Claire Dwyer

UCL Department of Geography

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Claire Dwyer (1964-2019)

We are very sad to announce the death of our beloved friend and exceptional colleague Claire Dwyer, Professor of Geography at UCL. Claire was diagnosed with a rare cancer last year, and was with her family at a hospice in Ealing when she died peacefully on Sunday July 14th 2019.

If you would like to make a donation to support causes chosen by Claire please follow this link: Just Giving

Claire was awarded a First in Geography from Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford in 1987. She then worked as a secondary school teacher, before returning to university in 1991. She studied for an MA at Syracuse in the USA where her dissertation on state-aided Muslim Schools in Britain was supervised by John Western. Her doctoral work on young Muslim women in Watford (supervised by Peter Jackson and Jacquie Burgess) was completed in 1995, and shaped many themes that she continued to explore throughout her academic career: faith, gender, migration, youth and South Asian culture among them. She started teaching at UCL while studying for her PhD and was appointed to a full lectureship in 1997 on its completion. She was awarded her chair in 2018.

Claire was central to the intellectual and social life of the Department of Geography at UCL. She was involved in major reforms of curriculum early in her career, and later through her work as co-director of the Migration Research Unit with the creation of a successful Masters Programme in Global Migration. Claire brought a number of artists to work at UCL geography and has been both instrumental and innovative in exploring the intersections between artistic and academic creativity. She did so in ways that drew together many people from diverse constituencies, both within and well beyond the department. She made significant contributions to UCL too, particularly in relation to the Grand Challenges programme and the College’s cultural events. She held visiting fellowships at York University in Toronto, at UBC in Vancouver, and at Uppsala University, and was a regular speaker at events in the USA and Singapore. Her work with the Runnymede Trust and the Soddy Trust enabled her to bring together her interests in, and passion for, education, research and justice.

Claire was a hugely effective and influential instructor. Having spent some years as a secondary school teacher early in her career, Claire was always conscious of the privileged position of university teachers. She used her school experiences to great effect in her teaching work at UCL, which had a relaxed, participatory style. Her influence on generations of UCL undergraduates was profound. Every year the number of students wishing to do dissertations with her on the relationships between gender, ethnicity and space far exceeded her quota – and even when those disappointed students were allocated to other supervisors Claire would frequently make time to see them. She could be as steely as she was gentle with students and had high expectations and high standards along with an abundance of enthusiasm and patience. Her pioneering work with the Global Migration Masters students included always finding sources of funding to support their annual student-led conference. Claire will be particularly remembered as a PhD supervisor and examiner. She was always lucid and precise in her guidance to doctoral students, sharing in the excitement of progress and providing accurate and perceptive assessments of where improvements were needed. She supervised over twenty doctoral students to completion.

Over 25 years Claire made major research contributions to the discipline of Geography. She was a Social Geographer with a long-standing interest in gender and feminism. Perhaps because of this her approach to research was invariably collaborative, inclusive and intellectually generous. For many years she was actively engaged in the Women and Geography Study Group at the RGS-IBG, which led to the 1999 book she co-edited on the Geographies of New Femininities (with Nina Laurie, Sarah Holloway and Fiona Smith). Her work on commodity cultures and fashion featured in the book Transnational Spaces (2004, co-edited with Peter Jackson and Phil Crang). She also had particular interests in relation to migration, multiculturalism and ethnicity and justice, which led to another collection: New Geographies of Race and Racism (2009, edited with her former PhD student, now colleague, Caroline Bressey). Recently Claire’s long-term interest in the geographies of religion led to the ongoing AHRC funded Making Suburban Faith project (which she co-led with David Gilbert). Her record of collaboration is testimony to her skills as a diplomat, communicator and mobiliser, but also of her infectious ability to share her passions and curiosity.

Claire’s most recent research on the creativities of suburban faith communities in Ealing played to her strengths. She had a real gift for putting people at their ease, and brought together different publics with artists and other creative professionals in a series of genuinely participatory projects. She was also a great leader of a diverse project team with many different skills and talents. The work drew upon both her academic expertise, but also her own faith – she had a brilliant capacity to listen and understand the beliefs, practices and creativities of people with different faiths, an empathy that was generous but also critical and questioning.

Claire’s academic achievements are impressive, but what has been re-emphasized to us all in the short time since she died is how much she meant to people. She combined intelligence with great generosity, a willingness to put others before herself, and an ability to bring out the best in people. Her sound judgment and extensive experience meant that she was always a reliable and sympathetic colleague to turn to for advice (both professional and personal). Though her feminism made her alert to the way female colleagues are expected to provide emotional labour in support of colleagues, she was always ready to listen, and to reply. She had a gift for telling colleagues when they were being daft, without making them feel like fools. Her capacity for problem-solving balanced the need to overcome obstacles with a sense of finding the right path, both ethically and pedagogically. Her contributions in meetings often cut through the miasma to make points that were clear, positive and wise.

Clare was a passionate and critical academic always engaged in the latest work and debates, but also had a life beyond, and a refreshing sense of wider priorities. Her network of community, church and schools was extensive and very important to her. Her family was at the centre of her life, and particularly she had great pride in the achievements and character of her two sons.