1964 - 2019
It is a very great sadness to bring news of the death of our dear friend and colleague, Claire Dwyer. She was diagnosed with a rare and serious form of cancer last year, and died peacefully on Sunday afternoon (14th July). She will be missed by so many of us in the geographical community and beyond.
Claire spent most of her academic career at University College London, where she undertook her PhD research on the identities of young British Muslim women. She joined the Departmental academic staff as a lecturer in 1995. However, she was also an international figure – some of the strongest influences on her ideas and interests were formed during her Masters course at Syracuse, which followed her undergraduate degree at Oxford. She had formal visiting fellowships at York University in Toronto, at UBC in Vancouver, at Uppsala and Utrecht universities, and was a regular speaker at events in the USA and Singapore.
Claire’s research made a vital contribution to social geography. Her early focus on gender, religion and ethnicity remained at the core of that contribution, but her work developed in new and distinctive directions, on transnational consumption in explorations of diasporic South Asian fashion, on innovation in qualitative methods, and in the critical analysis of the growth of faith schools in the UK. Throughout her career, her critical feminism underpinned her thinking and her approach. She was one of the co-authors of Geographies of New Femininities in 1999, and was active in the growth and success of the RGS-IBG Gender and Feminist Geography Research Group, serving on its committee for fifteen years.
Claire’s most recent research on the creativities of suburban faith communities played to her strengths. She had a real gift for putting people at their ease, and brought together different publics with artists and other creative professionals in a series of genuinely participatory projects. She was also a great leader of a diverse project team with many different skills and talents. The work drew upon both her academic expertise, but also her religious faith – she had a brilliant capacity to listen and understand the beliefs, practices and creativities of people with different faiths, an empathy that was generous but also critical and questioning.
Claire’s career was also marked by a strong commitment to teaching at undergraduate and postgraduate levels alike. She cared deeply about her students, leading courses in social geography and in migration and transnationalism, and was always in great demand as a dissertation supervisor. She founded and convened a successful Masters programme in Global Migration, linked to the Migration Research Unit, of which she was co-director. She was committed to the development of new generations of scholars in social geography, particularly in issues of migration, diaspora, identity, gender and religion. She had an extraordinary record of PhD supervision, supervising over 20 projects to completion. Many of these PhD students are now significant academics in their own right. Even now, there are 10 further projects in progress at UCL where Claire was either first or second supervisor. The loss of her drive and direction of new scholars is a loss not only to UCL, but also to the wider discipline.
Claire’s academic achievements are impressive, but what has been re-emphasized to us all in the short time since she died is how much she meant to people. She combined intelligence with great generosity, a willingness to put others before herself, and an ability to bring out the best in people. Her sound judgment, collegiality and extensive experience meant that she was always a reliable, wise and empathetic colleague to turn to for advice. She was a passionate and critical academic always engaged in the latest work and debates, but also had a life beyond, and a refreshing sense of wider priorities. Her family was at the centre of her life, and particularly she had great love and pride for her two sons. Our thoughts and for many of us, our prayers, are with them, her husband Paul, and her family.
Claire was awarded a Chair at UCL in 2018, and she was sad that illness prevented her from giving her inaugural and celebrating her career with colleagues and friends. We will now celebrate those achievements in different ways. We are hoping to arrange events in the near future to honour her life and work.
You can post tributes and memories of Claire on the UCL website: www.geog.ucl.ac.uk/claire-dwyer-condolences-memories.
Ben Page, Geography, University College London.
David Gilbert, Geography, Royal Holloway University of London.