Fields

In memoriam

Professor Mark Poster

The Department of Media and Communications was deeply saddened to learn that Professor Mark Poster, University of California, Irvine, died on 11 October 2012. He was LSE Centennial  Professor in the Department for three years until 2008, always leading faculty into new debates and enormously stimulating exchanges about how we understand the media. 

His colleagues circulated this tribute:

It is with immense sadness that we share the news that our dear colleague Mark Poster, Emeritus Professor of History and Film & Media Studies, passed away in the hospital earlier this morning. Mark Poster was a vital member of the School of Humanities, and for decades one of its most widely read and cited researchers. He made crucial contributions to two different departments, History and Film & Media Studies, and played a central role in UCI's emergence as a leading center for work in Critical Theory.

In the first part of his career, when his focus was on modern European intellectual history, his path-breaking publications included the influential book *Existential Marxism in Postwar France* (Princeton University Press 1975), a study of the intellectual world around Jean-Paul Sartre. When the theory boom hit the U.S., thanks in part to this book, he became a widely sought-after authority on French critical thought, especially the writing of Michel Foucault, whose work he helped introduce to American audiences. He played a crucial role in setting the History Department on its current course, as one of the first departments--if not the first department--in the discipline with a required graduate sequence in theory. In that sequence Mark taught a Foucault seminar that became legendary.

His investments in French intellectual history also positioned Mark Poster for crucial contributions to the Critical Theory Institute at UC Irvine, which he helped start as an informal reading group; by 1987 it was established as a campus research institute. The distinction of Irvine, reflected in the CTI, the graduate emphasis, the Critical Theory Archive, and departmental strengths, still defines the special character of the School, and contributes to its international reputation for scholarly innovation. Hosting internationally known scholars, the Critical Theory Institute with its public seminars and Wellek lecture series soon became one of the global hotspots in the humanities.

In the second part of his career, Mark became a seminal theorist of media and technology. He was the founding chair of the Department of Film & Media Studies at UC Irvine. Together with Franco Tonelli and Eric Rentschler, he had helped shepherd the Film Emphasis of the early 1980s to Program status by the end of that decade, and then to departmentalization by 2002. In the process he was pivotal in hiring and mentoring faculty who now serve the School's second largest major.

Mark Poster was a major figure in the rapid development of media studies and theory in the USA and internationally. While as an intellectual historian he could draw on Frankfurt School thought as well as on cybernetics, he was particularly interested in the potential of poststructuralism for media studies. From his translations of Baudrillard to his dissemination of Foucault, Poster played a highly influential role in the study of media culture, including television, databases, computing, and the Internet; he continued to offer crucial commentary on the relevance to technology and media of cultural theory, and his numerous articles and books have been translated into a number of different languages. Reflective of the breadth of his interests and expertise, Poster held courtesy appointments in the Department of Information and Computer Science and in the Department of Comparative Literature. First hired at UCI in 1968, Poster had recently retired after 40 years of service to  the School and the Campus.

Philip, Baron Gould of Brookwood

By Dr Maggie Scammell

I first met Philip shortly after the 1987 election at which Labour had been hammered for the third time in succession. I was writing my PhD and Philip agreed to an interview. We met in what I hazily recall as a rabbit warren type office in Soho, I think. My first memory of him is almost the same as my last; he was bristling with nervous energy, generous with his time, eager to explain his work for Labour, and impatient for change. 

Philip was one of the first and one of the few professional political consultants in the UK. He always hated it when I called him a "political marketer"; he said his job was all about connection, linking the Labour Party and its leaders to ordinary people. He believed that the Left too often lagged behind the Right in the arts of campaigning and he was passionate about sharing his knowledge in the hope of creating a new cadre of skilled progressive campaigners.

He jumped at the chance when I invited him to give some guest lectures on my Political Communication course. But it was nowhere near enough for him. He became visiting professor at the LSE and ran a series of lectures bringing in such as Alastair Campbell, Peter Mandelson and Stanley Greenberg (Bill Clinton's pollster) and then he set up his own MSc course, Modern Campaigning Politics.

Philip certainly connected with the LSE. He told me on several occasions that he much preferred classes with our students to those at Oxford; the LSE students were more grounded, more real-world, he felt. And, something that I liked so much about him, he loved it when the students gave him a hard time. "There were a few questions there that I couldn't really answer", he'd say, delighted and invigorated, and with an eye for likely interns. He'd been a Masters student here himself, and was hugely influenced by Michael Oakeshott. He'd introduce his lectures with a quote from Oakeshott, that the art of politics was like sailing in a boundless, bottomless sea. It was one of Philip's mantras; politics was a "flow", constantly changing. Yesterday's strengths are tomorrow's weaknesses, and so Labour had to be in a state of permanent adjustment, from New Labour to new New Labour to mature new Labour and so on.

He was a self-confessed political nutcase and probably he needed to be at time when his marketing skills were often derided in his party. His persistence was extraordinary and his memo-writing legendary, constantly warning Labour about dangers to its "brand". It was the type of language that grated horribly for party traditionalists. He was part of the group John Prescott once dismissed as the "beautiful people", and Prescott again after yet another leaked Gould memo declared that "all that glitters is not Gould".

Yet, there is no doubting that Gould was one of the select few who created New Labour. "There has been no figure quite like him in British politics," according to Tony Blair's biographer, Anthony Seldon. "He is more than just a pollster who provides research: he is a tireless proselytizer for what that research means. He inspired and encouraged Labour's change from a doctrine/tradition driven party to a values/market-driven one. A political advertising man has taken the place of generations of socialist philosophers."

The more I got to know Philip the more I liked him. He was genuinely kind and instinctively on the side of the little guy. He could be deliciously gossipy on occasion and let students feel they were being let into a secret political world. He made politics real and human. He could be disarmingly self-deprecatory, both about himself and New Labour. I always felt at ease with Philip; he never swanked his status, either as a peer of the realm or as one of the world's leading political consultants. He felt like a good friend although we only ever saw each other professionally. His death is a huge loss.

Dr Maggie Scammell

7 November 2011