Apr 4 2022

In memory of Stephen Dunn

LSE’s Stephen Dunn

It is with great sadness that we inform you of the passing of Stephen Dunn, who died on Tuesday 29 March 2022. Our deepest sympathies are with Stephen’s family. 

Stephen joined LSE as a Lecturer in the Department of Industrial Relations in 1985. Steve (as he was known) was a wonderful writer, colleague and teacher. Steve graduated from Oxford in history before moving into the field of industrial relations having experienced it first hand as a shop steward in the Bowyers meat processing factory in his hometown of Trowbridge in Wiltshire. Steve became an expert on closed shop, publishing The Closed Shop in British Industry (London: Macmillan) in 1984 with John Gennard. He published extensively in the 1980s and 1990s on the closed shop and other British industrial relations issues such as the content of British collective agreements (Dunn and Wright 1994), employee share options (Dewe, Dunn and Richardson 1988) and the legacy of the Donovan Commission (Dunn 1993). Later he developed an interest in industrial relations in South Africa via his former PhD student Eddy Donnelly, publishing on post-apartheid industrial relations (Donnelly and Dunn 2006). 

Steve’s flair for writing was legendary. As Sir David Metcalf, Emeritus Professor and former head of LSE’s Department of Industrial Relations, put it, Steve “wrote like a dream.” Punchy openings and ringing phrases were Steve’s trademark. He advised colleagues “never to start an article with the letter ‘T.’”  The implication was to avoid beginnings such as “This article will argue…” and try something more arresting – perhaps something like “Love it or loathe it,” the phrase with which Steve began his article on strikes in essential services for the Employment Policy Institute. Even Steve’s lecture notes were written with panache.  

Colleagues remember Steve as sociable and supportive. Rafael Gomez, Director of the Centre for Industrial Relations and Human Resources at the University of Toronto, recalls, “Stephen was a real support to me in my first year at the LSE. I was young, alone, living outside of Canada for the first time and he was really generous with his time.” He was also a fount of knowledge regarding industrial relations. Steve’s deep and broad knowledge was an invaluable resource for colleagues. As Sir David Metcalf noted, “you learnt so much talking to him.” Conversations with Steve were always thought-provoking, often involving passionate debate as well as humour.   

Steve was equally inspiring as a teacher. He paced the room, drawing on his reserves of knowledge to extemporise. The results were often brilliant and never dull. He always had time for students, dedicating long hours to supervision of dissertations and links projects. He also took great care with feedback and his role as personal tutor. Former students such as Verity Lewis, an alumna of the Industrial Relations undergraduate programme, remember his kindness in the days when the undergraduate programme was small and dominated by the department’s MSc programmes.  

Steve retired in 2012, departing LSE on a high note. Professor Jackie Coyle-Shapiro, then head of the EROB group of the LSE Department of Management, organised a seminar and dinner to honour Steve’s work. It was an exceptionally well-attended and inspiring event at which the affection for Steve was palpable.  Steve, typically modest, had said he didn’t want any speeches, but blushed with delight as he listened to his colleagues’ appreciation.  As Professor Jackie Coyle-Shapiro notes “Steve had much more impact on colleagues and students than he was aware of.  His humility and generosity were remarkable; his flair for writing was unique.”   

Steve’s colleagues are deeply saddened by his death. It was a joy to work and be friends with him. He will be greatly missed. 



Dewe, P., Dunn, S. and Richardson, R., 1988. Employee Share Option Schemes, Why Workers Are Attracted to Them. British Journal of Industrial Relations, 26 (1), pp.1-20. 

Donnelly, E. and Dunn, S., 2006. Ten years after: South African employment relations since the negotiated revolution. British Journal of Industrial Relations, 44 (1), pp.1-29. 

Dunn, S., 1993. From Donovan to… wherever. British Journal of Industrial Relations, 31 (2), pp.169-187. 

Dunn, S. and Gennard, J., 1984. The closed shop in British industry.  London: Macmillan. 

Dunn, S. and Wright, M., 1994. Maintaining the ‘Status Quo’? An Analysis of the Contents of British Collective Agreements, 1979–1990. British Journal of Industrial Relations, 32 (1), pp.23-46. 

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27 Responses to In memory of Stephen Dunn

  1. Sarah Ashwin says:

    I was so sad to write this tribute to my wonderful former colleague Steve. We had such fun teaching, talking and laughing together. He was inspiring to talk to and I’ll miss him enormously. Deep condolences to his family

    • Eddy Donnelly says:

      Space dictates this tribute to be little more than a whistle-stop tour of my long friendship with Steve. Perhaps fond memories of him are best cherished through the sharing and telling of personal anecdotes that extend beyond the written page and into more informal and sociable gatherings. More than likely, Steve himself would have preferred it to be this way.
      I first met him thirty years ago when I was one of his (part-time) Master’s students. What first struck me (as a seasoned FE teacher) was Steve’s effortless style of delivery when both lecturing and tutoring. Eventually it dawned on me that underpinning this gift for charismatic story-telling was ‘proper’ scholarship allied to unorthodox and thought-provoking perspectives on given subjects. These ‘takes’ were often grounded in irony, humour and quirky insights which only added to the sense of someone who had much more to offer intellectually than the quality of published work revealed.
      Grappling with the trials and tribulations of peer-review publishing part stemmed from his absolute devotion to ‘good prose writing’ and from the conviction that academic story-telling warranted the attention of the reader only when told with a necessary authority, elegance and novelty of thought that the subject required. Perhaps he just cared too much about the craft of writing itself that it ‘tangled him up in blue’ (Bob Dylan)? Nonetheless, what he did knock out is standout and built to last. Of course, Root Metaphor’ readily comes to mind (of which, I know, he was rightly proud) when citing the virtues of quality over volume. For him, this was the rub, rightly or wrongly.
      Only later when befriending each other through doctoral supervision and then through co-writing, co- teaching and student placement (aka Links projects) did I come to fully appreciate the attentiveness paid to any professional commitment personally undertaken. Yet, what stays in the memor is his much vaunted empathy and generosity of spirit towards students and colleagues alike.
      He certainly helped me navigate my way through the PhD ‘maze’ and into an LSE fellowship and for that I shall be forever grateful. All-importantly, I am not alone in valuing his all-round contribution, as wonderfully attested by the high regard and sincere affection colleagues and friends hold for Steve on this LSE tributes blog. For me, they all lead to the same conclusion- he was a humanist who cared deeply about many things worth caring about.
      There is many an anecdote that can readily attest to this. Yet, what also needs celebrating is the mix of humour, wisdom and reflection that Steve brought to many an occasion. When not engaged in academia and scholarship there always remained space for sport, politics and all the other curiosities of life that drew his interest, regardless of setting: work; pub; dog walking; kitchen cooking and the sharing of long lunches as accompaniments to doctoral supervision.
      In short, the craic with Steve was of the highest order. How else could it be, given how commanding he was on such diverse matters as Newcastle FC; opening batsmen for Somerset in the 1950s; fighter formations in the (air) Battle of Britain and the (naval) Battle of the Midway; chicken husbandry in his back garden? The list is endless, not forgetting early 19th century riots by Trowbridge cloth workers; small town newspapers in the 19th. Century mid-western states, and, of course, goal keeping for Trowbridge Town FC. Truly, he was a widely read polymath and an endless source of factual nuggets (now known as ‘fun facts’) to be stored and retrieved, come the right occasion (academic or social).
      All told, Steve could be intellectually stimulating, plain fun, a great bloke to work with and, in my case, someone who became a good mentor, mate and friend of the family. We will miss him greatly both for what he contributed and for being who he was (and was not). Perhaps it is just permissible to finish by slightly misquoting Dickens: ‘What larks, Steve old chap…what larks!’

  2. Stephen Wood says:

    I first encountered Steve limping a few yards in front of me on the road up from Temple tube station to LSE on an October morning in 1974. The nurse from the student health centre, with whom I was walking, remarked that she had strapped that student’s thigh only yesterday. Then to my surprise when I arrived to give my lecture – the first in the new year – there was the same man sitting in the front row with one leg on a chair. He told me the injury was sustained playing football and he was a goalkeeper. We really became friends in the year later when he was a research assistant on John Gennard’s Closed Shop project, a hot topic at the time. A friendship was built on our shared interests in employment relations, football and the mystique of writing, and it lasted throughout my 25 years at LSE. It took us through teaching on courses together, playing football for Hackney Red Star on the famous Hackney Marshes, and endless chats over a beer in the George, LSE bar, and his Hampstead local, the Magdala – the scene of Ruth Ellis’ shooting. For me Steve will always be a goalkeeper, with incredible powers of observation of all around him, whilst managing to avoid getting too involved in the messiness of life. Yet, just as he would time perfectly when to come out for corners, when he felt passionately about something, he would argue his corner with great oratory and conviction. His insights from his massive range of reading were especially valuable to us all. If I fast forward to the present: by a strange coincidence I recently reunited with the Magdala, now a gastropub. On my visit there two weeks ago, I felt a strange sense of nostalgia and a wish to put the clock back to a period which was one of the happiest of my life, dominated by scholarship, football and pub talk, much of it with Steve. It never occurred to me that these feelings would be reawakened so quickly by the sorrow of his death.

  3. William Eatock says:

    Stephen was always good-humoured, helpful, and approachable. No matter how busy, he was always ready to help. A true gentleman. My condolences to all of his family and friends.

  4. Rafael Gomez says:

    This is really turning into a real sad year for me. Lots of bittersweet memories of my time in London and at the LSE are returning.

    As mentioned above, Stephen (“Steve”) was a real support to me in my first few years at the LSE. I was young, alone, living outside of Canada for the first time and he was really generous with his time. He always would walk me through any problem I thought I was having, to make me realize that the problem was not a problem at all…just a solution I hadn’t considered.

    He provided lots of advice on teaching and of course quality “pub-time” after work. Laughing is what I remember happening most of the time that I was drinking or eating with Stephen. He always introduced me to his IR students and PhDs as the “star” lecturer from North America. Just to boost my spirits.

    So very sad. If you can let me know of anything that is being done to honour Stephen’s time at the LSE please let me know.

  5. Angel Ko says:

    It was a sudden shock to hear about the loss of our dearest lecturer. Stephen was a respectful gentleman who always made the classroom brighter (livelier and funnier) with his insights, experience and sense of humor. That is going to be gravely missed. Thank you for always inspiring us and we will miss you.

  6. Ginny Doellgast says:

    I was very sad to hear of Steve’s death. He was a funny and kind colleague. I remember him telling me about the good old days at LSE, when faculty would hang out at the Senior Common Room for hours discussing research and ideas. He kept that spirit of the engaged academic alive in the department, and was much missed after his retirement.

  7. Pat McGovern says:

    Steve’s death comes as a shock because the last time I saw him he was in very fine form with that mischievous little twinkle in his eye which meant he was either going to tease you or add some witty comment that begged a reply. If he was teasing then you had to be on your toes because he was wonderfully witty and thrived on the back and forth with friends and colleagues. Steve was also very kind and had a refreshing ability to give praise directly without hesitation or qualification; I suspect that was one of the reasons he was loved by students and younger colleagues. Like others, I really appreciated his support during my early years as a lecturer at the LSE trying to deal with the complications of teaching and examining across departments. He would always find the time to give advice including on how to deal with difficult colleagues. I know from conversations over the years that Steve cared deeply about teaching to the point where he seemed to take it personally when some new policy or metric interfered with what for him was the core work of a university academic. Perhaps he had a point. As for his writing, the 1990 paper on ‘Root Metaphor in the Old and New Industrial Relations’ is about as good as it gets.

  8. Jenny Dibden says:

    Steve was exceptionally bright and drafted like an angel. Reserved but with a sharp wit. Fond memories of him from the later 1980s. A sad loss for his family and all who knew and appreciated him. Agree with Pat’s comment on Root Metaphor. One of the best compliments I ever had as a student was Steve’s comment on the footnotes in my IR essays. I still have those handwritten essays and those handwritten comments.

  9. Rob Kirkland says:

    Like many others, I am deeply saddened to learn of Steve’s passing. Steve was an enormous source of support to me when I first arrived at LSE back in the late noughties. Because I was/ am an idiot, I had foolishly agreed to start a new job at what is always the busiest time of year for universities (late September, a week before the start of term), so I was completely overwhelmed by the workload and had no idea what I was supposed to be doing. Steve very kindly took it upon himself to show me the ropes at LSE and would spend hours patiently explaining not only the intricacies of the programmes I was working on, but also the many idiosyncrasies that were unique to the institution itself (like, what on earth was this Michaelmas and Lent business??). It’s no exaggeration to say that I probably wouldn’t have lasted more than a couple of months in the role without Steve’s help.

    The more I got to know Steve over the years the more I found we had in common, and we bonded over subjects as diverse as our football teams, our mutual admiration for the comic Stewart Lee, and our shared loathing of The Daily Mail (actually Steve described it as “brilliant” several times, but I’m pretty sure he was being sarcastic). He was an integral part of the EROB group and was beloved by colleagues and students alike in a way that many of us aspire to, but few of us actually achieve. As others have noted, Steve was a brilliant orator and an even better writer, and I was consistently amazed by (and jealous of) his ability to be incisive, informative and witty all within the space of a couple of sentences.

    I will always remember Steve as a brilliant colleague, friend and mentor to me and many others. He will be greatly missed.

  10. Elisa Pannini says:

    I am so sad to learn about Steve’s passing. He was the first person I met at the LSE, a wonderful teacher, my Master’s dissertation supervisor. I told him I wanted to write a thesis which was different from the usual ones in our course, and he obviously encouraged me to go on. He supported me when I applied again for a PhD and retired just after writing my recommendation letter. I still have his slides on ‘how to write a good essay’ and I still refer to them when advising my students. My condolences to his family and friends.

  11. Amanda Shantz says:

    Professor Dunn (as I knew him as an MSc student at LSE many years ago) had the best lecture notes. I remember nearly missing my stop on the tube on several occasions because I was either engrossed by his writing, or laughing at the corny jokes that were embedded throughout the notes. He was an amazing lecturer, both in and outside of class.

    I’m so sorry to hear about Professor Dunn’s passing, and I wish peace to his family and friends.

  12. Alexander Pepper says:

    I will remember Steve as was one of the LSE’s great characters—original, unorthodox, but always kind, and rightly loved by his students.

  13. It is immensely sad we have lost Steve. There was never a dull moment with him. Steve is the first person alumni mention from their time in the Department – a testament to his dedication and unforgettable character. He was a principled, caring, and wonderfully funny colleague. My condolences to his family.

  14. Alexandra Beauregard says:

    This is such sad news to hear. Steve was the first academic I met as an MSc student back in 1997 and set the tone for what we could expect over the following year with his incisive and often irreverent wit as he led our cohort’s orientation. I was relieved and grateful to see him on my interview panel for a lectureship in 2005 and will always remember his kind, reassuring words afterwards while I awaited the outcome. Steve’s steady support of both students and colleagues made him a pillar of the Department of Industrial Relations and subsequently the EROB group, and I can still remember the sense of tangible loss for those of us left behind when he retired. This loss is greater still and I am so very sorry for all his close friends and family.

  15. No one gets formally recognized in academia for socializing newcomers, but that is what Steve often accomplished — with characteristic irony, generosity, and wit. I met Steve one early September morning of 2009. I had barely started my lecturer position at LSE’s Department of Management a few days before, my first lecture was to begin in minutes, and for the life of me I could not figure out where it was supposed to take place. I knocked on the door of Steve’s office, and he stopped what he was doing to find the relevant information. During my time at LSE, I got to appreciate Steve’s penchant for irony, as well as his unappointed role as culture carrier of the LSE’s former Department of Industrial Relations. Whether over lunch at the Senior Common Room or in evening outings at Cooper’s, if Steve was at the table, the wonderful stories about former colleagues would soon start flowing. His remarks, memories, and accounts made the daily work of a young lecturer like myself a lot more meaningful and interesting. I remain grateful to Steve for his collegiality. My condolences to all of his family and friends.

  16. Huang Wei says:

    No words can express my most profound sadness at Steve’s passing. In the autumn of 2003, a group of Chinese students studied at the MSc IER&HRM and MSc HRM in the IR Department. Without much knowledge about industrial relations and a general understanding of the EU, Britain, and the US, we had great difficulty in reading and understanding the course materials of ICER. We are not alone as the students from other countries also faced the same situation. Reading groups were organised among the students, which eased the reading burdens. However, the difficulty in understanding was not sorted out. After knowing our problem, Steve was generous in giving us extra seminars to illustrate and respond to our queries. The reward is a thank-you party to Steve serving Chinese dumplings made in hands by us. Another impressive scene that often comes to my mind was that Steve read an IR journal concentratedly in his office while making notes when I revisited the department faculty in the new building after a few years. Steve had been very established but still had a strong desire for knowledge. When I returned to China and took up my academic jobs, I often thought of him since he served as an example of being a good teacher. The last news about him was that he was writing novels after his retirement. Steve will be missed by his Chinese students.

  17. Diane F Frey says:

    I am so sad to hear this news. Steve was the first LSE faculty member I met as a new MSc student in International Comparative Employment Relations. He so thoroughly enjoyed the subject you could feel how infectious (in a good way) it was for all of us listening to him. He was clearly relaxed and in his element teaching. He was generous in big and small ways with all of us. One expression of his generosity was in his using humor to invite us to join in his wry sense of history and irony. Steve was part of a wonderful group including Professors Ashwin, Hyman and Marsden who gave us all that introduction to a subject I previously never even knew existed.

    It was transformative and I subsequently got a PhD in it and continue to teach international comparative employment relations to undergraduate students in the U.S.

    To use one of Steve’s own phrases, he was a “rare bird!”

  18. Carola Frege says:

    What unbelievable sad news! As a PhD student and then young scholar in the former IR Department (and later EROB) Steve always symbolised for me the best of the LSE – a combination of intellectual brilliance and human decency and kindness. Not only was he a truly independent thinker, with whom one could have wonderful political discussions over lunch, but most of all he was such a decent, supporting and caring colleague. And yes! for me his writings were the ultimate benchmark of perfect English academic prose! I will miss him dearly.

  19. DAISY CHUI says:

    I switched to HRM in Year 2 and Stephen welcomed and introduced me to the world of industrial and employment relations I would otherwise never have known existed. He was always so approachable and would have that sly smile when he quipped a joke to wake us up during some of those topics that even he knew was a bit mundane but had to get through. I’m sure all his other students including myself will miss him dearly.

  20. Edmund Heery says:

    Steve joined the LSE shortly before my brief spell there in the 1980s and we were the two newbies in the department. We were good mates at the time and spent many hours chatting about IR over lunch and in the LSE bar in the evening. He was a warm, engaging colleague and a brilliant writer, as Sarah Ashwin notes in her appreciation. I think he was an aspiring novelist at this time though don’t know if he ever submitted any fiction to a publisher. It is very sad to hear of his untimely death.

  21. John Earls says:

    Sad to hear this. Steve was a generous and inspiring teacher to me in my years at LSE and, as this tribute points out, a wonderful writer. His article ‘Root Metaphor in the Old and New Industrial Relations’ is a classic.

  22. Andreas Kornelakis says:

    Really sad to hear about Steve’s loss. Steve was a brilliant teacher, and I still remember his MSc IER & HRM 2006/7 lectures and tutorials. He was so kind and approachable with all the students inside or outside the classroom. Rest In Peace Stephen Dunn.

  23. Feng Ye says:

    I am personally very sad to hear that. I just cannot forget on the help from Stephen on the year of my MSC at industry relations back to 2002. He is a great man, a great teacher and a wonderful coach as well. I miss him very really much. Rest In Peace, Stephen. You will be always remembered.

  24. Richard Hahn says:

    So sorry to read this news. Steve was a fantastic and committed teacher and I really enjoyed his lectures. He was down to earth, funny and engaging. The conference that he organised at Cumberland Lodge in Windsor was one of my highlights of the Industrial Relations and Personnel Management MSc course I completed in 2000-2001. Sending condolences to Steve’s family and friends.

  25. Richard Hyman says:

    Have only just heard this very sad news. Steve was a charming colleague, a true intellectual, and someone who devoted far more time to his students than was good for his own career. My condolences to his family

  26. Sandeep Mishra. says:

    I was browsing through LSE website and came to know about this sad news. Stephen Dunn , Steve to me , was my supervisor when I was doing my Masters in LSE (1985-86). He had joined the same year as lecturer in the department . A wonderful teacher and man with the golden heart , he was . My Tutor was Keith Bradley and Supervisor was Steve. I was in lovely company during my formative years. I can’t afford to forget these gentlemen , including David Marsden throughout my life.
    Rest in peace , Steve !

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