Neil Davidson Obituary

Published: 5 May 2020

The School is sad to hear of the passing of Neil Davidson, Lecturer in Sociology

The School of Social and Political Sciences is very sad to hear of the passing of Neil Davidson. Neil joined the School as Lecturer in Sociology in 2013 having previously held academic and teaching posts at the University of Strathclyde, the Open University and the Workers’ Educational Association. He also previously had a career in the civil service, including the Scottish Executive (as it was then known).

Neil was a unique intellectual, whose work ranged across a variety of fields, from the history of revolution, Scottish history, the far-right, state racism, intellectual history and neoliberalism. One of Scotland’s foremost Marxists, and one of the most significant scholars within historical sociology of any stripe, he developed insightful analyses of events and phenomena in both the past and present. He was the author of a number of extremely important and influential books such as The Origins of Scottish Nationhood (2000), Discovering the Scottish Revolution (2003, for which he was co-winner of the illustrious Deutscher  Prize) and How Revolutionary were the Bourgeois Revolutions (2012). He also co-edited a number of collections including Neoliberal Scotland: Class and Society in a Stateless Nation (2009) and No Problem Here: Understanding Racism in Scotland (2018). This latter text was co-edited with Sociology colleagues Minna Liinpaa, Maureen McBride and Satnam Virdee and emerged from a major conference held at the University in September 2014 entitled ‘Racism: From the Labour Movement to the Far-Right’.

Neil had recently organised the first major international conference on Uneven and Combined Development which took place last September. He was also one of Scotland’s foremost public intellectuals, perhaps most notably occupying a key position in the public debate on Scottish Independence, for which he was a strong advocate. His academic work and his public commentaries were widely translated, and he was a regular contributor to media platforms from all parts of the world. 

Neil was also a long-term convenor of the Sociology Level 2 course and taught a variety of Honours and PGT courses on topics such as neoliberalism, revolution, class and nationalism. Neil loved teaching and his students loved his classes (his lectures being delivered, of course, without a single note). He always appreciated the opportunity to discuss ideas with students, including learning what insights they could offer him about current issues. He was a valued colleague for those in Sociology, as well as the wider School, who always appreciated not just his generosity but also his emphasis on the important things about academic life.

This side of Neil will be one known to many colleagues. He was especially remarkable in combining his incredible academic gifts with a warm, generous and kind character.  He offered numerous forms of support to colleagues, PhD researchers and students who, in turn, appreciated the opportunity to learn from Neil and to share the laughs which inevitably came when they were in his company.

The School will miss Neil and wish to pass on our condolences to his friends and family, most notably to his partner Cathy Watkins.

An online book of remembrance has been set up for Neil. If you have memories of and tributes to Neil that you would like to share then please do so. 

Dr Matt Dawson
Head of Sociology

First published: 5 May 2020

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