Tributes to Professor John Urry.
It is with shock and deep sadness that I have just heard about John’s death. John was my PhD supervisor in the late 80s. I remember some of his pithy comments on my draft chapters, “interesting”, “terrific”, “blimey” stick in the mind some 25 years later! I had the pleasure of working with him again when I was in the department for a few years until 2005. He was a leader among his generation of sociologists and an inspirational figure who was always one step ahead of everyone else in identifying new sociological issues, from space and locality, to tourism to mobility, and making them his own. His death coming only a week after that of Doreen Massey makes this a very sad time indeed for social sciences. He will be sadly missed but long remembered by the sociological community.
Sad news always makes one look back on our memories. I remember, as a mature student, entering Lancaster University in 1977. Getting to grips with a subject like sociology was only possible because of the exceptional team of sociologists providing the lectures and tutorials. John Urry was a giant amongst the giants. The complexity of State and the sociology of political power was always difficult for me, but the brilliance of John eventually opened up my understanding. He taught me to think, and for that I will always be grateful.
Many years later I found myself involved in academic tourism. And it was John who provided the first solid academic understanding of this aspect of mobilities. So for the second time in my career John had a major influence on my thinking.
A great academic and teacher who will be sadly missed
I only just heard this news and I am so sad today. Sad for the loss of a really decent guy and sad that a pioneer of the research area I love and champion of the young, the emerging and outlier has left us. I first met John in, I think, 2006 when he invited me to CeMoRE at Lancaster to talk about the Aviopolis work I did with Ross Harley. I had, of course, like most other researchers in mobilities been inspired by John’s work for years and was shocked to think that he had even heard of my work. He was very personally generous to me; inviting me to workshops, publishing a book I did with David Bissell, including me in his work. He welcomed me into the mobilities fold and was profoundly influential in my career. I’ll be forever grateful for his research and ideas and his personal support. He was a thought leader in our field and we’ve lost a driving force for our disciplines and a genuinely inclusive and generous scholar. I was always so struck by his openness, (but also his rigour) to other ideas, he’d take it on, think it through, maybe push it further or dismiss it later. But he was always real in the way that he thought. I admired him greatly and will greatly miss his collegiality and contributions to research. Such sad news.
He didn’t have to be so kind, but he was.
My deepest condolences to his family and those closest to him.
This news is so saddening. Last month, when I went back to my old school to give a speech on my experiences as an international student in Lancaster Uni, I met a student who is highly interested in sociology and wants to apply for master degree in Lancaster Uni. He told me that he was interested in mobility studies – then the next 20 minutes, I probably said more than 10 times “please read John Urry’s books” or “please send an email to John Urry”. This news is just so shockingly sad. I have never personally been taught by Prof. Urry, but he has left such a great influence and legacy for this department which is the most precious part of my memory in the UK. You will be missed, John, and a thinker never dies, because his great thoughts will be passed on – you are not around anymore, but you are around forever.
I first met John in a campus café, to talk about starting up the Institute of Social Futures. I have met few people who were so immediately enthusiastic and generous with their knowledge and time – inviting feedback on his new book draft, offering thoughts on my own projects in development, and always going an extra mile to support junior colleagues. I only knew John for half a year, but in that time he left an ineffaceable impression of the kind of intelligent, bighearted and engaging scholar and person that more of us should aspire to be. He will be sorely missed.
What a momentous loss – for Lancaster, Sociology, academic collegiality and innovative, future-oriented thinking. John was such a lovely, lively man who clearly inspired several generations of students, friends and scholars.
John has been a constant presence during my 30 years at Lancaster University, and I really can’t imagine the place without him. He worked at an astonishing rate, writing books – so many of which gathered together a new phenomenon that we were all struggling to grasp, naming it and thereby spawning a whole new interdisciplinary field of study – but also processing the huge amount of emails he received with astonishing efficiency. But then in the flesh John was also the master of the slow – of conviviality and human-heartedness, always ready to find time to talk, and ready with good advice when it was needed, for peers and junior colleagues alike.
He was a very special scholar, colleague and human being. As I received the news that he had died, I was writing these words (about ancient Greek ‘monumental’ time’):
“It is only through great deeds that a mortal human life can be lifted up into monumental time, becoming more mythic archetype than individual – and about the greatest deeds, human words are divinely inspired.”
The news was devastating but the timing of its arrival was apt. He was and always will be a legend.
I met John in Naples at a conference on memories of the future in June 2015. Little did I know that I would be writing to him about a month later once I came across the ad for a lectureship in the new Institute for Social Futures. I only got to know John for a brief 6 months, but that was enough to get a sense of his warmth, generosity and intellect. I will remember the great mind with a generous heart and great vitality that I saw and witnessed whenever we met. I will miss you John and so will the future.
I was so sad to hear of John Urry’s death. We were Lancaster colleagues for well over thirty years, and although from different departments and disciplines we came together often in both both our academic and our administrative fields – most memorably for me during the 1990s when we were respectively Dean of Research (John) and of Postgraduate Studies (me). I remember John as invariably good humoured, open-minded and unostentatiously energetic, shrewd in his judgements, and wise in his advice. As for his scholarship, its range was so wide that I truly encountered only a fraction of it, chiefly in the areas of tourism and mobilities. Its quality in those fields, and I do not doubt in others, was of the highest order. Like countless others, I am glad and proud to have known John and to have and worked with him.
As so many of us have said, John’s character shone in both his personal and his intellectual life – and with the same qualities. A couple of weeks ago I was thinking about sending him a manuscript for him to look over. I knew that it would come back very quickly with lots of acute comments, which I could not possibly have thought of, combined with generous encouragement for somebody trying to get back into the discipline after a long absence. And he was always like that. We met 46 years ago when we were appointed to the one-year old Lancaster department. Somewhat intimidating at first – very clever and tall – but do you remember the way that he dipped his head as if trying to reassure you? But very rapidly it became clear what a wonderful colleague he was going to be. His warmth, intellectual adventurousness, readiness to meet and talk and willingness to see the best in people sustained the department through some very troubled times. As he quickly gathered a formidable reputation, he never lost his humility or became overbearing. I remember his saying to me, almost wistfully, how his intellectual style was to dip in and out of topics, as if this were somehow a failing. At the time I thought that I have never met anybody who had so much to say about so much. The kind of man you will always think: ‘I wonder what John would say about….’
Very sad and shocking news. A significant loss to both those who worked with him and knew him, and the wider academic community in general. I knew him primarily through his work, but in my various encounters with him, I always found him to be analytically incisive, thoughtful and kind. His legacy will live on through the many people who knew him, and benefited from working with him, and through the global community of scholars influence by his work. However, this doesn’t reduce the feelings of sadness at his passing
I first met John in the late 1970s at workshops on space, society and localities, and as long as I knew him he maintained the same love of learning for its own sake, the same curiosity about social change and enormous capacity for work, the same warmth and openness to others, leading by example and gently guiding rather than dominating. He always seemed to set the tone and exemplify the ethos that I hope marks out Lancaster –combining adventurous, post-disciplinary scholarship and research with collegiality, humility and generosity. It’s astonishing how much he achieved, in his own writing, in collaborative work, in encouraging young researchers, in developing international networks, in advancing the influence of social science, in getting research money, and in research administration and negotiating the endless hurdles of audits – all without ever losing that laid-back, generous, approachable and good-humoured manner; hearing laughter coming from his office down the corridor was a familiar and reassuring part of life in the department. He will continue to influence and inspire as much as he will be missed.
John and I both shared a strong interest in thinking about futures. In his writing, he forcefully argued that sociologists had a responsibility and indeed a unique contribution to make to imagining possible social futures and to challenge the dominant framings of ‘wicked problems’ such as climate change. In the week that he left us, I had set our first year undergraduate Sociology students a chapter from John’s book Climate Change and Society to read, in which he sets out four possible future societies. His writings on climate change and energy use in which he has worked and reworked scenarios of possible alternative future societies has been and will continue to be inspirational to me and, I hope, to the young people we teach. They will eventually come to live the future that John was committed to changing for the better.
John visited our Institute and Graduate School in various capacities: as an advisory board member, Inaugural Lecturer and as a colleague in research projects.
We will remember him as a friend.
John was a brilliant sociologist and a wonderful colleague who gave much, and had much more to give. I was fortunate to work with him co-supervising a couple of PhDs during my years at Lancaster, 1998-2006, and know how supportive, incisive and kindly his supervision was. His contribution to sociology was, and will remain, extraordinary, and he will be remembered affectionately and respectfully by generations of students and colleagues. He surely represented the best of sociology and the best of his generation.
Regrettably, I never had the pleasure of meeting John in person during his life, but I have been deeply influenced by his scholarship. In that way, I like so many of us carry something of John’s life forward. May he rest in peace.
At a low point in my life and career, John saw a kernel of interest in an ill-conceived PhD idea and instantly gave me a flexible academic home for the next 12 years as a PhD student, MA in Tourism colleague, and member of a breathtakingly vibrant and inclusive CeMoRe community. It was such a privilege to be in the Urry vortex. John was so hard-working, supportive and challenging: in the final stages of my PhD I remember emailing a question at 3am and was astonished to see an answer wing its way back at 3.30am. And I always loved his quirky personal anecdotes, like attributing a dental visit to the fact that his mother put sugar on lettuce. I’m very sad and very grateful to have known this amazing man.
a major motivation for me was to make him laugh or inspired by an experimental idea or a ridiculous tennis shot. his praise was without attachment, without end, and exuberant. we now longer have his force of love and encouragement. I am heartbroken as I know many others are. devastating loss. epic sadness. more tears to follow…
John Urry inspired my research on transnational mobility in East Central Europe in an extraordinary way. In his work, he bridged the gaps between various disciplines. He was one of the colleagues working in a truly interdisciplinary way. I regret that we did not meet in person.
I first met John at a mobility seminar in the early 2000’s having recently embarked as a young professor on a new journey at UWE that became the Centre for Transport & Society. Meanwhile the Centre for Mobilities Research at Lancaster was powering up. The seminar encounter was enough for me to be able to pick up the phone and ask John if he was interested in joining forces for an EPSRC proposal ‘Travel Time Use in the Information Age’. And so began an on-off collaboration over ten years. I remember John being delighted that as a sociologist he held an EPSRC grant. He was also very patient as he, alongside Juliet Jain and Laura Watts, inducted me (a civil engineer by background) into the world of sociology.We enjoyed some great research times together at the interface of mobilities research and transport studies. If ever there was a gentle giant it was John. No-one I can think of could be more deserving of the title ‘Distinguished’ Professor. Thank you for the cherished memories John.
I didn’t have the good fortune to meet John Urry but very much appreciate the new knowledge he has given to the world of research about ways to look at movement. Without dabbling my toes in the mobile world, I would still be ‘stuck in place’ with dog-walking going nowhere except round and round in the mind. Thank you for such inspiration.
I can add little to the descriptions of this exceptional man that has not already been said in the other tributes. John was in south China with me and our project colleagues just last weekend for a fantastic workshop on urban mobility futures in China, at which he was a star attraction, dragging PhD students from across Guangdong province to Shenzhen for a few hours on a Sunday just for the chance to meet him. His reaction to this adulation was characteristic: confused frustration that these students should be so deferential to him and the sincere invitation to talk with him as a peer. And then, when they did, his quiet but infectious enthusiasm regarding the interesting discussion he had with them. After the meeting we hatched exciting plans for our next steps working together; plans that will now have to be carried out in his memory not with his invaluable insights, encouragement and succinctness. Thank you John, thank you, for everything.
I first met John at a conference in Lancaster in 2006. As a PhD student, I remember being ridiculously nervous as I found myself sitting next to him at a dinner. ‘Sociology beyond Societies’ was one of the books that I had read and re-read in my final year as an undergraduate and it sparked something in me that made me want to study further. It questioned the world in a way that really excited me. And now, here I was sitting next to the author! But at that dinner, I was struck by how John wanted to hear about the people sitting around him. What were their ideas? What were they doing? What were they interested in? With his twinkling eyes and mischievous smile, I was so struck by his intrigue, curiosity and generosity. The next time I met him, a year or so later, he remembered what we had previously chatted about, even the delayed train to the conference! His interest in other people has taught me much about how to engage passionately with the world as a thinker and as a person.
I have learned so much from John. He has helped me in so many ways and for that I am so very grateful. He helped me to get my first academic article published without which I certainly would not have been offered my first job. He was so supportive in helping Gillian Fuller and I publish our edited collection on Stillness. He helped Peter Adey and I by taking part in an interview with us. A few of us in Australia had just started a new project with him on work futures and we were so grateful for his support and enthusiasm in shaping the project.
John was such a wonderful and generous man. He embodied the best qualities of academic life. He was a thinker who danced with ideas like no other; a writer whose prose was powerfully infectious; an advocate for challenging worldly injustices; a sociologist with an unbounded curiosity for thinking the world anew; a kindly spirit with a wonderful sense of humour; a colleague who cared so deeply for those he worked with; an inspirational force who truly transformed so many worlds. He will be dreadfully missed. I feel so desperately sad to be penning these words and send my sincere condolences to his family and academic community in Lancaster. I feel so very grateful for his presence in the world. Thank you, John, for being you.
I’m sorry but my english is very bad. So I need use spanish.
Hablo en nombre de mi equipo de investigación en la Universidad Complutense de Madrid (Territorio, Desarrollo y Cultura) para expresar nuestro dolor más profundo por el fallecimiento del profesor Urry, una persona con un valor académico y personal inigualables y que nos ha legado conocimientos y reflexiones extraordinarios. No podemos olvidar que cuando estuvo en Madrid, invitado para participar en una conferencia, cedió sus honorarios para que pudiéramos becar a jóvenes estudiantes y que así pudieran asistir al evento. John vivirá siempre en nuestros pensamientos y en el de nuestros jóvenes estudiantes, pero también en nuestros corazones por su enorme generosidad. Gracias a la vida por habernos dado la oportunidad de haberte conocido, amigo.
I was shocked to hear of the sudden death of my cousin John this evening. i did not know John well, but was really glad to renew our acquaintance when we both lived in Leeds. Though he moved back to Lancaster some years ago, during my year as lead Councillor for Climate Change in Leeds, I was particularly pleased to be able to attend some of his lectures touching on Climate, and last year had a really good chat following one such. I share all sentiments about his wry self deprecating humour. A terrible loss at just 70.
Brilliant, clever, kind, generous and inspirational….for an intellectual giant to be such a lovely person as well, highlights why there is such a strong place for John in our hearts. I will really miss him, so very much.
I read the news about John with shock and sadness. I first got to know John in 1985 when he was one of my PhD supervisors. I wasn’t a good student. I wanted to do my PhD on my own, without supervision, and he was great about it, even though years later he told me that in the run up to the ESRC deadline I caused him a lot of anxiety. He hid it well though, & just sent lots of references for me to look up. I can only echo what so many have already said – John never sat on his ego, his interest was was always in the intellectual, rather than the corporate, but he was effective in moulding the corporate environment, which I’m convinced made a very important contribution to the success Lancaster enjoys today. As HoD, he was endlessly tolerant of postgraduate complaints over pay & exploitation, and incredibly sweet and funny in his interactions with us. He really is irreplaceable, as are others of that generation lucky enough to have experienced a period in British academia when thinking was considered a legitimate occupation. I consider myself immensely privileged to have been taught by so many of the ‘Lancaster School’. John will leave a huge gap, but a lot of bright scholars to carry on his work. My condolences to his long standing partner, his children and grandchildren, his colleagues, and his PhD students.
I am shocked and saddened by the news of John’s death. He combined learning, an incisive intelligence, a truly encyclopaedic interest in the workings and the misworkings of the world together with a quiet authority, approachability, warm good humour, and a most unusual ability and willingness to support those around him, junior and senior alike. I will certainly never forget our extended and cheerful conversations about the similarities and differences between sociology and STS. Or his openness to new approaches. Or his extraordinary ability to see the importance and interest of new topics – tourism and mobilities are just two – and then to follow that interest through into startling and creative publications which helped to establish new fields in sociology, and so to reshape the discipline in novel and exciting ways. He will be most sorely missed both in, but also far beyond, Lancaster.
I first came across John as a first year undergraduate when, fresh from a visit to China, he contributed some lectures on Chinese communism. the following year I took a course on Social Theory and his explanation and illustration of The Protestant Ethic helped me through 30 years teaching the sociology of religion in an FE college. In the 90s our paths crossed again as I took an MA course on tourism and more recently in the Lancaster veterans tennis league, where he consistently beat me. The range of his sociological interests was extraordinary and his contributions always moved the subject forward in interesting and important directions. He is a great loss to the subject locally, nationally and internationally, and personally I will greatly miss the sociological chats after tennis matches.
A very shocking bolt out of the blue was this news of John’s passing. I did not know him ell but will never forget the Year 3 Sociology undergraduate seminars I sat in during the first year of my Geography PhD at Lancaster – how respectful he was of the students, even when they clearly had no clue / had not done the work – allowing them to speak or not but then usually simply putting them straight on what they did not know… Found him a a great inspiration from that day and through so much of his excellent scholarship. Still hard to believe there will be no more great new accessible stuff to look forward to. I’ll certainly keep a-citing him though!
John always encouraged and gently helped give me the confidence to pursue ideas. He leaves not just a published legacy but the example of how to make sociology matter outside the university. His generosity and care went hand in hand with a commitment to social and environmental justice that will not be forgotten.
I met John 16 years ago, almost to the day, on a rainy day in Lancaster. As a PhD student in Sociology at Lancaster, and then a postdoc in the newly formed Centre for Mobilities Research, I benefited enormously from John’s intellectual insights, mentorship, and encouraging support. Wherever John was, there also seemed to be a constellation of fabulous, inspiring scholars, artists, and techies – and he was brilliant at making just the right connections to kindle something wonderful among them. In fairly obvious ways, his scholarship inspired my own, but in many much more practical, behind-the-scenes ways he opened up possibilities for me and helped me find my place in academia. Sarah Gibson and I owe him a huge debt of gratitude for encouraging the ideas, and helping fund the workshop, that led to Mobilizing Hospitality. He helped me get a contract with Routledge for Travel Connections. He introduced me to dozens and dozens of people who have shaped my thinking and my being. And he generally cared about my development as a scholar, and as an early career faculty member in ways that that felt incredibly supportive, even from far away. His succinct emails (surely the inspiration for twitter’s 140 character limit?), his insistence that once I got the title the rest would fall in place, and his reminder that nothing is ever perfect, even after it’s published (as evidenced by his story about once opening up a newly minted book of his only to find that some copyeditor along the way had changed ‘world’ to ‘word’ in the conclusion and thus altered his entire argument!) have continued to inspire and comfort me. Thank you, John, for being such a wonderful teacher, thinker, and friend.
Here in Aotearoa New Zealand, we will miss John’s generous spirit and his incredible writing — and we will carry on his legacy of challenge and friendship in the Mobilities Network.
I am saddened to learn of John’s passing. His research on the most interesting and pressing social questions is a remarkable contribution to academia and beyond. I was part of John’s “Tourist Gaze” module in 2004-05 – it was a wonderful experience in which a packed room of students were energised and inspired. It was also John’s words of encouragement on turning an essay into a journal submission that gave me the confidence to get going with academic publishing. It’s clear from reading such moving tributes that he will be fondly remembered by many.
John was one of my PhD supervisors. The last time I saw him was during my ‘last supervision’, only a few weeks ago. For the first time, he had seen and read a full draft of my thesis, a thesis that is due to be submitted in a week. I look at my draft thesis now sitting on my desk, and I see his comments, scribbles, edits, and humorous quips throughout…
Six years ago, when I decided to do a PhD, I reached out to John. I remember writing that first email, taking a long time and choosing my words carefully, knowing I was sending it to one of ‘The Greats’. His response was quick, friendly, and encouraging. A year and a bit later, I started my PhD at Lancaster under John’s supervision and care. As many have said, despite John’s academic greatness, he remained down to earth, approachable, amazingly generous, and always up for a laugh. Indeed, barely a supervision went by without some laughter. I, like many, have been blessed to know and be mentored and supervised by John. He constantly motivated me to be a better scholar, but also to believe in myself and my work. He was and is my academic role-model.
Looking back at my last supervision, I think most of his smile and encouragement. I take some small comfort that he was able to read my praise and thanks to him in the acknowledgement section of my thesis, I only now wish I had given him a hug too. I will miss you dearly John, as I know many will.
John, why did you leave us so early and so unexpectedly? Luckily, you leave behind a huge legacy. I will remember you as a very generous colleague and a brilliant scholar who was constantly exploring new topical and conceptual horizons (you always seamed to be a step ahead of the rest of us). May your thought-provoking research and your mentorship be a shining example for all of us…
Ten years ago I agreed to speak on a seminar panel because John would be chairing it, I’d read some of his work and wanted to meet him. After the discussion he suggested that some of my art practice could be thought of as a mobile research method and mentioned the possibility of applying to do a PhD at Lancaster. Such a small but generous comment changed my life. His insight and enthusiasm for interdisciplinary work and his encouragement of art and artists in research has been invaluable to me. It is difficult to imagine Lancaster and CeMoRe without him.
During my first post-doc position I had a number of conversations with John about time. I was trying to understand how he managed to achieve something that even Stephen Hawking could only theorise – to bend time! For, despite his inspirational sociological insights, critical contributions to establishing the Profession of Sociology and institution building at Lancaster, John always seemed to have plenty of time for a chat and to support the ideas and careers of early career researchers. He certainly did so for me as both a PhD student and as I began my career at Manchester. Thank you John.
John was a truly lovely man — in his work and in his being he exemplified what critical scholarship ought to be: caring, imaginative, accessible, welcoming, modest and utterly engaging. He was a wonderful collaborator, a marvellous listener, and a brilliant thinker. But above all he was a truly lovely man.
Thank you very much Professor John Urry for giving us inspirations through your magnificient work, for sharing your exquisite knowledge with all of us. I will remember you as one of the precursors of the “paradigm of mobility”. You will be so missed.
I feel terribly sad. John’s extraordinary generosity and wisdom, his advices, his humor, his gentle provocations to go a step further into your own thinking made academic life so humane . John was my mentor during my Phd studies and beyond. He has always been there for me and I will terribly miss him. I admired his disposition to learn from others, to listen, to open up opportunities and paths for many of us regardless of where we came from. I admired his literary recommendations, his creativity and passion to put and end to social and environmental inequalities, to push for a better world. I am thankful I had the opportunity to have him in my life. He was excited about his new research and the new center, and he was still ready for tennis. My deep condolences to his son and family, his friends and dearest colleagues. Thinking of you.
UK Sociology has lost a key pillar. It was a privilege to have known John briefly, and I know I am not alone here at the ESRC when I say we will greatly miss his towering intellect as much as his kindly good natured demeanour.
I came to Lancaster and sat one hour in conversation with John in his office, explaining to him my ideas on complex systems. I had come across his book on social complexity and knew I needed to speak with this guy. I was new to sociology, and didn’t know the full stature of John’s academic background. For me he was a relaxed, humble, generous person of ideas, interest, and above all, he wished to assist others in realizing their ideas and research. After the hour was up, I looked at him. I didn’t know what to say. He smiled – ‘So you coming to Lancaster then?’ I hadn’t realized he had accepted to be my doctoral professor… He was such a gracious person… I remember I was honoured when asked to say a few words on his behalf for his 60th birthday when the Lancaster sociology department had organized evening drinks (along with the birthdays of John Law & Bob Jessop). One of the things I said was that all his students looked up to him – we had no choice, he was so damn tall!! John was looked up to in so many ways, and deserved the respect…collegial, supportive, a piercing mind and a true communal being… He was tall in so many ways…. Thank You John….
We are greatly saddened by the news of John’s untimely passing.
He was an wonderful human being and he was and will remain a strong inspiration for us, at the Forum. Our awareness of key issues and much of what we believe in today stems from his lifelong work.
We would like to express our heartfelt condolences to his family and friends and to all that worked with him.
The Forum will do its best to honour his memory and his work.
I’m shocked by the sudden and so early passing of John. His work on mobilities has been the inspirational source for my own study of personal mobility. I met, at the time, a modest man, carefully listening to new ideas, and brilliantly responding to them. The world of social sciences has become richer with the mobility turn initially identified by John, and constantly enriched and fostered by him. A great leader for so many of us is gone!
Such very sad news. John will be remembered not only for his massive contribution to a wide range of social science research fields but also for the great personal kindness, generosity and good humour that he always displayed. I worked with him in Lancaster in many different capacities and his wise advice and inspirational example will be much missed.
I can add little to the professional appreciation of John, he was a true scholar with an enormous appetite for new ideas and a passion for writing and imagination which allowed him to cross boundaries with ease. He was enormously fair and quietly funny. I always thought his greatest compliment to me was to introduce me at a seminar as ‘an honorary sociologist’! I especially appreciate him as a friend, who I have known almost since I arrived at Lancaster in 1978. I will miss him a lot.
What a shock to receive this message. I first met John very soon after having arrived in Lancaster in September 2004. He was extremely supportive, so very interested in cross-disciplinary research, full of ideas, a real ‘Mensch’. I feel very privilged to have been able to get to know him and spend such valuable and inspiring times with him, in the Advisory Boad of the IAS, at various workshops and conferences, and at many meetings for lunch, dinner and coffee. This is a great loss for Lancaster, for the academic community, and for all his friends, across the globe. We will all miss him!
While John is a towering figure in sociology, he was also incredibly kind, generous and supportive. Such a combination is quite rare. He made time to see me when I contacted him out of the blue not long after I started working at Lancaster, and on this occasion and others, his advice was encouraging and reassuring. I found his feedback on draft book and research proposals to be insightful and nuanced – he would pick up on sentences or points that needed clarification or expansion, getting to the heart of the argument. But he would also comment on what he liked or thought was productive, taking care not to be demoralising. Lately, I’ve been referring to his and John Law’s essay on the performativity of method in a lot of my teaching. In this piece, John expresses complex and influential ideas succinctly and accessibly, but without being reductive – a knack that extends across his writing. His work has expanded the boundaries of sociology, broadening the scope of what it includes, where it might move, and what it might do. I remember him for all of these things. I’m really saddened by this news – he will be missed immensely.
My life changed forever within a few hours of starting to read The Tourist Gaze. Dynamite! “I want that man’s insights in my life.Now!” I thought, and moved my very new Ph.D work up from East London to Lancs the minute I found that this remarkable thinker was actually available to me. He was my co-supervisor in the late 1990s-early 2000s, and always so nice to me. But I did wish he’d pay as much attention to my emerging ideas (on the history of women working at sea, seeking adventure and consuming fancy ports and passengers on ships that were high white mobile viewing platforms) as he did to my punctuation!
The thing that most touched me about John was that at Xmas he had a box of wine glasses ready. He didn’t just expect us to swig from paper cups. This was a proper celebration, done with style, even if we were just students. And that typifies him.
John really showed by example that one must be collegial, wide-thinking and thorough.
His death hits me harder than most deaths so far in my life, because he was so kind, as well as so important as a thinker – and fun-maker.
Thank you, John. You really gave to me – as you did to so many. Here’s a few wrong semi-colons for you ;;;;;;;. Here’s to you. .
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