Claire Dwyer obituary

Other lives: Geographer who researched issues around migration and multiculturalism

My friend Claire Dwyer, who has died of cancer aged 54, was an acclaimed and influential social geographer. She spent most of her career at University College London, where her research focused on migration and multiculturalism, and the geographies of religion and ethnicity. She held visiting fellowships at universities in Toronto, Vancouver, Uppsala and Utrecht.

One of the four children of Michael Dwyer, a research engineer, and his wife, Brenda (nee Jacques), a teacher, Claire was born and grew up in Letchworth, Hertfordshire – the world’s first garden city – where her passion for social geography was forged. From St Angela’s Roman Catholic girls’ school, Stevenage, Claire won a place to study geography at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford. She took a year off to work with Mother Teresa in Calcutta, a formative experience that cemented her interest in south Asia. At Oxford she threw herself into university life, forming lifelong friendships and achieving a first.

She gained a PGCE from Nottingham University and worked as a secondary school teacher in Warminster, Wiltshire. In 1991 she returned to academic study and gained a master’s degree from the University of Syracuse, honing her critical feminism. She then joined the teaching staff of UCL, completing her PhD on the identities of young British Muslim women in 1997.

Claire’s generosity and collegiality found expression in her commitment to teaching. She was in demand as a dissertation supervisor and many of her PhD students are now significant academics. She founded and convened UCL’s master’s programme in global migration, linked to the Migration Research Unit, of which she was co-director from 2010.

Outside academia, Claire led a full and rewarding life. At university she met Paul Farmer, now chief executive of the mental health charity Mind, whom she married in 1994. They had two sons, Ben and Thomas.

The qualities that endeared her to her friends – warmth, empathy, humour, a capacity to put people at their ease – fed into her academic work, which more recently focused on the creative practices of suburban faith communities. A practising Catholic, and living in the ethnically diverse London borough of Ealing, Claire collaborated with communities around her, bringing people of all faiths together and staging exhibitions as part of the Making Suburban Faith project at venues including Gunnersbury Park Museum (My Life Is But a Weaving, 2018) and Somerset House (as part of the 2016 Utopia fair).

In 2018 Claire was awarded a chair at UCL, becoming one of the first female professors of human geography. At around the same time she was diagnosed with bile duct cancer.

She is survived by Paul, Ben and Thomas, and by her mother, and siblings, Cathy, Charlotte and Martin.

Alice Fowler

The GuardianTramp

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