Dr Malcolm Brynin – obituary

Malcolm Brynin was one of the first appointees in 1989 to what was then the ESRC Research Centre on Micro-Social Change (Misoc) and he was the last of the founding members of the Centre still to be working in ISER. His initial role was related to the development of the British Household Panel Study with responsibility for fieldwork, including interviewer instructions and interviewer training. Subsequently he designed the survey respondent database having learned how to do this from scratch. However, Malcolm was appointed not only because of his experience of surveys and fieldwork gained at both City University, London and Social and Community Planning Research (now NatCen) but because he was also a researcher. This fitted with the requirement that the creation of an effective BHPS was not simply a matter of employing excellent survey techniques but that the whole process should be research driven and hence designed by a combination of survey specialists and researchers. Once the survey was established, Malcolm took initial responsibility for methodological research in relation to the BHPS before becoming Survey Manager.

However, Malcolm’s contribution in the early days of MiSoC was not confined to his formal responsibilities. He also played a key role in developing the positive culture of the centre in its early days. He did this both by the force of his personality and his humour, as well as through helping to organise a range of extracurricular social activities. Among these were evenings with wine and food at his home, shared with Iain Noble who was responsible for questionnaire design. It was at one of these that our cosmopolitan staff began to talk about recipes they enjoyed cooking. This led Malcolm to request each of us to submit a recipe to be included in a MiSoC cookbook. This book began, suitably given we were designing a survey, with response rates – a healthy 80.5% of staff had provided at least one recipe – along with humorous reasons why some staff members had been non-respondents. There was also a satirical references section at the end of this 32-page book in which the foibles of some staff members were gently, but very accurately mocked. It was this kind of activity which really did bring people together, allowed us to laugh with and at one another, and develop an esprit de corps.

In 1995 Malcolm was seconded to the Cabinet Office for four months to work on the Technology Foresight project for the Office of Science and Technology. In this role he gained the admiration of all who worked with him, including the then Government Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir William Stewart, who said that his work was ‘a credit not only to the University of Essex but to the broader field of social science’. This statement proved to be prescient for the whole of Malcolm’s subsequent career with ISER.

On his return to MiSoC, he was invited to transfer to a full-time research role. For this he had to further develop his quantitative research skills as well as taking responsibility for producing research proposals. He succeeded at both. His subsequent publication record and success in raising research funds were both exemplary. On his own initiative, he raised well over £2m from across the whole range of research funders – the EU, ESRC, the private sector, research foundations, government departments and quangos. He also made substantial contributions to applications to ESRC for the refunding of MiSoC. In addition, he undertook many consultancies in the UK, EU and USA. He also served two terms on the editorial board of Work, Employment and Society.

His publication record was excellent. Apart from three books, it included numerous papers in high ranking, mainstream journals, including joint authorships with luminaries in other disciplines and universities. This included work arising from his BT funded research on the impact of new household communication technologies on people’s daily lives. He also published widely on various forms of inequality and their effects, most especially gender and ethnicity inequalities in the labour market as well as inequalities in outcomes from participation in higher education.

Beyond this, he was extremely effective in communicating the results and relevance of his work to the wider policy community. He was thus fulfilling one of the original aims of ISER by working across disciplinary boundaries, by networking with other researchers as well as with organizations in the UK and across the EU, and by ensuring that his work had impact beyond the academic community. Even after he became ill, he continued to do research, to publish and to attend events such as that on BAME in the workplace organized by the Westminster Employment Forum where he offered academic evidence on gender pay gaps alongside key figures from both industry and the policy community. This followed a report he produced for the Equality and Human Rights Commission which examined the size, causes and variations of the gender pay gap in Britain, its impact on family and caring duties, and recommendations on how to reduce it.

Malcolm was more than all these things, though. He was a stalwart of ISER, loyal, hard working, a team player, sometimes taking on responsibilities that may not have been his personal choice. He was a willing mentor of others, including many PhD students. He helped colleagues across the university through his caseworker role with the University and College Union. He served on the University Senate. He had a wide knowledge of music and theatre.

He had a deep sense of justice that allowed him to speak truth to power. His friendship was treasured by many, but then he was a lovely and generous man, wise, charming company, and with, as many will attest, a very wry sense of humour, a satirical wit. This is all borne out by the following spontaneous comments from some of his colleagues when they heard of his death:

“In some ways Malcolm never changed over the years. Lovely, honest, very straightforward, with an amazingly dry sense of humour. He was one of the best.”

“Malcolm was a lovely bloke, gentle, wise and funny, the sort I wish there were more of in the world, and I’m glad to have known him.”

“Malcolm was a great and funny guy, a wonderful colleague, and will be missed.”

“I knew Malcolm as a deeply kind and caring person, in addition to his wide interests and curiosity. I am very glad I made his acquaintance, and his friendship meant a lot to me.”

Our thoughts go out to Malcolm’s wife, Terri, and his family.

David Rose FAcSS
Emeritus Professor of Sociology
University of Essex

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