Current and former members of the Department of Sociology will be saddened to hear of the death on 24 April at the age of eighty-one of Alan Swingewood. The news is doubly sad because Hazel, his wife of fifty-seven years, died at around the same time, a victim of COVID-19.
Alan was born and grew up in Staffordshire. With a BSc in Sociology, he joined the staff of the Department in 1968 as a Lecturer in Sociology, receiving his PhD in 1969 for a thesis on the Scottish Enlightenment and its role in the rise of sociology, for which he was supervised by Donald MacRae. He was promoted to Senior Lecturer in 1987 and, after thirty-two continuous years in the Department, left in 2000, taking early retirement at the age of sixty-two.
By almost any standard measured in terms of publications, Alan had an impressive sociological career. He published books on the sociology of literature, on sociological theory, and on culture. The 1970s were particularly productive for him. As early as 1972 he co-authored a book with Diana Laurenson on the sociology of literature. His Marx and Modern Social Theory appeared in 1975, well-regarded and much-used by a generation of students studying sociological theory. His book The Novel and Revolution, contributing to one of his other great passions, the sociology of literature, was published in the same year. His work reviewing the history of sociological thought came out in 1984, with a second edition in 1991. As his career progressed, he increasingly turned to the sociology of culture. Even as early as 1977 he had published The Myth of Mass Culture, and his book on aesthetic theory then appeared in 1986. His last major work also reflected this enthusiasm; this was Cultural Theory and the Problem of Modernity, which appeared in 1998.
By any standard, even at LSE, where criteria for promotion were not always wholly transparent, he might with such a publication record have been promoted higher than Senior Lecturer. Perhaps his sociological interests were too esoteric; mainstream enthusiasms in the discipline do come and go, but there can be no denying that his interests in aesthetics and culture would attract much resonance in the discipline of the second decade of the Twenty-first Century. Or perhaps Alan did not particularly want to be promoted and was deliberately diffident about pushing himself forward for higher formal status. For he could be remarkably insouciant about some of the issues that motivate most academics. He started in the Department before receiving his PhD and achieved this only a year later. Yet he never bothered to have the title on his office door upgraded from ‘Mr.’ to ‘Dr.’, though a simple request to Estates would have seen this done. He routinely entered and left the School unobtrusively by one of the rear entrances. He was apparently content quietly to continue with his teaching and research. However, postgraduate students whom he supervised were greatly impressed by him and a number of his doctoral supervisees have since made names for themselves in the wider academic world. Alan’s colleagues knew that he had a hinterland outside the School and perhaps this became more important to him as he became older. He was, for example, a keen tennis player of some ability.
His death is none the less a personal loss to members of the Department of his generation, who remember him, for all his apparent diffidence, as a well-regarded and productive colleague of considerable intellectual stature. Deep condolences are extended to his two sons at their personal losses.