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Professor Patricia Owens

October 3rd, 2018

Lucy Philip Mair – leading writer on colonial administration, early international relations scholar, and anthropologist

0 comments | 7 shares

Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

Professor Patricia Owens

October 3rd, 2018

Lucy Philip Mair – leading writer on colonial administration, early international relations scholar, and anthropologist

0 comments | 7 shares

Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

Lucy Philip Mair was a well-known anthropologist at LSE; she is far less known for her significant contributions to the history of the discipline of International Relations. Professor Patricia Owens, director of a new Leverhulme project on the history of women’s international thought, highlights this neglected, early aspect of Lucy Mair’s academic life.

Lucy Philip Mair was born on 28 January 1901 in Surrey, England and educated at St Paul’s Girls’ School in London. She graduated with a first-class degree in Classics from Newnham College, Cambridge in 1923. Deeply interested in international affairs, Mair worked at Gilbert Murray’s League of Nations Union for five years as publicity secretary, head of the intelligence department, lecturer, and representative at the Assembly of the League in Geneva.

In the 1920s, Mair’s academic work focused on the “minority question” posed by the dismemberment of the Ottoman and Austrian empires, the subject of her first monograph, The Protection of Minorities (1928), still cited nearly three decades later in surveys of important works in the field of International Relations. Lucy Mair would become a distinguished scholar of colonial administration in the pre-World War II International Relations Department (IRD) at the London School of Economics, one of the earliest and largest of such departments. But she is almost completely absent in the relevant intellectual and disciplinary histories.

Lucy Mair
Lucy Mair

In 1928, Mair delivered a course of twenty lectures on “Some Aspects of World Politics at the Present Day” at Morley College for Working Men and Women in London, founded by Emma Cons in 1889 and the first to admit men and women on equal terms. She was among the first cohort of scholars hired to teach in the new International Studies (later Relations) Department, at LSE, established in 1927.

During the 1928/29 year, the first in which she appears in the LSE Calendar, Mair taught or co-taught seven of the twenty courses listed under international relations: “Cultural Contacts between the West and Primitive Peoples”; “Economic Aspects of International Relations”; “Pacific Methods of Settling International Disputes”; “Problems of Colonial Government”; “Protection of Minorities”; “International Labour Organisation”; and “Review of Current International Events”.

Mair’s wider interest in mandated territories led her to research the administration of colonial Africa. Her PhD on “Native Development in Uganda” was supervised by Philip Noel-Baker, the first Sir Ernest Cassel Professor of International Relations, later renamed the Montague Burton Chair. In 1931, the year she was formally appointed Assistant Lecturer in International Relations, and under the patronage of Bronisław Malinowski, Mair received a Rockefeller Foundation fellowship for field research in East Africa. From 1927 until 1940, when Mair took leave of absence to undertake wartime work for the British Colonial Office, she lectured extensively on colonial administration.

Lucy Mair's LSE student record
Lucy Mair’s LSE student record. Credit: LSE

After the publication of An African People in the Twentieth Century (1934), Mair received another fellowship, from the International African Institute, for a field trip in the mandated territory of North Western Tanganyika for 1936–1937, the year she was also approached to work for the Chatham House Africa Research Survey. On the eve of World War II, Mair’s international relations teaching included “Possession of Colonial Territory as an International Problem”, covering topics all central to British colonial strategy in the context of rival empires and anti-colonial resistance.

During the war, Mair worked at the British Empire section of the Foreign Research and Press Service at Chatham House, and in 1944, the year she published her third book Welfare in the British Colonies, she was invited by the Australian government to lecture for twelve months on the colonial administration of New Guinea. She became instructor in colonial administration at the Australian Land Headquarters Civil Affairs School, publishing Australia in New Guinea in 1948. She was promoted to reader in Colonial Administration in 1947.

After the war, Mair’s LSE teaching was formally listed under anthropology and the title of her lectureship was changed to Applied Anthropology in 1952. In fact, Mair had indicated her desire to transfer from IRD to Anthropology before the war. During her 1937 research in North Western Tanganyika, Mair wrote to the LSE director, William Beveridge. The LSE secretary was Lucy Mair’s mother, Jessy Mair, who married William Beveridge in 1942 and became known as Janet Thomson Beveridge. The primary reason for Lucy Mair’s departure from IRD was her desire for a coherent teaching/research profile centering on her specialism, rather than any sense of a fundamental distinction between international relations and colonial administration per se.

Indeed, in the early 1930s, there was discussion of whether international relations should be combined with colonial administration in one unit at LSE with a single head of department. Malinowski’s anthropology seminars were obviously hugely influential on Mair’s work and there was no comparable intellectual leadership in IR at that time. Yet Mair’s work was certainly considered core IR. Through the 1930s, one of Anglo-American IR’s central concerns was “peaceful change” in world politics and the consequences of the difference “between have and have-not states.” The 1937 International Studies Conference in Paris focused on this theme, leading to the publication of a book edited by Charles Manning, who held LSE’s Montague Burton Chair in International Relations from 1930 until 1962. Mair was one of eight contributors, writing on “Colonial Policy and Peaceful Change” (Manning 1937).

Needless-to-say, Mair was central to the consolidation of international relations at LSE. In 1934, she wrote an internal memorandum on “International Relations as a Separate Subject”. (Mair 1934b):

In its present-day form, the study must centre round the problem of the attempt to unite in a collective system a number of communities which are highly organised politically with a view of independent action. This problem is absolutely sui generis. It cannot be understood or solved by a process of facile generalization from the history of political development within individual states.

Based on her world-leading expertise in colonial administration, Lucy Mair was a high-profile figure among both scholars and policymakers over a long period of time. She taught a large percentage of the early students of international relations in what at the time was one of its largest academic centres in the world. For good reason, she is honoured in the academic discipline – anthropology – into which she migrated for her works on Primitive Government (1962), New Nations (1963), and Anthropology and Social Change (1969). Her work is the subject of two edited volumes in anthropology (Davis 1974; Owusu 1975). But, in international relations, she remains unknown for her role in its disciplinary history or contributions to international-colonial thought (but see Owens, 2018, from which this brief sketch draws).

Lucy Mair provides a case study of a high-profile historical woman – a prolific writer, teacher, and advisor of governments on one of the centrally important international relations questions of her day – who has been written out of disciplinary history. Her neglect is due to the widespread, but misplaced, assumption that women played little or no role in the history of IR and discomfort at including colonial administration as a branch of early international relations scholarship.


Davis, John, ed. 1974. Choice and Change: Essays in Honour of Lucy Mair. London: Athlone

Mair, Lucy, Philip. 1928. The Protection of Minorities: The Working and Scope of the Minorities Treaties Under the League of Nations. London: Christophers

Mair, Lucy, Philip. 1934a. An African People in the Twentieth Century. London. Routledge

Mair, Lucy, Philip. 1934b “International Relations as a Separate Subject.” February 20. LSE\LSE School History\Box 10 Chairs. London School of Economics Archives, London

Mair, Lucy, Philip. 1962. Primitive Government. London. Penguin

Mair, Lucy, Philip. 1963. New Nations. London. Weidenfeld & Nicolson

Mair, Lucy, Philip. 1969. Anthropology and Social Change. London. Athlone

Manning, Charles. 1937. “Peaceful Change: An International Problem.” LSE File, LNU/7/36. London School of Economics Archives, London

Murray, Gilbert. 1927. “Letter to William Beveridge.” LSE File Mair, Dr. L. P. 1927–1935 A. London School of Economics Archives, London

Owens, Patricia (2018) Women and the History of International Thought. International Studies Quarterly, doi: 10.1093/isq/sqy027

Owusu, Maxwell, ed 1975. Colonialism and Change: Essays Presented to Lucy Mair. The Hague, The Netherlands: Mouton

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About the author

Pencils on a yellow background. Photo by Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash

Professor Patricia Owens

Patricia Owens is Professor of International Relations at the University of Oxford and Director of the Leverhulme Project on Women and the History of International Thought. In 2016, she was awarded BISA's Susan Strange for the Best Book in International Studies.

Posted In: Academic life | Anthropology | Honorary Fellows | International Relations | People | Women and LSE

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