It is with great sadness that the School of Geographical and Earth Sciences, University of Glasgow, records the untimely death, in July 2019, of our much valued, long-term colleague Ronan Paddison.
Ronan was appointed to a Lectureship in Geography at the University of Glasgow in 1972, where he served with great distinction for the entirety of his academic career (interspersed by visiting academic positions in many other universities spread internationally). He was promoted to Senior Lecturer in 1988 and then to Professor in 1997, before formally retiring in 2010 with Emeritus status. Retirement was only from frontline university teaching and administration, since he continued to be an extremely active scholar, author and editor (with many significant publications after 2010). Ronan served as Head of Department from 1998-2002.
Ronan was a leading academic in various fields, shaping their character and direction, not least through a remarkable editorial contribution to the intellectual infrastructure of human geography and cognate disciplines. He was centrally involved in the founding, managing, editing and sustaining of two premier journals, Urban Studies and Space and Polity, still being actively involved with both – as one of the Managing Editors of the former and co-editing a special issue of the latter on ‘Brexit Geographies’ – right up until his death.
Ronan’s knowledge of the urban condition and its scholarship was beyond encyclopaedic, with a knowledge that was astonishing in both its breadth and depth, expressed through his editorial work for Urban Studies and for several state-of-the-art edited volumes from 2000 through to 2014. He was also a leading urban scholar in his own right, making pivotal contributions to debates about: post-industrial cities, their planning and governance; city marketing strategies and place competition in city-regions; culture-led urban regeneration; public art, public spaces and urban politics; social cohesion, community participation and civic engagement; and urban quality-of-life. Latterly, he also made an incisive contribution to the discourse on the ‘post-political city’. While much of his research concentrated on his beloved home city of Glasgow, with a critical stance on how it has been transformed from a city of production to a supposed flagship of culture-led regeneration, he was passionate about engaging with and understanding ‘the urban’ in all times and places, historically and with a global outlook.
Beyond his contribution to urban scholarship, Ronan was a political geographer whose work embraced themes to do with states, nations, territoriality, jurisdictions and, more broadly, the multiple articulations of politics and spaces. He co-authored an influential political geography textbook, while in 1983 his single-authored monograph The Fragmented State arguably anticipated many later debates about the precariousness of all social and political forms. He acknowledged the need to explore both devolutionary forces pressing at the national scale, on one occasion discussing Scotland as Britain’s ‘other’, and decentralisation tendencies operative at scales of the region and even the city. Permeating this work was also an underlying fascination with what Ronan termed ‘local power’, as connected to his broader concerns with how to theorise power and its spatialities.
Ronan was an academic all-rounder who was an inspiration to generations of undergraduate and postgraduate students as a teacher and supervisor. To his great credit, Ronan continued to take on a full teaching load even as he became a more senior academic and researcher, continuing to teach his Honours level urban and political geography courses, as well as contributing to pre-Honours electives, field trips and taught masters programmes right up to his retirement. He was passionate about teaching urban geography in the field, and devised field walks and ‘ethnographic’ encounters in the likes of Paddy’s Market, Glasgow, as a crucial component of his option classes. He was commendably bereft of ego or hubris, happy to ‘muck in’ with colleagues as the commensurate team player in the more mundane academic tasks and duties, while always happy to laugh along with colleagues at whatever life might throw their way.
It is hard to realise that we will not be able to meet with Ronan again, to share his academic wisdom, sage council, dry humour and zest for life. It is even harder for his family, of course, since Ronan was always deeply committed to balancing his academic and home lives. For Lesley, his wife, and Andrew, Angus and Alistair, his three sons, their loss is massive. In all kinds of ways, we have all lost a special person whose many contributions will never be forgotten.
By Chris Philo (School of Geographical & Earth Sciences, University of Glasgow) and Andrew Cumbers (Managing Editor, Urban Studies, and Adam Smith Business School, University of Glasgow).