Picture of John WestergaardProfessor John Westergaard

The Department is very sad to announce the death of Emeritus Professor John Westergaard, on 3rd May, aged 86.

John was Professor of Sociology between 1975 and 1986 and served with distinction as Deputy Dean and Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences between 1982 and 1986.

A memorial meeting to celebrate John's life will be held at Halifax Hall at 3.30pm on 29 May 2014, and colleagues and friends are warmly invited to attend.

We are currently compiling a book of condolences for John's family. If you would like to contribute, please email jenny.smith@sheffield.ac.uk. All tributes received by Friday 30 May 2014 will be included in the condolences book and, with permission, shared on this page. Please state in your email if you are happy for your tribute to be shared on this page.

Professor Alan Walker has also paid tribute to John in an obituary for The Guardian. Read more. Alan's tribute in full can be read here.

Tributes to Professor John Westergaard

"I was deeply saddened to hear of John’s passing. He was a wonderful man, whom I knew as an undergraduate but became good friends with via the BSA. He was generous, thoughtful and kind. The BSA has lost an excellent supporter of its activities and the BSA – and I – will miss his helpfulness and kindness."

Professor John Brewer, Queen's University, Belfast

"I did not know John personally but I am very aware of the legacy he left to both the Department and the discipline in general. His work, and what he established at the University of Sheffield, continues to influence new generations of staff and students."

Dr Victoria Robinson, Reader in Sociology, University of Sheffield

"I was very saddened to hear of John's death. I knew him only in the latter part of his career when he was external examiner in sociology at the University of Plymouth, in the 1990s and after he had retired. I had the opportunity to have several conversations with him and he was formative in my commitment to rigorous analytical sociology.

"John was very much in a tradition of sociology that has been sadly weakened in recent decades of the 'cultural turn', but I am sure he would be cheered to know that what goes around comes around and there is now a new generation of young sociologists emerging who have the same commitment to rigour that John displayed in all of his work. British sociology has lost a very great scholar."

Professor Malcolm Williams, Director, Cardiff School of Social Sciences

"As an undergraduate student in the Department from 2002-2005, I received a John Westergaard prize for my dissertation. Although I didn't have the opportunity to meet him personally, I received a personal letter from John about my dissertation. Receiving this recognition was very special for me and is testament to the legacy of John's contribution to our Department and to the kind and thoughtful way he encouraged others."

Dr Julie Ellis, Research Associate, University of Sheffield

"John was born in London but the vicissitudes of his life meant that he spent the war years in German-occupied Denmark. An elder brother who had remained in the UK became a Flying Officer in the RAF and was killed in 1944 in an air raid over Berlin. By 1946 John was briefly working in Germany as a letter censor. His wartime experiences and the loss of his brother in fighting against tyranny were both instrumental factors in giving him an appreciation of the importance of freedom of thought and of social justice.

"John’s contributions to the discipline of sociology were immense and need little rehearsing. He contributed (with Ruth Glass) to housing policy in London and he was always committed to the principle of academic freedom. His numerous contributions to the sociology of class in Britain were landmark interventions. He was also tireless in his contributions to the profession, active in the British Sociological Association, and in acting as an external examiner, even after he had formally retired.

"His death will be a great loss for his family, for his friends and for the profession. He will long be remembered."

Dr Christopher T Husbands, Emeritus Reader in Sociology, LSE

"I was taught by John in 1959, when I was an undergraduate at the LSE. Subsequently I worked with him as an examiner on the BSc Sociology external London degree. His work for the advancement of the discipline of sociology was exceptional. I have vivid memories of his lectures in the New theatre at LSE on Modern Britain, in which his thinking on social class took shape. Not the least memorable was the succession of cigarettes that he lit-up during each lecture."

David Jary, Emeritus Professor, Staffordshire University

"One of my enduring images of John in the mid-1960s is him lecturing, while smoking heavily, and clearly and inspiringly taking students through the various competing theories of social inequality and assessing the relevant evidence. His work was grounded in empirical investigation at time when sociologists too easily ventured into 'theory' without an adequate comprehension of the empirical basis of social class. 'Class in Capitalist Society' was his magnum opus; 'Who gets What?' is an underrated classic which tackles some problems that some sociologists avoid for political reasons.

"I also recall his great efforts to protect and promote sociology in the research assessment process of the 1980s."

Norman Bonney, Undergraduate/graduate student LSE 1962-66

"I am very sorry to learn of the death of John Westergaard. In the early days of Sociology in the then Polytechnics, from the early 1960s onwards, John Westergaard was an important and valued figure, both in regard to his own research and published work, and in his support for the establishment of Sociology in these new institutional settings, most of whose teachers (I was one) were very inexperienced when this work began.

"John’s work on stratification and inequality became one of the mainstays of our courses on the Social Structure of Modern Britain, inspiring a belief in the value and importance of empirical data, and contributing to a commitment to social equality which was widely shared in those days. But John also took an important role in the Council for National Academic Awards (CNAA), which for some years took on the responsibility for validating new degree courses in Sociology, including at the then North East London Polytechnic (now UEL), and, as I recall, the Polytechnic of North London (now London Metropolitan University. These were days when validations were seriously concerned with the academic subjects themselves, and not mainly with procedural issues. League Tables were then unheard of – these were exercises in establishing satisfactory standards, and in supporting quality and innovation. Validation events were occasions when the work of young and experienced course teams were appraised and discussed by senior academics, in a process which was mainly a positive and constructive one, although not without its unavoidable challenges and stresses.

"Senior sociologists like John Westergaard demonstrated a considerable commitment to the expansion of university education, and to the development of Sociology in particular, in devoting much time to the work of validation visits and the committee activities which supported them. This gave a very concrete expression to his belief in social equality. I remember his involvement in a validation process at the then Polytechnic of North London, then in the midst of its considerable political difficulties, in which he (as Chair of the Panel) insisted that the sociology course under consideration should be assessed on its (substantial) academic merits, separately from the other disputes which then swirled about it. If I recall correctly, this visit played a significant role in the preservation of sociology as a field of study at that institution.

"I always found him unfailingly kind and generous. It was very important to the development of Sociology in the 1960s and 1970s that there were senior figures like John, who gave it their support and gave encouragement to young members of staff who needed and benefited from recognition and support of this kind."

Michael Rustin, Professor of Sociology, University of East London. Visiting Professor, Tavistock Clinic, and the University of Essex

"I was so sad to read of John Westergaard's death. John was external examiner for my PhD in 1986. He was kind and generous and gave me the time and space to rework my inadequate ideas. In fact, I'm sure that had it not been for John my project would have finally floundered. He looked at the frailty of my writing and got me to focus on what my big idea actually was and when he was sure I had it he encouraged me to rework it again and again until the thesis made sense. All this was conveyed without patronising me in any way, as if he too had bought into what I was trying to do. Now, years later, when I'm looking at a difficult, floundering PhD, I think, "What would John Westergaard do here, where's the good, salvageable, central idea?"

"A lovely man."

Professor Paul Stewart, University of Strathclyde

"I’m really sad to hear about John W; he taught me at LSE in the 1960s and was my personal tutor. I still have my second year essays with many comments in his clear, tiny writing. He helped me to think systematically and make a rigorous argument, as well as enlightening many of us about inequalities in modern Britain. We kept in contact until after his move to Sheffield. I have such vivid and fond memories of him."

Professor Miriam A. Glucksmann, FBA AcSS, University of Essex

"I was shocked and saddened to hear of John's death. I first met him in about 1954 when I was still an undergraduate and he was (I think) a research assistant, and saw him last under a year ago when, by happy accident, we bumped into one another in Houghton Street, having both been attending the same big event at LSE. In between we were, for many years, colleagues and friends in the LSE sociology department, including the difficult late 1960s when we found ourselves on the same side, trying to promote sanity at a time when many able and serious students, strongly committed to their disciplines, were being condemned by many colleagues as enemies of the academy.

"He was one of those rare people, never showy, who it was a pleasure to know and to like and to admire. I never heard him complain or take offence in spite of the many vicissitudes, both private and public, that he experienced in his long life. Words that come to mind to describe him are kind, generous, modest, organised, consistent, persistent, hard-working, patient, focused – both as a sociologist and as a human being (no contradiction intended). As a sociologist, he was committed to the attempt to find out how things are and how they are changing, as an essential adjunct to trying to amend them or to theorising about them. I shall miss him."

Gabriel Newfield, former LSE sociology teacher

"In the early days of sociology expansion across the “binary divide”, a period characterised by institutional elitism, aggressive ideological battles, and every prejudice in the sociological dictionary, John was a beacon of intellectual sense, egalitarian fairness, and inclusive warmth and humour. I am sure I am not the only one grateful for the role model he provided and the support he offered during many tricky moments assuring the quality and status of our discipline over several decades.

"He also had a wonderful taste in artistic post-cards, sent at the smallest opportunity, to say thank you. A fine sociologist and a true gentleman in the best sense of the word."

Dr. Stina Lyon (Emerita), London South Bank University

"I never met John but did see him speak once, and in a way he got me interested in sociology. The first sociology book I ever bought was Class in A Capitalist Society when I won a book token for a school prize and was looking for something that went beyond the horizons of my Grammar school education - I was soon hooked on sociology after that."

Martin Holborn, Associate Lecturer at The Open University and freelance sociology writer/editor

"In 1977, aged 17 and applying to university, I knew I wanted to study Sociology but had no idea where to apply. My Sociology tutor at FE College recommended Sheffield, on the grounds that John Westergaard was Head of Department. 'Class in a Capitalist Society' had been recently published and had made a strong impression on my tutor. John's first year lectures were hard-hitting and convincing in presenting the picture of inequality in Britain, which became more evident following the election of a Conservative government led by Margaret Thatcher, that academic year. In subsequent years, he taught us in smaller groups and was always engaging, inspiring and encouraging. We had tutorials in his office where he created an informal, though perhaps unhealthy, environment by chain smoking and allowing students to light up. However, he didn't go as far as my psychology tutor who shared her cigarettes around!

"I left Sheffield to do a PhD at Southampton University but then applied for a fellowship at Sheffield in the mid 1980s. John supported my application and advised 'don't hide your light under a bushel'. I valued this advice so much that I kept the letter, even though my application was unsuccessful. I have now worked in social policy research for almost 30 years and much of my work has focused on inequality and disadvantage, including issues covered in Class in a Capitalist Society - the labour market, educational opportunity and welfare. I am grateful to John Westergaard for his inspirational teaching, for helping me to develop an academic perspective on my observations of British society and igniting my interest in policy-focused research."

Dr Heather Rolfe, National Institute of Economic and social Research

"I was terribly sorry to read of John’s passing away. He was a wonderful sociologist and colleague through the BSA. I will remember him fondly as being very supportive around issues of social and sexual divisions in society and in organisations."

Miriam David, Professor Emerita, Institute of Education, University of London

"Shortly after John came to Sheffield in 1975, he gave an Inaugural Lecture in LT4 in the Arts Tower, an event which was for some of us our first introduction to a deeply thoughtful, eloquent and courteous scholar. And so he remained throughout all his years in Sheffield, always a pleasure to meet, to converse with and to listen to. He was also immensely patient, positive and helpful to many of us during the traumas and crises that imperilled universities in the 1980s."

David Luscombe, Emeritus Professor of Medieval History, The University of Sheffield

“John Westergaard was not known to me personally, although he was a much appreciated External Examiner at the University of Glasgow. I also felt indebted to him for his active role nationally in protecting academic freedom, which, even in the less managerialist 1960s and 70s, still needed to be safeguarded and extended. His book with Henrietta Resler, Class in a Capitalist Society, was one of the set texts for our Level 1 for many years: it inspired countless students to drop other subjects and to turn to sociology.”

Bridget Fowler, Emeritus Professor of Sociology, University of Glasgow

"My copy of Toward Socialism, published in 1965, is broken at the spine on the opening page of J.H.Westergaard's seminal article "The Withering Away of Class: A contemporary Myth". Read many times over, it was a hugely influential piece for me and many others at a time when British Sociology was finding its feet."

Professor Huw Beynon, Cardiff University

"I was very sad to learn of John's passing. He was a fine man and an exemplary sociologist. His work on class and stratification was strong indeed - theoretically informed and empirically scrupulous. Without doubt his service to the BSA was of great value. He conducted himself with grace and good humour in all the dealings I ever had with him. R.I.P. John."

John Eldridge, Emeritus Professor of Sociology, University of Glasgow

"I began my career as a lecturer in Social Policy in Sociological Studies in the same month that John took up his chair in 1975. He kindly allowed me to attend his lectures along with our students and this stimulated me to read Class in a Capitalist Society from cover to cover. His meticulous attention to detail in providing evidence for his arguments and his clarity of thought and vision were inspirational. Two of his personal characteristics are uppermost in my mind: his towering integrity and probity, and his personal kindness and encouragement (often expressed in detailed comments and advice in very small handwriting on the margins of scripts or on departmental memos)."

David Phillips, Retired Reader in Social Policy, University of Sheffield

"I am sad to hear of John's passing. John was an excellent Head of the Department of Sociological Studies when I was a lecturer there. I remember him as an almost obsessively fair person, always bending over backwards to give everybody an equal chance, hearing or encouragement. Here was a man who - pretty exceptionally - made his intellectual and research interests with social equality permeable throughout his work and life.

"He also worked tirelessly (including well after he retired) to defend academic freedoms and what one would now call 'traditional academic values'. He valiantly tried to have the independence of Institutions of Higher Education upheld in an age when political and commercial objectives steamrollered right through them. I think of him fondly and nostalgically!"

Ankie Hoogvelt, Former Lecturer in the Department of Sociological Studies at the University of Sheffield

"I was very saddened to hear of the death of John Westergaard, and send my condolences both to his family and to the Department of Sociological Studies at Sheffield of which he was such an illustrious member. His contribution to British sociology was a great one over many years and he will be sorely missed. John cut his teeth in the 1950s as an urban researcher with that exigent and acerbic scholar Ruth Glass. I was taught sociology by John at LSE in the 1960s, and can testify to his contribution at that time. I have a clear memory of him chain-smoking through his New Theatre lectures on social class in modern Britain [later incorporated in a notable Penguin co-authored with Henrietta Resler]. Of more importance to me personally was the introduction which he provided to research methods in a course he co-taught with Asher Tropp and Alan Little to sociology students, and the joint teaching which he did with Wyn Lewis from Statistics [later a lecturer at Warwick] on statistical aspects of survey methods. This was teaching of a very high quality, and altogether inspiring as an introduction to the field.

"John went on to make notable contributions to the British Sociological Association and became something of an elder statesman of sociology. I last saw him at the funeral of John Rex. He represented in his work a rigorous approach to an empirically-grounded sociology."

Martin Bulmer, Emeritus Professor of Sociology, University of Surrey

"I would like to say how much I admired and respected Professor Westergaard. We worked together as examiners for a few years and he was such a remarkable (and knowledgeable) man."

Mary Evans, Centennial Professor, LSE

"I had the privilege of working with John over a period of six years, from 1997 to 2003, in his capacity as Editorial Adviser to the BSA members’ magazine, Network. He worked on 18 issues in total, carrying out his writing, editing and proof-reading role with such a degree of seriousness and professionalism that I thought he might have missed his vocation and would have made a wonderful broadsheet editor. There were many occasions when the burning sensation in my ear alerted me to the fact that we had been on the telephone for over two hours. The impression I have is that everyone that ever knew or worked with John (and I include myself here) felt a sense of great loss at hearing of his death.

"John certainly had a profound effect on me in that he was one of the first people that I worked closely with when I joined the BSA. He was most welcoming - kind and gentle but also funny, sharp-witted and outspoken. I felt quite at ease working alongside him knowing that he would tell me if he didn’t like something but always deliver the news in the most diplomatic way. He was the same age as my father and we talked a little about our families whenever we met. The last time we had the opportunity to chat was in Aberdeen at a gathering of the great and good. We spent a lovely spell sitting on a bench in the sunshine, away from the throng, sharing family news. He was about to celebrate his 80th birthday and was in typically good spirits. John knew that my first subject was art history and wrote to me over the years on postcards, which were always something of artistic interest, and it was touching to think that he might have remembered my interests (though perhaps he wrote to everyone like this!). John’s contribution to the discipline and to the BSA was exceptional. He served on the Executive Committee from 1982 – 1986 and as President from 1991 – 1993. It gave me great pleasure to be able to write to John in April 2011 to inform him that he was to be one of only ten people to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award from the BSA during the 60th anniversary celebrations of the Association.

"John had the most infectious laugh, a cheeky boyish one which I can hear now and that’s how I’d like to remember him - laughing. There was never a time when I didn’t look forward to meeting and talking to John. I respected and admired John, feel lucky to have been able to work with him, and will remember him very fondly."

Judith Mudd, Chief Executive, The British Sociological Association

"John was always a 'gentleman' in the best sense of the word and was very kind and supportive to me when we worked together on British Sociological Association Committees. I will remember him fondly."

Professor Sue Scott

"I remember so well the excitement of the Department when we learned that John was to come to the Chair of Sociology in Sheffield.

In several ways it marked for us a new beginning. The Department had developed from two bases - the original provided the Postgraduate Qualification in Social work. The later arrival was the undergraduate sociology degree. Although under the headship of one Professor, the two parts had largely operated separately and even with a certain amount of rivalry. With John's advent that was all to change.

"John Westergaard and Eric Sainsbury, who had recently become director of the social work wing, saw eye to eye over the need to integrate the two halves of the department; and when, a couple of years after John's arrival, we moved from the Arts Tower to the Mushroom Lane complex the rooms of the two staff groups were intermingled, and there began a slow process of greater understanding lead from the front by the example of the two senior staff - who even bought houses back to back - [though I believe that was just a happy accident].

"Perhaps more importantly John's arrival gave a sharper focus to the department's research orientation and reputation which had previously been fragmented. Under John's guidance we developed a significant reputation in the area of Social Policy which became a sort of bridge between the two former sections. We saw the start of the new and very popular undergraduate degree in Social policy, and a raised research profile with new staff and research money, all of which did much to secure the position of the department as the cuts of the 1980s began to bite.

"Personally, John's area of work seemed rather distant from my own interests but I always found him tolerant, and open to new course ideas. I saw him to be sympathetic to the needs of individual students, meticulously fair in his dealings, modest, yet humorous, - and generous in hospitality. Someone I now regret not having known him better."

Bridget Pym, former lecturer in the Department of Sociological Studies, University of Sheffield