On Essex and Sociology




My ‘home’ was the Sociology Department at the University of Essex from 1975 to 2005. I still spend some time there. Below is a brief statement of its history. I am working with Joan Busfield on an expansion of this brief chronology. If you do have stories to tell about your time at Essex, do contact me.

Feb: 2012: This is rough and may contain some errors. It certainly contains a lot of omissions! Ken Plummer would be very interested to hear of suggestions for inclusions and corrections (send them to plumk@essex.ac.uk) Eventually this will be put on the Department’s web site for the anniversary celebration in 2014.

 The 60’s: Formation – Idealism and Conflicts

Wivenhoe Park selected as the site for Essex


1961        First Vice-Chancellor – Dr Albert Sloman – appointed.  He was to run the university until 1987


1962        First Sociology (Foundation) Professor appointed: Peter Townsend.  Sloman gives the Reith Lecture: A University in the making, which outlines his vision of the new university (This is accessible on line). http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00h9l8z

1963        October: the first students arrive.  Sociology starts.  December: work commences on first

residential tower (Rayleigh) – teaching is in Wivenhoe House and adjacent huts.

1965     First woman lecturer appointed: Dorothy Smith (in sociology, of course). .She is now Emeritus Professor at the Ontario Institute for the Study of Education, OISE, University of Toronto…


1966     Professor Alasdair MacIntyre appointed – he stays for only 3 years.


1967     First undergraduate degrees awarded.  The ESRC Data Archive established.  Opening of the first  phase of Social and Comparative Studies Buildings.  By now, there were 17 members of academic staff- significantly large for a new department.  Peter Townsend ran an International Conference on Poverty Research (supported by the Joseph Rowntree Memorial Foundation).


1968     International student protests and Essex is featured.  David Lockwood is appointed Professor.   Social Service Planning MA commences. Pauline Morris gets the first Ph D in the Department (and becomes Head of Sociology at South Bank). The full complement of staff now included Peter Abell, Colin Bell, Joan Busfield, Susan Cone, Ioan Davies, Patrick Doreian, Ronald Fletcher, Johan Galtung, Geoffrey Hawthorn, Valerie Hewett, Elliott S.Isenberg, David Lane, David Lockwood, Alison MacEwen, Alasdair MacIntryre, Dennis Marsden, Herminio Martins, Jane Marceau, Ernest Rudd, Adrian Sinfield, Dorothy Smith, Paul Thompson, Peter Townsend, Frank West. Research staff included: J Maxwell Atkinson, Melanie Bartley, Oliver Boyd Barrett, Roy Cox, Michael Lane, Elizabeth McGovern, Hanah Mitchell, Ranata Simpson, Elizabeth Sloan, Andrew Tudor, Jeremy Tunstall, Sylvia Tunstall, Fred Twine, Vera West. Secretaries were: Susan Best, Marion Haberhauer, Assumpta McEvoy, Anita Schofield, Jean Smith, Barbara Warner, Brenda Watkinson.


1969     By October, there were 26 members of the academic staff.


The 70’s: Ideals Transformed – a little


1970     Professor MacIntyre leaves for Brandeis.  In October, total student population numbered 1934 (1570 undergraduates, 364 graduates). There were 162 undergraduates in sociology; 25 taught graduates; and 16 researching for the PhD.


1970     David Lockwood Head of Department


1971     Paul Thompson founded the Oral History Society and the journal Oral History.


1972     David Lane Head of Department


1973     Colin Bell Head of Department. He was at Essex between 1968 and 1975; died in 2003 (latterly Vice Chancellor of Bradford, Edinburgh and Sterling Universities)


1973     First undergraduate women’s studies course taught.


1974     The ‘Occupation’ – Stan Cohen becomes the fourth Essex Professor of Sociology and Chair of Department.  First signs that the initial expansion was over.


1975-6   Ratio of women to men in the department starts to increase significantly. New appointments include Ken Plummer, Nicky Hart and Mary McIntosh.


1977     Dennis Marsden becomes Head of Department


1979     Dennis Marsden becomes Chair of Department. International Oral History Conference organised by Paul Thompson. Peter Townsend’s  Poverty survey is published. John Goldthorpe gives the first Fuller Bequest Lecture on ‘Intellectuals and the Working Class in Modern Britain’.


The 80’s: The Thatcher Years of Austerity – and Consolidation



1980     Professors Cohen & Townsend leave.  Paul Thompson becomes Chair and develops research committee. Period of University retraction, and Thatcher cuts starts. There are only two appointments in the department in a decade: Judith Okely (1980) and Oriel Sullivan (New blood appointment in 1984).


1981     Department newsletter Sociological Life is initiated and runs for over 20 years until 2002. Initially published four or five times a year; latterly only once or twice.


1983    Howard Newby, a former undergraduate student, is appointed Professor of Sociology; Harold Wolpe becomes Chair of Department and oversees the new ICT and computerisation of the office.


1984   ‘New Blood’: Oriel Sullivan is appointed. Ken Plummer initiates Sixth Form Conferences


1985   The departmental office undergoes computerisation!


1986   Mary McIntosh becomes first woman Head of Department.  UGC rankings place Essex as internationally distinguished (the highest ranking). David Rose initiates first movements to establish the British Household Study.


1986-7    Graduate Research Forum; first annual graduate weekend in Clacton.


1988    Dr Albert Sloman receives a Knighthood and retires, Professor Martin Harris appointed  Vice-Chancellor.  Howard Newby leaves to become Chairman of the E.S.R.C. &  the MA Sociology and Community Mental Health commences in conjunction with  Severalls Hospital.  Ken Plummer takes over the First Year and establishes a new course which runs for eighteen years. Annual First Year Lecture commences with Tony Coxon (This has run yearly since then: early speakers included Anthony Giddens (1990), George Ritzer (1996) and Jock Young (1999). In 2000, a new series started whereby old students were invited to give the lecture: this started with Sylvia Walby, and has included Nigel South, Susie Scott, Finoa Devine, Liz Kelly, Karen O’Reilly, and Ruth Lister).  Ted Benton and Joan Busfield become Professors.


1989    Joan Busfield becomes H.O.D. The E.S.R.C. British Household Panel Study is established at Essex. Department gets UGC top rating (again) & the department starts teaching sociology to nurses as part of Project 2000 nurse training. First new appointments made with Colin Samson, Nigel South and Paul Gilroy (who leaves in 1991).  Bryan S. Turner joins the department but only stays two years.


The 90’s:  Expansion Again – a second generation begins.

1990     Michael Harloe becomes Professor. Professor Townsend receive Honorary Degrees The department restarts making new appointments including Lydia Morris, Colin Samson, Nigel South, Rob Stones and Miriam Glucksmann: at least 10 new appointments in one year! Expansion, revitalisation….and the department celebrates its 25th Anniversary.


1991     Erasmus European Conference for Lesbian and Gay Studies: a pioneering two-week conference at Essex.


1992   Ken Plummer becomes H.O.D. Prof Martin Harris leaves to become Vice-Chancellor at Manchester, Prof. Ron Johnston is appointed as the new Vice Chancellor. John Scott is appointed Professor and Graduate Director. He initiates The Essex Graduate Journal of Sociology.


1993    Essex hosts the British Sociological Association’s Annual Conference – “The Sociological

Imagination”; Paul Thompson and Louise Corti establish Qualidata; for several years the department hosts Project Sigma.


1994    New Vice Chancellor: Prof. Ivor Crewe. The Sociology Student Support Officer is established (Helen Hannick) and the Student Resources Room established.


1995    Tony Woodiwiss is appointed H.O.D. Major expansion of teaching assistants. Essex hosts the European Sociological Association’s Annual Conference.  First Annual Ph.D Thesis Conference 6th June. Ken Plummer & Lydia Morris are appointed Professors of Sociology at Essex. Liz Francis, Peter Davis, and Richard Wilson leave after only short stays.


1996     Quality Assessment of Teaching- Department gets 22/24. RAE awards Essex Sociology 5*, one of only two departments of sociology in the country to get this maximum grading. Ken Plummer launches the journal Sexualities.


1997     First staff ‘retreat’.


1998   Nigel South and Tony Woodiwiss become Professors.  Development of a new undergraduate degree in Culture, Media and Society; Professor Catherine Hall leaves for University College; Helen Hannick leaves and Rowena MacCauley becomes new Student Support Officer.


1999    Prof. Dennis Marsden & Brenda Corti retire. Professors Tony Woodiwiss & George

Kolankiewicz leave. Prof. Robin Blackburn and Dr. Joanne Entwistle (briefly) join the department.


The New Millenium: 2000 and a new era?



2000    Prof. Diane Elson, Dr. Lucinda Platt and Dr. Paul Iganski join the department. Mary

Girling – departmental administrator for 25 years – retires. Dianne Allison becomes new Administrator. Criminology degrees start?


2001    The Department again gets the maximum 5* grading in the RAE, one of five departments on this occasion, and allowed because this was the second occasion to describe itself as 6*.  Dr. Tiziana Terranova and Dr. Tim Liao join the department.


2002    Memorial service for Ian Craib who died of cancer on December 22nd. Prof Tony Coxon retired ( he dies in 2012).

2003     Professor Stan Cohen awarded an Honorary Degree.


2004     Dr. Rob Stones is appointed H.O.D. Dr. Tim Liao continues to be a Visiting Fellow but returns to the University of Illinois whilst Professor Ewa Morawska, Dr. Lynne Pettinger, Dr. Max Bergman (the shortest ever appointment, lasting only one term!) and Dr Dawn Lyon join the department.  10th Anniversary of Resource Room, 40th Anniversary of University. Peter Townsend and Dennis Marsden give visiting lectures.


2006  Position of 5th for Sociology Departments in the National Student Satisfaction Survey 2006-7, the highest ranking of any top research department NSS placings. Ted Benton Retirement Conference. Ken Plummer retires due to illness and becomes Emeritus.


2007 New Vice Chancellor appointed – Colin Riordan. Mike Roper becomes H.O.D. Appointments of: Nick Allum, Michael Halewood, Darren Thiel, and Adrian Athique; Mark Harvey becomes the department’s first full time Research Professor and Director of the new Centre for Research in Economic Sociology and Innovation (CRESI). There are 27 permanent full-time teaching staff, around 120 graduate students and 160 2nd and 3rd year undergraduates. Period of new financial stringency. Introduction of a dedicated ‘away day’ for 2nd year undergraduate students in the summer term; focused around the dissertation and creation of an annual departmental Academic Conference.


2008 Department is placed first equal for RAE with Manchester, Goldsmiths and York. Ted Benton Retirement Conference. Paul Thompson Retirement Conference.


2009     Peter Townsend, founding Professor, dies. Roisin Ryan Flood establishes new Centre for  Intimate and Sexual Citizenship (CISC). Dianne Blundell leaves Summer 2009 after nearly 10 years in the department; Chris Jennings becomes new chief executive


2010     Eamonn Carrabine becomes new H.O.D; Brenda Corti dies (Departmental Assistant between 1970 and 1990); Dick Hobbs appointed as new Professor; Dennis Marsden Memorial Conference.


2010     In the 1970’s, there were 25 Ph.Ds awarded; by the 2000’s, the decade produced some 150.

To be continued, corrected and developed……


Ken Plummer, February 2012





%d bloggers like this: