Gerard Duveen, 1951-2008

December 4, 2008

Gerard Duveen, a major figure in social psychology, has died

He graduated from the University of Surrey in 1974 with a first degree in philosophy and psychology - joint interests he would pursue throughout his career. After a masters at the University of Strathclyde's department of psychology, he was awarded a PhD by the University of Sussex for his thesis "From social cognition to cognition of social life". It was at Sussex that he began to develop some of the themes he made his own, notably the ways that representations influence identity and vice versa.

Some of Dr Duveen's first important contributions were in the much-debated field of gender. After a few short-term posts, he came back to Sussex as a research fellow and began a long and fruitful research partnership with Barbara Lloyd. This led to the jointly authored Gender Identities and Education: The Impact of Starting School (1992) and a wider-ranging jointly edited volume, Social Representations and the Development of Knowledge (1990).

More sympathetic to continental than Anglo-Saxon intellectual traditions, Dr Duveen sometimes used the research methods of the Swiss developmental psychologist Jean Piaget - in which children describe what they are doing while carrying out a task - although he also drew on interviews and participant observation. Another influence was Serge Moscovici, the French social psychologist. Dr Duveen contributed an introduction to the translation of Moscovici's Social Representations: Studies in Social Psychology (2000) and was also instrumental in ensuring that his Psychoanalysis: Its Image and Its Public (1961) was finally published in English last year.

In 1989, Dr Duveen became a lecturer in the department of education at the University of Cambridge and then a university reader in genetic social psychology when his post was moved to the faculty of social and political sciences in 1993. He also became a fellow of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, and later director of studies for social and political sciences. When diagnosed with incurable cancer, he held a farewell party there this year, and was greatly touched that 130 people from all over Europe attended, although friends pointed out that it was precisely his modesty and generosity that made him so popular and widely respected.

Juliet Foster, research fellow in social psychology at Corpus Christi, remembers a man who "knew an awful lot about an awful lot of subjects. He was equally comfortable discussing political philosophy, anthropology or French cinema. He could get to the heart of an issue in a couple of sentences. Hundreds of people across the world said that his teaching, intellectually generous but non-directive, had changed their lives. He influenced generations of students in helping them develop their ideas."

Dr Duveen died on 8 November 2008.

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