David Frisby, 1944-2010

December 9, 2010

One of the leading sociologists of his generation has died.

David Frisby was born in Sheffield on 26 March 1944, attended the local grammar school and went to work for the National Coal Board, which offered him a scholarship to read sociology at the London School of Economics.

He proved an exceptionally talented student and ended his career as professor of sociology at the LSE, after working first at the University of Kent and then, for 30 years, at the University of Glasgow. He also held a number of visiting positions in Germany and the US.

From early in his career, Professor Frisby established himself as a world authority on German social thought, and particularly the work of the pioneering sociologist Georg Simmel (1858-1918). Simmel traversed disciplinary boundaries in his exploration of sensual experience, fashion, the figure of the stranger and the modern metropolis.

He helped make Simmel available to an English-language audience by co-translating his vast The Philosophy of Money (1978) and co-editing Simmel on Culture: Selected Writings (1997).

Professor Frisby also produced a number of more general analytical studies such as The Alienated Mind: The Sociology of Knowledge in Germany, 1918-1933 (1983), Fragments of Modernity: Theories of Modernity in the Work of Simmel, Kracauer and Benjamin (1985), Society (with Derek Sayer, 1986) and Simmel and Since: Essays on Georg Simmel's Social Theory (1992).

Later in his career, Professor Frisby shifted in his interests towards the architecture of the modern city, particularly the work of Otto Wagner in Vienna - which he studied as part of an MA at the Glasgow School of Art.

This led to a book titled Cityscapes of Modernity: Critical Explorations (2001), a key text of the foundations of urban studies course, itself a core component of the LSE's MSc in city design and social science, and an anthology-in-progress, Metropolis Berlin: 1880-1940 (co-edited by Iain Boyd White).

Chris Rojek, professor of sociology and culture at Brunel University, described Professor Frisby as "a great sociologist" whose "humour, judgement, diffidence and unfailing ability to identify a trickster or phoney in the discipline were simply marvellous...In one of our talks, I asked him to imagine that there truly is a heaven and, if he were to grant me that, what would Georg Simmel be doing there now?

"David replied without pause: 'Drinking celestial schnapps.' That is the first thing I wish for David now - drinking celestial schnapps with Simmel in heaven."

Professor Frisby died on 20 November and is survived by his wife Tanya, a daughter and a son.


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