Posts Tagged social theory

The Critical Realism ‘moment’ in Essex Sociology

0485006170 The Critical Realism Research Group and Seminar Series emerged gradually in the Winter Term of 1997. It came into existence for the usual reason such theory oriented academic groups do: a number of Ph.D students took note of their academic discipline’s increasing interest in a relatively new academic discourse/theorist /intellectual fashion and they decided they needed to know more about it.  This group of Essex Ph.D students already knew all about the varieties of poststructuralist and postmodernist theory but had thus far only caught the scent of Critical Realism (CR). They knew the main figure in the movement was Roy Bhaskar but had found the difficulty of his writing rather daunting and wanted help. Critical Realism was primarily a development in the philosophy of social science and they were aware that a few of the Essex Sociology department professors were experts in this field. One in particular, Ted Benton, was quite connected to the Critical Realism movement and very knowledgeable about it. Garry Potter, one of the co-authors of this piece and a contract tutor in the department at the time, was also known to be very interested in Critical Realism, so they were approached and asked if they could give a tutorial/lecture/seminar on the subject.  Both of them did, pretty much just outlining the basic tenets of the subject and the debates around which Critical Realism was still in the process of emerging from. This could have simply been the end but for four equally important and mutually reinforcing factors.

These initial seminars had whetted people’s appetite rather than satiating their interest; the students became aware that other lecturers in the department had their own levels of knowledge about and points of agreement/disagreement about CR; it seemed to the Ph.D students quite possible that CR could be used in someway to help frame their own Ph.D research; and last but not least, the group of people who came to these first events found that they got on with one another socially quite well. The research and discussion group was to some extent a drinking and socializing group as well.

The Critical Realism Group was not in any way a line up of disciples of Roy Bhaskar or people who self-identified with the CR label. Indeed, most did not. Critical Realism is primarily a meta-theoretical perspective and the discussions tended to focus upon ontology and epistemology; but many brought to the table their own particular theoretical perspectives. Rob Stones, for example, explained to us his own theory of “past modernism”.

Tony Woodiwiss produced one of the most interesting theoretical moments of our CR Group. He argued his quite unflinching structuralist position: covering Saussure, Durkheim, Althusser and Foucault. Roy Bhaskar’s Critical Realism evolved out of the natural science realism of Rom Harré, with Harré arguing for the existence of natural structures but not social ones. Harré argued that the latter were a purely discursive phenomenon existentially dependent upon people and having no real existence of their own, holding a position (somewhat) similar to that of Weber. Bhaskar propounded an argument for the reality of social structures as well. Tony Woodiwiss took this on board and then some under the rubric of his ordinary as opposed to critical realism. His steadfast refusal to accept any distinction between the ontological status of natural structures and social structures, in the context of a lengthy debate with Ted Benton concerning Lacan’s proposition that “theory thinks us”, managed to shock many.

A different kind of shock was produced by Ph.D student Fethi Açikel when in a discussion he casually referred to Marx’s eleventh thesis; we were shocked at our own ignorance because none of us knew what it was. . . until he told us that it was actually inscribed upon his tomb in Highgate Cemetery: “hitherto philosophers have only tried to interpret the world; the point is to change it”.

A different kind of “moment’’ occurred when Roy Bhaskar came to Essex to debate Ernesto Laclau. The latter’s Center for Theoretical Studies in the Humanities and Social Sciences had both a longer and more institutionalized moment at Essex. The debate seemed to pit not only Bhaskar against Laclau but also two armies of Ph.D students against one another. We (almost) all agreed that ‘we’ won.

Finally, the three most academically significant things that came out of the Critical Realism Group were the following. First, the 2nd annual Critical Realism Conference – After Postmodernism: Critical Realism? – took place at Essex in the fall of 1998 (organized by Garry Potter and José López the co-authors of this piece) during which both the International Association of Critical Realists and the journal The Journal of Critical Realism were born. Both still thrive today.

Secondly, the book After Postmodernism: an Introduction to Critical Realism  (López and Potter eds.) came out of this conference. Many Essex people both lecturers and students gave papers at the conference and/or wrote chapters for this volume including John Scott, Ian Craib, Ted Benton, Tony Woodiwiss, Rob Stones, Pam Highham and David Ford.

Thirdly and probably most importantly, while as said earlier, certainly not all the students in this group felt they were card carrying Critical Realists or produced Ph.Ds explicitly framed by this school of thought, the philosophical discussions and related readings very likely directly or indirectly found their way into the work of all of them: Andrea Zhouri, Pam Highham, David Ford, Damian White, Fethi Açikel, Leslie Cooper, Oonagh Corrigan, Tabitha Freeman and José López, to name just a few.


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Derrick Swartz (1989-1995, MA, PhD): Fractured Reminiscences of a South African at Essex University

Professor Derrick Swartz (1989-1995, MA, PhD) It was some 25 years ago when I first – and per chance – encountered Essex University. Then the world was markedly different from the one we live in today. Margaret Thatcher was still in power. PW Botha defiantly ruled apartheid South Africa with an iron fist, and Nelson Mandela, a political prisoner. The Berlin Wall still divided that great city, and the Soviet Union was in early stages of internal collapse. We were students at only the rocky start of Windows-based personal computing, and the Internet still only in the making. Of course the cell phone and email revolution had not yet taken off, and most of us remembering writing long letters by hand. Most of this has changed of course. We live in a vastly different world – free of apartheid, Thatcher, Reagan, but not free from new divisions and persistent old social inequalities. And we have also aged a lot since then!

Before then, I hardly knew anything about the University of Essex. My association with Essex was in fact first facilitated by wise counsel from Norman Levy, already then a veteran exiled South African activist, and academic, when I arrived in the UK in 1988 to face an uncertain life in exile: ‘trust me, the struggle will take some time; in the meantime, arm yourself with a good education; go and see Harold Wolpe”.

It was Harold Wolpe (Reader in Sociology 1975-1994) who first provoked and indeed, enchanted me with the explanatory possibilities offered by progressive sociology in thinking about (and indeed, re-thinking) many assumptions I have held about the political and social world. Up to that point, the mystique of ‘the struggle’ (against apartheid) had come to shape one’s thinking about the world in rather narrow and instrumentalist terms, and of course, at the time, the idea of graduate studies (at a time of war) seemed (pardon the pun) rather ‘academic’. Essex, and significantly, Harold, influenced me to step back (but not retreat) from the real politics of the anti-apartheid struggle, to think more deeply and systematically about its systemic features, links to global capitalism, and the difficult challenges facing a future democratic state in South Africa.

Thinking back about this amazing period in my life, I do remember mixed feelings when I first arrived at Essex – certainly, a sense of excitement and anticipation: graduate studies, new place, country, new people, and potentially new, if somewhat uncertain future. At the same time, one was also traumatized by events raging in South Africa, loss of dear comrades, feelings of alienation and, I guess, even a measure of guilt at the privileged of being able to study abroad whilst so much pain was being experienced back home. The weather wasn’t exactly welcoming, and in the rain, I recall thinking as I was seeing the rather austere, grey square buildings through the bus window, of how much it reminded me of a notorious South African police detention centre!

But all this gained a new perspective as I first walked into the Sociology Department – an immediate sense of warmth, of welcome and openness, things happening, buzzing corridors, fresh coffee smells, lively and busy notice-boards, competent and approachable departmental secretaries and administrators (who can forget the inimitable Brenda Corti or the industrious Mary Girling!); the hordes of students from all of the world, and academics – Ted Benton, studious and soft-spoken; Ken Plummer, effervescent and welcoming; Maxine Molyneux, sharp and meticulous; Tony Woodiwiss, Rob Stones, Joan Busfield, Miriam Glucksmann, Robin Blackburn, Harold and many others whose books and papers I subsequently got to read and struggle with.

I found Sociology so amazingly alive at the time – even though some of the senior academics often reminisced about its ‘golden years’ around the late 1960’s and early seventies – when radical intellectual traditions had swept Essex, like so many universities across the UK, influenced in a large measure by ‘1968’ Paris, the war in Vietnam and rising tide of anti-colonial struggles. Nevertheless, Essex in the eighties was certainly no conservative outpost. Although one could then see the beginnings of new higher education policy under Thatcherism, Essex held out quite a robust, critical set of academic traditions. I found Sociology at Essex something of an epiphany – certainly vastly different from that taught when I was an undergraduate student in apartheid South Africa in the late 1970’s – uncompromisingly critical, independent, theory-led, multi-disciplinary in its reach, and offering potentially powerful explanatory tools for pressing problems facing the world.

The Masters programme into which I enrolled in 1989 was hugely stimulating, and as it turned out, an entrée into a Ph.D programme under supervision of Harold Wolpe, and after his return to SA following the release of Nelson Mandela, the able and generous-spirited Tony Woodiwiss. Those years at Essex opened up a whole new universe – of ideas, rich and deep in texture, provocative in posture, sweeping in promise, and in many instances a series of catalysts, swinging me from one exotic planet of ideas to another on the gravity of their power. I found myself reaching beyond more familiar, and dare I say, reassuring, realms of developmental sociology, state theory and critiques of capitalist economic theory and began new and exciting forays into radical feminism, gender studies, post-structuralism, ecological sociology, and philosophy of science. I particularly enjoyed the inter-disciplinary seminar series platforms, not only in Sociology, but also, Government and Politics, most notably, a long-running series initiated by Ernesto Laclau which brought luminous figures such as Derrida, Samir Amin, Stuart Hall, Ettiene Balibar, Chantal Mouffe and many others into the seminar room.

Essex was also a diverse hub, bringing students from all over the developing world – from Nicaragua, Chile, Egypt, Turkey, Poland, Tanzania, Kenya, Grenada, to Palestine and Eritrea. It created the conditions for sharing, exchanging and debating ideas with students from different political traditions. Although a mature student at the time, I rather liked the sometimes random, carefree and idealistic nature of student life. I admired the idealism of many Essex students, who insisted that radical change is not only necessary, but possible; that the culture of greed associated with neo-liberal materialism cannot constitute a stable basis for sustainability; and that democratic action ‘from below’ can bring about profound changes in a highly unequal world.

Essex University itself took an early lead among UK universities in the campaign to isolate the apartheid state and its apologists, and in the successful disinvestment campaign. The student movement, including the Essex Student Union, played a key role in the Release Mandela campaign, even establishing a campus bursary fund in support of South African students. All these efforts, combined with the efforts of millions of others across the world, undoubtedly added to the cumulative pressures that eventually led to the collapse of the apartheid system towards the end of the 1990’s. Democratic South Africa owes a great deal to the efforts by countless numbers of students and staff at Essex University.

Of course, not everything about Essex university life was serious and political per se. I do remember its vibrant student social life, not least the busy pub – on most weekends, hot, noisy, smoke filled, with copious amounts of cheap lager making the rounds. I still have fond memories of the beautiful greens, scenic lake, and fields of Wivenhoe that provided the setting for long walks in between lectures. The privilege one had of being able to study there certainly restored a sense of balance and perspective on the things that, in the end, really matter most in life.

I do have the fondest memories of Essex University, and can honestly say it had an enduring impact on my life. Those years not only gave greater intellectual clarity to one’s understanding of the politics of anti-apartheid struggles, but also spawned a deep interests in pursuing a university career in South Africa after the fall of apartheid. Essex literally made me fall in love with university life, and the power of ideas to change the world.

As Essex gears up to celebrate 50 years of existence, it can truly be proud of a truly extraordinary legacy in serving not only several generations of UK students and through its research and engagement work, in improving the quality of life in Britain, but also, many parts of the developing world through critical scholarship of its foreign graduates. I regard the quality of scholarship at Essex as second to none. It has certainly has had a deep resonance in work one has been attempting to transform the role of South African universities in the post-apartheid years in the wider quest for genuine social and economic transformation in South African society.

Professor Derrick Swartz is now Vice Chancellor of  Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, South Africa.

Derrick was awarded an honorary degree by Essex University and you can find this and the oration at Derrick Swartz, Essex

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Garry Potter (1983-2006, PhD) : The Pedagogy of the Oppressed*

Garry Potter (1983-2006)Back in the 1990s I was an angry man, a bitter man, in what at the time was a somewhat unusual relationship to the department. Many, if not most, tutorials were done by Ph.D students; few at that time were done by people like myself who already had Ph.Ds. There were some; but it was not anywhere close to the present situation where my university and department Wilfrid Laurier University rely upon academic casual labour for over one third of all their teaching. Some Canadian universities employ a higher percentage  of “sessionals” than do others; but one third of all teaching is around the national average.

“Casual labour”, that is the concept that would mark the moment in Essex Sociology for which I might be remembered. I wrote and circulated to all faculty and grad students a departing epistle: “Casual Labour: a Few Farewell Remarks from the Department’s Nigger”. I complained about injustice; I attacked polemically members of the faculty; I named with the attempt to shame. I was, as said before, an angry man.

I am, of course, no longer angry; and I look back upon my time at Essex with very great fondness. In addition to teaching there for many years, I also did my Ph.D there. I was around for quite a long time. I learned an awful lot! I had a lot of fun! Many people were very good to me and I have many lasting friendships from the time.

I am now on the other side of the fence, as it were. I am tenured, well paid and secure. I get funded to travel, to buy books and computer equipment. I have a pension, health care and a dental plan. Currently I am on sabbatical, which I consider the very greatest perk in the world. I am lucky!

By that I don’t mean that my present good fortune is wholly undeserved. I have worked hard. I have taught well, and perhaps most of all, I have published. But I am still aware that I am lucky.

Many of my colleagues who teach “part-time” (a serious misnomer of there ever was one – many of them teach twice as many courses as I do; they just get paid a lot less for it) desperately want a full-time tenure track position at Laurier. And they too have worked hard and they have Ph.Ds and many of them have published much. But few of them stand any realistic chance of obtaining a ‘proper’ academic position at Laurier, at Essex  . . . or anywhere.

Many of them are as bitter and angry as I was. An interesting point to note concerning this: more than the poor pay, the lack of an office or a dental plan, the absence of any job security, what these people repeatedly stress as what is the worst thing in their situation is the lack of respect they feel they are receiving. It is further interesting to note by comparison that this is a common theme among casual labourers of all kinds, from Walmart to the academy.

They exist in academia in such numbers because they are a part of the world’s neo-liberal transformation of the university, the MacDonaldization of higher education. The academy is not now, if it ever fully was, a meritocracy. There are meritocratic elements in it but unfairness is also built into it. I just had the misfotune to be among the first of a wave in this process and . . . of course, the good fortune, to personally get out of the situation. Many . . . most . . . will not be so lucky.

I’m going to finish this piece with a quotation by Aimée Morrison posting in a blog directed at contract academic faculty and those who support them.

             The tenured, I am trying to say, can be allies in building a more equitable, more ethical academy. But we will have to detach from our neuroses and our   over-identifications. The contingent and the others who didn’t “win” the game that the tenured did had to learn, however violent the impetus, to detach and think of themselves in new ways. Many of you, dear readers, have done this   and I have learned so much from your writing and your thinking and your actions. It’s time that the tenured take on this process, not of examining the ways the institution has undermined us or let us down, but in the ways that by “succeeding” within it we have become blinded to our own privilege, and still struggle emotionally and psychologically to make ourselves feel like we deserve these privileges so many others don’t have. (Hook and Ery blog Tuesday, November 12, 2013

*  Note: With apologies to the ghost of Paulo Freire but it is in reference to a different situation of pedagogy and a different set of oppressed people that this piece is about than that which Freire was considering. The reference is to what are called in Canada “contract academic faculty” or “sessional lecturers”. I don’t know what their UK equivalents are called now and I didn’t know of any applicable label for my position back when I was one, in this particular ‘moment’ in Essex Sociology’s history.

Garry Potter gained his PhD a Essex in 199 …  and then spent a good few years teaching in the department across many courses but especially the theory courses. He never gained a full lectureship, but moved to Canada where he is Professor of Sociology at Laurier University. He has published widely and most recently….. He is the author of The Bet: Truth in Science, Literature and Everyday Knowledges and also of The Philosophy of Social Science: New Perspectives. He co-edited After Postmodernism with Jose Lopez. More recently he wrote and published Dystopia: What is to be done? and made a documentary film of the same title. The film can be viewed for free and downloaded for educational purposes from the website

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Ioan Davies (Essex: 1965-1970) Born 1936; died 2000

Ioan Davies was born in 1936 in the Belgian Congo.

He was one of the earliest lecturers and PhD students at Essex, from 1965 to 1970, when he gained his PhD.

Sadly he died February 15, 2000 in  Cuba.

FRANK PEARCE, who taught at Essex in 1978-9 and gained his Ph D a few years later, has written an obituary. He writes:

I remember well when and where I first met Ioan Davies. It was in 1968 at a Sociology Department seminar at the University of Kent at Canterbury. The word from Essex University, one of the most radical campuses in England, was that he was politically and academically well respected and was known to have a significantly international orientation. This strikingly tall and lyrical Welshman certainly made a strong impression on those of us attending the seminar not only because of the impressive quality of his talk but but also because he was so willing to seriously engage with our quite heterogeneous intellectual and political concerns. He presented a version of his important paper on “The Management of Knowledge: a critique of the use of Typologies in the Sociology of Education.” This was to be subsequently published in Sociology and reprinted in Michael Young’s influential reader, Knowledge and Control, a book which, incidentally, also included a paper by Alan Blum who was to become a close friend and colleague at York University. In the paper, Ioan, effectively challenged the then dominant functionalist approaches to the Sociology of Education and thus played a role in the general demolition then occurring of functionalism’s peculiar fusion of theoreticism and abstract empiricism. He did this in a quite original way by eschewing both the neo-Weberian subjectivism of so much anti-functionalist sociology and also the economistic reductionism often then characteristic of the Marxist alternative. Anybody familiar with his writings will not be surprised that his critique was grounded in Gramsci’s analyses and worked with rich comparative and historical materials — including articles by Edward Thompson and Perry Anderson, fellow members of the New Left Clubs — and that he also made confident use of the essays of the poet Octavio Paz. There was a similar breadth to the last paper he intended to deliver, “The New Internationalism,” for the conference, which he had helped organise, on “Marxism Today: A Renewed Left View” at the Instituto Superior de Arte, in Havana. Tragically, while in Cuba, he died of a heart attack before he could deliver it.

For more: see In Memoriam: Ioan Davies


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Geoffrey Hawthorn, 1964-1970

Geoffrey Hawthorn, 1964-1970

Enlightenment and Despair: A history of social theoryStarting 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……..

Read more about these early days from Geoffrey Hawthorn

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Farewell to Rob Stones

IMG_1123Rob Stones


In December 2012, Rob Stones sadly left the Department for a post in Australia. He has been at the heart of the department for the last twenty years, and has been at Essex for thirty! He is going to be seriously and much missed.

There were several farewell parties for Rob and below is a little goodbye speech he gave.

There are other things about Rob to come: watch this space!

Thank you for the kind words, and everyone for coming along to say goodbye –

I hope you’ll bear with me, now, through some nostalgic reflections, and a few thank yous.

I’ve worked in the Sociology Department since 1990, but I’ve actually been at Essex University since 1983 when I arrived to study for a PhD in Government. I came here to be supervised by Bob Jessop after reading his article on Recent Theories of the Capitalist State whilst I was taking an MA in Political Sociology at Leeds University – where, as fate would have it, my daughter, Klong, has just finished a degree in Politics and Sociology. There’s something nice about that circle.

When Ja and I first arrived in Colchester in the late September of 83 – parking the car in the town centre on a grey, overcast East Anglian afternoon, it had been 5 years since we’d first met as undergraduates at the University of Bristol. In the interim we’d had the pleasure of spending a good deal of time in Bangkok, and more immediately we’d just enjoyed a hazy summer in a seafront flat in Brighton whilst Ja wrote her dissertation for an MA in International Relations at Sussex.

Before we’d even got out of the car on that gloomy day, we’d agreed that I’d do my PhD in 3 years and then we’d be gone. Those 3 years have clearly gone on much longer than we’d anticipated, and we’re both glad that they have.

After finishing the PhD – I make it sound easier than it was – I was employed for two years as a temporary lecturer in the Government Department (I remember teaching the same first year class 6 times a week) and then I joined the Sociology Department (in 1990), first on a one year contract, for which I’ll always be grateful to Mary McIntosh, and then on a permanent basis.

I’ve been with Sociology ever since – apart, that is, from a period away in the mid 90s when, very generously, the Department, and in particular Ken Plummer as Head of Department, allowed me to take unpaid leave so that I could go back to Thailand with Ja and our two young children, Klong and Pim, as Ja took up a three year post as the country director for Save the Children, Norway.

Leaving aside this brief period of escape, I’ve been part of Essex University for just short of 30 years. So, however long I stay in Sydney, or whatever else I may do after that, I will have spent the lion’s share of my working life here – nothing can now change this.

There was something about the intellectual environment at Essex, particularly in the 80s and 90s, that made moving on unthinkable. As a graduate student and then a young academic it was both exciting and challenging to be in such close proximity to developments that were to put their stamp on the age, intellectually, culturally, and in political debate. I’m not going to say anything more about what these were, as I’d find it hard to stop…..

Intellectual life in the social sciences and humanities at that time was very individualistic in many ways, but this was allied both to a vital degree of intellectual freedom, and to that so, so, important level of social involvement with each other, that there is now less and less time for.

There was also a clear received wisdom, then, about the importance of developing a lifetime intellectual project of one’s own, and about having some time to do this. This is something that I continue to see as the surest way towards truly valuable work, and which has left an indelible mark on how I approach my own writing, research and teaching.

I’ve had a brilliant continuing education here. I’ve been lucky enough to have been able to learn from the teachings and the example of some of the very, very best, and to have had a job in which I’ve looked forward, every day, to coming to work……….. Well, almost every day!

It’s impossible to even begin to sum up nearly thirty years at Essex, but I would like to give you, very briefly, in quick-fire fashion, a series of fragments, snapshots,of some of the memories that came most readily to my mind. If you want a cultural reference point for this,you might want to see it as the highlights of my time in the jungle:

So… Here they are:

There’s the annual departmental graduate conference at Aldeburgh – which has regularly had up to 70 students and staff attending – I’ve loved seeing, especially, how much both the home and the international students get out of this, and also how much the academic staff get out of the dancing;

To choose one of many sporting memories –although in this case I use the term ‘sport’ very loosely – there was the Head of Departments’ running group, 2004-7, which turned out to be relatively exclusive in terms of gender and age, but which featured all shapes and sizes;

Then there was the memory of the crowded table of sociologists and a few fellow travellers from other departments in the Hexagon restaurant at lunchtime on the 22nd November 1990, uncorking a bottle of champagne to celebrate the resignation of Mrs Thatcher;

There’s the near meltdown in the department, in the form of aesthetic outrage, when a Nescafe machine was introduced into the common room;

There’s being verbally abused by a colleague in my office for a full 5 minutes before he realised that there was also a student in the room;

There’s Ken and Ev taking my family to see a musical in London virtually every Christmas for the last fifteen or so years – including one famous time when we met Ted on the train on the way home, when he’d just been to the Red-Green Study Group and we’d been to see Mary Poppins!

Then, finally, there’s Joan’s pre-xmas drinks, to which, I’ve noticed, people can still be invited once they’ve retired or otherwise left the university.

There are so many people I can see here today that I’d like to say thank you to personally, but I won’t do that now. I hope you know who you are and that it will be enough if I say collectively to you that it’s been a privilege working with you over the years, and that I’m honoured to count you amongst my good friends.

I will, though, mention a few of the groups who’ve been an essential part of making life good.

The team at the nursery, Elaine, Donna and all the others, who were just fantastic in caring for Klong and Pim from a few months old to the ages of 4 and 2 when we left for Thailand;

The truly wonderful admin teams in Sociology over the years – who are always at once the really human side of the department, as well as its organizational backbone – and Sue has been a constant here, through it all;

The Social Science Faculty team, who I’ve not spent as much time with as I would have liked, but we still have the Sun Inn on the 19th;

My fellow Deans – calm, level-headed and very tall, and my Associate Dean, Simon Carmel – now to be Acting Dean – together with the formidable group in the Registry who I’ve been working with in the last couple of years, whose good humour and ability to master labyrinthine rules and regulations, and see a way forward, is often humbling, and –one more person I have to mention – Heather Tracey, Academic Officer for the Faculty, who it’s been a delight to work with, and who I can’t believe is still only 25 (if I’m allowed to say that);

All the Undergraduate and Masters’ students through the years, who have given me back at least as much as I’ve given them, and PhD students past and present, so important – always rewarding, who continually remind me of the importance of ideals and principles, and of the buzz of excitement that comes with intellectual discovery;

My close academic friends from Sociology – what can I say? – and those from elsewhere in the university – friends often first made unexpectedly, by happenstance, in coffee breaks during meetings or in extra-curricular spaces such as picking up time at the nursery, parents’ evenings, school fetes, or whilst clutching party bags at one of the many, many birthday celebrations of the primary school years.

I feel immensely privileged to have spent so much of my working life at a university of the kind that Essex has been over these years. At its best, which has been most of the time, it’s been a thoroughly civilised and civilising place to work. There’s a lot I’m going to miss. Thank you……


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In Memory of Ian Craib (1945-2002)

Obituaries by Ted Benton, Mike Roper and John Walshe, and a tribute to Ian by his son, Ben Craib

Portrait of Professor Ian Craib (1945-2002)

Extract from obituary by Professor Ted Benton, Dept. of Sociology (2003)

Ian Craib, who has died at the tragically early age of 57, was professor of Sociology at the University of Essex. Despite his personal modesty, the continuous stream of books, articles and reviews which he authored over more than 25 years earned great respect both in and well beyond the academy. A mark of his originality is his commitment to asking the large and important questions which necessarily transgress disciplinary boundaries. In Ian’s case, philosophy, literature, psychoanalysis and social theory were all called upon in the making of his unique contribution… (continued under ‘Memories/Obituaries’)


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Daniel Nehring, BA 2002, MA 2003, PhD 2008

Image of Daniel Nehring on the Great Wall of China, 2011

I began my studies in Germany and Mexico and came to Essex in 2000 to finish my BA. I enjoyed my studies at Essex, made many friends, and in the end decided to stay for my MA and PhD as well. My PhD research looked at transformations of intimate life among young middle-class people in Mexico City. It was inspired by a class on gender issues in Latin America I had taken with Diane Elson when I was an undergraduate. This goes to show, I think, that inspirational teaching can have a major and lasting intellectual impact. It’s this kind of experiences at Essex that really made a difference for me.

After leaving the university in 2008, I held a number of appointments in the UK, the USA, and the Caribbean before recently settling down in a permanent position as Research Fellow at the National University of Córdoba in Argentina. My current research, on the whole, examines transformations of personal life under conditions of neoliberal globalisation and rapid social change. In addition to my persistent interest in Latin America, I have recently also started research in China. At the moment, I involved in two research projects. One is a comparative study on therapeutic culture and neoliberal discourse in five societies. A respective monograph is due to be published by Palgrave next year. In addition, I have begun a project on transnational dating and marriage among young professionals in urban China, together with colleagues at Beijing Normal University and Middlesex University. Apart from these two projects, I have almost completed work on an edited volume on transformations of intimate life in contemporary Mexico (Ashgate, 2013) and an introductory textbook for undergraduates in sociology (Pearson, 2013).

At the moment, I spend my time mainly in the Americas and in China. I am still in touch with former colleagues at Essex, though, and I remain interested in developments in British academia. One of my ways of staying involved is a blog at SAGE’s Social Science Space (below). Here, I write regularly about issues of interest to postgraduate students and early-career sociologists.

My Links:

Blog at SAGE Social Science Space:

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