We were an unlikely couple, you and I. Invariably I would be sitting there in some country pub or other in smart trousers and pearls. with you opposite in your rumpled outfit straight from Sociology central casting. Between us would be placed carefully on the table one pint of bitter (for you) and a half of IPA (for me), and some scrappy pieces of academic writing I had created in an attempt to make progress towards my elusive dissertation. We would be in a pub because then I knew I would have you captive for two or three hours at least, during which time I would be asking you all sorts of simplistic questions about sociology while patiently, you would break down the entire discipline so I could apply it to my rather mad cap doctoral project. Now that’s what I call teaching.
It didn’t stop there. A rite of passage at most universities is to end up doing a lot of teaching, but having nowhere to do it, so you allowed me to share your office in the attics of Homerton College and use it for supervising undergraduates, and research. I would sit in there, surrounded by prints of historic Norwich, and your Commitments poster, pulling your books off the shelf and generally hearing your calm sociological voice in my head. I do now when I am writing this. If you were still here, you would probably take me out for chips somewhere, and you would tell me that if I just calmed down a bit, and listened, you had a plan. And then you would relate the plan, and it would be immensely logical and brilliant, and the writing would just come. Because that’s what you did.
You were the one who first made me read Basil Bernstein’s work – Basil had been your own PhD supervisor. You told me to get out of the library, and to grab pens and paper and spread out his ideas all over my living room floor. You then introduced me to the great man himself. On this occasion, naturally all logical thought escaped me. We ended up with a less than earth shattering conversation about which of Basil’s book chapters to read next, in relation to my study of teachers. But you didn’t mind, because all you were really interested in was knowledge, and you always treated your students as intellectual peers joining you on the journey.
But your legacy goes well beyond me, and all the beers, and all the reading. You leave behind a body of work on the Sociology of Education so precisely conceived and formulated that you helped transform thinking in the field, from the highly technical work of Bernstein to the Social Realism that pervades your writing. This has filtered down to many of your postgraduate students, and in turn we have now become research supervisors, bringing on another generation of educational sociologists. So in Sociology terms, you live on.
RIP Rob, and I hope the beer is good up there.