David Walsh (1942-2008) died suddenly of a heart attack in January 2008. He was appointed to what was then known as the Sociology Department at Goldsmiths in 1967. He had graduated in Sociology from Leicester University in 1964, where he was taught by Norbert Elias, Ilya Neustadt, Percy Cohen and Anthony Giddens. He went immediately to postgraduate work at the LSE and was one of the first cohort of graduates from the new taught MSc in Sociology in 1965. After two years as a lecturer at Northwestern Polytechnic (now part of London Metropolitan University) he came to Goldsmiths to teach sociological theory. He joined a group of colleagues, among whom were Michael Phillipson and David Silverman, who began to develop through their teaching a critique of normative Anglo-American sociology from a phenomenological perspective, and which resulted in the publication of the influential New Directions in Sociological Theory in 1972. The critique of positivist sociology that was at the core of Dave’s significant contribution to that volume has been reprinted several times since and remains an important resource in the contemporary secondary literature on sociological methods. It was also the basis for development of his further contributions to publications on which he collaborated with colleagues over the following decades – particularly in volumes edited by Chris Jenks, Clive Seale and Helen Thomas. He had sustained an interest in Jungian studies since the 1970’s and has also published work in Harvest, the journal of the Analytical Psychology Club, London.
Dave had a considerable appetite for the many aspects of life which engaged him. His love, and encyclopaedic knowledge of opera in particular, which extended to many other areas of musical theatre, made a visit in his company to any performance a memorable and rewarding experience. This interest also informed much of his later work, and resulted in his collaboration with Len Platt of Professional and Community Education (PACE) which produced the first book-length sociology of musical theatre, Musical Theatre and American Culture (2003). PACE will be hosting an international conference on the history and sociology of early music theatre in April this year. Dave would have been central to this conference. In his absence PACE will be paying tribute to his ground-breaking work in the field.
Dave’s contribution to sociology at Goldsmiths was not only as an academic: he was admissions tutor for many years and, as head of department from 1984/5 to 1989/90, he steered the department through a difficult period in its history. He took early retirement on grounds of ill health in 2002, but had recovered sufficiently to undertake some tutorial work for PACE between 2004-6. He will be greatly missed by his many friends and former colleagues, and remembered well by the several generations of students that he taught over his 35 years at Goldsmiths.
Dave had a special quality when even on a dark day he would make me
feel a million dollars. He was wise beyond words and his friendship was
loyal, deep and true. He was full of the joie de vivre bubbling with
enthusiasm and pride. He loved his life in Brighton integrating and
steeping himself in the local history and culture. It was a shear
delight spending days with him, chatting and listening, sightseeing,
wandering the shops and lunching in his favourite haunts. I knew Dave
for 20 years and I shall miss him.
Dave made a huge impression on me when I first arrived at
Goldsmiths. He was welcoming, interested, entertaining, supportive …
the ideal introduction to the department. He clearly loved teaching and
I recall the gusto with which he discussed sociological ideas not least
in relation to how they could best be taught. This enthusiasm for
teaching combined with his generosity of spirit and warmth meant that
students held him in the highest regard. It was around Dave that they
crowded at staff-student parties. Dave was more than willing to inject
a dose of realism into departmental discussions, but this was always
done with the good humour of someone devoted to both the department and
the College. Most of all, I remember is his explosive, operatic laugh –
simply, Dave was good fun to be around.
I first met Dave when he was a relatively slim and charming 28 year
old. We became friends and he was a great support to me for many years
as a young academic, I enjoyed his lively appreciation of our
discipline. I also enjoyed his company and we spent a lot of time
together. Dave was an enthusiastic and engaging teacher. As he got
older he began to feel that modern academic life was not quite what he
had signed on for and he never quite mastered the intricacies of the
'information society', preferring instead chalk and conversation. He
had visited more places than almost anyone I know yet I always felt
that he enjoyed organising the travel more than the holiday itself -
perhaps that was a metaphor.
When I first joined the Department of Sociology in 1996, fresh from
completing my PhD in Florence, Dave was among those who did not simply
welcome me to the new job, but actually took time to do so. I attended
his lectures and he attended mine. His careful and constructive
feedback always suggested this was a mutual learning experience - which
was enormously reassuring, not to mention flattering, to the absolute
beginner that I was. In more recent times, during many conversations
over dinner, he shared his reflections on the experience of life as an
academic and teacher over many years. I will always cherish the healing
humour with which he allowed me to contemplate the immediate
preoccupations of our profession. I will always remember him for his
wonderful irreverence, his capacity to both appreciate drama and to
bring it down to earth. The importance of being 'earthed' was indeed a
favourite theme of his, and one of the lessons in life I took from him.
I liked Dave very much and really enjoyed his company. He always had
interesting things to say and I liked the fact that he couldn't use
email and he didn't seem to care about that. You also always knew what
he was feeling and that meant you could trust him a lot, although that
didn't mean he could keep secrets! Far from it – if you told Dave a
secret you knew it would get around the place pretty fast because he
loved circulating bits of gossip and being the first to tell you about
it, even to the extent of ringing me at home with titbits that he just
had to share. He was a good, entertaining and sometimes quite
unstoppable talker and great for sharing critical views of 'the
authorities/bosses/managers' with. At the same time he had a great
feeling for sociology, although of course he did ramble on quite a bit
in a Dave-like kind of way when he spoke or wrote about it, so you
could learn a lot from him about that too. I know I did.
Flamboyant, foodie, funny Dave. What great times we had on our many
student visits to further education colleges across London. Dave's
booming voice and loud guffaw would herald his whereabouts in the
building better than any satellite navigation, and I'd follow along, to
a room full of mature students thinking of applying to university.
Anxious faces and furrowed brows would clear as the real, live,
Goldsmiths admissions tutor in front of them turned out to be someone
so interesting, passionate and provocative. Entire families could be
persuaded of the merits of studying sociology, as we saw summer after
summer, with students bringing their support network with them to find
out more about the course. Dave knew this is a family decision; that it
can be life changing; that things could never be the same. I'll miss
the conspiratorial whisper, coffee and restaurant recommendations.
Heather McGuinness née Wooldridge
Dave's natural kindness and fairness were especially evident in the
years before 1991 when he was head of department. In that time we were
often in a Hobbesian war of all against all and Dave was someone who
was generally trusted. I remember his clarity of thought, his
scholarship and his empirical bent, when an anti-empirical theoretical
pretentiousness was gathering strength. I remember too, when the head
of department's room was on the first floor facing the main building on
Lewisham Way, one would often see Dave's feet propped up against the
window with a curl of smoke behind them, after lunchtime in the
Sue Stedman Jones
Dave lived life to the full. His warm smile and wonderful laugh
would light up any day. He was always concerned and caring for others,
his students, his friends and colleagues, his work for Citizens Advice
and other charities. He was a very popular and successful teacher and
many of his pupils have gone on to great things. I remember in years
long gone typing up chapters and papers for him from his wonderful,
small handwriting that covered every inch of the page, all fascinating
work and clearly from a brilliant mind. Dave was a wonderful colleague
and a friend. He will be missed by many.
Dave and I met first at the LSE when we signed up for the Masters in
Political Sociology course 1964-65. I remember Dave as very bright,
friendly and funny and was very pleased when later he joined colleagues
and myself at Goldsmiths. We had some good arguments in the late
sixties about phenomenology and the book he wrote with Silverman,
Phillipson and Filmer was an important contribution to the debate in
the early seventies. I was delighted very recently to meet Dave again
at dinner in Brighton. We had a great chat about times past and
followed it up with a lunch at Brighton University. Dave gave me a note
of a lecture he wanted to give for us on musicals and we were all set
to fix this up. I last spoke to Dave just two days before his heart
attack to rearrange another dinner date. I am so sad that, having met
up again after so long, there is no more time to pursue our friendship.
His untimely death is a great loss.
I had known Dave for over 30 years, first as my tutor in Sociology at Goldsmiths, then as my head of department when I was a visiting lecturer, and then as a colleague in the department and last but not least, as a dear friend. I was shocked to hear of his death. Dave phoned me from his home in Brighton on 19 December to say that he was going to do some voluntary work and asked if he could put my name down as a referee. Usually Dave wanted to talk for some time but on that occasion, he just said, “Thanks. Cheers - happy Christmas,” and off he went. I came off the phone and said that that was the shortest phone call I had ever had from Dave. Last Monday, Doreen phoned me at work to tell me that he had died soon after New Year.
We have talked a lot about Dave at home and with former colleagues and friends over the past week and have laughed and cried a lot. If you ever wanted to know about a potential travel or holiday destination, Dave was the person to contact. Even if he had not been there - and he probably had - he could tell you which route to take, the best sights to see and where to eat. Travel and food were two of his personal passions.
One of the things my husband said when I told him that Dave had died was, “What will happen to all that knowledge of sociology which Dave possessed?” My immediate response was that he had passed it on down the line over the years. Above all, for me, Dave, was a consummate teacher, who passed on his unparalleled knowledge of the classical tradition and the work of Max Weber in particular, to many generations of students and colleagues.
Dave was my third year tutor in the late 70s in the days when we had one-to-one tutorials lasting at least one hour every week and he was a hard but kind, task-master. Despite my resistance, he made me read Parsons' difficult work, 'The Social System' and insisted I write an extended essay on it, with the words, “You are going to have to do it sometime.” Although I hated it, the process of confronting intellectual ideas or traditions which you do not like by seeing (or reading) them through to the end, as Dave and Weber might say, has become second nature and one which I encourage students to do also.
When postmodern theory became the new mantra in the early 1990s, Dave was one of the first to meet it head on with persuasive argument based on his critical and extensive reading on the subject. He did not just repeat his lectures, or rest on what he already knew, but wrote them out in full every single year in his unmistakable handwriting (purposely never having got to grips with the world of computing). I feel privileged to have been a recipient of that knowledge and understanding and hopefully, in turn, like other former students, I have also passed this down the line, In that way, I feel, Dave will be present for many of us for years to come. After he retired formally, Dave wrote a book with Len Platt on the musical theatre, which, like opera, was one of his passions. To this work, he gave the same dedication and superb scholarship that he had given to the classical tradition of sociology. I am sure his students on the part-time degree course also gained much from his lectures.
Dave and I kept in touch after he retired and we visited him in
Brighton last year, where he seemed to be very content. I will miss him
and will continue to think of him fondly as a friend and a remarkable
and dedicated teacher.
Helen Thomas, Director of Research, London College of Fashion, University of the Arts London
When I became Head of the Communications Department (as it then was), after
a mere two terms in academia, I found myself working closely with Dave
Walsh - it was terrifying. We were a small upstart department running just
one undergraduate course - Communications and Sociology - there was no
doubting which department was the senior partner. Dave Walsh and his
colleagues were a formidable team, superficially challenging but in fact
very supportive. Dave was a great Head of Department, I learnt a huge
amount from him, particularly how he never allowed department differences
to turn into personal antagonisms. He recognised that we were both
defending our respective patches and whatever differences we might have had
in meetings, in the Rosemary Branch, Dave was never less than warm and
welcoming. He was collegiate and congenial; a man of great integrity, sharp
intellect and a doughty defender of his subject area. I was never taught by
Dave but he was one of the best teachers I ever encountered at Goldsmiths.
Head of Department Media and Communications 1986-1994
Content last modified: 22 Apr 2009
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