John Urry (1946-2016)

…man is nothing; he is, at most, the carcass of time.

(Marx quoted in Urry 2000:105)


I recently received the sad news that my PhD supervisor John Urry passed away. It would be an understatement to say that John has re-shaped the field of sociology – not only in Britain but globally. His writings have challenged and advanced post-modern and contemporary sociology into new spheres. His work including The End of Capitalism (with Scott Lash), The Tourist Gaze, Economies of Signs and Space (with Scott Lash), Global Complexity, Sociology Beyond Societies constantly pushed the agenda forward and challenged how we viewed capitalism, nature, mobility, time, the senses, cars, tourism, to mention only a few topics he covered. He expected the same from his students and colleagues. His work, ideas and words have shaped several generations of scholars over the 44 years he served at Lancaster.

But it is not only the intellectual I want to remember, but also the person. In Germany your PhD supervisor is your ‘Doktor-Vater/Mutter’, meaning your PhD father/mother, and this is what John was to many of us: a generous, warm and supporting figure that guided and challenged our intellectual thinking and inquiries. As many of the comments on his website and Twitter attest he was especially generous and encouraging to the upcoming generation of scholars, always happy to share thoughts and ideas with Master and PhD students over a coffee, in an email or at a conference.

He was also an immensely modest person and extremely funny. He attended my first PhD conference paper and, to everyone’s amusement, John was happy to keep working the light switch for me, as he said afterwards with a twinkle in his eyes: “That’s what supervisors are for!” Over the years, John taught me to follow my gut instincts about research ideas and topics, whether it was my work on the senses that I started with him in 1997 or, more recently, my musings on time and the urban, John pushed me to follow my inklings and to trust myself. It is with immense sadness that I have to wish him well on this last journey and can only say: thank you, I will miss you John.

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