Luke's Notes

Sussex Stories 2: The Early Years 1990-98 Part 2

Continued from: Sussex Stories 1

The Interdisciplinary System

For me, the most exciting thing about Sussex was that it had a unique interdisciplinary structure. 'Subject groups' like Sociology (what elsewhere were called departments) were spread across schools. There were five schools in the Arts and Social Sciences: African and Asian Studies (AFRAS), English and American Studies (EAM or EngAm), European Studies (Euro), Cultural and Community Studies (CCS), and Social Sciences (SOC or SocSci). Of the sociologists there when I arrived, David Harrison I think was in AFRAS but later moved to CCS, George Rehin in EAM, William Outhwaite was in Euro, Jenny Shaw and Brian Taylor were in CCS, and in SOC were Pete Saunders, Jennifer Platt, Mary Farmer, and Kevin McCormick. There was some talk of whether I would go into CCS when I arrived but I joined SOC.

The sociologists were physically located in their respective schools, all in different buildings. So you could easily see other sociologists only at your termly subject group meeting. In your school you would have offices alongside others from all Arts and Social Sciences disciplines, apart from in my school which was social sciences only. In SOC, though, the economists did have the chilly top floor mostly to themselves. The Vice-Chancellor (VC, the university CEO) who later dismantled this system was an economist and the economists never really bought into the system, although economic and intellectual historians were up there with them too on the top floor. Otherwise it was a complete mix. On my corridor were sociologists, philosophers, geographers, International Relations staff, political scientists, and social psychologists. In other schools it was the same kind of thing except in them sociologists would also find themselves next door to academics from arts subjects; English Literature, Art History, Media Studies and such like. It was an amazing mix and I got so much fulfilment from mingling beyond the narrow remit of my discipline.

Students would take half their courses in their subject (like sociology) and half interdisciplinary school courses (sometimes called 'contextuals'). In school course seminars would be students from all disciplines. I taught Foundations of the Social Sciences and my own course The Death of Socialism? in the school. Lots of students arrived not realising that they would be taking interdisciplinary courses for 50% of their time even though it was made very clear in the prospectus. Some economics and social psychology students tended to be pissed off about this as they just wanted to study their own subject. Others couldn't believe their luck that they could explore this rich mix beyond their discipline. Many students loved mingling with students and staff of many disciplines in their classes. It was different from joint degrees (like Politics and Sociology, for example) as the school courses were not supposed to be just from a different discipline, but to cover many disciplinary perspectives in each course.

My own Death of Socialism? included sociology, politics, political philosophy, political economy, and history. You could not identify it with any discipline. Foundations of the Social Sciences (FSS) covered thinkers from among Marx, Mill, Freud, Smith, Weber, Durkheim, Foucault and more. On this course students had to read the thinkers' original texts. It was challenging for them and some found it a struggle in the first year. But many said in the third year it all came together, what the thinkers were doing intellectually, and how it fitted together with the rest of their degree. The theorists on the course were all dead white European men (DWEM). The argument at the time was that, like it or not, the foundational thinkers in the social sciences simply were all DWEM. But the remit of the course could have been tweaked to accommodate women and decolonial (as they later came to be called) thinkers.

The first marking I did at Sussex was on FSS. Everything was blind double marked in those days. Two examiners marked the assessments independently of one another, then met to agree marks. It could be a long process. One danger was that when markers disagreed they would just compromise on a mark in the middle, leading to a bunching of marks around the median. Sometimes it broke down and a third person had to be called in to adjudicate. My first marks agreeing meeting was with Chris Arthur, the Marxist philosopher. In his retirement speech years later he said, 'I love teaching, but I love not teaching even more'. Later there was more of a marks checking process where the tutor would determine the marks and someone else just checked a sample of them.

There was the legendary and tough Concepts, Methods and Values course (CMV) in the third year of SOC. It had two strands, one analytical (basically philosophy of social science) and one historical (mainly intellectual history). The Sub-Dean of Academic Affairs would get streams of students every year applying (pleading more like) to be exempt from the course and to take an alternative. Time after time their applications were turned down. It was deemed fundamental and essential.

There were drawbacks to the interdisciplinary system and critics. It meant that in the third year you would be teaching students who had radically different backgrounds. So some were very well steeped in what was being discussed and some had no background in it at all. The subject (like Sociology) would only get students for half of their time so could not give as full a coverage of the discipline as you would like (although this is the same with conventional joint degrees). The school was technically the main organising structure but it cross-cut with subject groups and the management structure was not always that clear or simple.

But it made Sussex unique and different. There was really, as far as I was aware, no other university in the world like it. And the intellectual gains and sheer joy and excitement of working with, studying with, and learning about different disciplines day after day was huge.

Sociology and Social Psychology

At some point in the early days Sociology merged with Social Psychology. We tried to explore intellectual synergies but despite many common interests our different approaches didn't lead to much in the way of collaboration. There were some personal conflicts. But it was on the whole a happy alliance and Social Psychology were reluctant to be moved later to a large Psychology department with more experimental, biological, and cognitive psychology. Some of them felt more at home in a social science department than a psychology one. But move they did, to a large School of Psychology located over on the science side of the campus and I think they settled happily in the end. One of my social psychology colleagues was Pete Harris. We shared an appreciation of Robin Friday, a great wayward footballer who had played for my team Reading and his. Pete, a Cardiff City supporter, studied unrealistic optimism.

The Spence University

The architect of the university campus was the famous Basil Spence who also designed the fantastic post-war Coventry Cathedral that I have visited several times. The Arts and Social Sciences buildings were on a spine that ran in a line from Arts A near the university entrance, through Arts B, Arts C, Arts D and finally Arts E. Arts A to C had beautiful buildings with deep red brick internal walls, squares with grass, benches, ponds, and cloisters. As you came on to the campus from the train station there was a big library square (where many protest speeches were made, including by me, and leaflets handed out), then two large lecture theatres that I lectured in many times. Rising out of them were two high towers symbolising, I was told, the search for knowledge. In the lecture theatre building there were steps that were too deep to take in one step but too small to comfortably take in two steps. I was told this was deliberate. Spence wanted to force you to think about what you were doing when you walked through the campus. Next to the campus was the lovely Stanmer Park which led on to the Sussex Downs, and in the early years I often went out for a half an hour stroll there to get away from it all.

It was rumoured that you could get all the way around the university without leaving the buildings. I had my doubts about this until much later I became a union officer along with Rob, a project manager in Estates. One rainy day he took me on a long winding route that kept us inside all the way to a meeting with the management.  

It seemed the money had started to run out when they got to Arts D and E, where I had offices, because these were more breeze block affairs. Nevertheless I was often in the lovely Arts A-C buildings for meetings and lectures until we were moved in the Farthing years post-2007 (more on this in later posts) to the Freeman building out on the periphery of the campus. I rarely had a reason to visit the Arts Buildings then and it changed my whole experience of the university. D and E were eventually knocked down and replaced in the post-2007 period with a new glitzy building for the Business school.

Ian McEwan studied at Sussex and when I was reading one of his novels I realised that a walk he was describing was through a very recognisable part of the Arts buildings. Once when watching an episode of Grace, about a fictional police detective in Brighton, there was a scene with someone in a wheelchair recuperating in a beautiful cloister. I recognised it was filmed in the Arts buildings on the Sussex campus. It was supposed to be at some recuperative home but in the background you could just hear the noise of a university campus, the bubble of student voices in the open areas, probably the central library square I guessed.

In the Farthing years many buildings were knocked down and new ones erected. It was architectural and aesthetic destruction to match the academic and human destruction of that period.

Managers and meetings

The Vice-Chancellor when I arrived was Sir Leslie Fielding (from 1987-92) a very establishment diplomat, I think also a friend of Margaret Thatcher. It was an odd appointment for Sussex. I had no idea why the university was being run by a diplomat rather than an academic. I was never sure what he did while I was there, but that may have been because I was just focused on trying to keep on top of my job. Then came Gordon Conway (VC 1992-8) who was the first VC I met and I was on nodding terms with if we passed each other around campus. He was an agricultural ecologist concerned with global poverty. 1-1 he was a nice man, although controversial for his support for GM foods. Again, I'm not sure any huge changes were made at Sussex in his time. But that was a good thing. Given what was to come later just keeping the show on the road was an approach that worked for me.

The VC lived in a large listed 12th century house in the countryside, Swanborough Manor, that was owned by the university. It had belonged to Henry VIII and Oliver Cromwell. He (it was always a he in those days) was driven around in a chauffeur driven limo that would sit in a special parking place outside the door of the main administrative building when not being used. The chauffeur would be in full uniform, peaked hat and all. I once saw Gordon Conway being driven down the gritty urban Lewes Road past my house, an incongruous sight. I never knew what the chauffeur did when they were not required for driving duties. The VCs would hold dinners for selected staff at Swanborough Manor and I think these were expected to be cooked by their wives (but maybe they had a chef). I was never invited, thankfully. The house was eventually sold under Alasdair Smith and I think he was the first VC that dispensed with the chauffeur.

There was little management in my early years at Sussex. Deans of schools and chairs of subject groups were actually more convenors, even if the Deans formally had line management responsibilities. It was both what was good about Sussex, little managerialism and great freedom, but also what was problematic; some poor teaching, for instance, and I don't like to think what else, was left undealt with. When managerialism did come in much later on, sadly it was very often not of the right kind, and staff were seen as people to be controlled rather than supported. Some managers in the later managerial era were bullying and authoritarian. Others only liked to manage the things they enjoyed managing and were unwilling to deal with anything stressful that needed dealing with - like bullying and authoritarianism.

However, as we moved in the direction of the next era, there were some nasty moments involving Deans. In one case a Dean and a member of staff from the relevant group tried to get a probationer's contract terminated on the grounds they were not meeting their 'targets'. Some of us got together and tried to save the situation. There was a review and a Pro-Vice Chancellor (PVC, a deputy to the Vice Chancellor) gave the casting vote to extend the young probationer's contract to a full one. The obvious thing to do in such a situation is to support and help the member of staff deal with problems, if indeed there are any. It was nasty and inhuman to try to just get rid of this person. Apart from that, the person in question was a great colleague and well liked by students and staff. We needed people like them. But the damage was done. A bitter taste was left and the lecturer applied for a job at another university and left, a big and unnecessary loss for us. This kind of thing was unusual then, as far as I was aware. But later when I was union president at Sussex there were many cases of promotions and probation being dealt with in a quite arbitrary and punitive way, becoming more the norm than the exception, with little sign of humanity or supportiveness.

There was an International Relations (IR) lecturer with an office in my corridor. He was a lovely scouser, warm, funny, and with great integrity. He once wrote a paper which was 2 or 3 times the word limit for a journal and was outraged that it was rejected for being over length as, he contended, it was not possible to write a shorter version on the topic in hand. Because he was so perfectionist about writing and unwilling to bend to rules like word length he did not publish enough to meet the research assessment criteria and so was given a higher teaching load. 'Punishment teaching', he called it. Somehow the entire IR group would all fit into his office when he was chair of the group, for meetings that would start at 2 and still be going at 6 when my own meeting had finished two hours before and I was setting off for home. At our SOC school meetings IR contributors would often speak as if they were reading an academic paper. School policy and teaching strategy would be addressed with long interventions using Gramscian terminology about hegemony and war of position etc. IR at Sussex was not a training school for diplomats. It was unusually Marxist dominated and theoretical. There was one liberal, an intellectually brilliant Czech, who took his minority status with good humour and was never intimidated from saying his bit at research seminars. His father was imprisoned following a Communist party purge so his liberal tendencies were understandable. His brother was a left-wing dissident who lived in in exile in the UK for many years before becoming a senior government minister in the post-communist period. A young Canadian IR lecturer with the office next to mine would wear suits on days he was teaching and jeans on days he was not. When he came in suited, people would say wryly: 'Teaching day today, Rob?'.

I loved being on the Library Consultative group, as the member of academic staff from Social Sciences. The committee met once a term and was chaired by the librarian - Adrian Peasgood. In those days the head librarians were custodians of knowledge and archives, careful and caring about the treasures under their guardianship and about their provision to students and staff in pursuit of knowledge and education. How that changed later.

I was on a number of appointing committees in my time at Sussex, where we interviewed applicants for new lecturing posts, I am guessing 20 times or more, sometimes in my own department, and sometimes as the representative of an outside group in other department appointments. Soon after I arrived Politics advertised for a new lecturer and I was asked to be on the appointing committee. One candidate had to come from the USA and we had to fit him in a few days after the other interviews. He had the most amazing references, saying he was the best PhD student that his referees had ever had and all sorts of superlatives of the sort members of the committee had never come across before. It was difficult to get the whole committee together for a second time for his interview. But we were all intrigued and we made sure we had cleared our diaries to be there for this marvel. Needless to say, we appointed him. He, his wife, myself, and some others of the same generation socialised sometimes and my kids called him 'Lego Paul' because when he came round he played with their lego. In the late 2010s I was asked to write an article that overlapped with his area and I had to gen up on the literature. It was obvious he was a leading international figure in the field, but an unassuming one.

On one appointing committee the PVC (these committees often had a senior manager on them) dealt with their correspondence throughout all the interviews. In one set of interviews in the early years other members of the committee I was on started talking about the dangers of appointing a young woman as she may have a baby soon after arriving. It was only realistic to consider this they argued. I was appalled and quietly phoned Human Resources (HR) to ask if this was allowed. They said it was at the discretion of the appointing committee to decide on their appointing criteria. I could not believe it. This approach was probably illegal and certainly immoral. To be fair, they did eventually offer the job to a young woman who was a clear future star. I was delighted when she turned the offer down.

I found over the years that this was a common approach. If some manager wanted to pursue some very dubious approach HR would often say it was at his or her discretion. Much later in the post-2007 period, I was allowed to reduce my main job by two days a week to do union work in that time. A vindictive manager wanted to take the reduction entirely out of my research time, which would have ended my research and writing and undermined my career. He (accidentally, I assume) copied me into the email asking a senior member of HR about this. They said it was at his discretion to do so (me copied in again). I was able to use my union training to point out to HR that this would have been breach of contract and breaking employment law. It was not followed through.

Imagine no computers (it's easy if you try)

Imagine a university with no computers or internet. That was the university I joined in 1990. Students wrote their essays by hand. Staff also hand-wrote their reading lists and gave them to secretaries to type. They were not stored on a disk of any kind so when you revised the reading list next year the whole thing had to be retyped again from scratch. There was no email, no smartphones, so no messages, notifications, or news updates through the day. Working at home, there was just a paper newspaper in the morning, the TV news at midday and 6pm, a landline for anything urgent, but it rarely rang. I left mine on an answerphone with a small tape in it to record messages, in those days pretty hi-tech. There was no caller ID so that was how you screened your calls. When you sat down to read a book on a day working at home you just did that all day with no distractions or communications at all. It was much calmer and in-depth and I miss it a lot.

To be fair, there was one huge computer in a cavernous room in the main administrative building programmed by tape with holes punched in it fed in. I think it managed the payroll. It was run by staff wearing white coats. Then personal computers with floppy disks started to come on the scene. The Dean of our school decided to use school funds to offer everyone either a PC on their desk at work or two word processors, one they could have at home and one at work. It was seen by many at the university as a profligate and irresponsible use of school funds but it showed great foresight. I chose the two word processors, and for the first time my desk at work became not a blank space with huge piles of paper teetering on it. A machine sat on the desk but to the side for use now and then rather than a constant presence in front of me. We had repeated computer problems at the time, floppy disks getting corrupted, computers freezing etc, and a computer help centre in a different building that struggled to keep up.

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Me at my desk in the 1990s before computers. That's a Basil Spence chair behind me, mentioned in Part 1 of this series.

So the Dean hired Paul Allpress as a roaming technical support person in the school. He would fly into your office, business-like, reassuring and joking, tweak a few things or take away a disk and hey presto everything would be working in no time. One day he took away my malfunctioning keyboard and came back shortly after with a big smile and asked if I ate lunch at my desk, which seemed an odd question. I said 'Yes' and Paul replied, ‘That would explain it’, and deposited on my desk a pile of breadcrumbs and bits of dried-up food he had pulled out of the keyboard. Everything worked smoothly after his ‘repair’. Paul was energetic but calm, good humoured and friendly, down to earth but highly knowledgeable. He went on to head up the bigger Arts Computing Unit. He always fixed everything and quickly. He’d done all sorts of jobs in his life and had a diverse range of hobbies and interests. After a while he occupied what he called the best office on campus in Arts D. It was big and had wide windows from wall to wall that looked over the central Bramber House catering building at a central intersecting point of campus, with criss-crossing pathways in view where you could see a constant flow of people coming and going. Later I was moved into the same office - D323 it was. It had panoptic views and sometimes students would email me to say they were unable to come to the seminar due to illness only for me to spot them wandering along the paths outside my building looking in peak fitness. A couple of times someone set up bungee jumping outside the office (some charitable fundraiser I think) and it was very difficult to concentrate on work. When you could tear your eyes away from watching, you would be brought back to it by the screams of someone who had jumped and was bouncing up and down on the elastic outside. Paul had health problems early and later in life and sadly died in 2015 aged only 58. He was probably the nicest most likeable person I ever met at Sussex, not to mention how brilliant he was at his job.

When we got connected to the internet it was at dial up speeds and you tried to use it in the morning 'before America woke up' because it would be even more painfully slow in the afternoon when the USA logged on. When email arrived there was initially limited take up. When people said they would check their email I assumed there was a room somewhere where the email arrived and you had to go to collect it. The early email system had a red postbox icon on the computer desktop and when a message arrived there would be a ping and a symbol of a letter would appear poking out of the postbox slot. I think you would go hours or even days with no email arriving in the early days. Then people started to complain about getting 5 or 10 emails a day, saying it distracted them from their work. And then staff started to use the cc facility and copy in people which led to waves of complaints about getting emails they felt they did not really need to see. It took a long while for off-campus webmail to come along so when you were at home you were email free. One professor took a while to adjust. If you went to collect printing you would find it buried in reams of messages he was still printing out a decade or two after email came along. It's surprising there's any rainforest left at all.

Pre-internet, organising a student demo involved calling a meeting to plan it then leafletting for days to get the word out. The day came when people could just post on Facebook to get a protest up and running and I was amazed when demos could be organised and happen with an hour's notice. In the 2000s email went into decline amongst students. They were using texting, messaging, and social media instead and there had to be campaigns to get students to check their email.

The first time I really experienced smartphones was when I sent a student an email and then walked out of my office to see him standing in the corridor. He thanked me for my message. I asked how he could have possibly got it as I had only just clicked the send button. He pointed at his phone. I didn't really understand. I didn't know you could pick up email on your phone.

To go back to the library again; in the early days, there was always a problem with there not being enough copies of books that were on the reading list, and constant complaints from students who could not get the resources they needed. I saw an opportunity with the internet. I taught myself html code and got some webspace from IT Services. I uploaded readings to the webspace, created links to them, and put them on a homemade webpage which I made available to students. It took a lot longer to set up than it sounds. I put a tracker on the webpage so I could see if it was getting hits. Hardly any students used it. I think it was just outside their frame of reference at that time. When I tried to explain this method to staff most looked blank and indicated they had other business to attend to.

We photocopied readings, to help with this problem, and sold them in big study packs. I had a meeting about this with, I think, the sub-librarian Chris Ravilious. When I talked about formalising the copyright for this sort of initiative, because tutors were just copying and distributing readings without any legal permissions, he said it was best I did not tell him about the latter. But the packs were expensive and students rightly complained about the cost. Later, the university created online course sites (that eventually replaced hard copy course documents) and online reading lists where you could click through to electronic readings. It became the standard setup and students then started to use them. Even now these online sites are quite clunky. I'm not sure, given the smart world we are in now, why they can't be more smooth and user-friendly.

Chair of Social and Political Thought: 1993-6

Mary Farmer, an economic sociologist, had an office on my corridor. She was highly respected and liked across the school and was committed, conscientious, and very hard working. The last light on in the evenings was often from her office. She was ever helpful and generous with her time, including with me. She was a Sub-Dean for Student Affairs for a while and, I think, had also been a Labour councillor on East Sussex County Council. She had a nice house in the lovely West Hill area of Brighton and I went round there with my kids at least once for a daytime party. She was chair of the Social and Political Thought (SPT) Graduate Division, which hosted an MA and PhD programme.

In 1993 she went into hospital for minor investigative surgery. It went wrong and she was taken into intensive care. At work we all held our collective breath. At the weekend I got a call from Pete Saunders, then the chair of the sociology group, to say she had died. Pete was calling round everyone in the department to pass on the terrible news. Her funeral was on a weekday in term time and a coach was hired to take everyone who wanted to go from the university and then bring them back to campus. She was only just into her 40s when she died.

Someone had to take the reins of SPT on an interim basis and the Dean asked me. I then took it on for a full term from 1993-96. I was just 29 when I took over and the Dean put great faith in me to make a good job of it. I really was winging it but it was thrilling to be involved in this international intense programme. It was made easier because Mary had left such a good operation. I continued her tradition of inviting all the staff and students round for lunch at my house at the start of each year. I'm not the most sociable person and not a very enthusiastic cook but I enjoyed doing it.

The SPT MA was a flourishing course and often had 25-30 students on it each year, from all around the world, many of whom had had it recommended to them by their tutors at home. There was always a strong contingent of Greeks, keen to stay as long as possible, in some cases to avoid compulsory military service. It was possibly the world's most well-regarded SPT programme. The PhD programme had about 30 students on it at the time. There was a weekly research seminar with speakers giving talks. When I was chairing the division (as it was called) it was an intense period. The students were very serious and after the seminars we often went for drinks or to a local Italian restaurant. MA and PhD students and lecturers all got to know each other well. Strong bonds were formed and memories made.

I taught on the SPT MA for years and had a number of PhD students in the division. When I started at Sussex, William Outhwaite, then chair of the division, suggested I put on a course on Recent Political Thought, which I did. It was half on theorists and political theory since the second World War, John Rawls, Robert Nozick, and so on. The second half focused on thought coming out of social movements, feminism, ecology, recent socialism, etc.

One of my early PhD students, Terry, and her partner Kirby, an artist, came to stay with me while they were looking for somewhere to live. My kids loved them and were impressed by Kirb's art. When they found a place nearby they borrowed my settee and Kirby gave us a gift of a painting he had done for the children. Terry got ill on fieldwork in, I think, Nicaragua and it took me weeks to pick up her email about this. It came over Christmas and there was no webmail at home so you could only get email at work, which I was away from for a long time. On one occasion her and Kirby were caught up in an armed robbery at a bus stop where shots were fired and they had to take cover and flee. Terry was not much younger than me when I supervised her PhD, something that happened quite a bit to me in those days. One anxious PhD student took to appearing at my house unannounced in search of impromptu supervision. Another who I barely knew, also asked if he could come and live with me for a while while he was homeless. One other, before coming from abroad, announced in advance we were going to be great friends and hang out and asked if I would go and look at prospective houses for her and feedback on whether they were suitable.

There were many important staff involved in SPT in those early years, William, Mary, Darrow Schecter, John O'Neill, Andrew Chitty, Neil Stammers and more. Donald Winch taught in SPT and in the School of Social Sciences. He was trained as an economist but became an intellectual historian, especially of economic thought. He cared deeply and sincerely about academic integrity and standards of scholarship and the importance of a history of ideas approach. He could be gruff and scary, but also quite emotional, gentle, and caring. Like Bruce Graham, he took the new generation of academics under his wing and supported them. When Margaret Thatcher espoused the work of Adam Smith, Donald pointed out in various articles, including one in The Guardian, that Smith was far from a free marketeer and that his thought did not support the sort of neoliberal approach she favoured. He joined Sussex in 1969 just a few years after its foundation and did stints as Dean of the School of Social Sciences and as a PVC.

It was at one SPT talk about 1993 that I met Caroline, a lecturer in literature in the German group at Sussex, on a scheme to bring German academics to the UK. Her parents were British but she had been brought up in Germany. Caroline helped me overcome my prejudice against Michel Foucault and guided me through introducing him into my teaching. She was an important part of my life in those years.

While I was SPT chair the Sociology BA was put in for assessment in the Teaching Quality Assessment (TQA - an external audit of teaching quality at universities) and the SPT MA was added in with it. The Sociology chair wrote our submission and covered SPT too, which I felt guilty about as I should have done more on that part. It was an intensive visit, over three or four days I think, with many lectures and seminars attended by the assessment team of academics. I had my MA Recent Political Thought seminar observed and also an undergraduate lecture on capitalism and the environment. There were six categories each marked out of 4. They covered some things we could control, like our teaching, and some we could not, like the library or computer provision. At the feedback session the 6 scores lay on an overhead projector, but covered with a sheet so we could not see them. The chair of the team gave a talk saying he had encouraged his team to be as critical as possible and then took off the paper sheet to show we had scored 4/4 in every category, a maximum possible 24. I think only two or three other university sociology departments got the top score in that round, possibly Essex and Warwick among them. Much wine was drunk later and, as the news spread, people from outside the department, hearing how we had done, came in amazed and happy for us, to be part of the celebrations.  

My excellent successor as SPT chair renamed the role from Chair to Director and replaced the fold-over paper A4 leaflet we sent to enquirers with a glossy colourful one. It was in tune with the way things were going and the leaflet at least was the right way to go. But I preferred the old less managerial title and the less glossy leaflet.

Ecology and Society

The first course I designed myself was 'Ecology and Society'. It was rare for sociologists to consider environmental issues in these days. The course proposal sailed through the various committees that had to look at it, as new course proposals tended to. There were lots of these committees in the complex subject group and school system of the time. Only one unit came back with suggestions for changes. Alasdair Smith, Dean of European Studies, said that the course was based quite a lot on literature from the green movement (which it was) and that more academic literature could be on the reading list. I made a mental note of a rare experience of someone a bit less laid back than was the norm. I made the necessary amendments. The course became a book with the same title, my first book. A few years later I stopped teaching the course as the area rapidly expanded and I felt I could not keep up with the literature well enough.

My publishers entered Ecology and Society for the annual Philip Abrams prize for 1995. This was for the best first book by a young British sociologist that year. I'm not sure how big the field is for such a niche remit but the prize was prestigious and gets lots of publicity. I got a phone call (landline, of course) from a secretary at the British Sociological Association (BSA) one day who said I had won. The money prize was about £100 and a cheque came in the post soon after. She said it also brought a lot of glory. I said I was more interested in the glory than the money and she said approvingly 'quite right too!'. I was sworn to secrecy until the prize was presented. I had to go the the BSA conference to receive it. I was never a big lover of conferences through my whole career, but this one I had to go to. The prize was presented by Michèle Barrett (see the first part of this blog on the early years) and she was very nice. When I asked if I had to make a speech accepting it, she said of course not.

I bumped into John Solomos at that conference at breakfast. John, a sociologist of race and racism, had been the internal examiner on my PhD and we crossed paths many times over the years. A Sussex graduate, he was always fond of the place, and was an external examiner for us when I was Head of Department. Later I was an external examiner at City University when he was Head of Department there. It was not as dodgy as it sounds. I loved the years externalling at City. That part of London is a favourite place of mine, they had lots of great people on the staff, and I carried on for the maximum possible term allowed. John had a very gentle manner and was always nice, attentive, and supportive to me. He was a mad Baggies (West Bromwich Albion Football Club) fan and chair of its London supporters club, travelling to many home and away games. He had stumbled across the team when he was a child in Cyprus and was hooked for good.

I went to the Polity Press stall at the BSA conference (Polity published the Ecology book) and the Polity staff member recognised me from a photo they had on file. She introduced me to Anthony Giddens, a very well-known British sociologist and co-owner of Polity. He was quite aloof on that occasion but many years later when I met him at a political think tank conference in Brussels (in 2011) he was much more clubbable and friendly. I took my daughter with me to the conference and Giddens came up to me at dinner and said 'You're Luke Martell, aren't you, I'm Tony Giddens'. I'd written some other books for Polity by then and he joked that I was keeping Polity Press afloat with my sales. After we'd had a chat he moved on and my daughter said to me in awe; 'That's Anthony Giddens and HE KNOWS WHO YOU ARE!'. Giddens knew just about everyone, especially anyone his publishing house took on, but I was happy to impress my daughter.

Much later on I was energy and environment rep for my school and department. I put together a policy which included requiring relevant units to only fund work flights if the journey could not be easily done by train. This was in consultation with other staff in newly created environmental rep roles and the Student Union President at the time, Dan Glass, who was pursuing an eco-university project. He soon after made a name for himself by glueing himself to PM Gordon Brown in a protest about aviation. Domestic flights were ruled out and some longer ones to Europe. I was shocked that many people resisted and seemed blissfully unaware of the seriousness of climate change, or just unbothered about it relative to their own personal convenience. After much struggle the policy was passed at department and school level. It was immediately ignored and short very avoidable flights that clearly broke the policy continued to be supported. Some staff harangued me saying I had no right to ban their private domestic flights. Of course, they were right, I did have no such right. I had not done so. The policy was on the funding of work flights.

I carried on teaching environmental issues on all my courses throughout my career. When I wrote my Ecology book, science was split on climate change. That has obviously changed. These days I find it a difficult topic to think about. There are so many possible solutions but, despite much brave and committed activism, so little political and corporate will to pursue them. You don't have to be a doomer by nature to see that the future of life on earth looks pretty bleak.

Next post: will be on the period 1998-2007.

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Contents and Introduction: here