In memoriam Paul Kennedy

It is with great sadness that we announce the death of Dr Paul Kennedy who passed away on 2nd April 2020 after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in December. As all GSA colleagues would know, Paul was central to the setting up of the Global Studies Association (GSA UK) in 2000, at a time when globalisation was at the centre of academic debates. Shortly after this, the GSA-North America was set up with the guidance of Paul. Since 2000, he has actively been involved in the activities of the GSA, being the Secretary for many years, and organising several GSA conferences. He was a remarkable person of great intellect, yet a modest academic as seen from tributes penned here. His academic writing has become so central to all those interested in the area of Global Studies. Our love and thoughts are with his wife, Sue and children, Daniel, Anna and Beccy. As soon as the COVID lockdown eases, the Department of Sociology, MMU and the GSA UK will work together to commemorate his life and work. He was so looking forward to GSA 2020, and such an event will be a tribute to him in many ways. Announcements in this regard will be made in due course. Below are some tributes from colleagues who had the chance to work with Paul. An obituary, signed by his son Daniel, has also been published in The Guardian.

Robin Cohen writes:

I’ve been friends with Paul for 54 years. With Roy May, we were part of a small group of graduate students at the Centre of West African Studies at the University of Birmingham in the mid-1960s who identified with the aspirations of the newly independent states of Africa. Accompanied by our wives, Sue and Selina, we travelled to West Africa on one of the last mailboats leaving Liverpool. Sue and Paul left the ship in Ghana, where he carried out pioneering research on African businessmen, which he published both as a specialist monograph and as a generalized short book for Cambridge University Press. (Selina and I pressed on to Nigeria.)  

We met socially on many occasions over the years, but we finally reconnected academically when we were commissioned to write a joint textbook on Global Sociology, published in 2000. The book has been reprinted many times, translated into several languages and has come out in three editions, each substantively revised. Paul was crucial to the enterprise. He was a skilled interpreter of how local and global social changes played out in a complex set of contradictions and convergences. As an assiduous reader of the Economist, he was always  on top of political economy and how neo-liberalism was playing out. We had just finished the text of the revised fourth edition (with two new co-authors) when we heard the dreadful news of his fatal encounter with cancer. When published, the book will be dedicated to Paul, as a tribute to his scholarship friendship and collegiality.

Emeritus Professor Robin Cohen
Senior Research Fellow, Kellogg College
Associate, Department of International Development, University of Oxford

Shoba Arun writes:

It is an honour to write this tribute to Paul Kennedy—a friend, colleague, teacher and scholar. In whatever role we knew him, he was indeed special, filled with modesty, passion and great intellect.

My friendship and working partnership with Paul started in 2002 when I joined MMU, he was assigned to be my mentor, and advisor on the newly designed Unit on Power and Social Movements. I still remember his phone call to Belfast from where I moved, discussing the Unit, all with so much kindness to a junior colleague. I was touched by his passion for changing global politics, which was always evident in his discussions, writing and teachings.

Paul had a great gift of critical thinking, a visionary spirit, and such tenacious patience. This led him to initiate the setting up of the Global Studies Association (GSA UK) in 2000, at a time when globalisation was at the centre of academic debates. Shortly after this, the GSA-North America was set up with the guidance of Paul. Since 2000, he has actively been involved in the activities of the GSA, being the Secretary for many years, and organising several GSA conferences. We have together presented jointly at several GSA conferences, including most recently in Northampton 2018.

As many have reiterated, the GSA would not be the same again without Paul, or that in fact, the GSA would not have existed without Paul! Yet, he was one of the most modest scholars I ever met. I will miss our discussions on globalisation, capitalism and the non-western world. During my last visit in March to the Manchester Royal Infirmary where Paul was, before going to the hospice, we spoke about global migration of health workers, the corona virus and the future of global studies in unprecedented times.

Paul, despite being retired from MMU some year ago has been writing prolifically, not to mention completing three editions of the epic Global Sociology Text, seen as the bible of Teaching Global Studies. His book on Vampire Capitalism was discussed at the book launch as part of the Global Migration Symposium, May 2017, at which Saskia Sassen spoke.

Apart from all this writing, he was busy completing fiction writing as well, I was constantly amazed by his appetite for engaging with writing, with continuing observations on the social world through the lens of capitalism during the Austerity and beyond.

In addition to his devotion to his work, Paul always found time for his colleagues, his friends, and his family and spoke of them highly, and through exchanges of his memories time spent in Africa. He’s had a great passion for gardening, seen in a beautiful garden, and sharing lovely tomato plants in the late Spring. We used to share recipes for fish, the one we spoke about was the Smoked Kerala Fish Curry, one which he loved very much, and also mentioned whilst in hospital. I will miss all of these exchanges.

The news of his terminal illness in December 2019 came as a terrible shock to me, and to all those who knew Paul. It did very much dull our Christmas spirits as we knew the prognosis for pancreatic cancer was not good. We were organising the 2020 Conference when Paul’s diagnosis was made, and yet he tried the best he could to keep going. I had only hoped that he will be with us to see the GSA 2020 that was to be held in Manchester during June 2020. As fate would have it, the Conference was cancelled just a week before Paul died.

For me, he will leave an irreplaceable absence in the lives of all who were fortunate enough to be part of his kind and welcoming spirit.

The legacy that we will preserve Paul’s memory with us is to keep the GSA vibrant at this unprecedented time of pandemic that poses questions for the future of global studies.

Shoba Arun, Reader in Sociology, Manchester Metropolitan University, Manchester.

John Jordan writes:

Trying to do my doctorate at MMU with very few resources was proving nearly impossible, and when I actually had nothing, and I had to go back on the dole, Paul was the only one who made work, and income, happen for me. It wasn’t much and he even apologised for not being able to do more, but it was a couple of weeks extra that I managed to avoid having to sign on. And then, he just gave me another week’s wage, lol, as a bonus for ‘good work’. And three weeks less humiliation in life matters, cos after that I was in the dole office utterly on the bones of my arse yet again, with some twit patronising me. I will never forget that. He used to come and see me, and shoot the breeze, and for someone like me – some daft oaf off the estate – I’d never experienced anything like that, with this hifalutin professor chatting about economics and society, in a way that valued what I said. I’d never experienced that before.

Dr John Jordan, Lecturer in Social Policy, Liverpool Hope University. He joined Paul Kennedy, Robin Cohen and Maud Perrier as co-author of the next edition of Global Sociology, which will be retitled Sociology: A Global Introduction.

Leslie Sklair writes:

My abiding memory of Paul is his cheerful take on life, augmenting his scorching analysis of vampire capitalism. His place in the history of the GSA is central, from the beginning and during our various organizational crises he kept the show on the road, shouldering the heavy administrative burdens, never complaining, always ready with advice and practical help. I did not see much of him outside the GSA but remember conversations at conferences about our shared interests in global capitalism, the architecture industry, and the state of ‘British’ sociology (he was a genuine cosmopolitan), his sense of balance and his ability to talk well and listen well. We also connected through the ways he valued his family life, admiring his children as they became adults, giving deeper meaning to our lives as academics. I wish I had known him better. 

Leslie Sklair is Professor Emeritus in Sociology at LSE.

Ray Kiely writes:

I first met Paul at a GSA Conference in Manchester, around 2001 I think. Over the next few years we met quite regularly, at GSA conferences, and as I was an external examiner for Manchester Met. Paul was really good company – modest, humble, but incredibly well read and always on the look out for new ideas, approaches, analyses and so on. We always had interesting and collegial discussions, and I found him an inspirational interlocutor – we didn’t always agree but we listened and learned. He invited me to do a lecture on Neoliberalism in 2013 which – though I didn’t know it at the time until Paul suggested it – was the starting point for a major project on the subject, and I read drafts of his excellent last book, Vampire Capitalism. I last saw him in London a couple of years back when he bought me lunch and as always, the company was great. At Queen Mary we are about to start a new BA Politics and Sociology, and it goes without saying that Cohen and Kennedy’s Global Sociology is the main text for the first year core course.

Ray Kiely, Professor of Politics, Queen Mary University of London.

 Jerry Harris writes:

Without Paul there would be no GSA of North America. Myself and Lauren Langman attended the second UK GSA conference in Manchester, and Paul graciously invited me to stay at his home. Paul and I immediately found kindred spirits. The insuring discussions lead Lauren and me to set-up the GSA in the US, and Paul helped guide us through the process. Over the coming years Paul and I continued to enjoying talking, and staying at each other’s home. The last time was in 2018 when my wife Veronica and I were travelling in the UK. We talked about politics and  economics, the Labour Party and Bernie Sanders, his wonderful book Vampire Capitalism, the world, our fears and hopes for a better future. His kindness and intelligence will be sorely missed.

Jerry Harris, National Secretary, GSA North America.

Marco Caselli writes:

As far as I’m concerned, Paul was a good person, a great sociologist, a dear friend. I still remember the first time I met him. It was at the launch conference of the GSA, in Manchester of course, in summer 2000. At that time I was a young PhD student and that was my first time in the UK and the first paper I presented at an international conference. Paul was very warm and kind with the confused boy I was!!!

And last time I met him was at GSA conference too, in 2018.

I was very fond of him, and I’ll miss him so much.

Marco Caselli, Professor of Sociology. Faculty of Political and Social Sciences, Catholic University of the Sacred Hearth, Milan, Italy.

Jill Timms writes:

I consider myself very fortunate to have known Paul for about 20 years and to have worked with him for the GSA. My very first conference presentation as a nervous PhD student was at an early GSA conference in Manchester, and I remember and am thankful to this day for how supportive Paul was. I know I am not alone in such experiences. Paul was not only was very generous in his encouragement, but also generous in his advice. In fact he was always a fantastic person to have in your audience and I have appreciated his support throughout my career, both academically and personally. 

Paul’s contribution to literature and thinking on the global, has been significant, and my students and I have benefited from this over the years. Paul was also a very personable and thoughtful person. He could always be relied on to help, dedicating so much time to the GSA over the years. I have many memories I will treasure, of theoretical discussions and enjoyable social occasions, of his diplomatic chairing, his encouragement and kindness. On one occasion I couldn’t make a GSA committee meeting I was helping to organise as my mother was suddenly taken ill and in intensive care in York. Not only did he immediately insist I forget all GSA things to do whatever I needed, he got in touch later to see if there was anything he could help with and how things were. He  still often asked after her in the years since, indicative of his caring nature and appreciation of people. I learnt a lot from Paul and the type of academic I want to be. So although it may be a cliche, it is still true that he will be missed, but never forgotten.

Jill Timms, Associate Head of School for Research, School of Strategy and Leadership, Coventry University.

Susie Jacobs writes:

I met Paul when I moved to MMU in 1994, and we shared an office from 1996 until he retired – some 17 years.

Paul excelled in so many areas. His knowledge was wide-ranging and he wrote fluently and engagingly. Although he was best known for the text Global Sociology – co-authored with Robin Cohen – his earlier work on capitalism and business in Africa was a fine contribution. Paul also carried out research on attitudes to ecology and environmentalism in the mid- 1990s, when this was a more marginalised concern.

He and I shared several course units – on international development studies, on globalisation and in later years, on the MA course in global studies that Paul first established at the university. As in his writing, Paul brought to his teaching the facility to make connections between economic and socio-cultural phenomena in an informed, informative and often, innovative manner. Paul played a key role in curriculum development within our department and was an excellent and much-appreciated lecturer.

As office mates, we often shared thoughts ranging from ‘local’ to ‘global’ issues – the most local of which was how to negotiate space in our small office without tripping, given that we were both heavy ‘users’ of handouts (in pre-‘blended learning’ times…) But in between talking about marking, courses, health (in retrospect…I realise that we spoke about health a great deal – which is now a poignant memory…), we discussed and debated the state of the world and of sociology – and not least, globalisation and neoliberalism. We sometimes disagreed, but over the past few years, perhaps as the result of increasingly turbulent times, our views converged more and more.

Paul brought unflagging energy and huge creativity to his endeavours. He even penned three detective novels (good reads!) after his retirement – and while he was researching his final and well-received book Vampire Capitalism.

Paul was a lovely person, a good colleague and a kind and humorous friend. I miss him greatly.

Susie Jacobs, Emerita Reader in Comparative Sociology; Hon. Research Fellow, Manchester Metropolitan University.

Barrie Axford writes:

I first met Paul too long ago for safe memory in the very early days of the GSA. I recall thinking that with his kind of academic involved in its promotion, there was surely hope for the nascent field of global studies. He was a fine academic, committed, but not bound by dogma, and elegant in print. And he was a finer man, open, humorous, supportive of others and always willing to go the extra mile. I recall numerous occasions, usually at GSA exec meetings and various conferences when, the day’s work done, we lightened proceedings with a glass or two. Paul was always a lively companion. I am very glad to have known him.

Barrie Axford is Professor of Politics at the University of Oxford Brookes and a member of the Centre for Global Politics, Economy and Society

Tariq Khan writes :

Paul was my undergraduate teacher from 2001-2004. I remember going to see Paul about some work in September/October 2001 at the start of my course. Being my first year at university, I was unsure of things but I found Paul to be very friendly and approachable. He quickly put me at ease. We talked about some globalisation theories (I think it was Harvey/Held). He was very encouraging and had a way of engaging students in the subject. I think this was because he had a genuine passion and interest in his subject which came across in his lectures and seminars.

As I got to know Paul over the three years at university I found him to be very witty and had a good sense of humour too.

His lessons were interesting and he had a skill of using analogies and metaphors to break down complex concepts making them easier to understand. This quickly built rapport amongst his students making you warm to him because he communicated in a way which was easier to understand.

His courses were very popular and I remember talking to a friend asking her if she had taken her options for year 2. She said “I’m taking International order and disorder – it’s Paul Kennedy!” I think her statement summed up a lot of students feelings about Paul’s courses. They would choose to study his courses because it was him teaching them!

Progressing through university it came across that Paul was a very decent man with good ethics and morals. The theme of having good ethics I think was a consistent thread throughout his modules and seemed to correlate with the topics he taught. This underscored the idea that we must look for ethical ways of working, speak out against injustice and inequality. This view was especially pertinent for his last work Vampire Capitalism, which from the title and his YouTube video is a direct critique of the greed of those in power perpetuated by a global system of social control and exploitation.

After university, I kept in contact with Paul and occasionally would meet him for coffee in Manchester. It was nice to be in his company and have conversations with him. I learnt a great deal from him. He was fun and young hearted too which I think kept him interested in his subject.

He was an inspirational teacher, who enthused his students with his passion for the subject and to think critically. He was a lovely man. It is very sad that he has passed away. My sincere condolences and thoughts go out to his family members. I hope these words bring some comfort for them – in the knowledge that he impacted so many people’s lives in such a positive way. Paul Kennedy has left an amazing legacy with all of his work. I will always remember him with fond memories.

Tariq Khan former student of Dr Paul Kennedy (2001-2004) teacher at The Manchester College.