The following is a longer obituary of Ralph Stacey which was commissioned by Group-analytic Contexts, and which I share here with their permission. It turns in particular on his relationship with the group analytic community, but some of his key ideas about complexity may be relevant for people working in other contexts.
Obituary Ralph Stacey 10/9/42 – 4/9/21
Ralph Stacey, economist, group analyst, Professor of Management at the University of Hertfordshire (UH) for 30 years, and much loved husband, partner, father, grandfather and colleague, died in September this year a few days short of his 79th birthday. His death was sudden and shocking, although for many years previously he had experienced quite chronic ill health. Physically frailer than some in their late 70s, Ralph was nonetheless intellectually robust right till the end. As an internationally renowned academic who developed pioneering ideas about the importance of the complexity sciences for understanding social life, and as someone who could speak without notes, and without PowerPoint slides for as long as required, exiting before his faculties declined had always been important to him. He was granted his wish.
Ralph was a great raconteur, and used to tell stories about his past in a highly self-deprecating and amusing way. He was rarely the hero of his own narrative. One tale he told about his own therapy as part of his training as a group analyst is quite instructive to understand the man. After five years or so he considered leaving the group to bring to a temporary end his therapeutic journey as patient. In response his conductor told him that she thought he still had experience to bring: Ralph, you are not yet fully part of the group. Ralph later recounted this episode as a light bulb moment for him. Indeed, he didn’t feel fully part of the group, and nor did he want to be. He was quite content to be an insider and an outsider, both at the same time. This paradoxical position pervades his thinking, and his experience as a gay, white South African who lived most of his life in the UK, as a critical management scholar who worked in an orthodox Business School, and an as eminent scholar lauding the importance of groups who was himself both shy and retiring, as a person committed to staying in relation, who on occasion could be fantastically stubborn and unmoving. To borrow Norbert Elias’s thinking, Ralph’s position in the social network as insider/outsider was pivotal in producing a canon of work which is still highly influential.Continue reading