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10. Rosemary Mellor – studying the city


Manchester city centre. Credit: www.tecmark.co.uk

Rosemary Mellor (1943-2001) started her working life as a town planner in London and when she became a Sociology lecturer (she joined the University of Manchester in 1976) her interests were still focused on cities and their inhabitants. Her 1977 book Urban Sociology in an Urbanised Society argued for the rejection of the traditional categories of urban and rural sociology in favour of a broadly conceived political economy of economic and social relations between the dominant ‘metropolitan’ and the ‘provincial’ areas. In the 1990s she developed great interest in the social transformations happening in Russia. Building on the Manchester Department’s strong links with Russia she produced interesting papers on the city of St Petersburg  and other Russian cities 1997, 1999) and with other colleagues on Russian family businesses(2001).

With her impressive knowledge of urban social theory she had little time for what she considered the superficiality of postmodern thought. She stood firmly inside the empirical tradition of British social investigation with a strong social reform agenda. Rosemary would cull through a vast amount of research material, interviews, news cuttings, official reports for the telling detail that would illustrate her point and clinch an argument. Her clear and precisely formulated writings were accessible to undergraduates as well as to readers outside academia.

In her teaching she was prepared to tackle controversial issues and invest time and energy that produced original courses not directly linked to her research. When Northern Ireland became a prominent issues in the 1980s Rosemary read her way into the historical and contemporary research on the area and taught a deeply thoughtful course on this regional conflict often ignored by British sociologists. Her last published paper was about the city of Manchester, ‘Hypocritical City: cycles of urban exclusion’(2002) which characteristically criticised what she saw as the exclusion of the poor from the public realm of the ‘redeveloped’ city.

Further reading

  • Urban Sociology in an Urbanised Society (1977) Routledge Kegan Paul
  • Through a Glass Darkly: Investigating the St Petersburg Administration (1997) International Journal of Urban and Regional Research,Vol.21, No.3
  • Changing cities in post-Soviet Russia (1999) New Left Review, No 236, July/August
  • ‘Family business in Russia: the path to middle class?’ (2001) with N.Barkhatova & P.McMylor British Journal of Sociology, Vol.52, No.2.
  • ‘Hypocritical City: cycles of urban exclusion. (2002) in J.Beck & K.Ward Ed. City of Revolution: Restructuring Manchester, Manchester University Press

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