Sociological Research Online

Derek Wynne as Sociologist: A Tribute for Sociological Research Online

The Editorial team of SRO would like to pay tribute to the work that Derek Wynne did for the journal as one of its book review editors over the last three years prior to his untimely death last month. They are grateful to Phil Mole, his colleague at Manchester Metropolitan University, for providing us with the following appreciation.

Derek's career as a sociologist began when he was an apprentice professional footballer for Port Vale in the early 1960s. All soccer apprentices had to have a trade of some kind, and had to enrol in the local college; while his fellow apprentices chose practical and useful skills, Derek chose O Level Sociology! From such humble beginnings, he went on to NorthEast London Poly to graduate with BA Sociology in 1969, and then to an MA programme at Alberta, Canada, which he completed in 1973. He was appointed Lecturer in Sociology at Manchester Polytechnic in 1974, where his special area was Crime and Deviance, and he remained at MMU (as it later became) throughout his life. He was appointed Reader in Sociology in 1999.

Derek's early years as a professional sociologist were strongly influenced by the works of Jock Young, Stan Cohen, and Laurie Taylor, which offered a critique of positivist criminology: the uncritical use of official statistics, a search for the social causes of primary deviance, and the assumption that crime itself can be defined without ambiguity, without reference to the law itself and the 'agencies of social control' whose responsibility it is to enforce the law. Instead of positivism, these writers focussed on these agencies of social control, on the 'labelling process' and 'deviancy amplification', and the 'social construction' of crime and deviance out of everyday social interactions. The theoretical position underlying this anti-positivist critique was symbolic interactionism, whose foundations were laid by GH Mead, Cooley and others, and then developed, in post-war American sociology, by Goffman, Becker, and Berger and Luckmann. Derek's MA thesis in Alberta was based on research into 'plea bargaining' in Canada's courts.....

In the early 1980s Derek's research and intellectual interests took him in a new direction, as he began to investigate the social structure of the estate he lived in, a new-build development of some 600 houses in rural Cheshire. He was especially interested in the leisure activities of his neighbours, which focussed on a purpose-built sports and leisure club at the heart of the estate. Using both questionnaires and ethnographic research, he explored the social dynamics between what he called the 'drinkers' and the 'sporters', as well as those he called symbolic consumers - those willing to pay the high service charge for the club, but who used it rarely if at all. Following Bourdieu, Derek used the concepts of the habitus, economic and cultural capital, and lifestyles as both a marker and source of social power, to explore issues around the use and control of space, gender relations, social stratification, leisure and consumption. Under the supportive supervision of Ken Roberts of Liverpool University, this research was written up as a PhD thesis called Living on the Heath in 1997. It was published under the title Leisure, Life Style and the New Middle Class in 1998 by Routledge.

While this research was going on, Derek also began to engage with the 'post-modern' literature, through a reading of (among others) Lash and Urry's End of Organised Capitalism, (notably chapter 9), Marshall Berman's All That is Solid Melts into Air, Crook et al's Postmodernisation, and the Theory, Culture and Society volume on Postmodernism, edited by Mike Featherstone. Undaunted by the epistemological relativism of much post-modern writing, what impressed and intrigued Derek in this literature was the critique of the high/low culture distinction, and the role of culture generally, and the cultural industries in particular, in 'post-industrial' society. He was commissioned to write a report on Manchester's Cultural Industries, which was published under the auspices of MMU's Centre for Employment Research (CER) in 1989 (later published in hardback by Avebury in 1992). He also led a research team of colleagues and postgraduates from the Departments of Sociology and Law, investigating the role of popular culture in the contemporary city, which won a large 3-year grant from the PCFC. This research was later published with the title From the Margins to the Centre, by Arena in 1996, which Derek edited with Justin O'Connor.

At the start of the 1990s, the de-industrialised landscapes of many cities, in the UK and abroad, were being transformed: from above, by central and local government initiative (UDCs etc) and from below, by gentrifiers, new 'cultural intermediaries', new pub, club and football cultures, and new patterns of leisure and consumption. It was in this context that Derek, with Steve Redhead from the Department of Law at MMU, and Justin O'Connor from the Department of Sociology, established the Manchester Institute of Popular Culture (MIPC) in 1991. An ERSC grant enabled Derek, Justin, and Mike Featherstone to explore the lifestyles of the new residents of Manchester's refurbished warehouses and new housing developments, coining the term 'cultural omnivores' to describe them. Further grants from the ERSC, the EU and the City Council followed, producing a variety of reports and postgraduate theses on the Northern Quarter, the Night-Time economy, club culture, football fandom, and much else besides. Some of this was published by Blackwell in 1997 with the title The Club Cultures Reader, edited by Derek and Justin. Since then Derek continued to play an energetic role in MIPC's research; in the last year completing a research report, with Adam Brown of MIPC, for the Sports' Council on City and United fandom.

How can one sum up Derek's contribution to Sociology? He certainly wasn't interested in the nuances of what one might call 'high' theory, and refused to be partisan between late and post-modernity, the flows of flows and spaces, globalisation, or the information and network society. He was, in this and other respects - his love of gadgets and equipment, his delight in travel and networking, his passionate engagement with people, experiences and ideas - the classic exemplar of the cultural omnivore. At heart, I think, he remained an interactionist to the end: a fascination with ordinary people and everyday life, a determination to respect the meanings and interpretations which structure their lives, an insistence that structure and agency are false antitheses. If he had lived longer, he would have liked to write a critical sequel to a book he greatly admired: Bernice Martin's Sociology of Contemporary Popular Culture. Or a refutation of Sharon Zukin's pessimistic thesis in Loft Living, and Landscapes of Power, where popular culture and everyday 'cityscapes' become incorporated and commodified by powerful interests. Sadly, it was not to be; but his work will be an inspiration and a source for others to follow.

Phil Mole Dept of Sociology MMU