Professor Emeritus John Eldridge receives Honorary Degree
At our July 2018 Graduation Ceremony Sociology was delighted to see Prof. John Eldridge awarded an honorary degree. Below are the texts of Prof. Frank Bechhoffer's lauriation and John Eldridge's response.
Laureation Address – Professor Emeritus Frank Bechhofer
Mr Vice-Chancellor, in the name and by the authority of the Senatus Academicus, I have the honour to present for the Honorary degree of Doctor of Science in Social Science, John Eric Thomas Eldridge.
Professor Tom Burns, who founded the Sociology Department in this University, was hard to impress and frequently made that crystal clear. However, his great esteem for John Eldridge was apparent. They had much in common. Both achieved international recognition for work on ind
ustrial behaviour and organisational structure. Like Tom Burns, John Eldridge, JET to his colleagues, represents the best kind of sociologist, one who publicly holds up a critical mirror to the institutions and structure of society, and encourages sociological accounts of the world beyond the confines of the discipline. Such behaviour often questions the status quo, inevitably causes controversy and frequently annoys those in positions of power and control.
Born in 1936 in Southampton, and educated at the Universities of London and Leicester, John Eldridge held posts as lecturer and senior lecturer at the University of York. At the early age of 33 he became Professor of Sociology at the University of Bradford, moving three years later to the chair at the University of Glasgow. Over almost fifty years there, he has made major contributions to the intellectual and cultural life of Scotland. It is fitting and a real pleasure to say that he has always maintained and developed the synergies and contacts between Glasgow and Edinburgh, and continues so to do. His view of sociology and the sociologist’s role in academic and public life is shared by many members of the Edinburgh department.
In the 1970s, Eldridge created the Glasgow Media Group to analyse how ‘news’ was constructed and presented. Current events world wide make it clear why this ground breaking and continuing work made such an impact. ‘Fake news’ has a history.
Interest in social and cultural theory as well as empirical work, led to a book on the writings of Max Weber, on C.Wright Mills and, in collaboration with his daughter Lizzie, on the work of Raymond Williams.
John has contributed tirelessly to professional and public bodies. Notably the British Sociological Association as Chairperson and subsequently President, the Economic and Social Research Council, and the Church of Scotland’s Society, Religion and Technology project. He was a founding member and first Chairperson of the Association of Learned Societies in the Social Sciences.
It is a tribute to John’s passion and energy that he is still an actively engaged intellectual, contributing to the study of ideas, applying them in public life, and sometimes causing a little mischief.
Mr Vice-Chancellor, I now invite you to confer on John Eric Thomas Eldridge the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Science in Social Science.
Response – Professor Emeritus John Eldridge
Edinburgh – thanks
Principal, academic colleagues and friends.
First I must thank Professor Bechhofer for his kind and generous comments. I can only say that I will leave this place with a spring in my step!
I have had long and friendly connections with the sociology department here in Edinburgh. This included a term’s sabbatical which was both enjoyable and fruitful. It was a pleasure to witness the celebrations that marked the 50 year life of the department – 50 years that have seen it rise to prominence and become a source of creative thinking and work. Its high reputation in the field of sociology is richly deserved. And in passing I pay tribute to Tom Burns, an architect of the sociological project here and who I hope is a legend in this place.
My own trajectory as a sociologist began at the University of Leicester in the 1950s. Sociology for me was an undiscovered subject. To tell the truth I fe
ll in love with it. The department had just been formed and I was fortunate indeed to work under the tutelage of the charismatic Ilya Neustadt and the scholarly Norbert Elias. How lucky was that? I would point out that both of these men were refugees from fascism. What a debt our country owes to such people.
It was the great German sociologist Max Weber who said that sociologists should never lose the capacity for astonishment. This means, of course that our personal ideologies and common sense assumptions about the world we live in will, and should, come under scrutiny. This is the basis for producing work that is theoretically informed and empirically robust.
Weber also said – and this is an encouraging word – that to the cultural sciences (which included sociology) is given the gift of eternal youth. In a rapidly changing world, new ways of thinking, of concept formation and analysis have to be developed. This demands the practice of a creative sociological imagination as we confront problems of climate change, pollution, global inequality, the scourge of war, the world of finance which we sometimes call capitalism and sometimes neo-liberalism. One generation of sociologists passes the baton on in hope to the next. It is a calling to be proud of.
It might be said that old sociologists never die. They simply write another paper. If only! Thank you.