The world of academic politics and international relations lost one of its leading authorities last week with the passing of Caroline Thomas, Professor of Global Politics at the University of Southampton.
Caroline was esteemed worldwide for her work in the field of International Relations.
Caroline, who was esteemed worldwide for her academic work in the field of politics and international relations, was also for the past four years a valued member of the University of Southampton’s senior management team, serving as Deputy Vice-Chancellor Education until ill health forced her to step down earlier this year.
Her career at Southampton spanned 25 years, from her first post as lecturer in Third World Security through to her role as Professor of Global Politics and latterly as Deputy Vice-Chancellor.
A graduate of the London School of Economics, where she achieved a first-class degree in International Relations (1980) and her doctorate (1983), Caroline had a highly distinguished research career in the field of global politics. She acknowledged later that her intellectual experience at LSE and her encounters there with students from all around the world had shaped her approach and interests for the future, although she believed that her interest in the global politics of development could be traced further back to childhood exposure to the Biafra War via the television, an experience that affected her deeply. That personal interest had developed into a passion for deeper understanding of all issues pertaining to poverty and development, whether in the context of the UK or the ‘Third World’.
Her doctoral thesis at LSE was on Third World Attitudes to Intervention, and her research at Southampton, where she arrived in 1983, followed the broad area of South/North relations, global environmental politics and human security.
Her work put Southampton ‘on the map’ in terms of teaching courses on the ‘South’ or ‘Third World’ in international relations. She also made a distinctive contribution by teaching security studies from a critical standpoint. Caroline worked collaboratively to develop understanding between Southern and Northern concepts of international relations, working at the interface between different disciplines, and building bridges between developmental studies and international relations.
For some years her focus had been on globalisation and inequality, with empirical investigation of the global politics of access to drugs, exemplified in access to anti-HIV drugs, looking at issues such as patented versus generic products and the politics of public/private partnerships in global health governance.
Caroline Thomas published prolifically in these areas and enjoyed the support of a range of sponsors such as the Ford and MacArthur Foundation, and the ESRC. She held a number of research fellowships, including with the Royal Institute of International Affairs, London, which culminated in the publication of a book on the International Relations of the Environment to mark the 1992 UNICED in Rio.
Her other books include ‘New States. Sovereignty and Intervention’ (1985); ‘In Search of Security: The Third World in International Relations’ (1987); The Environment in International Relations’ (1992 and 2000); ‘Global Governance, Development and Human Security’ (2002).
From 2001 to 2003, Caroline was Head of the Politics Department at Southampton, and then Associate Dean (Education) for the Faculty of Law, Arts and Social Sciences (2003-4), before taking up her role as Deputy Vice-Chancellor.
As DVC Education Caroline had the key strategic role for the development and delivery of education at all levels across the University, from undergraduate to doctoral students and continuing professional development, while still maintaining her position as Professor of Global Politics. With her informal but clear leadership style, she achieved many successes, including the establishment of a Learning and Teaching Enhancement Unit to integrate quality assurance and enhancement processes; building educational links with other providers, locally, nationally and internationally; and championing initiatives to enhance the employability of students.
She also played an active role in the UK national higher education sector, contributing to UK education policy formation. She was a member of the Higher Education Funding Council for England’s Quality, Assessment, Learning and Teaching Committee and their TRAC group on Cost of Sustainable Teaching Committee. For the UK Quality Assurance Agency, she served on the Advisory Committee on Degree Awarding Powers.
Her family life was also very important to Caroline and she took an active role on the board of Governors of her daughter’s school.
Professor Bill Wakeham, Vice-Chancellor, University of Southampton, said:
“This is a very sad loss for the University. Caroline was an exceptional academic, esteemed worldwide for her work in the field of international relations. She was also a very highly-valued member of the University of Southampton’s executive, serving as DVC Education, until ill health forced her to step down earlier this year. She is and will continue to be much missed by us all.
“Caroline’s academic research has made a major contribution to global politics and to our understanding of both human security and development, expanding the former to take account of poverty and inequality and the latter to take account of environmental factors. Her loss will be felt greatly by colleagues not just at Southampton but around the world.
“This is a very sad time for all who knew and worked with her during her 25 years at the University of Southampton and our thoughts are with her family.”
The University’s Students’ Union (SUSU) has this week honoured Caroline’s memory by awarding her the title Honorary Vice President.
A private family funeral is being arranged for today (Thursday 30 October), and at a later date the University will arrange a memorial to mark Caroline’s outstanding contribution to both academia and to the University during her 25 years at Southampton.
Family flowers only have been requested, but anyone wishing to make a donation to Marie Curie in Caroline’s memory can send it to:
Co-operative Funeral Care
15 Manor Farm Road
Cheques should be made payable to "Marie Curie", mentioning that the donation is in remembrance of Caroline Thomas.
Messages of condolence can be sent to Frances Stewart in the Vice-Chancellor’s office at the University of Southampton. Messages will then be passed on to her family.