Jan 13 2022

In memory of Athar Hussain (1943-2021)

It is with great sadness that we announce the death of Athar Hussain. Athar died peacefully in hospital in October 2021 after a long illness. His wife Jill Hodges and their daughter Lalla were at his bedside. He had been a devoted and prolific Research Fellow at LSE for almost three decades,  funded by commissions and grants. He was a member of the India Observatory and Head of the LSE South Asia Research Centre.

His fields of research were development economics, alongside welfare and public policy – richly comparative because the areas of his research included not only his native Pakistan but also India, China, and more recently Vietnam. Before these more empirical policy studies he was engaged in more theoretical expositions and critiques. Throughout he was a congenial collaborative researcher and co-author.

Professor Nick Stern recalls an outstanding intellectual with an extraordinary range of interests and skills (plus a mastery of a range of languages including Chinese):

“We met first as graduate students in 1968 in Oxford and I learned from him continually over a friendship of over more than half a century. In our early days we discussed a lot of economic theory, planning, and public policy. He appeared to have read everything from serious philosophy to the most mathematical of modelling. It was as a scholar of China that he was probably the best known and so many of us would look to him for guidance.

“He could discern not only the big picture and the arc of history but also the details of what was actually happening. I remember him at a joint meeting of the British Academy and the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences carefully explaining the functions and difficulties of the Hukou, or household registration system, in a way that was really helpful to many China scholars. He was also an immensely kind person always ready to help including, in my case, lending a splendid ‘flying pigeon’ bicycle for me to use in Beijing. He contributed to LSE including for an extended period as head of the South Asia Research Centre.

“Athar brought many Chinese students to the school, some of whom worked closely with us in STICERD. One of them, Wang Limin, has written that the many waves of young Chinese officials taught by Athar received economics training and were helped to connect research directly with policy-making, and many of them are now working in high places in China.”

Professor Stephan Feuchtwang recalls an intellectual, a work comrade and a friend:

“He was an important part of my life. We had each read Marx’s main works carefully. He and I shared a network of critical Marxists. He co-authored with Keith Tribe studies of Marxism and the agrarian question, with Paul Hirst and others a study of Marx’s Capital and capitalism today, with Mark Cousins a study of the thought of Michel Foucault, and with me studies of the Chinese economy in the nineteen eighties. More recently he did me the favour of asking me to join him in a team of researchers to study urbanisation in China, in this century.

“As a personal friend I fondly remember his acquisitiveness of languages, not just Chinese but Italian. One vivid memory is of us walking up a mountain in the Apuan Alps, he plugged in to a taped Italian lesson. Then he acquired a capacity to read Chinese economic and demographic statistics, having learned the characters for their categories, so as not to rely on their translation into English. From there amazingly he learned through friendship with Chinese colleagues to speak and collect from them idioms and colloquialisms. I had spent university years learning to read Chinese and many months in China to speak. He put me to shame. My parental language is German, and my second language, after English is French. Athar could speak and read German and French better than me, and now threatened to better me in Chinese, though not in Italian.

“I am indebted to his analyses of Chinese economies in many ways. When we organised the seminars that resulted in our volumes on the Chinese Economic Reforms in the Eighties, he was indispensable not only for his study of the Chinese economy, but also in providing comparisons with the Hungarian and other “post-socialist” economic reforms. In the core course of the master’s degree I designed at LSE on China in comparative perspective, his papers on post-socialist “transition” and on the financial sector in the new Chinese economy were indispensable.

“I am grateful in particular for two key contributions. One is the measure of excess deaths that can be gathered from Chinese official statistics as a measure of the Great Leap Famine, 1959-61. The other is that the post-Mao economic reforms should not be judged merely in terms of orthodox economic notions of efficiency, but to see the creation of labour-intensive industrial units as increasing employment and the spread of income.

“We both treasure our times and our work together with him. We will miss him.”

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18 Responses to In memory of Athar Hussain (1943-2021)

  1. I am saddened to hear of Athar’s passing. We had many inspiring conversations in the Senior Common Room, and I learned a lot from him over the years. Heartfelt condolences to his family.

  2. Guevara Raul Diaz says:

    My condolence to the family and colleagues of Althar Hussain.

  3. My condolences to Athar Hussain’s family. I did not know him personally but he was a familiar and important figure at LSE.

  4. GusStewart says:

    Athar was a wonderful man with exquisite manners, and I worked with him quite regularly in the search for his research funding over many years during my time with the Research Division. Nick and Stefan have summed Athar up much better than I could, of course, with some wonderful anecdotes, but I am extremely sorry to learn of his passing. My condolences to his family and colleagues.

  5. Chris Fuller says:

    Conversation with Athar was always interesting, enlightening and entertaining. I am very sorry to hear of his death and send my condolences to his family.

  6. John Harriss says:

    Athar was an extraordinary scholar and a wonderfully warm human being. I too am sorry to hear of his death and send my condolences to his family.

  7. Pat McGovern says:

    This is sad news. I remember having several friendly and highly informative conversations with Athar in the SDR about all kinds of topics before I thought I should look him up on the School website. I can remember the day I did so because a new School Professor stopped by our table and made quite a fuss about Athar, which is what piqued my curiosity. Who was this modest colleague? How little did I know. He wore his learning lightly. My condolences to his family.

  8. Tania Burchardt says:

    Athar was a true gentleman. When I first arrived in STICERD in 1995, he was amongst those who made me feel as if I had a contribution to make, despite being so wet-behind-the-ears. I only later came to realise how vast was his range and depth of learning, which made his welcome all the more generous and remarkable. I remember him with gratitude and fondness.

  9. Hyun Bang Shin says:

    I am very sorry to hear of Athar’s passing. He was a kind and gentle person who was keen to help scholars of various career stage from China and Asia. I thank him for receiving me as a visiting fellow after my PhD, and welcoming me when I joined the LSE as lecturer. Running into him in the staff dining room for lunch often led to interesting discussions about contemporary China/Asia. My sincere condolences to his family, friends and colleagues.

  10. Carl Riskin says:

    I am so sorry to learn just now the sad news of Athar’s death. We worked together on a UNDP project in China in the 90s and regularly interacted at conferences. He was an impressive scholar on many fronts, and somehow managed to penetrate deeply into China during the years he focused on it. I looked to him often for his expertise, friendship and sense of humor and will certainly miss him.

  11. Bingqin Li says:

    Very sad to hear Athar passed away. I had travelled with him to China on a project. Instead of staying in his hotel room listening to people reporting to him, he conducted the fieldwork with us. He wanted to see everything with his own eyes and talked to all sorts of people directly. What is more, he had been to some of those places many times and the locals knew him for years. He talked to the locals with equal enthusiasm and curiosity every time he saw them. Athar did not have a fancy Chinese name, but everyone who knows him in China called him “Lao Hou” as an old friend. Many condolences to his family.

  12. Hong Bo says:

    I am saddened to learn that Athar passed away. Athar was not only intellectually stimulating but also warm-hearted. He was instrumental to many Chinese scholars in the UK. Many pleasant memories of Athar. My sincere condolences to Jill and Lalla.

  13. For some reason I happened to Google Athar’s name yesterday, and found this. I’m so sorry. I haven’t met Athar since I graduated in 1971, but I always remembered him very fondly, so kind and gracious. I always regretted not taking up his and Jill’s invitation to visit them in Jamaica!

  14. Partha Sen says:

    I am really sorry to hear about Athar’s death. I knew him for about twenty years, although the contact was intermittent. He was warm and generous.
    Once, about fifteen years ago, I had wished him on his birthday (having found out the exact date through a common acquaintance). He insisted that I join the small party at an Indian restaurant in Covent Garden. That was the only time I met his family.
    A lunch with him at the Senior Common Room was a regular feature of my trips to London. I will miss his company and erudition.

  15. Bert Hofman says:

    I only just now learned about Athar’s passing, as I was searching for him online to join a conference on China in the 1990s. The fact that I wanted to draw on his knowledge and insights after so many years tells you how much I respected Athar’s insights, knowledge and personality. After a period of intense cooperation in the 1990s, Athar focused lesson China so our paths crossed less and less, but it was always a pleasure to reconnect with him. My condolences to his family and friends, and may he rest in peace.

  16. Jane Duckett says:

    I am so sorry to learn, and so late, of Athar’s death. I had the privilege of working with him in the mid-2000s on a DfID project in China on unemployment insurance reform. I enjoyed travelling and working with him immensely. As so many others above have noted, Athar was unfailingly generous and polite, as well as incredibly widely-read and knowledgeable. But what I admired most was his great humanity and ability to understand and connect with people. Athar also had a wonderful sense of humour. My fondest memories are of him entertaining me on our flights across China with his jokes and stories – always delivered with a with a chuckle and a twinkle in his eye. So many will miss him. My deepest condolences to Jill and Lalla.

  17. David Cobham says:

    I’ve only just seen this sad news, and am so sorry (and wish I’d seen more of him in recent years). I did not know Athar well but had enormous respect for him. I invited him to a seminar in Scotland in the early 2000s to discuss papers for a book on economic policies for a Palestinian state, and he had insightful and gracious comments on all the other papers as well as the one for which was a discussant. His death is a great loss.

  18. Kevin Williamson says:

    I am very sorry to learn of Athar’s death and wish to send condolences to his wife Jill Hodges and his daughter. I knew Athar while I was a graduate student at Keele University 1975-9 and he was a senior lecturer in the Economics department there. He was very helpful to me in discussing Foucault’s ‘The Order of Things’ and ‘Discipline and Punish’, during his free-time and in spurring me on to research 19th Century popular education in England using a Foucaultian approach, which he then arranged to have published in the journal I&C, to which Jill was connected. At the time I ran the ‘China Society’ at Keele, and I recall his and Jill’s enthusiastic support at that time for our events. Athar’s intellectual range and depth at that time seemed to me vast. His knowledge of mathematics, economics, the works of Freud, Marx and other Marxists, and most contemporary French philosophy – Lacan, Derrida, Foucault, Althusser et. al. was extensive. His views on contemporary politics, global as well as national, were always perceptive and insightful – almost Cassandrian. His generosity with his free-time and his friendliness will always be fondly remembered by me. I regret losing contact with him and Jill after 1979.

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