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Emeritus Professor David Frisby

26th March 1944 - 20th November 2010

It is with great sadness that I report that LSE Emeritus Professor David Frisby, formerly a long-term Professor of Sociology at Glasgow, died on Saturday after a long illness. David published extensively on the sociology of Georg Simmel, social theory and modernity, German social theory and aspects of modern urban experience. Through his extensive archival investigations in Central Europe and the US, he brought to our attention understandings of modernity offered by Georg Simmel and Walter Benjamin, elevating the status of Georg Simmel in particular within the sociological canon. A number of his major works were translated into several languages. Alongside his reputation as the intellectual expert of fin-de-siecle social theory, he was a wonderful and generous colleague who helped mentor many of us. We in the Sociology department will all miss him terribly.
Professor Judy Wajcman, Head of Department, Monday 22nd November 2010

David Frisby had a knack of inserting jokes, anecdotes, and gentle wisdom into lectures on the most seemingly austere areas of social theory, leaving his audience with gossip concerning Max Weber's love life as well as insights into the intricacies of neo-Kantian antipositivism.

David Patrick Frisby was born and brought up in working-class Sheffield, and after Grammar School he worked as management trainee for the National Coal Board, who awarded him a scholarship to study sociology at the London School of Economics. The terms of the scholarship demanded that David spend part of his vacations painting coal wagons black, a task he cited with amused relish as an example of pointless labour. He graduated from the LSE with the prize for the best finals marks in his year.

He taught at the University of Kent from 1968-73, and in 1975 was appointed to a lectureship at Glasgow University, where he spent the next 30 years, establishing himself as the world's foremost expert on German social thought. He gained his PhD in 1978, and with Tom Bottomore translated Georg Simmel's gargantuan Philosophy of Money (1978); his books and essays on Simmel and other German social thinkers – including Sociological Impressionism (1981), Fragments of Modernity (1988) and Simmel and Since (1994) – have achieved definitive status.
Professor Dick Hobbs and Dr Nigel Dodd, LSE Sociology Department
For the full obituary, which appeared in The Independent on Friday 26 November follow this link.|

For an obituary in the Times Higher Education Supplement of 9th December 2010 by Matthew Reisz please follow this link|.

For an obituary in the The Guardian of 14th December 2010 by Bridget Fowler please follow this link.|

The Sociology Department will be collecting funds to give to a charity nominated by David's family in his memory.  If you would like to contribute please see Tia or Frances in the administration office S219a or email them at t.exelby@lse.ac.uk| or f.hewson@lse.ac.uk|.

See below for more tributes to David Frisby from friends and colleagues:

I was very saddened to hear of this news yesterday. David was a wonderful man as well as a brilliant scholar, who brought so much to those of us who were fortunate enough to work with him and get to know him a little. He was unfailingly very generous to his colleagues and to students, even when he struggled with his illness, and his gentleness, quiet good sense and guidance will be very much missed. Plus, he always knew great new places across the world to get coffee and cake...

I hope he knew how much he meant to us and how we will miss him.
Dr Claire Alexander, LSE Sociology Department

David possessed an extraordinary generosity of spirit, and I know that many students as well as colleagues will miss him terribly. With us for only five years, he left an indelible impression on everyone who came into contact with him, both as a teacher and colleague. in his own characteristically quiet and understated way. We will all remember his tremendous warmth and humour, as well as his outstanding qualities as a scholar. I know I am not the only person at the LSE who sought David's counsel on more than one occasion, and benefited from his wisdom and experience. I will not forget his warmth and kindness towards me while I was recovering from serious illness; I will not forget this wonderful man.
Dr Nigel Dodd, LSE Sociology Department

This is such very sad news. It is really tragic that we have lost David. He was without doubt one of my favourite colleagues. He was always very generous with his time, and patiently answered my many questions about social theory. He was also always happy to discuss my (usually) preposterous ideas. I felt privileged to have sat in on a number of his lectures, which I enjoyed and learned from immensely. Scholarly discussions aside, I always felt a personal connection with David, both as a 'fellow northerner' and because he worked at Stanton Ironworks (probably when he was very young), which is where a number of my family members worked. During that time he lived in the area where I grew up, and we shared some memories of that place.

David wasn't in the Department very long, but he made an indelible impression on his colleagues. I will always remember him very warmly as intellectual companion, friend and arch flaneur.
Dr Claire Moon, LSE Sociology Department

David Frisby was a gentle man and a towering figure both to me and to the many students that he taught at the Cities Programme. As his teaching assistant for many years, I was spoiled by David's generosity (he used to feed me coffee and 19th century tales of the city on a daily basis); his humble extraordinariness (David never spent enough time talking about his many talents including his drawing skills); his love for others (David loved Tanya, he loved his students and his many many colleagues). Sometimes I felt like his grandchild. David, I already miss your stories and your teaching.
Dr Savvas Verdis, Cities Programme, LSE

It was both sad and strange to receive this news. I had the privilege of being one of David’s last PhD students, and after completing my doctorate I had the fortune of sharing longer, more informal conversations, free from the pressures of thesis supervision. His kind advice and encouragement, I will always cherish deeply, and I cannot avoid a certain feeling of orphanhood. Beyond his knowledge and scholarly achievements, what I – and I think many of us – most admired in David was his genuinely unassuming attitude and unconditional generosity. He was above all, I think, a good person.
Dr Olivia Muñoz-Rojas, PhD 2009 LSE Sociology/Cities Programme

I am at the other end of the world when I receive this news and distance does not help my sadness, all the contrary. I talked to David over the phone a month ago and he was generous and kind as always, asking about me and my family in Santiago, Chile instead of responding my questions about himself. I was David´s first PhD student when he arrived to LSE. He took me under his wing and walked me over his beloved great ones: Simmel, Benjamin and Kracauer. He posted me his corrections by regular mail, in big envelopes, with handwrite notes at the margins, when I was writing my thesis in Santiago, and showed me his favourite spots in Glasgow when I visited him there. David was a gift for me and so many others, we will miss you!
Dr Rosario Palacios, PhD 2008, LSE Sociology Department

Even though David’s death was not unexpected during the past few weeks, it still comes with a great sense of loss. It is not every day you can have a conversation with someone that can range easily across German social theory, persisting religious influences on Scottish politics, a bookshop at an overseas university, or another good coffee and pastry shop in London. But what I, and others, loved about David was that he carried his enormous learning and achievement with ease. He never considered himself to be so self-important that he could not make time to chat with more junior colleagues, provide a long list of references or, indeed, comments on rushed grant applications. Yet what I will probably remember most was his courage, dignity, and extraordinary stoicism over the past 18 months as illness took its toll. 'Made in Sheffield', indeed.
Dr Patrick McGovern, LSE Sociology Department

Coming back from Japan, I was hit by the sad news. In the moment I read the announcement of his death, I imagined David standing before me, smiling, talking German to me, asking how I am, what my plans are, when we could have coffee together... as we did so often. For me he incorporates a 'German Britishness' or a 'British Germaness'. He was the best of both. It was easier for him to prize German intellectual life than it is for me. I learned more about the richness of, for example 'our' George Simmel by talking to him than by reading Simmel's writings. Not only was he familiar with lots of sparkling details, but he also could tell enlightening anecdotes full of surprise. He truely experienced a lived 'transnationality'.

I will personally miss him very much. Not only LSE, Britain and Germany, Sociology lost one of its greatest personalities - and a good friend.
Professor Ulrich Beck, Institute for Sociology, Munich and LSE Sociology Department

It was with great sadness that we learned of Prof. Frisby's death, and we would like to express our deepest sympathies to his family.

We knew David as our teacher in the Cities Programme, where he guided us as his fellow flaneurs around fin de siècle Vienna, and inspired ways of thinking about ourselves, cities, and society that have stayed with us ever since. But he also taught us something much more important. In his class and his writings, we could see a man who had courageously chosen the life of the mind, and lived it in the most aspirational way. David showed us the dignity and dedication of a real scholar, and the warmth and humour of someone who had found his passion. We are grateful that he was so generous as to share it with us.
The students of the Cities Programme, LSE 2006/07

I was very saddened to hear of Emeritus Professor David Frisby’s recent passing. What I would like to add to all of the wonderful tributes here is an acknowledgement of David’s excellence as a teacher. Of all of the professors who have taught me architecture, urbanism and sociology in my HE studies, he was one who really brought the subject at hand to life. Whether David was explaining the Nineteenth-Century European City in terms of Benjamin’s flâneurie in the Parisian arcades, or Camillo Sitte’s theories about memory being latent in crooked medieval streets, or the architectural debates played out in Vienna through the act of civic building on its Ringstrasse and off it by the Succession movement, his lectures never failed to be highly engaging. The ideas, actors and real places presented were rendered vivid in my mind then, and to this day, long after the course, these lessons remain lodged in my memory. What’s more, I am reminded of his great skill every time I stand before 75 Diploma students when delivering one of my own lectures. David’s enthusiasm was inspiring and he was an exemplary teacher to those who had the good fortune to be his student.
John Morgan, Lecturer and Studio Tutor, Mackintosh School of Architecture, Glasgow School of Art (LSE Cities Programme alumnus)

I am deeply saddened by the news of the passing away of Professor David Frisby. I met David a few years ago – normally our paths would not have crossed as I am in the Department of Social Policy – but the Senior Dining Room is a great place to meet great people. On many an occasion, I had lunch with David and his colleagues and enjoyed the discussions that ensued. David had a great memory for people and even when he was not with his colleagues, he always recognised me. We had many conversations about his time in Glasgow (sharing an interest in architecture) and on news of the current research that he was doing. My main shock is that I did not realise that he was ill. I will miss him for being a very kind person and a very good friend.
Dr Sunil Kumar, Department of Social Policy, LSE

I only knew Professor Frisby from afar but was able to benefit from his warmth, gentleness and scholarly values at a probing time of my professional life. He was a wonderful colleague, a kind and generous individual who always reminded me of ways that are still open and possible to us in this age of small specialisms and excessive identities.

His lessons and influence on us will continue.
Professor Sandra Jovchelovitch, Department of Social Psychology, LSE

David Frisby was my colleague at Glasgow for many years and I mourn his passing. We shared in the teaching of the Classical Sociological Theory where Simmel, of course held an honoured place alongside Marx, Weber and Durkheim. But it was not only Simmel, who he delighted to tell me was shot while trying to collect the rent from a debtor in 1886, but the wider range of German social thought, which engaged him and in which he showed such mastery. He loved detective stories and I once heard him give a fascinating talk on the Pinkerton detective agency. I suspect he saw his own research as a form of detection and in that he was conspicuously successful. As others have commented his conversations were very wide ranging. I shared with him a long-standing interest in jazz – the pianists Bill Evans and Keith Jarrett were much favoured by both of us. I am sad indeed that he has been taken from us.
John Eldridge. Emeritus Professor of Sociology, University of Glasgow.

David Frisby was a wonderful colleague. Whenever I saw David at meetings in the University I felt the presence of his warm spirit. He was in the very best of sense a true academic. If you did not know who he was there was nothing about his manner that would give you a hint of his achievements -and yet those achievements were towering.  I knew his name from my days as an undergraduate at Sussex University and when I met him I could see that he was quite simply one of the real stars, perhaps the star, of the sociology dept at Glasgow. Sad not to see again his giant frame, in trainers and sports jacket, ambling down from Hyndland.
Neil McKeganey, Professor of Drug Misuse Research, University of Glasgow

David Frisby was a great sociologist. He introduced me and many others to dazzling figures in pre-war German cultural sociology, like Georg Simmel, Walter Benjamin and Siegfried Kracauer. These writers had played no part in my undergraduate curriculum at the University of Leicester in the 1970s. David's wonderful ability to demonstrate the continuing importance of these writers in understanding the unique conditions of our times left an indelible mark on me.

More importantly, David influenced me as a man. When I was a postgraduate in Glasgow University in the 80s and during our regular meals in London thereafter, David's humour, judgement, diffidence and unfailing ability to identify a trickster or phoney in the discipline, were simply marvellous.

David could spot vanity at a hundred paces. I remember a drink with him in the old Wine Press on Fleet Street in the early 90s, when he ventured the theory that people of his generation were now getting to an age where eternal youth was clearly escaping their grasp. David predicted a wave of suicides as the baby boom Narcissi peered into the reflecting pool aghast at their own middle aged image. He was wrong about this, but few others would have had the same thought. And no others could have expanded it into a discussion about Dickens, Clune's history of the streets of London and city planing in Vienna and Berlin. Several people have remarked on his scholarship and learning. But what has not perhaps been conveyed sufficiently is how lightly he shared it with you and how much you learned in his presence.

I wish I'd told him more often and more directly how much he meant to me.

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.  The second thing is altogether more down to earth. It is my wish that he somehow knows how much we admired and loved him.  David Frisby is irreplaceable.
Chris Rojek, Professor of Sociology & Culture,Brunel University

I had a very high regard for David both as a person and as an academic. He and I worked very happily together for many years in the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Glasgow, where he was a member of the Department of Sociology and I of the Department of Economic and Social History. He was a major intellectual presence at Glasgow and also excellent company, with a wry sense of humour. Also, while very committed to his own research and teaching, he did much to advance academic standards in his department and in the Faculty more generally. He made a particularly significant contribution, as convener of the Faculty’s higher degrees committee, to important advances in postgraduate programmes. After I moved to London in 2000 it was a happy coincidence for me and for my wife Marguerite Dupree (also a Glasgow academic) that David moved to LSE and that he and Tanya made their home in Holborn, close to our base there. We enjoyed very much seeing them in London. It is hard to believe that he is gone – he will be greatly missed, not least by Marguerite and me.
Rick Trainor, Principal, King’s College London

Unfortunately, unlike his colleagues and students I did not have the chance to work or study with Professor Frisby , to admire his generosity and gentleness at first hand, to know his idiosyncrasies, or hear his stories. Nevertheless, like his colleagues and students, I feel great sorrow as though I have lost a close friend, and I will deeply miss him.

For me, he is the author of Georg Simmel. I had an extended correspondence with him via emails during the period I was translating his work into Persian (Farsi). He expressed delight that his work on Simmel would appear in Farsi for the benefit of Iranian people. Indeed, his work on Simmel attracted me greatly to the German philosopher and social thinker, so that I continued to translate more of Simmel's own work and found treasures and riches in him which otherwise would have remained unknown to me.

My indelible memory of Professor Frisby is of his patience with my many problems in translating and understanding, always given without any expectation.

May his soul be in everlasting growth as Simmel's companion in Heaven!
Shahnaz Mosammaparast, Iranian Translator of Simmel's work , BIHE Sociology Department

Professor David Frisby was one of Scotland’s most distinguished social scientists. Especially in Germany and the United States, where he was frequently invited to lecture, he was regarded as one of the world’s leading authorities on German social theory. His book on Georg Simmel, whose ‘Philosophy of Money’ he translated into English, is the definitive study of one of the most important German thinkers of the twentieth century.

David Frisby was born and brought up in a working class community in Sheffield. He graduated from the London School of Economics, winning the prize for the best finals marks in his year. After postgraduate studies he was appointed to a lectureship at Glasgow University in 1976, subsequently becoming a Reader and then Professor of Sociology. His prodigious list of books and articles are extensively cited by other academics and his reputation grew rapidly.

He was regularly invited to teach in a variety of leading international universities, including Heidelberg, Konstanz and Freiburg in Germany; and Princeton, Yale, San Diego and New York University in the United States. Many of his books on social theory, modernity and urbanism have been translated into several languages. He was in great demand to speak at Symposia all over the world.

He remained at Glasgow University until 2005 where he was regarded as a distinguished researcher and an outstanding teacher. Following his appointment to a Chair in Sociology at the LSE, he taught for five years on the postgraduate Cities programme. His most recent book links social theory and architectural theory in novel ways, greatly adding to our understanding of modern cities such as Vienna and Berlin.

Following his retirement from the LSE this summer, David Frisby and his wife Tanya returned to Glasgow. However he quickly became seriously ill. David was physically a big man, a keen walker, an excellent host, a collector of detective novels and a jazz enthusiast. Many postgraduate students in particular benefitted from his command of the academic literature, his probing intelligence and the meticulous scholarship he displayed in his own work. His many friends and colleagues will greatly miss his penetrating insights, always accompanied by kindly humour.
Des McNulty MSP

If you would like to add a tribute to this page please email Louise Fisher, the Sociology Department Manager l.c.fisher@lse.ac.uk|


Professor David Frisby