Professor Roger Silverstone

Media studies pioneer at the LSE
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The Independent Online

Roger Silverstone, sociologist: born Birkenhead, Cheshire 15 June 1945; Lecturer, then Reader, in Sociology, Brunel University 1976-91, Director, Centre for Research into Innovation, Culture and Technology 1987-91; Professor of Media Studies, Sussex University 1991-98; Professor of Media and Communications, London School of Economics 1998-2006; married (two sons, one daughter); died Oxford 16 July 2006.

The academic field of media and communications research has grown to maturity over the past three decades, and Roger Silverstone was a giant within it.

His varied interests and richly argued passions were more than personal matters; they helped broaden the field itself, taking it in philosophical and empirical sophistication far beyond the frequent caricature of "media studies". His unusual ability to match inspirational and organisational skills enabled him to make a lasting contribution to how the process of mediation is thought about and taught in three leading British universities. From 1998 he was Professor of Media and Communications at the London School of Economics.

Silverstone was born and grew up in Birkenhead, the oldest of the three children of Maurice Silverstone, one of the first Jewish general surgeons to be appointed to a UK teaching hospital. Roger's father died when he was 11. Six years later he won an Exhibition from Birkenhead School to Balliol College, Oxford, in 1963 where he took a First in Geography.

After university, he entered publishing and television production, working at the BBC among other things on coverage of the Apollo moon landing. He decided in his late twenties to join the emerging field of media research, and started a doctorate at the LSE under Donald MacRae, obtaining his PhD in 1980 and becoming Morris Ginsburg Fellow in 1981-82.

From the beginning he took a distinctive path: while other pioneers in the field were investigating media's political economy or ideological representations, Silverstone's first book, The Message of Television (1981), based on his thesis, analysed the broader narrative patterns underlying television's story-telling power, drawing on anthropological and literary theory in a way whose prescience has only recently become clear.

Silverstone's teaching career had meanwhile begun at Bedford College, London University, and then from 1976 at Brunel University, where he stayed until 1991, becoming Reader in Sociology and developing his multidisciplinary approach to media in a number of original ways.

First was his study of the making of a BBC documentary, Framing Science (1985), still unsurpassed as a study of factual television. Then in the late 1980s and early 1990s he directed the Centre for Research into Innovation, Culture and Technology (which he had founded), leading its research into how media resources are put to use in the practical and moral settings of the home. During this period, his intellectual energy and erudition made him a leading figure in enhancing understanding of how not just television, but a range of information and communication technologies, become "domesticated" in the complex settings of everyday life. Resulting publications, including Television and Everyday Life (1994) and Consuming Technologies (edited with Eric Hirsch, 1992), remain standard reference points.

Silverstone moved to Sussex University in 1991 as Professor of Media Studies and Chair of the Media Studies Subject Group where, in addition to building its media teaching at undergraduate, masters and doctoral levels, he developed new research collaborations with Leslie Haddon and Robin Mansell, leading to Communication by Design (edited with Mansell, 1996). Meanwhile he worked on his path-breaking text Why Study the Media? (1999), since translated into many languages, which explains to a larger audience in bold and accessible style media's salience to many concerns including poetics, rhetoric and ethics.

In 1998 he was appointed the first Professor of Media and Communications at LSE and took on the challenge of consolidating and expanding its media teaching and research, first developed there by his ex-Brunel colleague Sonia Livingstone in the early 1990s and championed by the LSE's then Director, Anthony Giddens. Alongside many other projects (for example, as founding editor of the journal New Media and Society and co-ordinator of the European Media Technology and Everyday Life Network, which researched diasporic media across seven countries), his return to LSE was marked by a major personal triumph when, under his leadership, the Department of Media and Communications became LSE's first new department for more than 20 years.

While intensely proud of this strategic achievement, he continued to work on new challenges. In the year before he died and in spite of a period of serious illness, he completed the manuscript of his new book, Media and Morality: on the rise of the mediapolis, which aims to initiate a philosophically informed debate on media's role in the contested moral fabric of the contemporary world.

He also led the way in forming the Polis centre at LSE, in collaboration with University of the Arts/London College of Communications, as a forum for researching such issues in terms directly relevant to journalism's fast-changing practices. He was greatly looking forward to what Polis might achieve in shifting debates in this difficult area.

Roger Silverstone had an exceptionally happy family life, with his wife of 36 years, Jennifer, a practising psychoanalytic psychotherapist, and their children, Daniel, Elizabeth and William, and four grandchildren. He will be remembered by those who had the good fortune to know him for his intense and sympathetic engagement with others' ideas, which combined an acute appreciation of their complexity, a sensitivity to differing cultural perspectives, and a profound sense that at stake in the stories told through media is something essential to the possibility of a good life - both individual and collective.

Nick Couldry