Engaging geography

5. Duncan Fuller RIP

with 20 comments

https://i0.wp.com/www.autonomousgeographies.org/images/34.jpgFrom Kye Askins

It is with a broken heart that I’m writing to tell those of you who know Duncan Fuller that he died unexpectedly this morning (Friday 3rd October).

He’d been unwell for a couple of weeks but his death was sudden.

Duncan was an amazing friend, colleague and co-conspirator … he was passionately committed to everything he got involved in and inspired many many people. And – he’d never forgive me if I didn’t also add – pissed a lot of people off! The world is an emptier place without him, and you’ll certainly get less posts on this list now. He was critical (and entertaining) to the last.

To say that he’s already deeply missed here at Northumbria seems the most facile understatement. There really are no words …

Our thoughts are with his wife Ingrid, his 3 children and all his family.

Duncan recently led a successful bid for an ESRC seminar series around public geographies titled ‘Engaging Geography’. The first event will be held in Newcastle (UK) in the near future, during which it seems fitting to hold some kind of celebration of his life and work … please watch this space.


(originally posted to the Critical Geography Forum list)


Please use the reply box at the foot of this page if you wish to pay tribute to, and share memories about, Duncan.



Newline Graffiti Promotions’ tribute to Duncan was made on the Saturday of the first seminar in this series… most of you will know of Duncan’s research with local graf writers, and he’d been involved with this organisation for a few years – they ‘came to spray’ rather than talk as one of the ‘local case studies’. The piece is about 24 foot long, and is soon to be hung in our corridor at Northumbria as a permanent tribute…

Graham Mowl’s (2009) Duncan obituary can be downloaded here.


Written by Ian Cook et al

October 6, 2008 at 9:14 am

20 Responses

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  1. Thank you everyone for sharing your feelings and memories.

    It helps me access my own, sitting in front of a cold computer feeling such warmth and inspiration and a large painful hole. And a close connection spanning around the world to everyone he touched. I hardly met his family, but felt I knew them through the updates we inevitably shared each time we met to plot.

    Duncan was and will always be truly inspirational. Such a lively mind, a man of action and humour, uncompromising passion, generosity, openness, creativity, and enthusiasm!

    …With his passing it falls to us individually and collectively to build on all the things he stood for and made possible.

    He was a legend and so is each of us.

    Thanks Duncan you beautiful bastard,



    October 6, 2008 at 10:48 am

  2. I am still unable to believe what has happened. I met Duncan for the first time about two and half years ago and he was straight in my face, very much like the photo above. I knew straight away that he was completely bonkers – but what beautiful madness! He fastened on quite quickly to the idea that I fancied myself as a bit of leftie, and always called me ‘comrade’, in a very affectionate but also totally piss-taking way. What a guy – unbelievable energy, always excited, a workhorse, an inspiration. He had a good and bad word to say about everyone – that’s how fair he was! In the end, he was one of life’s shooting stars – he definitely lit up my world in the brief time we knew each other. We’ll never forget him.

    Stuart Hodkinson

    October 6, 2008 at 11:35 am

  3. Duncan Fuller was a dude: a glorious piss taking, ebullient, vibrant, critically engaged and engaging geographer whose cheeky mischief-making in the name of geographical adventures and endeavours was a joy and a privilege to collaborate with. I want to echo sentiments expressed by the juicy geographer Noel Jenkins in that my first contact with Duncan came after he contacted me via crit-geog-forum regarding my postings about attempts at critical radical geography education initiatives as a secondary school teacher working in schools and exclusion units in SE London. It was telling that from a web forum with lots of ‘critical’ members, Duncan was the only person to repeatedly reply and offer encouragement. Returning to higher ed to teach and undertake doctoral research into critical radical geography education endeavours, it was Duncan who continued to encourage, always enquiring what gems I’d excavated and what more could be done. Knowing he was going to be at a conference filled me with joy and made me happy: he was invariably upbeat, fired up, chatty, interested and absolutely passionate, happy to talk arse as much as Arsenal, the problems (and geographies) of Hendon FC’s disappearing ground (just been sold this week – Boo!) as much as planning the next cheeky border-crossing geographical event. A geographer heart and soul: open minded, critical and up for argument and debate, big hearted with an amazing laugh whose devotion to and love of his family always evident. He was a total star – How dare he bow out now with so much to do! I miss him more than he would have ever credited. Loved Larch’s comments – everyone’s efforts in these times are vital and affecting, so will keep on keeping on – Gawdluvya Duncan, I’ll toast you Friday with a pint of London pride.
    All love

    Jo Norcup

    October 6, 2008 at 12:50 pm

  4. Lots of people call themselves critical geographers, but aren’t. Duncan was. Duncan showed it was possible to be passionate without being pious, driven but not dogmatic, humorous but not flippant. Our collaboration was brief but I learnt much, and I enjoyed our good-natured arguments. Apart from music, I think we actually disagreed about most things, but what we both agreed on was that too much geography had lost sight of the things that really matter. Duncan did something about that, and I know many will be eternally grateful.

    Geography has just lost one of the good guys, and for that I am profoundly sad.

    – Phil Hubbard

    phil hubbard

    October 6, 2008 at 2:49 pm

  5. What a terrible loss. I’ve never met Duncan, but have emailed with him on and off over the last year about a range of work-related issues. I was immediately and always struck by his boundless enthusiasm and many ideas/insights. My sincere condolences to his family, friends, and colleagues.

    Kris Olds


    October 6, 2008 at 6:44 pm

  6. Since I first heard the sad news on Friday evening, the one image that keeps coming to my mind when I think about Duncan is the slide he slipped into a presentation at the RGS conference in 2007 – accompanying his talk was a powerpoint presentation of (apparently) random text and images, and then came the punchline – a photo of Ronald McDonald and the text ‘Nigel Thrift’. I can’t imagine what he could possibly have been suggesting… but that image helps me remember Duncan with affection in all of his mischeviousness.

    Gavin Brown

    October 6, 2008 at 7:12 pm

  7. Such a loss. I only met Duncan last June, when at a short notice he joined the Mapping for Sustainable Communities event, giving a wonderful, thought-provoking talk about participatory geography and mapping. As in his emails and, I understand, in other aspects of his work, the talk was funny, challenging, and enjoyable. It was such a delight to know him – even if so briefly.


    October 6, 2008 at 8:31 pm

  8. I only met Duncan on a few occasions – the first time was at an alternative economic spaces conference at Hull University a few years ago. On each of those occasion I was always hugely impressed by his boundless energy and enthusiasm. He struck me as someone who was doing research with a real sense of purpose and conviction and not just with an eye to the next publication, although he wrote a substantial amount of very useful material. Above all though, he always seemed to retain a real sense of humour and mischief, so nicely illustrated by Gavin’s post above. I too was at that IBG talk in 2007 and it certainly made me chuckle.

    Sincere condolences to family, friends and colleagues.


    Damian Maye

    October 6, 2008 at 9:24 pm

  9. Duncan made me feel welcome at my first RGS/IBG in 2005, just after I had moved across the pond to the UK from the US, and immediately got me involved in PyGyWG. His warmth and humor made adjusting to the British scene a lot more entertaining. It was great to get a chance to work with him and other dear colleagues on PyGyWG, esp the website aspects that I kept bugging him about (even as recent as two weeks ago!). His death came as a huge shock and I could not believe it — it is indeed true that the good die young. Even though I have recently moved back to the US, and miss hanging out with him and other PyGyWG friends, I always felt that Duncan kept the group alive and kicking, and that I was still part of my circle of friends/colleagues back in the UK. I will miss his presence and kindness. Rest in peace Duncan!

    Farhana Sultana

    October 6, 2008 at 11:01 pm

  10. Duncan passing is a great loss. He was big supporter of the ‘Territories Reimagined: International Perspectives’ festival/conference we held at MMU in the summer (he responded positively to the CFP within seconds of me sending it!). I spent the lunch-time on the first day with Duncan and he was enthusiastic, funny and great company.

    Condolences to his family, friends and work-mates.

    Julian Holloway

    October 7, 2008 at 7:59 am

  11. Although the void-like ether of the web might seem like an odd space-

    I wanted to say thanks here to Duncan.

    A copy of this message is also posted on the blog that I set up last week in response to the PyGyWG sponsored IBG conference that I recently organised with Kelvin Mason …


    Duncan Fuller was part of the inspiration behind getting off our arses and doing a conference session that was a bit different. Duncan was one of the people that made us feel like we could actually say what we thought – and that we bloody-well should! Duncan was someone who showed the way in conducting participatory research and research that was about doing something useful – beyond adding to the accolades of our CV’s … but doing something you believe in and want to change for the better.

    Duncan made me feel brave and comfortable and laugh…

    We will miss you.

    Sophie Wynne-Jones

    October 7, 2008 at 10:48 am

  12. Duncan was a wonderful part of the North East geography community – it was fantastic to have him around, enthusing about and engaging in things geographical and otherwise. His energy and commitment were inspiring and, as others have said, we must build on his work in his memory. I have very fond memories of Duncan, both social and academic, and will miss him. My thoughts are with his family and his colleagues.

    Alison Stenning

    October 7, 2008 at 11:27 am

  13. Duncan was and will remain a legend. I can’t remember when I first met him. He was always around, mucking around, doing important work in bizarre and engaging ways. I checked my saved emails, and found 350 from Duncan, which works out at about one every 5 days: on the CGF and in person. We started working together a couple of years ago after a group of us at Birmingham set up a public geographies working group and invited him – as the ‘head’ of the participatory geographies working group – to talk at our symposium. We were a little worried about the overlap between the two groups, but Duncan’s talk put paid to that. If you are familiar with the gospel song ‘Jesus hits you like an atom bomb’, you would know what one of Duncan’s ‘talks’ could be like. His style was his substance, he was radical and hilarious, critical and generous. He blew us away, but in a way that many of us wanted to be. When he and Kye later arranged quite a vague ‘Event’ in Newcastle, some of us went because we knew it would be great. It was. People would ask us if we’d enjoyed it. We’d say yes. People would ask us what it had been about. We had no idea. Duncan had his fingers in so many pies that I hope we can continue to work together in the spirit that he brought to these … uh … pies. This seminar series is one such pie. But it won’t be the same without him. My sincere condolences go to his family and friends. He went too soon for all of us.

    Ian Cook et al

    October 8, 2008 at 1:56 pm

  14. I think I first met Duncan at the IBG conference in Guildford in 1998. We’d both not long finished our PhDs and both us, I think, kind of felt like misfits, hanging round the edges and generally having a giggle at the ridiculous enterprise that academic conferences are – and it has to be said academia in general. It was something that we kept returning to again and again over the years. Over a few beers and a steady supply of his roll-ups we would bitch and laugh and re-invent what the university should be. We were full of grand schemes and visions and bullshit. Duncan being true to himself actually tried to enact pretty much everything, plus many others of his own invention and other collaborations. He firmly believed that academia should be activism and that we should all seek to make a difference beyond the academy in ways that extend beyond our writing and teaching. And he led by example – Duncan did change the world around him and he has left his mark on geographic thinking and praxis, especially with regard to participatory and peoples’ geographies, and the communities he lived in. He lived his life with a strong moral ethic and a commitment to try and change things for the better. If it could involve a bit of mischief and piss-taking that was all the better. Occasionally we’d try and do something together. Over the years we co-organised a number of sessions and events, co-wrote two books, and edited another. They were all entertaining and productive affairs that challenged me to think differently about the world. For that and the memories I’m eternally grateful.

    So long to the chief, mischievous geographer. The discipline will be a more moribund place without you and I know my life will be emptier. With heart-felt condolences to Ingrid, the kids and his extended family.


    Rob Kitchin

    October 8, 2008 at 5:43 pm

  15. Who knows what happens after this mortal coil ends? All i know for sure is that Duncan’s spirit lives on in the hearts of a lot of people.

    He used to call me “big guy” — which if you have ever seen me in person, you’ll know was the exact opposite of my physical stature. The thing i valued most of all about Duncan was how he not only knew there was life outside academia, he based much of his academic project on that knowledge. And that informed his ethics, his research, and most importantly, how he treated others.

    The warmest of hearts, the most screwball of sense of humours. He was “my Man”…….


    Rhys Evans

    October 9, 2008 at 7:50 am

  16. Duncan is sorely missed. He was a great person to be around, especially in the kinds of alienating environments of conferences alluded to by others. He was also a great organiser of not so predictable events, events that always had a twist away from the normal kinds of things – as Ian Cook and others have mentioned. He was always asking people for advice, opinions, for input, making connections, being irreverent, trying to do things differently from what the boring kinds of academia has seemed should be set. I liked that a lot. I had not seen him for a while – my own partner had been ill through out the early part of 2008 that stopped me from getting up to Newcastle – and now will really, really miss that we can’t meet up again for those laughs, moans, spasms of ideas of other things to try and do, should do, can do.
    Morton Feldman has a beautiful piece of music about the death of his piano teacher called: ‘Madame Press died last week at Ninety’. Since Friday (when I heard of his death) I have been drawn to listening to this, it uses a refrain not unlike a cuckoo – a sound of remembering, a sound of remembering each new spring and time of vitality. Duncan sure had that vitality. I wish he had lived so much longer. And I cannot imagine how his family must be feeling – but love to them all.

    Chris Wilbert

    October 9, 2008 at 6:53 pm

  17. Shocked and saddened, along with the rest of the class of 06 on BA Geography.

    Rachael Walton

    October 11, 2008 at 2:48 pm

  18. I have just heard about Duncan and, like everyone else, am shocked and saddened. For a while in the late 1990s Duncan and I were routinely on the same conference panels and, eventually, on the same job shortlists. Neither of ever got the job, but it was always a laugh to compare notes afterwards. We even once spent four hours together on a train stuck next to a damp field just outside Doncaster on our way to the same panel – not something you forget in a hurry. Every time I visit the northeast I will remember Duncan as I whizz past Doncaster. And if I ever get stuck again, it won’t be half so much fun.


    Angus Cameron

    November 19, 2008 at 12:24 pm

  19. We shared a view – that human geography without engagement – with itself, with other disciplines, and with the rest of humanity – is running out of steam, and needs to do more (particularly the British version, that Duncan was in, and I left). Loved the Radical theory/Critical Praxis collection[http://www.praxis-epress.org/availablebooks/radicaltheorycriticalpraxis.html] and associated interventions Duncan made over the years. Doing something similar now, and hope to dedicate it to him. Thanks, condolences, RIP. Simon

    Simon Batterbury

    December 8, 2008 at 9:58 am

  20. A Group Blog for Geography
    This blog is for open discussion of geography (open source, open contributor, open discussion). It is currently in development. Inspired by Savage Minds, and dedicated to the spirit of Duncan Fuller.

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