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Professor Ray Forrest, 1951-2020

Ray walking Dragon's Back

27 January 2020

Ray Forrest, Emeritus Professor of Urban Studies and former Head of the School for Policy Studies, died on 16 January, at the age of 68. Alex Marsh leads the remembrance of an inspirational scholar whose research and academic leadership profoundly shaped the fields of housing and urban studies globally.

Ray’s early programme of work on the privatisation and commodification of public housing under the Right to Buy is the paradigmatic example of sustained, critical engagement with an evolving policy agenda; one that also drew out broader questions about social divisions and spatial dynamics that presented challenges back to the disciplines of sociology and geography. He continued to be committed to the belief that work done in the field of housing studies has important things to contribute to core disciplinary debates in the social sciences. His work intentionally spoke directly to these broader audiences. 

Ray had a knack for identifying the issue of the moment and his interventions were therefore often hugely influential. Following his work on the Right to Buy he pursued a succession of pressing and timely topics: struggling home owners, ageing and negative equity in the 1990s; neighbourhoods and social cohesion in the early 2000s; the impact of the global financial crisis on housing in the late 2000s; housing and the super-rich in the 2010s; an ongoing research programme on housing assets and intergenerational relations. His recent work included revitalising the topic of urban managerialism; exposing the contradictions of the neoliberal project in housing; and exploring the commodification of the city. Over time the geographical focus of his work expanded and his interest in global housing - and East Asia in particular - strengthened. 

Collaboration was central to Ray’s research philosophy. He collaborated with colleagues from many institutions and across continents. This included collaborating with several of his former doctoral students who had gone on to forge their own successful academic careers. My experience of collaborating with Ray, both on research and writing, was that he was always engaged, unfailingly energetic, and driven by insatiable curiosity.

Not only did Ray make an enormous contribution to housing and urban research but also to the institutional architecture of our field. He was one of the small group of friends and colleagues who founded the journal Housing Studies in the mid-1980s. He subsequently acted as chair of the Management Board and, between 2005-2008, as a Managing Editor. Ray was also a founding member of, tireless champion for, the Asia Pacific Network for Housing Research. And he was a great believer in bringing people together to facilitate intellectual exchange. He was almost invariably cooking up a plan to organise a panel, workshop, symposium or international conference. His reputation, diplomatic skills and dynamism allowed him to assemble stellar events: these not only initiated conversations and built networks but as often as not yielded a special issue, edited collection or new writing collaboration. 

Ray was born in Edinburgh in April 1951 and educated at Daniel Stewart’s College and Heriot Watt University. He moved south to Birmingham in 1971: first to complete a postgraduate diploma at Aston University and then a research Masters in Urban and Regional Studies at the University of Birmingham. He spent six years as a researcher at Birmingham before moving to Bristol in 1981. At Bristol Ray hit his research stride: he delivered a remarkable series of research projects, usually in collaboration with colleagues, and a formidable portfolio of publications. He was appointed as Professor of Urban Studies, at the School for Advanced Urban Studies, in 1994. After SAUS was absorbed into the School for Policy Studies Ray acted as School Research Director before becoming Head of School, 2001-2004. This coincided with his role as Co-Director, with Ade Kearns of Glasgow University, of the ESRC Centre for Neighbourhood Research. Ray then went on to found and co/direct the University of Bristol’s Centre for East Asian Studies, 2004-2008. 

Since the 1990s Ray had developed strong connections with higher education institutions in Hong Kong and after leaving the University of Bristol in 2012 he took up the role of Chair Professor of Housing and Urban Studies and Head of the Department of Public Policy at City University of Hong Kong. This was a fruitful research period for Ray, but the role also represented a significant managerial commitment. In 2017 he decided to move to Lingnan University, Hong Kong, to the role of Research Professor in Cities and Social Change. He was the first ever Research Professor appointed by the university. 

Ray Forrest’s contribution to his academic field is incalculable. He enthused generations of students. He was an inspirational intellectual leader. He was also a pleasure to spend time with – either in work or in the pub. He was always a genial host to the many members of his extensive academic network who passed through Hong Kong. Ray was a human dynamo who seemed bulletproof. I certainly thought of him that way. But he wasn’t. And our community is in shock that he leaves us too soon. 

Ray is survived by his wife, Jacqui, and children, Robert and Hana.

 

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