Future-forming interdisciplinary research

Tributes to John


Members of the ISF directorate share their tributes to John.

‘I always like to hand my essays in on time’, John told me when we were working towards deadlines together. And he always did. He was quick out of the starting-blocks. Quick to answer emails, quick to help, quick to make decisions – in a way that was helpful and freeing for everyone. He was first to publish too – on so many different topics. He was able to see round the sociological corner. Fittingly, he has a book in press right now – on ‘the future’. Together we were building up a new interdisciplinary institute in Lancaster to help put the social into futures thinking. It won’t be the same without him, but we will continue that work as a living tribute to a wonderful man, a great scholar and a beloved colleague. Linda Woodhead.

At a recent meeting, when it was his turn at a whiteboard where we were drawing our research, John didn’t know what to draw (not keen on postits!). It was funny, and ended with him drawing a frame around everything – a perfect capture of his most extraordinary skill as a map-maker, charting the world with clarity, conceptual creativity, foresight, and moral momentum. His public sociology of futures, the social, the mobile/immobile, and the complex provides the best footing I know for affirmative critique, for putting the map to use to make a better world, in interdisciplinary and collectively engaging, experimental ways. John made my sociological life complex, mobile and future shaping. He changed my world. Monika Buscher.

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. Carlos Lopez–Galviz.

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. Astrid Nordin.

I met John two and a half years ago when I joined Lancaster University, though I had been drawing on his numerous books and thinking previously. John was exceptional. A great scholar with a sharp intelligence that was always imbued with a warmth, calm and generosity toward everyone. Here is the key, John’s innate curiosity, energy and commitment to never stop learning extended to all those around him. When we met to discuss an early draft of his book on futures his enthusiam and obvious pleasure in getting a different viewpoint, “I’m glad you think some of it doesn’t work, tell me why!” was palpable. Through our work together on Liveable Cities and Foresight, thinking about how cities and the world can “and will!” be different has been inspiring. He is already very much missed. Nick Dunn.

My chance to get to know John was all too brief. I was just discovering a person who was generous, energetic and supportive of new colleagues; who made opportunities, embraced ideas and helped them to grow. A few years ago when I was researching sociologists’ careers for my PhD, John let me try out my interview on him. The last time we spoke we were talking about that. And about Lancaster Sociology pre-email, when colleagues would emerge from their offices at lunchtime and have lunch, a conversation, (and maybe a pint), as a regular thing. We planned to make the time for these informal chats about our thoughts and ideas. I’m very sorry that I have missed the chance. But here’s to all the very many inspiring conversations that John was part of. Nicola Spurling.

‘Just a space for us all to have lots of really interesting conversations’: that was how John diffidently described the ISF to a group of would-be affiliates at its very early inception. As a relatively early career academic who has been schooled in the dictates of grant capture and strategic alliances, I found myself wondering how someone so senior could be so seemingly naïve. Over the months that followed, I have been privileged to experience the sheer power of enthusiasm for good ideas that always emanated from John, as well as his ability to put the fruits of conversations immediately into practice in very concrete and meaningful ways. John combined old-school values of genuine intellectual exchange and enquiry with a visionary ability to think through what might be done differently as a result. This is an attitude that it falls to us all to champion in John’s name. Rebecca Braun.

It is not often that someone as clever as John is as unassuming. I found him generous, curious and incredibly encouraging. And he worked for a better world. It was a privilege to know him and he leaves a huge gap at ISF. Mike Berners-Lee.






Discussion1 Comment

  1. Like many many others I owe John beyond measure for the personal-political support and academic inspiration he offered so generously. When I first joined Lancaster in 1988 to help set up the new Centre for Health Research he gave me a foothold in Sociology, and encouraged our inter-departmental efforts to create a platform for the ‘social model of health’, as well as to connect up with debates about complexity and causation in science. In 2004 he welcomed me into CeMoRe, invited me to pursue my wayward studies of metaphors of movement in social action for mental health, and showed benign tolerance of my affection for new ontological choreographies, poetic patchworks and similar would-be creative excursions into counter-disciplinarian flux. In 2015 he gave me a toehold in ISF as an Associate, and when I offered a thought about what I might take a special interest in, said (with an impish hint at a groan) ‘oh don’t worry, we’d expect you to roam far and wide’. In the past few months he’s been both sympathetic and astute in responding to proposals to balance the local and the global, and activism alongside theoretical modelling in ISF. One of the last things he said to me, a few weeks ago: I was telling him a little tale of woe about my own efforts to achieve a zero-carbon lifestyle, and out came the retort ‘ah Alan you see you’re carrying the Green Man’s Burden’. Brilliant, quick-as-a-flash, playful, affectionate and very very memorable. I’ve always liked Jerome Bruner’s characterisation of the great teacher: someone who can establish instantaneous ‘intellectual intimacy’. John had that. He was an unforgettable and irreplaceable resource for Lancaster and the world.