Vale Emeritus Professor Barry Hindess

Vale Emeritus Professor Barry Hindess
Monday 21 May 2018

It is with sadness that we note the passing of Barry Hindess. By any measure Barry was a world renowned scholar. Over a long career he made a major contribution to debates across sociology and political science, which have left a significant stamp on those disciplines. Barry was also great servant to the ANU. He was Head of Sociology in the then Faculty of Arts for some years, and subsequently a longtime Head of Politics in RSSS. Both areas benefitted greatly from his leadership.

Reflections from some of Professor Hindess' former colleagues

Emeritus Professor Marian Sawer

I first met Barry when he came knocking on my door at the ANU. Despite my trepidation, I found him eager to meet the author of a rather critical review of his 1975 book Pre-Capitalist Modes of Production. This was typical of Barry's intellectual generosity and openness to debate. His own intellectual trajectory, from mathematics through Althusserian, Foucauldian and post-colonial approaches to the analysis of power and discourse, reflected his capacity for self-criticism and willingness to move on. He exercised a major influence in introducing Foucauldian concepts of the techniques and rationality of liberal government into Australian political science, as in his work with Mitchell Dean (Governing Australia, 1998). This meant extending the reach of political science into areas concerned with the regulation of intimate relations, like Heather Brook's ANU PhD on 'The conjugal body politic'.

I thoroughly enjoyed working with Barry on our joint project on anti-elitism in Australia (Us and Them, 2003) even though our own standpoints remained far apart. While we were both critical of the functions and effects of market populism, Barry typically suggested we should be as suspicious of apparently non-self-interested actors, as of experts in the use of self-interest in the regulation of conduct. Professor Carol Johnson was a Visiting Fellow when Barry headed the ANU's Political Science Program. She rightly describes him as 'A truly profound thinker and a generous and inspiring scholar, who always encouraged those around him to stretch themselves intellectually.'

Dr Kim Huynh

I have known of Barry and his work ever since I entered the academy at the turn of the century. And I have had the privilege and joy of interacting with him at a personal level over the past couple of years when we talked about all matters political.

Others will speak to his extensive academic endeavours, but it is important to note that he was also an avid public intellectual. Barry wrote punchy popular articles on corruption, democracy, the failings of both Labor and the Coalition, refugees, citizenship, racism, China and incarceration – and that’s just in the past year.

We shared an interest in local politics. He could apply the most abstract and refined theory to almost any concrete issue or individual circumstance. In the many matters that I discussed with him, Barry always favoured the underdog.

At our last coffee he expressed a wish to see one more PhD student through (Barry won the ANU Vice-Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Supervision). He told me that growing old and being frail pissed him off, and that he missed the freedom and exhilaration of riding bikes. I’ll remember his uncommon grace and enduring good humour.

Professor Baogang He

On the morning of May 22, 2018, I was greatly shocked to hear from Danielle Chubb, my colleague, that my PhD supervisor and shaper of my intellect, Barry Hindess, had passed away. I was planning to visit him sometime this year, but it is with great regret that I now will not get that chance. His kindness, warm heart, and critical spirit however will stay with me for forever.

It was at the University of New England, in Armidale, 1988, where I first met Barry. His personal kindness and intellectual generosity was such a magnet that I was inspired to undertake a PhD under his supervision at the ANU. Barry never treated me as a student; more, as a fellow colleague. He truly was a critical cosmopolitan and a great practitioner of multiculturalism. He was always eager to learn from me with a different cultural background and to reflect on his own cultural limits, or even his own cultural bias, as he might say. One year he gave me a greeting card which showed how different peoples from different cultures can work together harmoniously. Whilst he was very critical of Western liberal democracy, he showed great respect for my PhD thesis which argued for a philosophical justification of liberal democracy in China. Barry’s valuable critical comments on my thesis were in his own handwriting, which I still have today. Behind his sharp mind was a warm heart. He exemplified the spirit of humanism. The unique combination of his intellect and spirit has shaped my life. Barry was a great scholar, a challenging intellect, a critical cosmopolitan, and above all a true humanist. I will never forget him. He will be remembered by me and all his students and colleagues forever.

Associate Professor Helen Keane

When I started my PhD in the 1990s I was fortunate enough to be part of a political theory reading group run by Barry. It was an exhilarating and formative experience. Barry combined intellectual brilliance and perspicacity with abiding kindness and generosity. At the time, the culture of ANU was hierarchical and patriarchal; Barry’s reading group was an oasis of genuinely democratic exchange. Despite the gulf between what he knew and what we knew, he treated our ideas seriously and with great respect. He was the best listener and a master of the gentle but devastating question, always pushing his students to think better and with more clarity. He was uninterested in creating disciples and was resistant to fads and any form of mystification. I owe Barry an enormous debt as a teacher and scholar. In recent years I did not see him as often as I would have liked, but his twitter commentary on politics and public affairs was a daily pleasure. He remained engaged, incisive and irreverent until the very end of his life.

Professor Philip Pettit

Barry’s move from the UK was an event we cheered back at the ANU in the late 1980’s. Then in his prime (a prime he maintained, of course, for most of his remaining years), Barry was a refreshing arrival on campus whose challenges pushed everyone in his broad area of interest, regardless of the side they took, to sharpen their arguments and shape up their performance. He was ready to question the most cherished assumptions of those who cherished him most but his questions always took an amused form that left friendship intact and exchange open. While he loved to challenge those like me whom he undoubtedly saw as normatively naive, he always seemed to do this with his tongue in his cheek—literally, as it sometimes looked, not just metaphorically—keeping rancor at bay and reconciliation in prospect. Not that he much liked reconciliation, at least in intellectual matters; I think he saw easy agreement as a sure sign of laziness and complacency. Those traits were as repulsive to him as comradeship and affection were appealing.


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