Ian Law obituary

Other lives: Sociology academic who helped universities to start acknowledging their part in slavery and colonialism

My dad, Ian Law, who has died aged 65 of pancreatic cancer, was a sociologist who was committed to racial justice and whose work helped universities to start acknowledging their part in slavery and colonialism.

Born in Luton, Bedfordshire, Ian was the son of Monica (nee Bull), a homemaker, and Geoff Law, an engineer. Following a scholarship to Trinity school, Croydon, he went to Liverpool University to study architecture. While there, he met Jude Clarke at a demo at Senate House, and they became inseparable. Ian switched to Jude’s course, sociology. They married in 1982.

Ian gained a PhD in sociology in 1985, beginning a deep, lifelong commitment to racial justice. For the rest of the 1980s he worked for Leeds City council as director of the Race Equality Unit in the housing department; as inner city task force coordinator for Chapeltown and Harehills; and a director of equality services in adult and further education.

In 1991 he joined Leeds University as a lecturer in social policy and in the mid-1990s he was the founding director at Leeds of the Race and Public Policy Unit and the Centre for Ethnicity and Racism Studies. As head of the school of sociology and social policy from 2000 to 2003, he played a significant role in establishing these studies as a core part of the teaching and research. As a PhD supervisor, he supported many students from non-traditional backgrounds.

Starting in 2009, he wrote 10 books in 10 years, on under-researched areas of global racialisation in Russia, China, Cuba, Eastern Europe, North Africa and the Caribbean. He was hugely proud of his appointment as an honorary professor at Nelson Mandela University in South Africa.

Ian’s research on the anti-racist university was ahead of its time. He was brave enough to say that universities could be institutionally racist well before they began to reluctantly acknowledge their part in slavery and colonialism. He left Leeds as an emeritus professor in 2019.

Ian always surrounded himself with music. Together with Jude he attended many gigs by the Celtic fusion band Shooglenifty; he had a seemingly infinite collection of Grateful Dead CDs. He also loved music with a message about social justice, and often wore that message on a T-shirt.

He was devoted to his family and spent a lot of time with his sons, Alex and me. He also loved Scotland, climbing around 200 Munros with Jude. For his 60th birthday he climbed Skye’s Cuillin ridge with me, and a few years ago he and Jude went to Nepal for a trek in the Himalayas.

Ian is survived by Jude, Alex and me, and by his sister, Anita, and brother, Kim.

Seb Law

The GuardianTramp

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