A Pioneer of Gender Politics: Vicky Randall, 1945-2019

Vicky Randall, a political scientist whose research into how marginalized populations – such as women, the aged, and those outside the First World – can and do interact in politics, died on November 22. The emeritus professor of government at Essex University was 74.

In her many years at Essex, Randall helped craft the use of gender as a way to analyze politics and policy, particularly through her extensive collection of journal articles, edited volumes, and authored books.

In the first edition of her 1982 book, Women and Politics: An International Perspective, Randall made clear that the pursuit was personal. “I should declare my own political sympathies. This book is written from a feminist perspective. … Here [feminist] simply connotes, first, the belief that women share a common oppression, and second, a commitment to its eradication.” Other of her major works centering on gender included the co-edited volume (with Georgina Waylen) Gender, Politics and the State in 1998 and The Politics of Child Daycare in Britain from 2000.

It’s worth noting that in the years she started her professional career, women made up about one in 10 political scientists, so the mere fact of her working was a statement in itself.

Randall was also an active researcher on politics and democracy in the developing world, as evidenced by major works such as 1985’s Political Change and Underdevelopment (written with Robin Theobold); 1988’s Political Parties in the Third World; and edited volumes such as Political Parties in the Third World and Democratization and the Media, both from 1998.

As Randall aged, she kept her personal perspective intact and started to research the nexus of old age (and especially older women) and political parties, which she found underserved by academe. “Feminist political science has increasingly engaged with intersectional analysis, where gender ‘intersects’ with other dimensions of identity, notably race, but until recently much less has been said about age,” Randall wrote in a 2016 blog post about qualitative research she had conducted in North London.

Vicky Randall
Vicky Randall in 2012

Among her honors, Randall was named a fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences in 2009. When naming her a recipient of a Special Recognition Award, Britain’s Political Science Association noted Randall’s ”services to the promotion of political studies as well as her contributions to both the Political Studies Association and to gender and politics scholarship.” (Randall chaired the PSA from 2008 to 2011.)

As Essex wrote at the time of the award, “Her body of work has addressed the role of women in democracy, and has been truly comparative, covering childcare policy in welfare states, women’s legislative quotas and child prostitution. She is one of a generation of high profile female academics who has shaped the discipline through her scholarship and through her activism.”

Encomiums delivered after her death noted her formative role in gender politics. Gender studies professor Johanna Kantola at Tampere University, for example, called Randall “a true gender and politics pioneer,” while Pippa Norris at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government said Randall was “a pioneer who paved the way for us.”

Vicky Randall was born on April 3, 1945. She was one of two children born to Inez Pearn, a novelist better known by her pen name Elizabeth Lake, and Charles Madge, the poet and sociologist who founded Britain’s famed Mass-Observation research organization. Early in her academic career Randall lectured at Polytechnic of Central London, but her true academic home was at Essex, where she served as a reader, professor and professor emeritus (after her 2010 retirement) for three decades, as well as being a member of its Human Rights Centre. Essex University has created a page for tributes to Randall.

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