John Urry was a towering figure in the world of sociology. Born in 1946 in Surrey, England, he spent his career challenging the conventional wisdom and transforming the way we think about social interactions, mobility, and environmental change. He died in 2016, but his legacy as a scholar and advocate for social and environmental justice continues to inspire new generations of sociologists.
Urry’s academic journey began at the University of Essex, where he received his Bachelor’s degree in Sociology in 1967. He went on to complete his Ph.D. at the University of Cambridge in 1973, where he studied the social organization of tourism. This early work set the tone for Urry’s career, which was marked by a deep interest in understanding the social and cultural dimensions of mobility and travel.
Following his Ph.D., Urry spent much of his career at Lancaster University, where he held various academic positions, including Head of the Sociology Department and Director of the Centre for Mobilities Research. During his time at Lancaster, Urry produced a formidable body of work that challenged traditional sociological thinking and established him as a leading voice in the field.
One of Urry’s most significant contributions to sociology was the concept of the “tourist gaze.” In his influential 1990 book, “The Tourist Gaze: Leisure and Travel in Contemporary Societies,” Urry argued that tourism is not just an economic activity, but a deeply cultural one. He showed how the way we look at and experience places is shaped by our social and cultural background, and how tourism can both shape and be shaped by the societies we inhabit.
But Urry’s interests extended far beyond tourism. He was a pioneer of the field of “mobilities studies,” which examines how people and things move, how these movements are interconnected, and what effects they have on society and the environment. In his 2006 book, “Mobilities,” Urry proposed that our patterns of mobility are changing rapidly, and that this is having profound effects on the ways in which we relate to one another and to the world around us.
Urry’s work was always grounded in a commitment to social justice and environmental sustainability. In his 2013 book, “Climate Change and Society,” he argued that climate change is one of the most pressing social and environmental issues of our time, and that it requires urgent action from policymakers, businesses, and individuals. He was a vocal critic of the political and economic systems that drive environmental destruction, and an advocate for alternatives that place sustainability and social justice at their core.
Throughout his career, Urry received numerous academic honors and accolades for his innovative and influential work. He was elected as a Fellow of the British Academy in 2003, and was awarded a CBE (Commander of the Order of the British Empire) in 2013 for his services to social science. He was also a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences and a recipient of the Royal Geographical Society’s Victoria Medal.
But Urry’s legacy extends far beyond his academic achievements. He was a beloved mentor and colleague to many, renowned for his generosity, curiosity, and kindness. He was also an engaged public intellectual, committed to bringing the insights of sociology to a wider audience. In addition to his scholarly publications, Urry wrote numerous popular books and articles, and he was a regular commentator in the media.
Urry passed away in 2016, leaving behind a rich legacy of scholarship, activism, and inspiration. He challenged conventional thinking about social interactions, mobility, and environmental change, and his work continues to influence and shape the field of sociology today. But perhaps his greatest legacy is the example he set as a scholar and human being. He embodied the values of curiosity, empathy, and commitment to social and environmental justice, and his memory continues to inspire and drive us forward.