unpublished books, bring them home, and she write reviews on the basis of what the children said. She also became politically active, and worked for the League of Women Voters. Much later, having become increasingly frustrated by being defined simply as a wife, and did eventually break out, becoming a feminist as soon as the Women’s Movement started in around 1970. She started a programme for older women, and founded “Woman’s Place” in Connecticut. But even earlier, she passed on a form of feminist consciousness to Leonore, above all in her belief in the need for women to be well educated.

Music was part of the family culture and was one of Leonore’s lifelong enthusiasms. Rather than learning the piano, she took up the flute. At 17 she broke with the family’s scientific tradition by going to Oberlin College to read music. This proved an important step. She found herself part of a radical culture, living in co-operative housing. She soon switched from music to sociology and carried out her first research project, a community study of Greenbelt, Maryland. She met and became close to the future radical historian of slavery George Rawick. She said, ‘It was a very good experience, getting that far away from the family’.

At 21, partly to keep that family distance and partly because she then saw England as ‘the white hope of socialism’, she decided to go still further away for her graduate studies, to England. She went to LSE to take an MA. She found the social atmosphere ‘intimidating’, and there were few other women there. With David Glass as supervisor, she wrote a substantial thesis on married women’s employment. It was never published. At that time it was hard to related to mainstream sociological or historical thinking, to solve the theoretical issues, or to see where to take it. There was no Feminist Movement to relate to, and she could not see any future in it.

Meanwhile she had met David Lockwood, and in September 1954 they married and set up house together. Leonore worked briefly for Charles Madge on the very male culture of redundant car workers. But then with the births of their three sons from 1956, for some years she lost any research institutional basis and her life revolved almost wholly around her new family.

Theirs was a remarkable marriage. Unlike with so many sociological couples of the following generation, they remained together lifelong, for almost 60 years, with David dying only months before her. More surprisingly, they never took up the sharing of gender roles which became so common with younger colleagues. Except for an American element in Leonore’s cooking, they operated much more in the style of the traditional working class Yorkshire families of David’s childhood, with the mother seeing to the house, cleaning and cooking, and also providing emotional backing for her males. Leonore was a loyal wife and a devoted mother, raising sons who each became an educated professional: Ben an economist, Matthew in development studies and Harold in water management. Later she became close to her partners, Michaela, Sue and Kishti, and developed special relationships with her grandchildren.

Leonore cared deeply for David, handling his sadnesses, providing food for him – even later when she went away travelling. She admired him especially as a celebrated intellectual. But unlike several couples they knew – such as Joe and Olive Banks, or David and Ruth Glass – as a couple they did not form an intellectual partnership. David never found space for gender in his theoretical view of the world – as he put it, ‘That’s not something that’s been a central interest’ So Leonore once again had to create a space for herself as a researcher and intellectual independent of the family.

For several years this seemed a daunting task. They moved to Cambridge in 1961 when David was appointed to a Lectureship. The atmosphere was then hostile to sociology and Leonore was further marginalised as a faculty wife. She describes this as ‘a very difficult time’ in which ‘I was very very isolated’. Nevertheless, at this time she made some important friends – Jean and Frank Bechhofer, and the anthropologist Esther Goody – and through developing a connection with Lucy Cavendish College met some of the older generation of British academic women.

It was only in 1968, when David was appointed a professor in the booming new Department of Sociology at Essex, that she was able to find an understanding circle of colleagues and re-launch her academic career. Essex has always been a wonderful base’. The department from the start had included women staff (including briefly Diana Leonard) and was very quick to respond to the new interest in sexual divisions at the end of the 1960s. Leonore had devised a project on domestic servants and I was able to help her secure a Nuffield Foundation grant for this, so that she became a part-time research officer. She was to remain at Essex for the rest of her career, from 1975 as a lecturer and from 1991 as a Research Professor, and finally after retirement as Professor Emerita.

Leonore was interested in domestic service because it provided a link between work and the family, which was to be one of her continuing research teams. At the same time she was increasingly attracted by historical perspectives. Her enthusiasm fed by reading novels and visiting David’s Yorkshire. Initially while she was writing it was still difficult to find an understanding audience for her work, so she talks of explaining it to the dog on her walks. In her monograph from the project that became The Best Circles: Society, Etiquette and the Season (1973), she wrote to explain why the irrationalities of domestic service proved so long-lasting, and she came to see the explanation as symbolic – in that sense, `quite sociological’: a bridge between sociology and history.

However, by the early 1970s the situation was changing rapidly: partly through the History Workshops, the Women’s Movement had become translated into Women’s History, and from this point onwards there was always a keen audience for her work. Leonore became a feminist activist herself, running a Feminist History Group in London and helping to set up the Women’s Research and Resources Centre which became the Feminist Library – ‘That was a very exciting time’.

The change brought new opportunities at the university too. In 1973-4 she began teaching a course on `Sex Divisions in Society’ in the new MA in Social History, which soon evolved into a course on gender and social history. She and I taught the MA together for some twenty years. Leonore was a wonderful colleague, not only intellectually stimulating but also very caring of the students, a rigorous but generous commentator on their work, with a shrewd understanding of their difficulties. The MA proved particularly successful in attracting talented women students – including Catherine Hall. With many of them, Leonore remained a lasting inspiration, and with several she developed joint projects, helping their careers through co-editing and co-authoring. These include two books, Our Work, Our Lives, Our Words: Women’s History and Women’s Work (1986) with Belinda Westover, and The Family Story: Blood, Contract and Intimacy (1999) with Megan Doolittle, Janet Fink and Katherine Holden.

Her research at this time, mostly published in articles, included work on Arthur Munby relating to the servant theme, and a new perspective on the family, lodgers – again both inside and outside. Then in the late 1970s with Catherine Hall she launched into the fieldwork for Family Fortunes: Men and Women of the English Middle Class 1780-1850 (1987). It is founded on looking at the family relationships and businesses of middle class entrepreneurs in Birmingham and East Anglia, Catherine researching Birmingham and Leonore East Anglia. The outcome is a masterpiece, highly readable, interweaving gender and class perspectives, bridging public and private worlds, and alternating theoretical insights with fascinating local family detail. The book transformed understanding of 19th century Britain, showing how the gendered division of labour within families was the basis on which early capitalist enterprise was built. It is a classic which has received worldwide acclaim.

In her retirement years Leonore had time to run a local women’s book group and also a music group. But she continued to research and wrote wrote one last original book, published when she was almost 80. Once again, she looks at the family through a fresh lens, this time brothers and sisters. There is very little historical research on siblings. In Thicker than Water: Siblings and their Relations, 1780-1920 (2012) demonstrates how well-known 19th century families – with complex and subtle analyses of, for example, the Freuds and the Gladstones – used sibling relationships to build networks and so provide the capital and skills essential for the booming commercial expansion of the 19th century. \She also explores sibling intimacy and incest, and some famous brother-sister relationships, with both social and psychological insight. This is yet another pioneering book, whose significance is also likely to be recognised in time.

Leonore’s international influence came not only through her own writings but especially as an editor. She was founding editor of the international journal Gender and History for ten years from 1987. In contrast to rival women’s history journals, she encouraged male authors and articles on masculinity. She built an international network around the journal. She also played a key role in setting up the International Federation for Research in Women’s History, and herself held a series of international visiting professorships, especially in the United States, Scandinavia and Australia.

In short, Leonore Davidoff made an immense contribution to gender history and social history internationally, and a fundamental reshaping of how we think about the past. Many of those she inspired as students or colleagues or friends have become eminent in their turn. Throughout her life Leonore was a woman of imagination, courage – and beauty. But she remained herself personally very modest. We shall deeply miss her presence in our lives – her companionship, her shrewd observation, her subtle originality. At the same time we are thankful for a truly original intellectual life – which she herself greatly enjoyed: ‘So I’ve been, again, been in the right place at the right time, was very very lucky to be in touch with these people who were getting it off the ground. Very very exciting – difficult, hairy, but tremendously rewarding!’


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Leonore Davidoff (1932-2014)



Leonore Davidoff

1932 -2014

It is with very great sadness  we have learnt of the death of Lee Davidoff.

Leonore Davidoff died on 19th October at the age of 82. She came to Essex with David Lockwood in 1968, was appointed a research officer in 1969, became a lecturer in social history in 1975 and retired in the mid 1990’s. She maintained a long, continuous association with the sociology department through her retirement as a research professor. A few weeks before she died, she was made a Professor Emerita. Her contribution to the study and teaching of gender history was pathbreaking and pioneering; and her work has been recognised across the world. She was also a most loved and appreciated teacher and tutor, and her work has inspired  generations of students from around the world.

A funeral took place on November 3rd  and opened with this poem (which Lee had requested).

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.





The university held a celebration of Leonore’s  life at Wivenhoe House on November 3rd.

MIriam Glucksmann has written an obituary…..

Leonore was born in New York to Jewish immigrant parents from Eastern Europe, and originally studied music at Oberlin College (breaking with the family tradition of studying medicine) before switching to sociology. At 21 she left the United States to pursue graduate studies at the London School of Economics, writing her MA on `The Employment of Married Women’, a substantial 300 page dissertation by research. Her topic had not previously been studied, nor indeed been considered a serious field for research, but this prescient work broke new ground, signalling a first step in founding the new research field of women’s history.

At LSE also she met her husband, the sociologist David Lockwood (who died earlier this year), and moved with him first to Cambridge and then to Essex, while bringing up their three sons. Leonore was acutely aware of the marginalisation of ‘faculty wives’ at this time and the lack of seriousness accorded to the work of women academics, especially if they were wives or mothers. She greatly valued her membership, as Senior Fellow, of Lucy Cavendish College in Cambridge which had been expressly established by marginal women for mature women scholars who were otherwise ignored and isolated….

You can go to the SoES obituary page for more of this obituary and for links to this and the comments from friends.



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Brian Belton (MA Sociology 1987-8)

Brian Belton



I had been studying for my Masters degree at Essex for just a few weeks and was struggling with the idea of liberty. I concluded, straightforwardly, that liberty is, for the most part, associated with being able to ‘do’ something. It implies action. Anthony Burgess depicted Alex, in his book ‘A Clockwork Orange’, as someone who constantly ‘did’ (mostly bad) things and having his liberty taken away effectively stopped him doing these things.   To some extent, we see liberty as access, and rapid access, to doing stuff. As a society we expect our food to be fast, the light to come on when we flick a switch, the train to be on time – we do not expect to be kept waiting….at the bust stop, at the traffic lights or at the supermarket check out   We complain about the wait at the doctor’s surgery or the airport. It seems the biggest infringement on or everyday liberty is to be ‘kept waiting’.

However, this ‘intolerance’ doesn’t seem to be an innate human characteristic. In some non-western traditions it is not always present. For example, some Native American groups learned to take pleasure in waiting and keeping still as this was necessary when stalking game. Even within our own society people seem prepared or even enjoy waiting; watch practically any group of people fishing for instance.

Our inability as individuals and as a society to linger can be understood as a lack of freedom; we ‘just can’t wait’.   Those we work with as part of our practice often seem to demand immediate gratification or satisfaction. We talk about ‘offering opportunities’ or ‘fulfilling needs’ but this has to be done quickly, otherwise we lose attention. Our clients are taken as being likely to make off to locations that are not so tardy in serving up stimulation.

Logic would tell us that waiting is inherent in dialogical situations. I have to wait for you (or you have to wait for me) to finish speaking or even thinking before ‘I put my oar in’ if the dialogue is to be sustained over anything other than a minimal period. It’s perhaps surprising the number of times this does not happen in conversations wherein we are much more concerned about what we have to say than waiting for someone else to say what they want or need to say. We, as a society, appear to have a fear of waiting; we think of it as dead time. Generally it is thought of it as dead time. Waiting, for perhaps most of us, suggests inactivity. But waiting is not an inactive or dead process. At its best it encompasses expectancy and excitement, like waiting for Christmas or a first kiss.




I heard a swooping sound and saw a blur of dull cinnamon just before a set strong pinions whacked my head. I was under attack by a pair of great skewers. These birds have a 1.5 metre (five foot) wingspan and can have very nasty manners. As it dive bombs it utters its war cry; ‘Scare, scare, scare’. In more tender moments it may squat on its nest and sing ‘Woh, woh woh’, there is no sound in the entire avian kingdom more unlovely than the skewer’s affectionate ‘Wohers’ to its mate.

I am a celebrant of remote and outrageous places. I first experienced intimate contact with skewers on Foula Island in the Shetlands in 1987 not long after I had started my studies for a Masters degree at Essex. You probably haven’t heard of this place, few have. It’s the most remote inhabited Island in the United Kingdom. You won’t find it on some maps; it wasn’t on the official Shetland Islands tourist map 20 years ago.

In 1998 I wanted to go back to Foula because I was curious to see what had befallen the Island over the intervening years. But I had another reason; I have a perhaps irrational passion for islands that have fallen off the map.

I flew from Heathrow to Edinburgh, Edinburgh to Wick and Wick to Sunburgh. I took an epic £25 taxi ride from Sunburgh to Tingwall Airport, arriving just in the nick of time to catch my flight to Foula. I entered the waiting room of Tingwall Airport. It would appear to be a rather unassuming place; no bar to which you can retreat and have a pint whilst waiting for your flight, no computer monitors to indicate the status of that flight – it looks a bit like a doctor’s surgery, complete with the scales where the patient is weighed. There was a bit of luggage on the scales at that moment.

The waiting room, I confessed to myself, was austere though it had an unrushed, unhurried, pre-modern quality that I found somewhat appealing. It was the sort of place that seemed designed for waiting. Endlessly waiting; there was nothing there that would seem to indicate that travel was possible.

There was bad news for me; the flight for that day had been cancelled. 1 supposed that I could expect that sort of thing in that part of the world. I decided to spend the evening in the nearby town of Lerwick and try again the next day.

I had been walking around Lerwick, the capital of the Shetlands. I eventually found myself in the Thule bar. It seemed an appropriately named watering hole in which to take a pint. Foula, my destination, is reputed to be the ultimate Thule of legend; the last place in the world, before you fall off the edge and into the gapping mouths of sea monsters.

I looked around and there seemed to be about 35 people quaffing pints around me, just the same number of people who at the time lived on Foula. I’m drawn to places like that, maybe because I was born in the middle of a great big city; London. It is hard to get anymore ‘central’ than London. It is at the centre of a very recent Empire – the biggest the world has ever seen. It is a financial, communications and military centre. It is the link between Europe and America, the 2.5 billion people of the Commonwealth and the rest of the world.

Even as a child, I seemed to want to escape the middle. I would go to the far parameters of our back-yard and sit there and dream of remote places.

As I sipped my own pint and listened to the pop music on the duke box, I felt even more urgently to be on Foula…soon.

I arrived back at the airport the next morning. The flight for Foula was reputed to leave in ten minutes or so, but it didn’t look hopeful. There was this thick fog, like a dropped curtain on a play that was over. There was a bit of drizzle, a bit of mizzle, sort of archetypal North Atlantic weather.

Well, let me describe the airport itself.   Rather different to Heathrow or Gatwick. No concessions, no places to change money. Was there place to get something to eat, or buy a newspaper? Nope!   I look around me and all I see is a mixture of moor, fog, grassland, and occasional, worm-like, sinewy roads winding through it all like tributaries running down to a lack.

There’s an airstrip, with puddles of rain. Prospects don’t look very good.

An official suddenly appeared; “Right that’s it folks for this morning! In this kind of fog anyway, so that makes the decision that much easier. So I’m afraid it’s going to be this afternoon”.

I asked him what the forecast for the afternoon was, and if a word like ‘forecast’ had any meaning in that part of the world. “The forecast is for things to improve” he said. “The indications are that it should be getting better during the day”. I asked if this forecast was made by the same person who had yesterday forecast that it would be quite good that morning. The man laughed “Eh, Yes”. I commented that it was possible he had got it wrong again.

I tend in my daily life to be a complete, total, driven perfectionist. It makes me an uncomfortable person to have to live with. It makes me uncomfortable to myself at times. How does this relate to travel?   Do I tend to want to take perfect trips, to perfect destinations, and sit on perfect sands and have a perfect drink, with a perfect person, under a perfect palm tree? Not at all! Travel absolves me from having to be perfect. It frees me from this terrible burden that was bestowed upon me by well meaning parents.

Others make decisions and I can live with their imperfections in ways that I cannot live with my own. I don’t go to places that others consider perfect. I go to places that are likely to test the perfectionist urge of almost anyone. Places where things tend to go wrong as a matter of course, but when other people make mistakes I don’t find that intolerable; its life and I accept it and even rather like it.

Part of the joy of going to a place like Foula is not getting there. I don’t mean actually not getting there, but the difficulty in getting there. Nowadays, when a piece of corporate plastic can get you to the wilds of New Guinea, the depths of the Amazon (and I’m not talking the on-line book store) or the heart of the Arctic in almost less time than it takes me to finish this sentence (a sentence still going on by the way) going to Foula by air or sea is something that is going to be an imperfect event. The weather will definitely be a factor, it will remind you that however refined modern humanity’s mechanisms of transport are, however sophisticated our technology, that nature itself will have the final word.

I went out for a walk and on my return the waiting room appeared to have filled up a bit. I sit next to a woman, a fellow traveller. I ask her what she thinks about our chances of getting to Foula. She replies that she saw our chances of getting there that day to be pretty thin, she sees it as how life is in those islands. If you don’t get where you want to go today, you might make it tomorrow. She can see no reason to get upset about it; you have to see things that way because that is how it is. You just ‘sit on and hope’. She hopes that the pilot will look out of the window and think, ‘things don’t look too bad – we’ll go’. She said that it’s not like being in a town, champing at the bit for the bus to come, complaining that it was ‘late again’. For her, her island existence is a different world.

I commented that it suggested eternity – a kind of endless timelessness, the fact that nothing might happen. I said that it was almost Zen like, as if going to Foula and not going to Foula was almost the same thing; that the imagination and anticipation of being there, in the absence of actually going, has to constitute the trip.

She replies that when there were only boats, before you could fly to Foula that the Island could be cut off for weeks at a time. They just used to ‘sit on’ till the boat came. And it came eventually – like the plane would. I tell her that if I don’t see her on Foula I will definitely see her there, in the waiting room, later in the day. ‘Yes’ she replies. ‘And again tomorrow morning’, I quip. ‘And maybe tomorrow afternoon’ she retorts. ‘But they don’t work Sunday though…unless necessary’. She makes this last point in a rather disturbing matter of fact way. ‘Well’ I went on, ‘there’s next Monday then. As they don’t work Sunday we can talk about what we did on Sunday, apart from waiting in the waiting room’. ‘True’ she giggled.

While waiting for the pilot’s next report I wandered over to West Voe and back again. There I was, yet again at the Tingwall airport, on the Shetland mainland, waiting in the fog, the mist, the mizzle, the occasional rain, for the plane to take off and go to Foula.

I see the pilot and stroll over to talk to him:

“What’s the prognosis now about travel to Foula” I inquire.

“Well, I regret to say that perhaps I’ve been suckered, looking at down weather. It seemed things were getting a bit better. Looking into the weather now things are certainly worse than before.

“Maybe you’d like to go to the North-East where things appear to be clearer – somewhere other than Foula? I don’t know; I’m still hoping that things will lift. In this part of the world, until you actually see the clearance, you can’t be sure.

“Unfortunately, it’s just frustrating for you and me that we can’t, actually, get airborne at the moment”.

I ask him how he decides when the weather was good enough to fly in. He tells me he rings round the islands and speaks to the locals. They give him an idea of what the weather is like. It isn’t quite people going out looking at their washing, but it’s almost like that as far as the outer islands are concerned. But what folk say is fairly accurate. He says that his decisions are often based on “Unofficial observations.”   I’m not comforted.

Once again I’d been unable to fly to Foula. For some reason, this gave me a powerful thirst. I went back to Lerwick to enjoy a few more pints. The lounge of the pub made a lively scene. A veritable cross section of Shetlanders; young and old – people long in the tooth, people with no teeth. The fog of cigarette smoke lingered in the air; it was every bit as thick as the fog that shrouded Tingwall and presumably Foula. Such were bars of that sort in the days before the ‘no-smoking’ legislation kicked-in. But the traditional Shetland music seemed to dispel this fog and I saw clear blue sky and I felt certain that I would be airborne soon.

While I was waiting to find out if there was going to be a flight I thought about how I tend to be a relentlessly backward person. At that time I didn’t own a microwave or a mobile phone. Unlike most men I meet, I’m not interested in how cars work, sound systems or the intricacies of computers. This seems to link with my passion for remote islands.


images-3Eleven years previously I had been dropped off on Mingulay, a hilly rock of an Island in the Outer Hebrides, by an old Lobster fisherman named Hector.

Mingulay had been wholly devoid of people since 1908. So we went there and Hector said that he would pick me up at six o’clock. I had a Cadbury’s chocolate bar, and some fags (this was during a relatively short period when I had taken up smoking after years of abstinence) and I spent the day drifting around. It’s a very high Island. It has very high sea cliffs, about 700 feet.

At six o’clock I returned to a small prow of a rock and I waited for Hector. Six o’clock, seven o’clock, eight o’clock, nine o’clock; no Hector.

I started to worry a little and at the same time I convinced myself that he had said six o’clock the following morning. So I spent the night there. Six a.m. I sort of jerked awake – 7 a.m., 8 a.m., 9 a.m.; No Hector.

I was alone on this island, about two by three miles.   I wandered about for the rest of the day, but never went terribly far from the place where I had been dropped off, because I was convinced that Hector’s boat would appear at any moment. Meanwhile, I was developing rather severe hunger.

The afternoon progressed and at 6 p.m. I went to the rock where I had been dropped off. Thinking well, maybe, in fact, he had meant 6 p.m the following day; 6pm, 7pm, 8pm – still no Hector. By now I felt as if my body was starting to feed off its own inner organs. I was very worried that I had been marooned on this island. It goes back to your childhood. You’re left somewhere by your parents, or you get detached from them. You don’t know if they’ll ever come back. It’s that fear that the world has just left you and you’ll never be found again – this is the fear of waiting. That’s what I was feeling.

I was still casting glances at the place where I expected the boat to be, but I wasn’t hanging out there. Mingulay has been completely taken over by birds. I was now panicky and constantly fearful of having been abandoned in this remote place, for the rest of my life; that I didn’t think might be very long at that point.

Days went by until, early in the morning, I suddenly heard and I believe I also smelled, a primitive diesel engine approaching Mingulay.

It wasn’t Hector in the boat however, it was his nephew. Hector had gone back to West Barra (a bigger Island not far off with the massive population of around 700); he’d had a stroke. He had been removed to the hospital on South Uist and he had been more or less in a coma for days. When he awoke he said, “I’ve left a man on Mingulay!”

The Rocky Isle’

I got my Taxi to Tingwall airport. When I tell the driver I’m headed for Foula he tells me that it’s a place he’d never been, even, though he has spent his entire life in the Shetlands. He calls it ‘The Rocky Isle’. I ask him if he thought the plane would fly. He says ‘keep your fingers crossed’.

The pilot spoke to someone called Ken on the phone. I heard the pilot say ‘It’s gone out again then. Okay. That makes the decision that much easier. It’s got a little bit better than when I spoke to you a little bit earlier, but it’s still not a lot of good here. So, we’ll call it off for this morning then. If you can keep an eye on things and let us know when things get better. Thanks, bye-bye’.

He turned to me and said, ‘I’m afraid that’s it.’

It had been relatively easy for me to visit Foula in 1987. I just climbed aboard the plane and off I went. This time travelling there proved completely impossible. The Island seemed to have cut itself off from me, or the world, or both me and the world. Of course, I was disappointed not to have returned to Foula, but perhaps it is just presumptuous of me to think I can merely hop over to Britain’s most isolated inhabited island whenever I choose to do so. But I’m consoled by the thought that one of the purposes of travel is to avoid your destination at all costs. Once you’re there, you’re there and you’ll never be permitted that long baited breath of anticipation again.   And in not getting to Foula I’d seen some perfectly splendid fog, some perfectly splendid cloud cover too. And felt the wind against my skin so often that I dare say that I’d become friends with it. Perhaps I’ll try again next year.   I’ll have to wait and see.

Waiting softly

To wait, softly, gently, like the woman I met in the airport at Tingwall, is a manifestation of liberty. She was free from the torture of waiting; she had found something in it; an acceptance of what was liberation in an embracing of what was offered by the wait.

Waiting is a window in time out of which one can take the opportunity to look over the world. We can be trapped in time, in our waiting for the lights to change or the next TV programme to come on, or in my case waiting for the I-player to ‘unfreeze’. Or we can be in the world, the reality that exists outside of our manufactured time.

To wait with someone is to be active. Maybe I am most with someone when I wait with them. We share our expectancy, the adventure of the future, from the comfort of the present. In our waiting we look out to the very horizon of consciousness and we are joined in that relief from the unforgiving moment; those who ‘just cannot wait’ are sublimely ‘unfree’.

It may be true that all is lost to those that wait, but ‘fools rush in where angels dare to tread’; the ‘all’ that the angel looses may well be acquired by the fool, but the fool will never know that what they have gained may have meant the loss of just a little bit of their soul.

‘Patience is a virtue’; ‘everything comes to those who wait.’ Everything worthwhile maybe? While I waited on Mingulay I was most acutely aware of being alive and wanting to stay alive. My wait then helps me see the folly of worry about money or cleaning my car.   You see, waiting can be a gateway to freedom. Without waiting life is linked up with meaningless ‘doing’; trudging from one thing to another – never actually stopping – perhaps that’s why so many of us have trouble sleeping, or staying asleep for too long.


The place without the chance to wait is a desert of a world, with no seas, no islands, just the blandness of immediacy. We are never hungry, never thirsty, we are constantly sated. Irritations are scratched before they itch; there is no play and no foreplay. We know not what it is to be teased or tantalised, our mouth never waters. Desire is replaced by having and thus we are deprived of the satisfaction that is only had through, after, as a consequence of the act of waiting.

We, as a society are locked in prisons of ‘having’. The guards are those who seek to ‘meet our needs’. The social worker, the health worker, who can make the judgement to act maybe needs also to exercise the judgement to stand-off from time to time; not wait forever, but at least until the other person finishes what they have to say or what they want or need to do.

I often wonder if we can and do ‘help’ too much. In the last seconds of the 1969 film ‘They Shoot Horses Don’t They’ there’s an exchange between one of the main characters and a police officer:

Policeman:   Why’d you do it, kid?

Robert: Because she asked me to.

Policeman:   Obliging bastard…


Sometimes, I feel a bit like what that policeman called Robert and that waiting is the means to dialogue.


Burgess, A. (1962) A Clockwork Orange, London: Heinemann

Further reading:

McCoy, H. (1940 They Shoot Horses Don’t They, London: Wells, Gardner, Darton & Co Ltd

Film of the book (DVD) 2008, Fremantle Home Entertainment; Dir Sydney Pollack


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Here are some of the unsolicited REVIEWS since the publication of IMAGINATIONS:

Thank you for giving us this precious gift. Leonore Davidoff … Absolutely blown away by the book! A really wonderful achievement. The photographs are especially wonderful! Sean Nixon… It is a fitting celebration of a departmental jewel in the Essex crown. Anthony Forster…What a splendid achievement! I have only so far had the opportunity to read here and there, but enough to know how rewarding it is going to be to work through it. Alasdair MacIntyre… It looks great and will be a lasting memory of the department. Sue Aylott …Will be a landmark book in the history of the University. David Lane … It is truly a major compilation. Peter Abell… It is BRILLIANT. It is so well produced and the pics are wonderful. Miriam Glucksmann… I think the book is splendid! It’s Wonderfully designed and full of fascinating reflections on a department I am proud to have been a member of. David Rose… Congratulations once again for the book. It is a reflection of your passion for sociology and sociology at Essex but also a contribution to wider sociological discussions! Carlos Gigoux… Congratulations on producing an excellent volume that brings back very many and all sorts of memories as well as posing many questions – especially where are they now? Adrian Sinfield…The book is splendid. Anthony Woodiwiss … Even though I had high expectations of the book, it really is a triumph, a fantastic thing… and I have barely dipped into it. It really is a thing of beauty. Rowena Macaulay…The book looks great. It is a pretty comprehensive view of ‘the department’, and is really impressive because it’s so unique. Colin Samson … I’ve been thinking about the Essex Sociology 50 Years book, and marveling that you’ve managed to put it together. I’m so pleased it exists, and I’m sure there are so many other people who feel exactly the same. Rob Stones

Copies are best ordered through

The Wivenhoe Bookshop by phone 01026 824050; by e mail; or web site:

Directly from Ken Plummer through

Or Waterstones, the Essex University Bookshop by phone: 01206 864773  or email: essexuni@waterstones. com

Publication price: £25.00

With post and packing in UK £30.00  Overseas will have to add extra.

ISBN: 9780957085046; 208pp, 50 contributors.

It can also be ordered though Amazon but they will, as we know, effectively take all the money!

And here is A CONTENTS GUIDE to the book

CONTENTS: Introduction: Ken Plummer 1. Contexts – Creating Essex Sociology-A Timeline of Memorable Moments Peter Townsend’s Founding Vision – Transforming Visions for a Twenty First Century. 2. Formations The Early History: Joan Busfield: Remembering Early Days – Adrian Sinfield: The Challenge of Social Policy – Geoffrey Hawthorn; A New Lecturer’s View – Christel Lane: A Student’s View: Undergraduate Study During The University’s Early Years: 1968–1972 – David Bouchier: From Student to Staff: David Bouchier (1968–1986)- Making Troubles – David Lane:1968 – Michael Mann: Troubles of 1974- Judith Okely: The 1989 Czech ‘Velvet Revolution’ As Experienced At Essex 3. Wisdoms Imagining Social Justice: Creating Better Social Worlds For All Introduction.- Michael Harloe: On Peter Townsend’s Poverty – Stan Cohen: Remembering Harold Wolpe – Lydia Morris: Human Rights – Michael Bailey: Public Activism Research Imaginations: Creating Multiple Methods For Sociology Introduction: Unlimited Research – Peter Abell: Whatever Happened to Mathematical Sociology? – David Rose: The Origins of The Institute for Economic and Social Research ISER – Heather Laurie: ISER: So What Happened Next?- Louise Corti: The Creation of Qualidata Mark Harvey: Centre for Economic and Social Innovation Comparative Imaginations: Building An International Sociology Introduction. Alison Scott: On the School of Comparative Studies -Ayse Güveli: The Gains and Changes of Migration- Interdisciplinary Imaginations: Broadening The Scope of Sociology Alasdair MacIntyre: Philosophy in the Sociological Conversation 1960−1970 – Michael Roper: Social and Gender History Ken Plummer: Making the Person Matter – Karl Figlio: The Creation of the Centre for Pychoanalytic Studies – Eamonn Carrabine: Imagining Crime – Sean Nixon: The Moment of Cultural Studies – Michael Halewood: Theory in the Department – Colin Samson: Sociology, Neoliberalism and the Struggle to Keep the Interdisciplinary Spirit Alive 4. Communities Remembering Communities John Scott: Coming Home – Rob Stones: The 1990s in the Essex Sociology Department: A Personal Point of View- Mary McIntosh says goodbye Miriam Glucksmann: Remembering the 1990s – Building The Educational Community: The Great Sociological Conversation Rowena Macaulay: Twenty Years of Departmental Support: The Student Resource Centre – The Office Community Mary Girling & Paul Thompson: Reflections of a Departmental Secretary – The Global Community From South Africa: From Hong Kong: From India – The Web Site Community The Long Community Nigel South 5. Futures Looking Ahead Voices: Professors Voices: Former students- Refelctions: Telling stories of Essex Sociology- Epilogue And Reprise: The Last Refuge – Suggestions for Further Reading – Index Focus Boxes: The heads of department -The Vice-Chancellors -The expansion and transformations of Essex- Profile of an early student – The professors – Social class and David Lockwood – Seeking gender justice – feminism in sociology – A red-green revolution? – Moments of oral history at Essex: From Gay Liberation to “Sexualities” and Intimate Citizenship- Focus on Essex’s Legacy: Some Fifty or so research areas and their books – Evaluating the quality of research – Some of the most cited books in the department – Focus On Public Lecture Series: The Fuller Lectures – Focus on Dennis Marsden – Honorary degrees – Consolidating the canon: The textbook tradition at Essex – Student numbers at Essex – Focus on the Rise of Teaching Assistants – Focus on the Essex newsletters and journals: The reading and writing community – Managing the department: The Secretaries – Paul Thompson remembers Brenda Corti- More stories of Essex Sociology- Focus on Essex’s Legacy: Some Fifty or so books published by graduates and researchers – Focus on Essex’s Legacy: Some Fifty or so graduates and researchers who became ‘Essex’ Professors – Sociology in the Media: Pam Cox- Handing our stories on.

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The Old Staff Reunion: Dedham Boat House: September 12th

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The Launching of Imaginations: Fifty Years of Essex Sociology Wivenhoe September 5th

Over the past couple of weeks the book has been launched at the

Wivenhoe Sneak Preview

The Staff Reunion Lunch at the Dedham Boat House

and the Homecoming Weekend 50th Anniversary

Here are a few images of the Wivenhoe Launch



IMWivlaunch2 IMWivlaunch1 IMwivlaunch3 IMwivlaunch7 IMwivlaunch6



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Katsuhiro Harada


HaradaCongratulations to the 50th Anniversary of the Sociology Department of the ESSEX UNIVERSITY!!!!

Knowing about this marvellous celebration, I have called my nostalgic memories,with deep gratitude,of those days staying from 1983 to1984 in the Department where I had many chance to enjoy happy,friendly relations with you and your faculty members.

I really hope the Sociology Department has more brilliant future in the next 50th years.

I have already retired from the University, and now I am mainly writing onthe family life story of my maternal historical lineage which go back in the17century(Edo feudal age)when the ancestor was a head of a fisherman’sCo-operative.

I am always walking nearby around, sometimes flying a kite on the seashore, and not in bad health at present.

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Paul Howell, BA 1998

Anne-Marie, Johanna and Paul (just after our finals in 1998)

Anne-Marie, Johanna and Paul (just after our finals in 1998)

With my hand on my heart I can say 100 per cent that those three years (1995-1998) spent at Essex University were the best of my life. I continually reminisce about them.

Prior to Essex, I had been an anxious, withdrawn and rather isolated teenager. I had grown up in Bexhill-on-Sea (a small seaside town on the South East Coast of England) knowing I was gay and to say I was not at all comfortable in my own skin is a definite understatement.

Entering the welcoming Sociology Department in October 1995 – complete with its rainbow flag – was a major awakening for me. And what a journey I was about to embark upon! I didn’t work as hard as I should have but the openness of the department, its inspiring academics (many of whom “out and proud”) and the tolerance which was abounding did so much for me personally. I made some amazing friends, with whom I am still in contact  almost twenty years later (Anne-Marie Kowacs, Susie Scott, Viki Grainger, Johanna Brophy, Loretta El Sadat, Daniel Harris, Agnes Skamballis, Michael Chittenden…). Often I wonder what happened to those acquaintances I met throughout the duration of the course (I’d love to hear from anyone who remembers me!). Everyone was just so upbeat, enthusiastic, friendly and kind. There was a real camaraderie between us all and we were all interested in each other’s welfare. There was never a feeling of competition.

I could go on and on about my very happy memories. I look back with particular fondness on those first term core course lectures conducted by legendary Professor Ken Plummer – especially the last one just before Christmas in 1995. Ken put up a slide on the projector and to our amusement Father Christmas hats were drawn on to the heads of Marx, Weber and Durkheim! I am sure they would have approved! Well, maybe…! This lecture was rounded off with a clip from “It’s A Wonderful Life”!  It certainly set me up for the Christmas holidays! I also had a superb first year core course tutor in Jean Duncombe who was encouraging and good fun. Those Friday morning 9am classes were a joy to attend. As were those second year core course classes taken by the lovely Rob Stones. I was also taught by a lot of student tutors and it’s great that many of them, then starting their careers, are now established Sociologists.

During my three years I was a Resource Room volunteer (so much hilarity took place in that small room and what a delight Helen Hannick was with her endless encouragement!), I attended all the Sociology parties (!!) and the quiz nights. I helped out on the stall at the Freshers’ Fayres in 1996 and 1997. I also took part in helping the department raise money for the Women’s Refuge in Colchester and, in early 1997, participated in Project Sigma. I was also a brief member of Viki Grainger’s Feminist Action Group, which took place weekly in the Resource Room, ending up with quite a few members.

Just before the summer vacation of 1996, Ken Plummer introduced me to the work of novelist Edmund White. I was dreading a return to my seaside town. Yes, I was excited about seeing my family, but I was going to miss my new-found friends. I dived into Edmund White’s “A Boy’s Own Story” and, some ten years later, I was lucky enough to go out to lunch with this author following an event at the Edinburgh Book Festival. I raised a thankful glass to Ken!

Even though there was a lot of serious work being conducted by those very eminent, pioneering and busy Sociologists with research findings “hot off the press”, the department was never short on laughs and it didn’t take itself too seriously. I mean, what other academic department would hold an evening debate on whether or not the Spice Girls were the “new” feminists?! Sadly I can’t remember now what the overall consensus was. But I do remember that the debate got quite heated!

Another fond memory is of the late Mary McIntosh, on the point of retirement, selling many of her books on a big trestle table in the centre of the Reading Room. Despite being a high profile Sociologist, she was humble and very generous.

What I found particularly inspiring was coming across those Sociologists I had encountered in text books while doing my Sociology GCSE and A Level.

There was always support on hand in the department – from the academic staff right down to those who worked in the office, such as Brenda Corti, Mary Girling, and Diane and Sue. You were made to feel welcome – and I did feel completely at home. It really was a breath of fresh air and a safe haven. I had never had as much fun as I did at Essex. If you like quirky people and eccentrics, then you are never to be disappointed studying Sociology at Essex University! It was a very liberal, nurturing and understanding environment.

After my degree I trained as a journalist and later, on a whim, I moved up to Edinburgh, getting a job in the civil service. While in Scotland I was constantly reminded that I was English and naturally certain theories from Sociology lectures came flooding back to me…!

Leaving Essex upon graduation in 1998 was a real wrench and it took me a long time to adjust to post-university life. Even now I can’t think about the experience without getting misty-eyed. Without a doubt I would gladly do it all again. Even better would be to do it all again knowing what I know now! I would say that as well as passing on valuable academic skills and very relevant insights, the department helped us to develop a sense of self and to be the best we possibly could for both society – and for ourselves.

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