Peter Townsend’s Legacy – The Next Steps

The death of Peter Townsend in June sent shock waves through multiple social science communities in which he had made seminal contributions, including fields as diverse as ageing, disability, health, poverty and human rights. In each of these fields he not only provided the key scientific reference points for other researchers and for policy makers but he also campaigned tirelessly, on all fronts, to try to improve conditions for the most excluded and vulnerable, both nationally and globally, and to create a more equal and socially just society. This combination of academic excellence and passionate pursuit of social justice was the essence of Peter Townsend’s career and it is this that should be foremost in attempts to take forward and build on his legacy.

This process is well underway. Before he died Peter had set in motion with Policy Press a volume of extracts from his work. The Peter Townsend reader will be published on 28 January with substantial extracts from across his massive contribution and introductory essays from leading experts in each field. In November two events took place which combined a celebration of his legacy with projections of how it could be maintained. The first was a memorial service celebrating his life and work. (A limited edition booklet of selections from his work across six decades will be available shortly from CPAG). The second was a one day memorial conference in which the speakers reflected on his work and how to take forward his legacy. Already annual memorial lectures are planned by the Townsend Centre for International Poverty Research and the Hong Kong Baptist University (from which Peter received an honorary degree in 2006) and there are likely to be more. Also Policy Press will publish a festschrift for Peter in early 2011, Fighting Poverty, Inequality and Injustice: A manifesto inspired by Peter Townsend which will spearhead the campaign to continue his mission.

Alan Walker, Professor of Social Policy & Social Gerontology, The University of Sheffield

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