Robert Pinker, who has died aged nearly 90, grew up near Tufnell Park and attended Holloway County School. He did his National Service in the Royal Ulster Rifles. He began his academic career at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), receiving a certificate in Social Science and Administration (1959).
Bob, with Peter Townsend, conducted 80% of the research interviews for the Townsend’s influential book, The Last Refuge (1962).
He contributed to the research for Brian Abel Smith’s book ‘The Hospitals’ (1964) and produced a separate volume, ‘English Hospital Statistics 1861-1938’ for which he was awarded an MSc (1965).
His academic career took him from Head of Sociology at Goldsmiths College (1964-1972), with a strong emphasis on social policy, to a Chair in the Social Policy Department at LSE. He was also Pro-Director of LSE (1985-88) and Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Social Sciences at the University of London 1989-1990. He was Lewisham Professor of Social Administration, Goldsmiths and Bedford College (1972-1974), Professor of Social Studies, Chelsea College, University of London (1974-1978), Professor of Social Work Studies, LSE (1978-1993), including Departmental Convenor (1982-1985), and Pro-Vice Chancellor for Social Sciences and Continuing Education, University of London ((1989-1990), and Professor of Social Administration, LSE (1993-1996).
Important Publications include: ‘Social Theory and Social Policy’ 1971; ‘The Welfare State: a comparative perspective’ 1973 ; the ‘Idea of Welfare’ 1979; ‘Social Work in an Enterprise Society’ 1990; and ‘Privacy and Personality Rights: commercial Exploitation and Protection’ (with Robert Deacon and Nigel Lipton) 2010.
Professor Pinker also editor of series of seven books by Heinemann Studies in Social Policy and Welfare. In his book ‘The Idea of Welfare’ Pinker brought together a wide range of comparative views, based upon an analysis of Social Policy in Britain, Russia and America. His view can be summarised thus, (p42):
“In trying to make sense and create order out of an increasingly complex process of social change men and women learn to systematize and extend their conceptual universes. Social Polices are attempts to give, through the force of statutes and administrative practice, a relative continuity and permanence to what might otherwise be only transient extensions of human imagination and empathy.”
He received various honours throughout his life; an elected Fellow of the Society of Editors in 2004, CBE in 2005, Hon. LLD of the University of Ulster (2016) and in 2015 the Social Policy Society awarded him their Special Recognition Award for his “consistent sustained and long-standing contribution to the field of Social Policy through research or teaching and learning.”
His interests extended beyond his academic work, and he was a successful participant in public life, first as a member of the Advertising Standards Authority, then as Privacy Commissioner, and later, Chair of the Press Complaints Commission (PCC)
Days before his death he received the 2020 Astor Award for Press Freedom from the Commonwealth Press Union (CPU). Lord Black of Brentwood, Chair of the CPU described him as, “An indomitable champion of free speech, free press and of self-regulation. His work not only just strengthened press freedom but – as a result – strengthened the Commonwealth, too.”
After retiring from the PCC in 2004, he served for two years as Chair of the Bosnia-Herzegovina Press Council, the first such body in the Balkans, and had continued helping to establish press councils in overseas countries, including Sri Lanka and South Sudan.
He was approachable to all and a man of many interests outside academic and public life. He was a great conversationalist, a good listener and extremely kind and supportive of many who turned to him for advice. In recent days several students have written to me extolling Bob’s virtues as a teacher and advisor in both academic and pastoral matters.
He managed the work life balance without ever referring to that concept. Hs wife Jen, to whom he was devoted, died 25 years ago after 25 years of marriage. They had two daughters, Cathy and Lucy, as well as grandchildren and great grandchildren. They were the centre of his life and he filled his house in Blackheath with books, conversation, and laughter.
He followed the fortunes of Chelsea FC and had an encyclopaedic knowledge of professional boxing. He also loved old motor cars and for many years the family car was a Daimler.
He often reminisced about his upbringing in north London and always enjoyed traditional, family home cooking. He considered a good, shop-bought, fish and chip supper a special treat.
A special man who will be much missed.
To the Cathy, Lucy, grandchildren and great children,
I joined the Department of Social Policy in the early 1990s and worked with the late Professor Pinker till he retired. He inspired me into pursuing a day-release degree in Social Science when I borrowed and read one of his literature in framing research into social welfare in the UK. It was a critique that intrigued more work to be done in this area. This had positive effects across the welfare system and I learnt a lot from him too. A skill that enabled me as a co-founder to set up an international organisation that supports the most vulnerable across the world.
May you all be comforted and may peace reign upon your life.
Bob was a warm, lovely man and a greatly respected colleague. He was an early advocate of pluralistic systems of welfare at a time when it was deeply unfashionable to do so. He drew attention to the importance of family care and the voluntary sector. He emphasised the difficulty that state unitary systems face in meeting the diversity of human needs and aspirations of the family, and pointed out that their monopoly nature creates dependency, making users ‘paupers at heart’. With these and other contributions to social policy, and with his public service, his work has had an impact that will long endure.
Bob supervised my PhD at the LSE and continued to be a superb mentor when I joined the staff of the Social Policy Dept. He had a clear vision of the contribution that social work could make and helped me to make sense of its role within the welfare state. He was also good company with a great sense of humour.
Pingback: Tribute to Professor Robert Pinker - Social Policy Association
Robert made an original contribution to Social Policy and took the subject in a new direction. He was also a kindly man and helpful to junior scholars.
I have only now learned of the sad death of Bob Pinker. Bob was a former External Examiner for my School at University College Dublin. He was also a valued friend. We exchanged Christmas cards over many years. In early December 2020 I missed his early greetings. I sought news of him from friends and only now learn of his passing as I check (belatedly) the LSE website. Bob was very special. I extend my condolences to his daughters and grandchildren and his former colleagues. I enjoyed a six month sabbatical at LSE at Bob’s invitation in 1986 and that is a treasured memory. May he Rest In Peace. As we say in Ireland: Ar dheis De go raibh a anam dilis.
Bob Pinker made a distinctive to social policy studies and contributed significantly to opening up its intellectual approach. I remember his phrase that users of social services often felt themselves to be paupers at heart, a phrase which clearly made a similarly deep impression on Julian Le Grand. This is a key insight because it shows how the hopes of reformers, especially those who assumed that closing workhouses in 1948, might take another two generations as a minimum before real changes in attitudes might follow. That constitutes one of the attractions and paradoxes of social policy. It can be conceived at the most sophisticated level of philosophical, ethical and political debate but it is experienced at a very basic level by those at the receiving end of services. Professor Pinker helped us to appreciate the complexities of these interactions and encouraged us to consider their very serious consequences.
I didn’t always agree with some of his various positions and traditions but that doesn’t stop me from recognising the value of his work as a specific angle in approaching social policy as an intellectual discipline and as a stimulus to critical thinking about the means and ends of policy.