Apr 19 2017

Emeritus Professor George Jones


It is with great sadness that we announce George Jones, Emeritus Professor of Government, died on Friday 14 April 2017.

George Jones was a stalwart of the Department of Government for over 50 years, having arrived at LSE as a lecturer from the University of Leeds in 1966, and remaining active – teaching on GV311 during 2016-17 while attending seminars and other events until the week of his death. His work concentrated on the office of Prime Minister, the Cabinet and, particularly, local government. He believed in intellectual integrity and the straightforward expression of ideas – he would, on occasion, describe someone as a ‘simplifier’ of a particular complex field. He was such a simplifier himself. In 2009, he was made an Honorary Fellow of the School.

His doctorate was about the borough politics of his home town, Wolverhampton, published as Borough Politics. His intense interest in politics and the interaction between the personal and the political led him to write, with Bernard (now Lord) Donoughue Herbert Morrison: Portrait of a Politician (London Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1973) which was re-issued with a foreword by Morrison’s grandson Peter Mandelson in 2001.  He much admired Morrison’s approach to politics and government.

He wrote about advising the Prime Minister and Cabinet with Michael Lee and June Burnham in At the Centre of Whitehall (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1998); and edited a study of prime ministers entitled West European Prime Ministers (London: Frank Cass, 1991). He was author of the first study of the private secretaries of prime ministers in “The Prime Ministers’ Secretaries: Politicians or Administrators?” which was published in From Politics to Administration, J.G. Griffith (ed.), (London: Allen and Unwin, 1975). In 2013, he wrote (with Andrew Blick) At Power’s Elbow: Aides to the Prime Minister from Robert Walpole to David Cameron (London: Biteback Publishing, 2013).  In all of this, he enjoyed the cut-and-thrust of politics, including insiders’ insights and the easy familiarity within the confines of Whitehall.

George was a critical friend to the UK’s traditional Westminster system, believing in two party politics, vigorous Parliamentary debate, and offering voters clear choices. But he was a dogged critic too of uncorrected defects in the model, especially the chronic over-centralisation of powers in Whitehall, the decline of Cabinet government and collective responsibility, and Labour’s periodic lurches into uncompetitive policy stances.

His final book, written with Steve Leach and John Stewart, Centralisation, Devolution and the Future of Local Government in England, will be published this summer. Its subject is entirely apt, because a concern for the autonomy and democratic protection of local government was a major element in George’s work throughout the period since he had sat on the Layfield Committee from 1974-76.  He and Professor John Stewart (University of Birmingham) were long-time co-authors of books and articles. For many years they co-wrote a column in Local Government Chronicle.

George was a fast, generous and precise editor. Chapters and articles would be turned around within a day or so, and he always delivered material on time.  He was also a mentor to younger colleagues and was never distant or grand. Latterly, he played Father Christmas at the School’s annual children’s party each December.

His teaching style was clear, authoritative and even combative. He provided an objective analysis of aspects of British government, but made it clear where his personal sympathies lay. He was not, for example, particularly keen on Parliamentary select committees, preferring the floor of the House of Commons as a forum for the exposition of politics and the achievement of accountability. Nor was he an enthusiast for directly-elected executive mayors, preferring more dispersed leadership.

In the years immediately before his retirement, he co-chaired the Greater London Group with Professor Derek Diamond of the Department of Geography.  Throughout his long career at LSE, he was responsible for sustaining the School’s study of London, having spent many hours in Monday afternoon seminars (held in room ‘A588’ as it was then called) led by the Group’s founder, Professor William Robson.  Robson was a protégé of Sidney and Beatrice Webb – thus, George was one of those colleagues who embodied a linear connection with the School’s founders.

He was also much involved with other academic institutions at home and abroad, notably the Institute of Local Government Studies at the University of Birmingham. Beyond universities, he sat on a number of committees and boards. He had been on the executive committee of the Royal Institute of Public Administration and in the 1990s was appointed to the National Consumer Council. He received an OBE for his work at the latter.

Outside work, he loved the cinema – Laurel and Hardy were a favourite. He was an expert on American film noir and Westerns, and kept a methodical record of films seen and his reviews of them.  He was also a keen reader of political biographies and diaries.

His presence at LSE seminars, in the SDR and at reunions will be much missed.

Professor Tony Travers
Director LSE London

(With acknowledgements to Patrick Dunleavy and Brendan O’Leary)


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Apr 3 2017

David Rockefeller

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David Rockefeller (General Course 1938), who died recently at the age of 101, came to LSE to study economics under the powerful free market duo of Lionel Robbins and Friedrich (von) Hayek.

From his autobiography, it would seem he took full advantage of his time at the School, not only attending lectures by the aforementioned intellectual heavyweights but also, among others, those of the great LSE radical, Harold Laski (about whom he was actually quite scathing). While in London, David also got to know the Kennedy brothers – Joe Junior and JFK – and even for a time dated their sister Kathleen.

Urged by Robbins to continue his studies post-LSE (they remained friends until Robbins died in 1984), David made his way to Chicago, where he studied for a PhD in economics, which he was awarded in 1940 at the remarkably young age of 25.

Thereafter David Rockefeller played several important roles as a banker, independent adviser to many American governments, confidant to the global great and good, supporter of the arts, and – in keeping with the tradition of the Rockefeller family – as a philanthropist in his own right.

Indeed, David himself is credited with having donated no less than $2 billion to various good causes, including biomedical research, education, the arts, healthcare and New York City’s urban revitalisation efforts. In an age when it is politically fashionable to be sceptical about, or even hostile towards, ‘elites’  and their comings and goings, it is worthwhile remembering how one of their more generous and humane number left the world a more enlightened and healthier place than when he had first entered it back in 1915.

In many of the obituaries written this past week, little has been said about either the relationship of Rockefeller philanthropy to LSE or indeed of David’s attendance at the School.

The story about Rockefeller philanthropy itself has been told before, and in some detail, in Ralph Dahrendorf’s affectionate and detailed biography of LSE published in 1995. The basic facts are well known. After the First World War, the Rockefellers began to take the social sciences increasingly seriously and, led by the remarkable Chicago-trained political psychologist Beardsley Ruml, contributed enormously to the School, both in terms of LSE’s actual fabric and in supporting serious research across the board. Although not the School’s only source of income in the inter-war period, the Rockefeller support (notably between 1923 and 1937) was certainly of great importance in helping LSE to become regarded as a world class research institution by end of the 1930s – one which to the present day seeks to use the knowledge it creates to understand the causes of things and improve society.

Furthermore, the Rockefellers’ connection to LSE tells us much about the wider and invaluable relationship the School has always had – and continues to have – with the United States. Put simply, LSE has welcomed many thousands of brilliant American students and faculty to Houghton Street over the years, from the sociologist Talcott Parsons through Paul Volker and Daniel P Moynihan, and onto Supreme Court Justice Anthony M Kennedy, who was the swing vote in 2015 establishing a constitutional right to same-sex marriage.

Throughout the School’s history, US alumni have left Houghton Street and gone on to influence government, politics and society. David Rockefeller was one such person – a prominent and distinguished inter-war American LSE alumnus who left an indelible mark on the world.

Professor Michael Cox
Director LSE IDEAS


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Jan 3 2017

Professor Sir Tony Atkinson


It is with great sadness that we announce Professor Sir Tony Atkinson, Centennial Professor at LSE, died on Sunday 1 January 2017.

“We are very sad to report that Tony Atkinson died on the first of January. He was 72. Tony Atkinson was one of the most distinguished economists of the 20th and 21st centuries. He profoundly influenced our thinking on poverty, inequality, mobility, public policy and the economics of growth. From his first book in 1969, Poverty in Britain and the Reform of Social Security (Cambridge University Press), to his last, Inequality: What Can Be Done? (Harvard University Press, 2015), he demonstrated the great care and rigour which should characterise serious economics. His approach was: identify the issues, examine the facts and the forces that shape them, and ask what we can or should do. And through his technical work on his index of inequality and on public policy in imperfect economies he showed how analytical rigour could change our understanding. Based on his work on inequality and market imperfections, his was one of the clearest voices challenging the “market fundamentalism” of the 1980s and 1990s.

“He was Tooke Professor at LSE from 1980-92 and Centennial Professor from 2010. He was Chair of the Suntory and Toyota International Centres for Economics and Related Disciplines (STICERD) from 1980 to 1988 and, with its founding chair (1978-80) Professor Michio Morishima, made it one of the world’s leading research centres.

“Tony was not only an extraordinary leader through his writing  but also in his building and reinvigorating of institutions, from his time at Essex (where he went as a professor aged 27) to Nuffield College, Oxford where he was a much loved Warden, 1994-2005. He founded the Journal of Public Economics in 1971 and was editor for nearly two decades. With Mervyn King and Nick Stern he initiated at STICERD the ESRC programme on “Taxation, Incentives and the Distribution of Income” which lasted for 12 years coinciding with his time at the School. This was one of the ESRC’s first and longest lasting research programmes. There are many more examples of Tony building and nurturing institutions that were both of the highest quality and endured.

“His distinction was recognised across the world. For example, he was President of the Econometric Society, of the Royal Economic Society, of the European Economic Association, and of the International Economic Association. He was awarded 19 honorary doctorates.

“He was a great European; the majority of his honorary doctorates were from European non UK universities. He worked in a hospital in a deprived area of Hamburg before going to University. He was involved in the economic analysis of the potential effects of joining the European Economic Community in the early 1970s prior to the referendum on joining in 1975. He was President of the Luxembourg Income Study from 2011 which has made a great contribution to international comparisons of well-being and inequality. He was a member of France’s Counseil d’Analyse Economique, 1997-2001, and was Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur. Last year he was awarded the prestigious Dan David Prize for his work on poverty and inequality (shared with Francois Bourguignon and James Heckman).

“It was not just as an academic and leader of academic institutions that we remember Tony. He was the finest of human beings. His decency, humanity and integrity were profound and extraordinary. He was quiet and understated but deep and strong. He was charming and he could be very funny, including irony of the highest class. He was a special colleague, always ready with his support and wisdom.

“He met his wife Judith (neé Mandeville) at Cambridge as undergraduates when they were 19. They were married for more than 50 years. They shared and reinforced their commitment to making the world a better place and tackling injustice. They took great pride in and strength from their three children Richard, Sarah and Charles, their spouses and their eight grandchildren.
Nick Stern
IG Patel Professor of Economics and Government
Chair of STICERD, 1988-1993

“Tony made fundamental and original theoretical contributions to economics in general, and to public economics and the analysis of economic inequality in particular. He also undertook original and innovative empirical analysis of economic inequalities, and of their relationship to economic institutions such as the welfare state. He made major contributions to applied statistics and the development of social indicators. His work brought the analysis of distributional issues back to a central position in economics. It is no overstatement to say that the modern analysis of economic inequality started with Tony’s 1970 paper in the Journal of Economic Theory.

“Aside from his academic contributions (which made him a leading contender for a Nobel prize), Tony made major contributions to social and public policy in the UK and internationally throughout his career, from his first book (Poverty in Britain and the Reform of Social Security, 1969), to his major report in October 2016 on Monitoring Global Poverty completed as chairman of the World Bank Commission on Global Poverty. In between, he made many other major contributions including to the measurement of government outputs and productivity, and to development of indicators on social inclusion and poverty for the EU. Tony was a pioneer (with Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez) of the study of ‘top incomes’ and inequality.

“Tony will also always be remembered for his outstanding personal qualities. He was sagacious in so many fields and yet so modest and kind, and the epitome of decency, humanity, and collegiality. Despite being very busy, Tony provided many of us friendly but incisive comments on our work, and was a continuing source of encouragement, support, and inspiration. He will be sorely missed.”
Professor Stephen Jenkins
Head of the Department of Social Policy

“He was a remarkable academic and a wonderful colleague who will be sorely missed.”
Professor Julia Black
Interim Director

You can explore STICERD’s wall of remembrance for Professor Sir Tony Atkinson here 

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

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Oct 27 2016

Helen Reece


helen_reeceIt is with the greatest regret and overwhelming sadness that we inform you that Helen Reece, Associate Professor of Family Law, died on Wednesday 26 October 2016.

Helen studied Law (LLB) at University College London and Logic and Scientific Method (MSc) at LSE. She qualified as a barrister in 1992, and lectured in Law at University College London (1993-1998) and Birkbeck College, where she was appointed Lecturer in 1998 and Reader in 2004. She joined LSE Law as an Associate Professor (Reader) in 2009.

At LSE, Helen taught family law and the law of obligations. Her research focused mainly on family law, but it was much broader in range, characterised above all by the aim to uncover and contest the social and political assumptions behind existing legal rules and prevailing opinion. Her work on adoption, parenthood, domestic violence and, more recently, the law of sexual offences identified her as one of the most original thinkers of her generation. Her monograph, Divorcing Responsibly (2003), on the influence of post-liberal notions of choice on the law of divorce, was awarded the Socio-Legal Studies Association Book Prize in 2004. Helen’s article on ‘Loss of Chances in the Law’, published in the Modern Law Review in 1996, and winner of the Wedderburn Prize in 1997, has been cited with approval by the House of Lords, and been a major point of reference in tort scholarship. With Michael Freeman, she edited several works and collections on the relationship between law and science (Law and Science: Current Legal Issues (1998); Science in Court (1998)). She was a founding member of Institute of Ideas Parents’ Forum, and a member of the editorial boards of Law, Probability and Risk, the International Journal of Law in Context, and the Modern Law Review. She was a regular contributor to radio and television programmes.

This catalogue of achievement does not begin to account for all the qualities that made Helen special to her colleagues in LSE Law, and to her much wider networks of colleagues and friends: her good humour, her keenness to engage with other colleagues’ work, her outstanding record as a teacher and research supervisor, the fearlessness, integrity and sense of duty she brought to all her endeavours. We mourn the passing of a brilliant scholar, and a cherished colleague and friend. Our thoughts and hearts go out to Helen’s partner, John, and their children, Hannah and Ben.

“I was desperately sad to hear the news that Helen died yesterday.  It’s a deep loss for all of us at LSE and a far greater loss for her family. Helen was on the board of the Modern Law Review (MLR), as am I, and in both LSE Law and on the MLR she was a wonderful colleague. She was spirited, engaged, energetic and constantly driving us forward. She was also incredibly supportive, thoughtful and kind. I have her to thank for encouraging me to take on the general editorship of the MLR – she was adamant that it should be a woman for the first time in 74 years! That was typical of her – fiercely principled but personally such a warm and supportive colleague. We will all miss her greatly. My thoughts are with her family and friends at this terrible, terrible time”.
Professor Julia Black
Interim Director

“Helen was a wonderfully dynamic and forceful character, and a tower of strength in her family and in the Department. The freshness, daring and iconoclasm of her scholarship meant that, of anything she wrote, one could without question say that once read, it would not be forgotten. We will all miss her terribly. In due course we will find an appropriate way to honour her, and details about this will be posted on the website”.
Professor Jeremy Horder
Head of LSE Law

If friends of Helen would like to make a donation to charity in her memory, her family inform us that any charity would be appropriate. Helen also supported the work of hospices, such as Marie Curie.

An obituary for Helen can be read in The Guardian here.

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

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Jul 22 2016

Professor Anthony Smith


Anthony SmithIt was with profound sadness that we learned of the death of Anthony Smith, Emeritus Professor in Ethnicity and Nationalism in the LSE Department of Government, this week.

ANTHONY D. SMITH (1939-2016) was Emeritus Professor of Nationalism and Ethnicity at the London School of Economics, President of the Association for the Study of Ethnicity and Nationalism, and Founding Editor of Nations and Nationalism. He was one of several LSE scholars (who included Ernest Gellner and Elie Kedourie) who made seminal contributions to the theory and comparative study of nationalism. More than anyone else, however, he established nationalism as a separate interdisciplinary field of study by his magisterial overviews that helped create common definitions and classifications through which the different frameworks could be understood.

He published seventeen books translated into twenty two languages, and over one hundred articles and chapters in books on nations, nationalism and ethnicity, in which he developed his ethno-symbolic approach. His main publications included The Ethnic Revival (1981), The Ethnic Origins of Nations (1986), National Identity (1991), Nationalism and Modernism (1998), Chosen Peoples (2003), The Cultural Foundations of Nations (2008), and The Nation Made Real (2013). Another book on music and nationalism is in production.

Through his undergraduate and MSc courses and doctoral workshop, he made the LSE in Walker Connor’s words ‘the Mecca’ for the teaching of and research into nationalism. He, with his doctoral students, established the Association for the Study of Ethnicity and Nationalism (ASEN) which for over 25 years has hosted annual conferences on nationalism at LSE, established two leading journals, and in honour of his teacher, Ernest Gellner, an annual lecture series. He was a dedicated supervisor and many of his students have attained chairs at leading institutions. After his retirement from the Government Department in 2004, he struggled with great tenacity against a debilitating illness. In spite of this, he continued to publish prolifically, to act as editor of Nations and Nationalism, and to support his Professorial successor, John Breuilly, in maintaining the position of nationalism at LSE. He leaves behind a wife and young son.

Dr John Hutchinson
Associate Professor (Reader) in Nationalism, Department of Government

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

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Feb 15 2016

Professor Maurice Fraser



It is with the deepest sadness that we announce the death on 12 February 2016 of Maurice Fraser, former Head of the European Institute.



A personal message from Professor Craig Calhoun, President and Director of LSE:

Maurice Fraser was a friend of LSE from his days as a student through his career in public life to his return as a distinguished leader in the European Institute. Charming, gracious, and a witty conversationalist he brought wide and practical knowledge to the School. He will be sorely missed, not least in the context of the current debates over Europe, on which an LSE Commission he helped found will soon report.

Maurice’s ties to the School stretch over a long period: having been an undergraduate in Government, he returned after 1995 to teach in what was then the new European Institute.  He became Head of the European Institute in 2013, but was obliged to step down in December 2015 owing to ill-health.  Maurice was Professor in Practice, having served as special advisor to three successive British foreign secretaries during the tumultuous historical period of 1989-1995, amongst other posts.  Maurice had wide professional experience, being a member/trustee/chair of a range of public bodies.  Of special importance to him was his work on Europe and, in particular, Anglo-French relations.  He had been educated at the Lycee Francais de Londres and he became Vice-Chair of the Franco-British Council and a contributing editor to ‘Valeurs Actuelles’, a French weekly.  At LSE, he was the Programme Director for the European Institute’s double Masters’ degree with Sciences-Po.  He was made Chevalier de la Legion d’ honneur in 2008 and Cavaliere dell’Ordine della Stella d’Italia in 2015.

Maurice receiving the award of Cavaliere dell’Ordine della Stella d’Italia from the Italian Ambassador to the UK on 7 December 2015

Maurice receiving the award of Cavaliere dell’Ordine della Stella d’Italia from the Italian Ambassador to the UK on 7 December 2015

Maurice was the long-term Director of the LSE’s public lecture series on Europe, utilising his extensive professional experience and contacts to make the School the premier UK platform for public debate on Europe.  He was a devoted teacher and was inspired to help bridge the gap between the practical world of policy-making and that of academe for successive generations of the European Institute’s students.

Maurice was widely liked and admired, by both staff and students and across public life.  He was very well-read and had a range of intellectual interests.  Discussion with him was often stimulating, sometimes maddening, but always courteous and fun.  He was a supportive and respectful colleague and he loved LSE.  Latterly, he gave everything to the European Institute – endeavouring to carry on as Head, despite his deterioration and amidst much stress.  It had been his dearest wish to attend last December’s Graduation Ceremony to announce the names of his beloved graduands, but alas this was already not feasible for him.  His family background and his professional experience made Maurice a committed and life-long ‘European’ in his political orientation.  His legacy of service to LSE will ensure that he always remain a cherished part of the European Institute community.  We will all miss him terribly.

The European Institute has received many, many warm personal messages of sympathy from his friends – from across British and European academic and public life – and these reflect Maurice’s character and stature.  Maurice’s family are inviting donations to the Brain Tumour Charity, in lieu of flowers – www.justgiving.com/mauricefraser

Our thoughts and prayers are with Maurice’s family.

Professor Kevin Featherstone

Head, European Institute


Professor Christian Lequesne,of Sciences Po in Paris, has written an obituary for Maurice Fraser in French newspaper Le Monde.


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

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Oct 26 2015

Michael Wise


Michael Wise art LSE, c1990sProfessor David K. C. Jones, Emeritus Professor of Geography and Environment at LSE remembers Emeritus Professor Michael Wise, who died on 13th October 2015.

Academic colleagues and past students of both the LSE and King’s College Departments of Geography will be saddened to hear of the death of Professor Michael Wise CBE, MC, on Tuesday 13 October 2015, aged 97.

Michael was appointed as Lecturer in Geography at LSE in 1951 and rapidly rose through the ranks, becoming Ernest Cassel Reader in Economic Geography in 1954 and Professor in 1958. He was a big man with a kind heart and every bit a gentleman.

His air of authority, charm and calming style provided assurance to those around him and led to his appointment as chair of a number of committees in the School. He was Convenor of the LSE Geography Department several times during his 25 years as a professor; indeed most junior colleagues came to the view that he ran the Department irrespective as to who was Convenor! Within the School he is probably best remembered for two things: being the (single) Pro-Director responsible for the change-over of Directorship from Ralph Dahrendorf to I.G. Patel (1983–4) and for his excellent portrayal of Father Christmas at several of the School’s Christmas parties.

As an academic he became extremely influential at national and international levels and is one of only two UK academics who ever achieved the distinction of being President of all three UK geographical societies (The Royal Geographical Society, The Geographical Association and The Institute of British Geographers) and The International Geographical Union (the other was Sir L. Dudley Stamp who was also a member of the LSE Geography Department).

However, he did not restrict himself to purely academic activities, as is illustrated by the fact that he was Chairman of the Ministry of Agriculture Committee of Inquiry into Statutory Smallholdings (1963–67) and served for nineteen years on the Department of Transport Advisory Committee on the Landscape Treatment of Trunk Roads (and later Motorways), nine of which he was Chairman.

Despite the pressures of this very active career he always had time to talk to colleagues and students and to give lectures on the “British Isles” to second year undergraduates. He was made an Honorary Fellow of LSE in 1988 in recognition of his services to the School.

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

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Aug 5 2015

Richard Delbridge

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LSE is saddened to learn of the death of Richard Delbridge, a member of the LSE Finance Committee since 2010. Richard graduated from LSE with a BSc (Economics) degree in 1963 and remained a loyal alumnus and a regular and generous supporter of LSE. He funded a wide range of initiatives including the ‘Delbridge Scholarship’, the African Initiative and the Annual Fund from which many benefitted. We extend our sincere condolences to his family and friends. Professor Craig Calhoun, Director of LSE

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May 15 2015

Derek Diamond


DerekDiamondDr Nancy Holman of the Department of Geography & Environment remembers Professor Derek Diamond, who died on 6th May 2015.

In the course of one’s career it is common to come across excellent educators, incisive researchers, strong administrators and tireless champions of students and alumni – however, it is rare that all of these qualities are encompassed in one individual. It is therefore with great sadness that the Department of Geography and Environment and the Regional and Urban Planning programme mark the passing of Emeritus Professor Derek Diamond.

Derek joined the School in 1968 taking over the Urban and Regional Planning programme, which had been founded two years earlier under Professor Sir Peter Hall. He directed the MSc and PhD in Planning until 1979, during which time he touched the lives of countless students from across the world. Many of these alumni who either were taught by Derek during his time as director or later generations who were led through the streets of London on his famous walks have written to us to express their deep sadness at his death but also their desire to celebrate his life as an educator, mentor and friend.

In his later career Derek also served in increasingly important administrative roles within the School. He directed the Greater London Group from 1980-1995 and was the Convenor of the Department of Geography from 1983-87 and 1990-92, an Academic Governor from 1983-87 and Vice-Chairman of the Academic Board from 1988-1993. He was also instrumental in the foundation of the Gender Institute serving as its Interim Director from 1993-94.

Derek was also a well-respected academic crossing the fields from planning to geography, considering himself to be an applied urban geographer. His standing in the field was reflected in his chairmanship of the Regional Studies Association (1974-76), his presidency of the Institute of British Geographers (1994) and the numerous journals upon which he served as editor.

The Department would like to extend our deepest sympathies to his wife Esmé and his two children, and to the countless generations of planners that he trained with such enthusiasm, wisdom and kindness. He will be missed by us all.

Read the book of Rememberences of Derek Diamond gathered by LSE London staff.

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

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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.

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