Jan 5 2015

Ulrich Beck

Ulrich Beck

Ulrich Beck (pic: R.Schmeken)

LSE Director Professor Craig Calhoun pays tribute to the world-renowned sociologist, Professor Ulrich Beck, who died on 1 January 2015.

On New Year’s Day 2015, LSE lost one of its most famous and distinguished faculty members. Ulrich Beck was among the first Centennial Professors recruited to LSE when that programme was created by then-Director Anthony Giddens in 1997. He identified strongly with LSE and its cosmopolitan vision and remained an active part of the School until his death.

Beck studied law and philosophy before turning to sociology, in which he did his PhD under Karl Martin Bolte at Munich. Jurgen Habermas was a kind of role model as he engaged simultaneously in student politics and theoretical inquiry, sociology and philosophy. In his early work he addressed topics like the theory-practice debates in German and American sociology and the relationship between vocation and identity. The later concern informed his early studies in the sociology of work and professions, and foreshadowed his career-long concern for individualisation and reflexive management of relations between existing reality and the future.

This was at the centre of the book that made Beck famous, his 1986 study of Risk Society. This was one of the rare books with a vision original enough to change how many colleagues and students would see the world and their own work. Beck suggested that the basic orientation of modern society, the driving need behind its organisation had shifted away from material production toward coping with risks. He meant risks at every level from personal life chances to global catastrophes.

With Giddens, Scott Lash and others he would develop this perspective into a theory of reflexive modernisation and eventually of the ‘second modernity’. By this last phrase he meant the era that succeeded agricultural and industrial struggles to overcome material limits and cope with natural threats. The new era was one in which risks created by humans dominated. Beck’s account became one of the most influential of many approaches to conceptualising an era marked both by new capacities for choice and the dark sides of prior technological successes and the development of large-scale socio-technical systems.

Beck pursued the understanding of second modernity and its implications in dozens of books and hundreds of articles. Not surprisingly, he followed his early interest in the sociology of work with important studies of its transformation in this new era. He analysed the reinvention of politics. He was closely engaged in the growing understanding of climate change and environmental crisis. And he was one of the first sociologists of globalisation- indeed one of those who helped to popularise the word. Beck called attention to global interdependence and the limits of any sociological understanding that didn’t adequately recognise it. In several books on cosmopolitanism he tried at once to understand the actual growth of such a global perspective and to advance it. One of his targets was the ‘methodological nationalism’ of much social science. He called attention to the ways in which the very organisation of social science data and research reinforce the idea that nations are the ‘natural’ units of social organisation, and obscure the real organisation of social life on other scales.

Beck was strongly committed to Europe as a transnational structure and also a project crucial to coping well with reflexive modernisation and the risks of globalisation. He was astonished and troubled that the European project lost popular support just when it was most needed. Among his analyses was that German dominance was potentially fatal for cosmopolitan Europe. Concerned by both right and left-wing populists, he was one of the organisers (with Jurgen Habermas, Anthony Giddens, and many others) of a 2014 call to Vote for Europe – and he died with the future of Europe still uncertain.

His attention was also drawn to the volatility of personal life – not least the reorganisation of love in this new era. This included the increasing importance of ‘distant love’ (to quote the title of a book co-authored with his wife, the sociologist Elisabeth Beck-Gernsheim) but also the risks of love in a world where divorce was newly common. This was part of a broader inquiry into a world that institutionalised individualism and demanded constant choices. This created a chaotic context for love, and indeed for religion, but neither lost its importance.

Beck approached sociology with passion, seeking to illuminate the big issues of the age and place of individual lives within them. His writings were full of metaphors and creative efforts to capture a changing, challenging reality.

In his lectures, seminars and innumerable personal conversations at LSE, Beck was a warm and positive presence. His themes ranged from the ways modern society is organised in response to hazards and insecurities, to the nature of cosmopolitanism and the possibilities for successful reflexive strategies in both politics and personal life. He moved students and influenced colleagues. He will be missed.

- Craig Calhoun, 2 January 2015

Anthony Giddens, former LSE Director and co-author of Reflexive Modernisation with Ulrich Beck and Scott Lash, has written an obituary for the Suddeutschezeitung, which is available to read here: Ulrich Beck .

LSE is hosting a public event on 24 February with Anthony Giddens and Richard Sennett to pay tribute to Ulrich Beck. More details are available here: A Tribute to Ulrich Beck

If you would like to post a tribute to Professor Beck, leave your condolences or share any memories you have of him, please leave a comment below.

Posted by: Posted on by LSE Press Office Tagged with: ,

Nov 20 2014

Serge Moscovici

Photograph of Professor Serge Moscovini

The late Professor Serge Moscovici (1925-2014)

It is with great sorrow that we acknowledge the death of Professor Serge Moscovici (1925-2014): an inspirational scholar and a great friend to the Department of Social Psychology.

“Prof Moscovici has been a huge intellectual presence in our Department, and played a key role in influencing the development of the distinctive brand of societal psychology that is the hallmark of our collective work. He will be sorely missed, but will continue to inform our theory and practice for many years to come.”

Professor Catherine Campbell, Head of Department, Psychology@LSE

We respectfully invite tributes to be made to him here, there is a comment box where you can enter your tributes (you can see this after all the other tributes to the Professor) . Thank you.

Posted by: Posted on by Arthur Wadsworth

Jan 8 2013

Stan Cohen


Photograph of Professor Stan CohenProfessor Bridget Hutter, Head of the Department of Sociology, expressed the sorrow of colleagues from the Department upon learning the very sad news that Stan Cohen, Emeritus Professor of Sociology at LSE, passed away on the morning of Monday 7 January 2013 after a long illness.

Stan had a long and distinguished career. He grew up in Johannesburg, South Africa and was an undergraduate sociology student at the University of Witwatersrand. He left in 1963 for London where he completed his doctorate at the London School of Economics while working as a social worker. He lectured in sociology at the University of Durham and then the University of Essex, where he was Professor of Sociology from 1974.

In 1980, Stan and his family left Britain to live in Israel. He was Director of the Institute of Criminology at the Hebrew University, Jerusalem and also became active in human rights work on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

He returned to LSE as a visiting centennial professor in 1994 and in 1996 was appointed Martin White Professor of Sociology. He has received the Sellin-Glueck award from the American Society of Criminology and in 1998 was elected as a fellow of the British Academy.

Stan Cohen has written about criminological theory, prisons, social control, criminal justice policy, juvenile delinquency, mass media, political crime and human rights violations. His books include:

  • Images of Deviance (1971);
  • Folk Devils and Moral Panics: the making of the mods and rockers (1972);
  • Psychological Survival: the experience of long-term imprisonment (with Laurie Taylor) 1973;
  • Escape Attempts (with Laurie Taylor), 1977;
  • The Manufacture of News (with Jock Young) 1977;
  • Social Control and the State (with Andrew Scull) 1983; and
  • Visions of Social Control (1985); and Against Criminology (1988).

His most recent book, States of Denial: knowing about atrocities and suffering (Polity Press, 2001), dealt with personal and political reactions to information, images and appeals about inhumanities, cruelty and social suffering. States of Denial was chosen as Outstanding Publication of 2001 by the International Division of the American Society of Criminology and was awarded the 2002 British Academy Book Prize.

The 30th anniversary edition of Cohen’s classic Folk Devils and Moral Panics (Routledge) came out in 2002. In the introduction, he reviewed the uses of the concept of ‘moral panics’ in the 30 years since 1972.

Stan was awarded Honorary Doctorates by the University of Essex (2004) and Middlesex (2008) and in 2010 was awarded an Honorary Fellowship by the LSE. In 2009 he received the Outstanding Achievement Award of the British Society of Criminology.

Bridget Hutter adds: “The Department was so fortunate in having Stan join us in 1996. His health was by then ailing but his intellectual vitality was ever present. He came to us as one of the world’s leading criminologists and his criminological work and theories of social control remain highly influential. Some of us were very privileged to work with Stan, in my case on MSc Criminology in the late 1990s, and also later sharing our experiences of setting up interdisciplinary research centres in the School. We will all miss him and send our condolences and fond memories to his family.”

While in the Department Stan was also absolutely fundamental to the establishment of the Centre for the Study of Human Rights at LSE in 2000 and establishing a central sociological presence in the human rights field. Stan was a wonderful and generous human being. In many ways, he was the heart of the Centre for the Study of Human Rights. He will be deeply missed even as his vision and his work continue to influence and shape the Centre.

If you would like to post a tribute to Stan; leave your condolences or share any memories you have of him please comment on this post.

Posted by: Posted on by Arthur Wadsworth Tagged with: ,