Professor Margaret Stacey

Pioneer in the sociology of health and illness

Thursday 15 April 2004 00:00 BST

Margaret Stacey was a major influence on British sociology for over 40 years; her pioneering research and her passionate commitments, both intellectual and practical, have left an indelible mark on the discipline.

Margaret Petrie, sociologist: born London 27 March 1922; Labour Officer, Royal Ordnance Factory 1943-44; Tutor, Delegacy for Extra-Mural Studies and Delegacy for Social Training, Oxford University 1944-51; Research Officer and Fellow, University College of Swansea 1961-63, Lecturer in Sociology 1963-70, Senior Lecturer 1970-74; Professor of Sociology, Warwick University 1974-89 (Emerita); married 1945 Frank Stacey (died 1977; three sons, two daughters); died Warwick 10 February 2004.

Margaret Stacey was a major influence on British sociology for over 40 years; her pioneering research and her passionate commitments, both intellectual and practical, have left an indelible mark on the discipline.

She first made her mark through her beautifully crafted community study Tradition and Change: a study of Banbury published in 1960. Rooted in the tradition of British community studies which flourished in the post-Second World War environment, her work none the less stood out for its attention to detail, for her willingness to approach the data with an open mind and for the sharpness of intellect which produced a creative, rich and wholly convincing analysis. It marked her out as a leading figure in the development of the (then) very young discipline of sociology in the UK.

As her research agenda matured, Meg Stacey developed a strong interest in the sociology of health and illness, largely born of her experiences with her own children in hospital. She pioneered the development of this aspect of the discipline, with which her name is most strongly associated. Her particular focus of interest was in topics related to children's and women's interactions with health-care services. She published extensively on these topics, as well as undertaking innovative and influential conceptual work on constructions of health and illness.

Without compromising her intellectual rigour, Stacey's academic interests derived from her own personal commitments and led her into public service, and sometimes campaigning. Her standing in the world of health was attested by her appointment to the Welsh Hospital Board in 1970 and to the General Medical Council in 1976. She served on the latter body for eight years and, in parallel, produced some fine academic work on the topic of professional regulation in health.

A lifelong interest in gender issues, and the rights of women in particular, was another way in which her academic interests overlapped with her personal commitments. The early part of her own career had not been easy, because the academic world found it difficult to create a secure place for a young woman with five children, however talented and committed. But she succeeded and in 1974 was the first woman ever to be appointed to a professorship at Warwick.

She used the new security and influence of her position to foster the careers of other women sociologists, principally through her work for the British Sociological Association, which she served in various capacities including as its President in 1981-83.

Born Margaret Petrie in London in 1922, she was educated at the City of London School for Girls and then graduated with first class honours in Sociology from the London School of Economics in 1943. In 1945 she married Frank Stacey, a political scientist of great distinction who always supported and encouraged her. His book Ombudsmen Compared was unfinished when he died in 1977. Meg completed it and it was published the following year.

Having joined Frank after the war in Oxford, where she herself was a tutor, she followed him to Swansea in 1951, but was not appointed to a Lectureship until 1964. Her work on the study on Banbury was undertaken, completed and published without the security of an academic position and whilst rearing her children. From Swansea she moved to a Chair at Warwick, where she remained for the rest of her career, proving a guiding influence on the development of sociology there and helping to make it one of the top sociology departments in the UK.

In retirement she remained active as a sociologist and indeed published some important work, including her book on genetics and assisted reproduction Changing Human Reproduction: social science perspectives (1992). She was able to devote more time to her love of gardens and gardening and to her large family.

Retirement also provided the opportunity to focus on her commitments to peace and human rights. In her later years she became very interested in Buddhism and was a member of the Community of Interbeing, a Buddhist community based in south-west France. She was drawn to the core of Buddhist teaching about the alleviation of suffering, which she viewed as a central thread in her own life's work.

Meg Stacey is survived by five children, 16 grandchildren, one great-grandchild, and her partner Jennifer Lorch.

Janet Finch

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