Simon Clarke obituary

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My father, Simon Clarke, who has died aged 76, was a professor emeritus of sociology at the University of Warwick, whose research interests ranged from the origins of modern sociology to conditions in post-Soviet Russia.

Born in London to Tom Clarke, a screenwriter, and Diana (nee Gordon), a teacher of English as a foreign language, Simon’s childhood was peripatetic, with his father’s career taking them as far as Australia. When the family returned to Britain, Simon attended The Hall school in Hampstead, then Bryanston school in Dorset, and eventually Clare College, Cambridge, where he graduated with a BA in economics in 1967. Dissatisfied with the narrow boundaries of economics, Simon moved to the University of Essex to work on a PhD in sociology.

Simon had met Lindsey Hoblyn through a mutual friend when they were between school and university. They set up home together in Wivenhoe when Simon moved to Essex, where Lin was a postgraduate student, and were married in 1969.

When the University of Warwick established its department of sociology in 1971, Simon joined the faculty. His early work was largely theoretical, exploring the intellectual history of sociology from its roots in classical political economy to its modern form and examining the economic patterns of the 19th and 20th centuries through the lens of Karl Marx’s theory of crisis. He became a sought-after PhD supervisor for the speed with which he critiqued draft work and his ability to bring out the best in his students.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Simon’s research focus shifted to the evolution of labour relations and trade unions in newly post-communist countries. Rather than undertake this work alone, he and his colleague Peter Fairbrother joined forces with a group of early-career Russian sociologists to develop a shared research methodology combining the best aspects of western and Soviet approaches. The Institute for Comparative Labour Relations research group, with its egalitarian approach to sharing credit, was extremely successful, generating large numbers of books and journal articles that helped many of its members go on to distinguished careers in Russia, Europe and the United States.

On retirement, Simon largely gave up academic life to spend more time with his grandchildren and to pursue his lifelong passions for cycling and sailing. He is survived by Lin, his children, Becky and me, and by his four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.