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Spotlight on the ISA

Personal Tribute to Margaret Archer (1943-2023)

Credit: Manuel Castells Clemente / Universidad de Navarra.

November 14, 2023

So sad to learn of Maggie’s passing! We had known each other for a long time. We met initially in 1966 as lecturers in the newly established sociology department at the University of Reading, UK. At 23, she completed her PhD at the London School of Economics on the educational aspirations of English working-class parents and their effects on their children. Five years older than she, I had not even finished my Master’s there. Maybe I was daunted! I moved on, leaving her to cope with a mad professor for the next seven years. She still published fourteen papers and then moved to Warwick, where she spent the major part of her career. We kept in touch.

She was a prodigious worker, entirely focused on sociology, advancing it as a discipline rather than her own career. I won’t attempt to seriously appreciate her central intellectual contribution to the field, many others will do that, but I will pay my tribute to the work we did together for the International Sociological Association. On her initiative as the then Chair of ISA’s Publication Committee, she approached me to help found a new journal. It was to be called International Sociology and counter what we both felt was the unduly national focus of the major journals: even when ostensibly open to all, they still required all submissions to be in English. But rashly, we said we would arrange for translation from any language! We did, even and especially Chinese.

Our first issue came out in 1986, with a Foreword by Fernando Cardoso, President of ISA, not yet of Brazil! Its six papers came from Poland, India, Norway, Bulgaria and the US (2). Mission accomplished! So we thought, but too soon, since the original publishing arrangements collapsed along with my Cardiff institution. There began an arduous negotiation period before Sage stepped in to secure the journal’s now long-standing reputation. Maggie was resourceful and committed throughout and fully deserved to become the next President of ISA.

She was indeed a remarkable motivator and always succeeded in mobilizing the talent necessary for the occasion. My last experience of her abilities in this regard was at a meeting of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, of which she became President in 2014. A lasting memory is seeing her chairing a meeting that included both Bernie Sanders and Jeffrey Sachs.

But capping all my images of her is the one at the opening ceremony of the World Congress of Sociology in Madrid in 1990. Those of the 4,000 delegates who could squeeze into the vast auditorium waited for the most distinguished guests to grace the stage. They walked on, the Spanish Queen, Maggie, and the King in that order. She, the outgoing ISA President, splendid and statuesque, clad in her usual white, gave the audience a regal wave. She was a phenomenon, a unique talent, which no one should hope to emulate. She supported all around her but never expected them to be other than themselves. Sociologists worldwide will miss her person sorely. But her contribution to the discipline will long live on.

June 26, 2023

Martin Albrow, London, United Kingdom

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