Professor Stephen White Obituary

Published: 1 December 2023

It was with great sadness that colleagues across the University of Glasgow learned of the passing of Professor Stephen White.

It was with great sadness that colleagues across the University of Glasgow learned of the passing of Professor Stephen White on 15 November 2023.

Stephen was a longstanding colleague in Politics and International Relations, first joining the University as a lecturer in 1971. He was the James Bryce Chair of Politics and a Senior Research Associate of the University's School of Central and East European Studies until his retirement in 2017, after which he remained Emeritus Professor of Politics.

Born and raised in Dublin, Stephen graduated from Trinity College Dublin, with degrees in history and political science. He then completed a PhD in Soviet studies at the University of Glasgow, during which time he spent a year at Moscow State University. Following this he completed a DPhil in politics at Wolfson College, Oxford.

Stephen was an outstanding scholar and researcher, driven by a passion and sustained engagement with Russia and the former Soviet Union. A highly respected authority on Soviet and post-Soviet politics, he was often interviewed on Russian politics for television and radio news. His research interests were wide and while latterly he focused largely on elections, voting and non-voting, parties, political elites, public opinion and the media, he also worked on the politics and foreign policy of Belarus and Ukraine, on Russian foreign policy, and political graphics. During his career, he was a prolific writer and authored or co-authored numerous books and articles. In recognition of his immense contributions, Stephen was elected as a Fellow of the British Academy in 2010. He was the chief editor of the Journal of Communist Studies and Transition Politics and also edited International Politics. 

Colleagues who knew Stephen will remember his sharp and deep intellect, as well as his formidable work ethic. He was a widely respected colleague in the University and active and wider networks such as the Centre for Socialist Theory and Movements, of which he was a longstanding supporter. As well as his numerous contributions to research culture, Stephen was a respected and dedicated teacher and he inspired many generations of students with both his passion and his knowledge for his subject. His attention to detail was borne out in his enthusiasm for drawing attention to poor grammar in course guides and University communications! This was matched with a quiet, but equally deep, kindness and thoughtfulness. He was also a great lover of literature and shared this enthusiasm generously. Colleagues could often find a novel, paper or interesting newspaper article that he had come across and left in their pigeonhole. Over his career, he was a generous mentor to many doctoral and post-doctoral colleagues, forming longstanding intellectual collaborations and friendships across the world.

Stephen’s office in the Adam Smith Building was legendary. Younger colleagues looked in awe at the piles of paper and books, knowing that he had most likely read every single one, while fire wardens and janitors despaired! Visitors would find Stephen typing away in the corner, almost hidden behind the piles of papers, books and a fascinating range of Soviet posters and memorabilia. What was intended as a quick visit to Stephen’s office usually resulted in a long conversation about an object on a shelf or a paper they should read.

Stephen White was an exceptional academic, a valued member of Politics and a good friend to many. The thoughts of Stephen’s former colleagues, students and his many friends across the University are with his wife Ishbel and their son, Alex.

First published: 1 December 2023

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