David Lockwood, 1929-2014

David Lockwood, 1929-2014

David Rose, University of Essex

How is society possible? What is the basis of social order? What are the mechanisms of social change? These were the big questions that David Lockwood, who has died aged 85, posed for British sociology in the period of its expansion and establishment in British universities. They were questions that placed the production and reproduction of inequality as central to sociology and marked out the distinctiveness of its British variant.

His own research was grounded in an analysis of the tensions between the claims of citizenship and the power of the market. Citizenship rights – such as the right to vote, the right to join trades unions, the right to health care and social security – are status rights of equality won through political struggle. They are about all people being treated equally, about what is ‘social’ in ‘society’. The market, on the other hand, is about inequality and gives rise to classes. It individualises us; it is about self-reliance not reliance on society. Or in the words of Lady Thatcher, ‘there is no such thing as society, only families and individuals’. This balance between the claims of citizenship and the power of the market is at the very heart of modern democratic politics. David Lockwood provided us with novel and original ways of looking at these issues and their consequences for social cohesion, culminating in his magisterial book, Solidarity and Schism (1992) and his final papers on civic stratification.

David was that rare phenomenon – a theorist with a passionate interest in the real world of both today and of the past, one who undertook empirical research using documentary sources and both qualitative and quantitative data, and one who paid meticulous, indeed Weberian, attention to fine detail. As his wife, the eminent social historian Leonore Davidoff, once observed, David was an intellectual terrier. And to his colleagues, he could also be something of an intellectual terror, especially when he decided in conversation to be provocative. At such times he would make sweeping statements of both breathtaking generality and doubtful accuracy which he would then defend with a skill that would have made him a living at the Bar. It was a jest he played on others, part of the fun of intellectual life, one designed to test the intellectual mettle of colleagues, but also one with a serious purpose: to stand problems on their head and see whether new perspectives emerged. The paper on civic stratification that he gave at his retirement conference exemplified this. In it David inverted the whole class analysis problematic. Frank Bechhofer was the paper’s discussant and he wryly observed that once the trick was done it seemed obvious, but one asked more poignantly why one hadn’t thought of it oneself.

Some would say that all you needed to know about David was that he was a Yorkshireman. He was born to a working class family in Holmfirth, near Huddersfield. Of course, Holmfirth has since become famous as the setting for the long-running BBC television series Last of the Summer Wine. It is tempting, perhaps, to try and situate David (who after all must have been about the same age as Clegg and Compo) against that background. But whereas Holmfirth is now a TV theme park, at the time he was growing up in the 1930s it was a small mill town in the middle of a depression. His father Herbert, a dyer, was wounded in the First World War and re-trained as a cobbler, but died when David was ten. His stoical mother Edith was left to bring up David on the meagre wages of a cleaner. Although he won a scholarship to the local grammar school, at the end of the war family circumstances forced him to leave and to take a job as a clerk in a local mill. During his childhood, he became keenly aware of both the hidden and more obvious injuries of class.

He might easily have been lost to us as a scholar but for the fact of National Service. During his time in the Army Intelligence Corps in Austria between 1947 and 1949, his intellectual curiosity led to him reading Nietzche in German. Partly as a result, he was noticed by and came under the influence of a left-wing Army Education Corps corporal who introduced him to Marx and encouraged him to apply to university. He duly took the London School of Economics entrance examination and gained admission. On applying for a student grant, he was asked by a local education official why someone like him wanted to go to university.

In 1952 he graduated with First Class Honours and proceeded to undertake a PhD. Within a year he was appointed to a lectureship. He was one of a remarkably talented group of sociology graduate students at the LSE, all of whom were to make their mark in the discipline. Their number included Ralf Dahrendorf, Joe and Olive Banks, Percy Cohen, Basil Bernstein, Michael Banton and John Westergaard. According to another of them, Chelly Halsey, in his essay ‘Provincials and Professionals: the British Post-War Sociologists’, David Lockwood was the most impressive of them all. This was confirmed by the quality of his PhD thesis, a study of the social position and class-consciousness of male clerks, and subsequently published in 1958 as The Blackcoated Worker. Here we find David addressing for the first time one of his abiding concerns: the need to understand the importance of the social status of an occupation, how people see themselves and are evaluated by others, as an element of class position, as well as understanding the more objective aspects of an occupation such as position in the division of labour, job security, pay and conditions. David effectively debunked the arguments from the left, especially from the labour movement, concerning the alleged false class consciousness of clerks. Clerks were shown to have greater job security than manual workers, very different workplace experiences and a sense of status superiority by being on the white collar side of the manual/non-manual divide. All these gave rise to a very different world view. Far from being falsely class conscious, clerks were shown to have a different class position from manual workers.

This approach to class analysis in terms of work situation, market situation and status situation (and he later added community situation) spawned a whole new sociological industry as other sociologists applied his theory and methods to the study of a host of different occupations from coalminers and shipbuilders to fishermen, farm workers and farmers. It also led to a major conference on working class images of society in 1972. The importance and continuing relevance of The Blackcoated Worker may be gauged from the fact that it was republished by Oxford University Press in 1989, with a substantial new postscript that reflected on the changing nature of clerical work and offered his perspective on the proletarianization of white collar work.

In 1958 he left the LSE on his appointment to a fellowship at St John’s College, Cambridge and a University Lectureship in the Economics Faculty. Cambridge did not then offer degrees in sociology, but only a few optional sociology courses within the economics degree. It was to be another ten years before the university decided, after an often fierce and acrimonious debate, that sociology was a fit and proper discipline for its students to pursue. There can be little doubt that the argument in sociology’s favour was swayed by the importance, quality and undoubted scholarship of the work of David and his colleagues (such as Michael Young and John Goldthorpe) at Cambridge. This culminated with one of the best-known studies ever undertaken by British sociologists, The Affluent Worker. Co-written with John Goldthorpe, Frank Bechhofer and Jennifer Platt, it focused on the newly affluent working class of post-war Britain and examined claims concerning the embourgeoisment of the new working class – the idea that they were becoming middle class. Lockwood and his colleagues refuted this idea, again emphasising the importance of status: though these affluent workers could now be consumers on a par with some of the middle class, they maintained quite distinct social values, political ideals and lifestyles.

The Affluent Worker was published in 1968, the year David moved to Essex as Professor of Sociology. He served the University at various times as Pro Vice-Chancellor, as Dean of Social Sciences and as Head of the Sociology Department and on retirement became an Emeritus Professor. It was while at Essex that he published Solidarity and Schism. In this book he dealt with his abiding concern with the problem of social order.

While David regarded Marx and Durkheim as having set the agenda for macrosociological theory, he proceeded to demonstrate why both approaches were misconceived and thus laid bare the problems inherent in modern theories of social order based on either conflict or consensus. Marxian approaches, stressing social conflict, ignore the normative status order defined by citizenship to which people became committed and thus by which all societies are to some degree held together. As his empirical work had shown, this idea has to be incorporated into any theory of class conflict and class-consciousness. Durkheimian (or functionalist) approaches, stressing social consensus, exclude even the possibility of class polarisation and social schism and so cannot account for outbreaks of disorder and radical change. Thus, David’s key contribution in this and all his other work was to show how it is impossible to conceive society without recognizing both a degree of integration and an element of conflict. The former arises through common norms and thus status; the latter arises from the unequal allocation of scarce material resources and thus class. He further developed these ideas in his final work on civic stratification in which he suggested that societies were becoming increasingly divided in terms of citizenship rights and access to them.

In 1995, the Essex Sociology Department honoured him with a conference to mark his retirement. So many of the UK’s most distinguished sociologists attended that, as Frank Bechhofer noted, if the earth had swallowed up the conference venue, most of British sociology’s past (if not its future) would have gone into the abyss. In 1996, the British Journal of Sociology dedicated a special issue to David. However, his retirement was purely formal. He continued to be an active and influential scholar as a Visiting Emeritus Professor in the Institute for Social and Economic Research where he was involved with Karen O’Reilly, David Pevalin and me in the development of a new government social classification, the National Statistics Socio-economic Classification; and with Ray Pahl, Eric Harrison, Liz Spencer and me in a small scale restudy of Garry Runciman’s Relative Deprivation and Social Justice.

The quality of David’s scholarship brought him many honours. In 1976 he was elected to a Fellowship of the British Academy and in 1990 to a Fellowship of the Academia Europea. In 1998, he was awarded a CBE for his contributions to sociology and he had honorary degrees from Cambridge as well as Essex. In 2011, the British Sociological Association gave him a Lifetime Achievement Award.

So, a working class, Yorkshire background, born into the depression of the 1930s, growing up during the Second World War and one of the first beneficiaries of the Welfare State created by the post-war Labour Government – all these were factors in shaping David’s politics and his scholarship and especially his keen awareness of the importance of citizenship in offering opportunity and security and of the powers of class ranged against it. But there are a few other important observations to be made about David because they also tell us something of his pedigree.

First, he was married for almost sixty years to Leonore Davidoff. Their happy relationship and the support she gave him while pursuing her own very successful academic career were vital ingredients of David’s success. They had three sons, Ben, Harold and Matthew, and seven grandchildren. My second observation concerns David’s love of good company and his ability to communicate with people from all walks of life. Those who knew him only as an acquaintance may have found him somewhat reserved. They may even have seen him as a typical taciturn Yorkshireman. In fact, he was a very sociable person with a rare ability to engage people on their own level, whatever that may be, and to put them at their ease. But he was also endearingly diffident and shy so that he was only truly gregarious in company with his family and closest friends. With them he was relaxed, lively, engaged, witty, affectionate and capable of great kindness.

In his review of Solidarity and Schism, Garry Runciman noted that above all David was the sociologist’s sociologist, the one the others watched and looked to for the essential signposts. Yet, his essential modesty and diffidence extended even into his intellectual work. This leads to my final observation about David. He never encouraged nor sought a following. He just put his ideas out there and let others judge. He didn’t have or wish to have acolytes but, of course, he had a huge number of admirers, including many like me who made their careers on the back of his ideas. Indeed, it could be said that he carried his modesty and diffidence too far. As Garry Runciman also observed, it did sometimes seem that David not only hid his light under a bushel, but he often hid the bushel as well. To which one can only say ‘Well, that was David’. He was never one to blow his own trumpet, let alone to conduct the orchestra. It was part of what made him such a lovely man.

Nevertheless, as noted previously, the sheer power of his ideas ensured that David was instrumental both in establishing sociology as a discipline in British universities during the 1950s, 60s and 70s and also in giving it an initial distinctiveness compared with sociology elsewhere. If that were all he’d achieved, it wouldn’t be a bad epitaph; but he did far more than that by continuing to challenge us and change how we thought with everything he wrote.

David Lockwood served the discipline of sociology with great distinction. Unlike many social scientists today, the latest intellectual fads and fashions did not sway him, nor did he treat sociology as an amateur form of philosophy. The big problems he tackled, of order (and disorder), integration (and disintegration), remain central to sociology, if all too often nowadays neglected. He saw societies as systems distinguished both by their peculiar need to hang together and their occasional liability to fall apart, hence the title of Solidarity and Schism. Hence, also, his view that, rather like the drunkard, societies just stagger along. How they manage to do so without actually falling over was for him the real challenge to sociological explanation. Being such a modest person, it was no surprise that he was gently sceptical about what sociology can achieve; but, being committed to his subject, he was extremely enthusiastic about its potential to teach us about the world in which we live.


David Rose is Emeritus Professor of Sociology at the University of Essex. He is a former Director of the Institute for Social and Economic Research and author and co-author of many books and articles on social stratification and class inequality.