Neil Lea (1958-2007).
For those who did not know Neil Lea, see THIS LINK
I first knew Neil as he latched on to the fact that he found in me someone who would agree to read and review the books regularly sent into Arcnews magazine which he edited. In all his dealings, he was a straight-down-the-line sort of guy. As someone said at Neil’s funeral on the 28th of July there were few pleasantries (apart from some talk of Manchester City and the philosophy of Star Trek as I recall) when Neil Lea wanted assistance. He’d ring me and say "have you received the book I sent? I need a review asap." Two days later he’d want to know if it was finished and ready to be sent as an attachment.
Neil was keen on education – vegan education obviously but education in general too. He would phone me to tell me about the latest academic essay he’d written for a course I was never sure he was ever doing, was about to do, or was about to finish. I think he concluded just about every text with a statement that the solution to the world’s problems was global veganism and human co-operation and peaceful living. I would say I thought his conclusion was fine but perhaps (turning on as much diplomacy as I could muster) he ought to make at least some reference to the fact that the essay might be on Marxist views on poverty and class struggle. I’d have liked to be a fly on the wall during any time some middle class academic told Neil he hadn’t adequately addressed the question!
One thing I’ll always be grateful to Neil Lea for is his reminders to me that I should keep my feet firmly on the ground and not lose all contact with the grassroots vegan activists who make up the heart of the animal movement. Whether I succeeded to his satisfaction is debatable but I hope I have. In fact, when I wrote my PhD I took the potentially risky decision to state openly in the text that some parts of it were deliberately written for such activists, and I referenced several non-academic sources such as Arcnews magazine. Animal activists do not tend to read sociology - and why should they – and yet there is a great deal they can learn from a sociological understanding of human-nonhuman relations, even if it is only in the negative sense of "know thy enemy." On the more positive side, however, sociology can show vegan advocates the depth of the cultural embeddedness of the norms and values they must seek to transform if any real progress for nonhuman animals is to be made. It also contributes to the on-going discourse about animal welfare and animal rights. The extent to which people like myself have not persuaded others of the importance of this latter issue might well go some way to reveal that disconnect that Neil was concerned about.
Thanks for the guidance, Neil, R.I.P. and, yes, I know, I will try harder.