David Robins

Sociologist of contemporary youth


David Nathan Robins, writer, sociologist and charity worker: born London 17 November 1944; married Anna Gruetzner (one son, one daughter); died London 6 October 2007.

A hugely talented, funny and productive man who was as comfortable discussing Italian defensive formations as he was Heidegger, David Robins was a force for good as journalist, academic and charity worker.

An immensely well-read son of Willesden, and the child of a barber, Robins was brought up in a politically aware working-class Jewish family where boxing and Stalinism were central concerns. After studying English at University College London, he plunged into the world of underground newspapers, and cut his teeth as a writer with International Times, Ink and Time Out. He wrote history dramas for the BBC, as well as articles on political theatre, where he had a particular interest in Brecht.

He was also involved in the squatters' movement in London and Amsterdam; Robins's memories of the 1960s, of Daniel Cohn-Bendit and the situationalists, and his dope-addled role in attempting to overthrow capitalism were often recounted as a series of half-remembered tales that could reduce his audience to tears of laughter.

As a youth worker in pre-New Labour Islington, Robins encountered aspects of white working-class culture that challenged the indulgencies of the libertarian left, and in the subsequent book, Knuckle Sandwich (1978), which Robins co-authored with Philip Cohen, an ethnographic sensibility was utilised to introduce "careering delinquents" – young people whose criminal involvement was chaotic and haphazard – as a counterpoint to the simplistic notion of a "career criminal". This book set an agenda for Robins' subsequent career as a sceptical sociologist of contemporary youth. Dismissive of welfarists and leftist romantics alike, he followed up one of the themes of Knuckle Sandwich with We Hate Humans (1984) a study of football hooliganism written from among the human wreckage of Thatcherism.

In the late 1980s Robins worked as a Research Fellow at Oxford University on a study of the impact of sport on youth offending, and produced a characteristically challenging report that questioned the highly popular notion of sport being a diversion from criminal activity. He also worked at the Prince's Trust administering training projects, and with Michael Young at the Institute of Community Studies, before joining the John Lyon's Charity as Grants Director in 1993.

Tarnished Vision (1992) was Robins's first post-Marxist venture. Based upon four years spent working in a training workshop for unemployed youth, and a further period working on a BBC documentary with the director Franco Rosso, Tarnished Vision attempts to confront the utter failure of governmental efforts to deal with inner-city crime and conflict. Robins abandoned the edgy Utopianism of some of his earlier work, where youth are often regarded in terms of their revolutionary potential, and in its place we are introduced to a more sober set of socialist sensibilities that successfully explores the "tangle of pathologies" that fester at the intersection of race and class.

Unlike many of his compatriots who had drunk deeply from the well of 1960s ideology, Robins remained engaged with the often inconvenient realities of working-class youth. He was also unremittingly reflexive and, as Tarnished Vision followed swiftly on from parenthood and home-ownership, so the book Cool Rules (2000) was inspired by the experience of bringing up teenagers. Written with his long-time friend Dick Pountain, Cool Rules explores what the authors regard as the dominant attitude of the age, an attitude that combines obsessive aversion to authority, ironic detachment, hedonism and narcissism. However, this attitude has been appropriated by market forces and is now central to youth-centred consumption and exploited by fashion, image and advertising.

The authors proceed, both in Cool Rules and in a number of associated articles, to explore the hedonism, narcissistic concern with appearance, and macho detachment that resides at the core of contemporary gun and knife crime. Robins and Pountain describe the way that young people use "cool" to immunise themselves against the sense of failure that is inevitable in a highly competitive and celebrity-obsessed culture. "If you can't win, then refuse to play the game by dissing it as uncool".

While working at the John Lyon's Charity, Robins continued his journalism and remained the most imaginative and engaging of men. His conversation veered across theatre, football, literature, and politics and was often further enlivened by a tendency as he got older to lurch without warning into Yiddish.

Warm, loyal, and extremely funny, he brought a journalistic style and economy to his sociological writing that often shamed the careless ramblings of academics. He also brought a non-sentimental attitude to his work that never segued into cynicism. In his final weeks, he finished an article on knife crime and spoke enthusiastically of a play that he had written on Heidegger.

Dick Hobbs

News
news

Emergency call 'started off dumb, but got pretty serious'

News
people

Britain First criticised for using actress's memory to draw attention to their 'hate-filled home page'

News
Russell Brand was in typically combative form during his promotional interview with Newsnight's Evan Davis
people

Thought you'd seen it all after the Jeremy Paxman interview?

Arts and Entertainment
On The Apprentice, “serious” left the room many moons ago and yet still we watch
tv

Greatest mystery about the hit BBC1 show is how it continues to be made at all, writes Grace Dent

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Voices
Funds raised from the sale of poppies help the members of the armed forces with financial difficulties
voicesLindsey German: The best way of protecting soldiers is to stop sending them into conflicts
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from David Ayer's 'Fury'
film

"History is violent," says the US Army tank commander Don "Wardaddy" Collier

Arts and Entertainment
Liam and Zayn of One Direction play with a chimpanzee on the set of their new video for 'Steal My Girl'
music

Animal welfare charities have urged the boy band to cut the scenes

News
The Edge and his wife, Morleigh Steinberg, at the Academy Awards in 2014
peopleGuitarist faces protests over plan to build mansions in Malibu
News
peopleFox presenter gives her less than favourable view of women in politics
Property
One bedroom terraced house for sale, Richmond Avenue, Islington, London N1. On with Winkworths for £275,000.
property
Sport
Erik Lamela celebrates his goal
football

Argentinian scored 'rabona' wonder goal for Tottenham in Europa League – see it here

Voices
Nigel Farage has backed DJ Mike Read's new Ukip song
voicesNigel Farage: Where is the Left’s outrage over the sexual abuse of girls in the North of England?
News
i100
News
Mario Balotelli has been accused of 'threateningly' telling a woman to stop photographing his Ferrari
peoplePolice investigate claim Balotelli acted 'threateningly' towards a woman photographing his Ferrari
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Anderson plays Arthur Shelby in Peaky Blinders series two
tvReview: Arthur Shelby Jr seems to be losing his mind as his younger brother lets him run riot in London
Voices
Don’t try this at home: DIY has now fallen out of favour
voicesNick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of it
Arts and Entertainment
Miranda Hart has called time on her award-winning BBC sitcom, Miranda
tv
Sport
Phil Jones (left) attempts to stop the progress of West Bromwich Albion’s James Morrison on Monday
Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo, writes Paul Scholes
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Focused Business Analyst - Finance and Procurement System Implementation

£350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Reading are...

Note Taker - Scribe

£10 per hour: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Are you an experienced note taker...

DT Teacher - Resistant Materials

£4800 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: A full time...

IT Systems Business Analyst - Watford - £28k + bonus + benefits

£24000 - £28000 per annum + bonus & benefits: Ashdown Group: IT Business Syste...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker