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

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
News
people
News
Jamie and Emily Pharro discovering their friend's prank
video
News
i100
Life and Style
food + drink
News
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014
peopleTim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
News
people
Life and Style
techApp to start sending headlines, TV clips and ads to your phone
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift crawls through the legs of twerking dancers in her 'Shake It Off' music video
musicEarl Sweatshirt thinks so
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan in What If
filmReview: Actor swaps Harry Potter for Cary Grant in What If
News
Our resilience to stress is to a large extent determined by our genes
science
Travel
travel
Sport
sportBesiktas 0 Arsenal 0: Champions League qualifying first-leg match ends in stalemate in Istanbul
News
Pornography is more accessible - and harder to avoid - than ever
news... but they still admit watching it
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

HR Analyst - Banking - Bristol - £350-£400

£350 - £400 per day: Orgtel: HR Analyst - Banking - Bristol - £350 - £400 per ...

Assistant Marketing & PR Manager

£16 - £17 per hour: Ashdown Group: Marketing & PR Assistant - Kentish Town are...

Project Manager (App development, SAP, interfacing)

£50000 - £60000 Per Annum + excellent company benefits: Clearwater People Solu...

Systems Developer Technical Lead

£65000 - £70000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based i...

Day In a Page

Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

But could his predictions of war do the same?
Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

Young at hort

Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?
Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award: 'making a quip as funny as possible is an art'

Beyond a joke

Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire: The joy of camping in a wetland nature reserve and sleeping under the stars

A wild night out

Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire offers a rare chance to camp in a wetland nature reserve
Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition: It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans

Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition

It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans
Besiktas vs Arsenal: Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie

Besiktas vs Arsenal

Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie
Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

As the Northern Irishman prepares for the Barclays, he finds time to appear on TV in the States, where he’s now such a global superstar that he needs no introduction
Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to Formula One

Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to F1

The 16-year-old will become the sport’s youngest-ever driver when he makes his debut for Toro Rosso next season
Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

But belated attempts to unite will be to no avail if the Sunni caliphate remains strong in Syria, says Patrick Cockburn
Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I would end up killing myself in jail'

Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I'd end up killing myself in jail'

Following last week's report on prison suicides, the former inmate asks how much progress we have made in the 50 years since the abolition of capital punishment