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Professor Carolyn Baylies


By Lionel Cliffe

Carolyn Baylies (1947-2003)

Carolyn Baylies’ death from cancer on 1 November 2003 was a source of great sadness to the many in Leeds and in Africa who thought of her as a colleague in so many endeavours, and as a comrade and friend. She achieved that rare combination of being both scholar and activist; a sociologist of health, a development specialist, one of the first feminists to link gender and development issues, an active trade unionist, a dedicated and respected teacher - and crucially an investigator and campaigner on the social impact of HIV/AIDS in southern Africa. Her loss will be keenly felt, and the sadness is all the greater as she was still at the peak of her so-active life.

She was raised in California and was a student at Berkeley during the heady days of its free speech movement. She moved to the prestigious and then equally radical University of Wisconsin at Madison in the late 1960s for graduate studies. These took her to Zambia in 1973 for her Doctoral research on class relations in the new state, focussing her investigation at grass roots level in Luapula Province. She combined her studies with a teaching appointment at the University of Zambia, when it was going through its own radical phase. She was at the forefront of developing new, inter-disciplinary courses specifically related to the challenges facing the country and skills training programmes for undergraduates. Her teaching influenced many of the first generation of radical Zambian intellectuals. These experiences, and what she learned from Africans at all levels of society, exerted an influence throughout her working life.

After a year teaching in California, Carolyn began a long association with Leeds University, initially working with Vic Allen on the official history of the National Union of Mineworkers in Yorkshire, which was published in 1993 under her authorship as History of the Yorkshire Miners, 1881-1918. In 1983 she became first Lecturer, later Senior Lecturer and Reader in the Department of Sociology, where she was based until her death. She represented that Department of the board of the old African Studies Centre and then LUCAS. She was known as a rigorous and highly dedicated teacher and an endlessly helpful supervisor of many overseas graduate students. One of her lasting contributions was to the Centre for Development Studies at Leeds. She was an indefatigable member of the committed inter-disciplinary team that founded it, and was Director from 1990-93 and again 1997-99. She built up the original MA programme to become one of the largest in the University, with students from across the globe. An undergraduate programme was started on her watch – one of only a handful offering this vital specialism in Britain. Indeed it was typical of her commitment to her student that, she was supervising post-graduate work through last summer and even began a course in October despite her illness. She also was attending meetings of the LUCAS Committee during those last months.

Most staff at Leeds knew Carolyn for over 20 years as an indefatigable representative on their behalf, as Secretary and finally, in her last year, as President of its Association of University Teachers. Characteristically she spearheaded efforts to improve the lot of the more disadvantaged, women staff and those on short-term contracts. She was on the University’s joint bargaining body, and an elected member of its Council and Senate. A mark of the tremendous, wide respect for her across the campus was the flying of the University flag at half mast on the day of her funeral.

From Leeds, she continued research on Zambia and its changing politics from the 1980s until her last months, publishing The Dynamics of the One-Party State in Zambia (1984) with Morris Szeftel, and later studying democratisation processes following multi-party elections in 1991. Ground-breaking work on AIDS with Janet Bujra, of the Peace Studies Dept in Bradford, culminated in the publication of AIDS, Sexuality and Gender in Africa: Collective Strategies and Struggles (2000). Writing in The Guardian obituary (9.xi.04), Janet summed up the approach of that work:

''With African colleagues we investigated and participated at grass roots level, working with people in villages and squatter settlements in towns. Carolyn’s contribution was carried out in Zambia, in the capital Lusaka, in Western Zambia and in Luapula province, where she worked with women who had got together against tremendous odds to fight the spread of AIDs and to mitigate its devastating consequences for those infected. She believed passionately that without some recognition and validation of these struggles and the strategies that women were devising to promote them, there was no prospect of reversing the epidemic or protecting young people from its tragic reach. For Carolyn, this built not only on her work with Morris on the politics of post-independence Zambia, but also on a long standing commitment to disability research both in the UK and in Africa and to the politics of solidarity with all those who fight against injustice and exclusion.''

She and her husband, Morris Szeftel, have been active editors of ROAPE for over 20 years, playing a major role in its consolidation. She was always one of the most industrious and devoted editors, taking on – as she did in all walks of her life – more than her share of the hard chores, being scrupulous about deadlines, commenting helpfully and at length on submissions. She herself edited Special Issues on AIDS, gender, cultural production and on democratization and had a major hand on several other Issues. Her own contributions covered a wide range of articles as diverse as AIDS impacts to political conditionality.

Through all her different roles what shone out was her commitment to what mattered most: the debilitating impact of AIDS on the most vulnerable; the predicament of less privileged academic workers; the intellectual needs of disabled and overseas students, and on to the big issues of the last decades in Africa – the struggles for democracy, development and survival of the poor. In this last respect she helped set the ROAPE agenda, and in her work embodied its priorities.

Carolyn Baylies’ commitment was always so much more than a verbal subscription to a list of topics. It was evidenced in her taking on responsibilities for getting things done, and pursuing them with determined hard-work, above and beyond the call of duty, and in the last years by remarkable courage – never making an issue of her long illness or allowing it to rule her priorities about what needed to be done.

She is survived by her husband Morris, their children Andrew and Hannah, and by her father – to whom these tributes are dedicated.

February 2004.

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