Mar 12 2019

Professor David Held

Professor David Held

Professor David Held

It is with great sadness that we learnt of the passing of Professor David Held, formerly Graham Wallas Professor of Political Science at LSE, and Founder and Joint Director of the Centre for Global Governance. To many in the Government Department he was a colleague, teacher, mentor and friend, but a mere departmental affiliation was never going to be enough for David and he collaborated with colleagues and students across most of the departments in the School.

I first met David when he was a young visiting lecturer at the University of York and I was an undergraduate. He had recently published his first book Introduction to Critical Theory (1980) and was an exciting and dynamic theorist of the left. This was only the first of many books but it remains the best introduction and guide to its subject and is still valuable to serious scholars. His subsequent career took him to the Open University as Professor of Politics and Sociology where he was an influential figure and where he built his reputation as theorist of democracy (with books such as Models of Democracy 1988, Political Theory and the Modern State 1989 and Prospects for Democracy 1993) and demonstrated the entrepreneurial spirit which so characterised his career with the his co-founding with Anthony Giddens and John Thompson of Polity Press in 1994. Polity proved a huge success as a source of cutting edge social science books at affordable prices and as a publisher of English translations of most of the great contemporary European social and political theorists such as Bourdieu and Habermas.

Whilst Tony Giddens was Director of LSE it was no surprise that David would join him. David came to LSE in 1999, first as a visiting professor and then as the successor to Brian Barry in the newly titled Graham Wallas Chair. Two more different characters would be hard to find – Brian was a conduit for American Political Science to reshape political theory in the UK, whereas David, despite his graduate training at MIT, was deeply connected to the European Tradition of Social and Political Theory. For Barry the paradigm was John Rawls, for Held it was Jurgen Habermas. Yet in many ways they were very similar in their social democratic approach, cosmopolitanism and their commitment to the value of social science research for the public good.

At LSE David continued to be entrepreneurial, founding programmes such as the MSc in Global Politics, founding and directing the Centre for Global Governance, leading the Ralph Miliband lecture series as a major public lecture programme for leading social and political theorists, and for intellectually engaging practitioners and public intellectuals. All the while David kept up a prodigious publication schedule that shifted its focus in the ‘noughties’ towards the theorisation of Globalisation and its implications for Cosmopolitan political theory and for Global Governance in such works as Global Transformations 1999, Globalization/ Anti-Globalization 2002, Global Covenant 2004 and Cosmopolitanism: Ideals and Realities 2010. He almost single-handedly, (he did have some close collaborators) built a subject of enquiry and a sub-discipline. In the way of all academic success stories he attracted critics but he usually managed to bring them around to his conclusions with his personal charm and engaging manner, or else he incorporated their positions into a higher synthesis which advanced his own work. David was a builder, not a demolisher and he was more concerned about informing progressive politics than being the smartest man in the room, although he often was.

His departure to Durham in 2012, where he became master of University College, was a sad loss to LSE. His career continued to flourish with the success of the journal Global Policy, which began at LSE but took off during his time at Durham. He remained in contact with many LSE scholars, but David’s stage was always Global so he was not constrained by the move. The announcement of his sudden death is a shock and cause of deep sadness to many who benefitted from his personal kindness, his intellectual stimulation and his mentorship. He added considerably to the life of LSE and will be remembered fondly by very many students, colleagues and friends.

Professor Paul Kelly

Department of Government

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8 Responses to Professor David Held

  1. Dr Guevara Raul Diaz says:

    We will sadly miss such a prodigous academic personality. My condolence goes to Held family, friends and colleagues alike.

  2. Eliza Madarevic says:

    David was a fantastic professor and a person with gentle temper, vivid intellect and kindness of a child. We will remember him as an incredible intellectual and a good-hearted friend. My friend I hope God, the Jesus, will take you with Him although you haven’t until the last moment regard yourself as believer in Him. But we will pray for you saddened by your leave. My condolences go to all the closest friends and family…

  3. Joshua held says:

    Lovely thank you for your kind words.

  4. Alan Revel says:

    What sad news. My thoughts are with his family and close friends. I got to know David through his leadership of the Miliband Programme and his success in attracting a series of high profile individuals to deliver lectures including Naomi Klein. He was a friendly, kind and warm individual who always took time to say thank you. He will be missed.

  5. Tim Besley says:

    Very sad to read this. David was an energetic member of the LSE community. I always looked forward to seeing him and learned a lot from talking to him. He was always courteous to work with and had an interesting take on important issues.

  6. Hakan Seckinelgin says:

    Shocked and very saddened to read this. Encountering David’s Introduction to Critical Theory as a graduate student was both exciting and guiding. Then, years later when he was a colleague at LSE working with him was interesting as he always had well-thought out challenging ideas. He was inspiring and supportive colleague. When he left the school he was missed but now he will be missed more.

  7. Francisco Panizza says:

    I had the privilege of knowing David as an academic colleague and as a person during his affiliation to the Government Department. He was an inspiring academic and a warm and supportive colleague. It was always a pleasure to talk to him about many things, not just academic.

  8. Allen J Scott says:

    I invited him to talk in the School of Public Policy at UCLA some years ago. He told me that he had invited a friend to join us in one of the seminars he gave. The mysterious guest turned out to be none other than Sidney Poitiers.

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