I’ve just heard that John Urry died unexpectedly last Friday: I’m so desperately sad. We first met when we edited Social relations and spatial structures together as part of Macmillan’s Critical Human Geography series; an invitation to extend the conversation between sociology and human geography, it appeared in 1985, but we kept in touch ever since. He was a joy to work with. I remember rattling up to Lancaster on a succession of small trains from Cambridge and receiving the warmest of welcomes: good beer, creative conversation and lots of laughter. I last saw him two summers ago when I was in Lancaster for a conference on drones; one evening we sat in his gorgeous house sipping wine and having the loveliest and liveliest of times.
In between those book-ends (in fact before them and after them too) John produced some of the most imaginative work in the social sciences: books that were brimful of ideas – I never thought of it as Theory-with-a-capital-T and I doubt that he did either, though his grasp of classical and contemporary social theory was truly remarkable – that were drawn from an ever-expanding intellectual imagination fed by the widest of reading and reflection, but which never lost sight of the pressing substance of what he was thinking about. These were wonderfully accessible, provocative, insightful books – his work with Scott Lash on disorganized capitalism and his own studies of tourist culture and the tourist gaze, mobilities, climate change, and most recently on off-shoring. There was a tremendous clarity to John’s writing but also a humbling modesty; he was never strident, but it was impossible to put down one of his books – or reluctantly end a conversation with him – without thinking you had never seen it like that before and that you now had a lot more thinking of your own to do.
If you’ve never heard him, here he is in 2014:
John had an extraordinary gift for enlarging people’s political and intellectual horizons without lecturing or hectoring; his writing was splattered with references, but never in that showy, superficial ‘look how up-to-date I am’ way – instead they were generous acknowledgements of his debt to others and bibliographic gifts to his readers.
In (too) brief, he was a gorgeous man, the very model of a critical scholar and a generous human being. We still have his words but the realisation that there will be no more of them fills me with a sense of rootless desolation.