Obituary for Richard Lachmann

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Tim Gill, University of Tennessee

I’m honored that I was asked to share a reflection on Richard Lachmann. There are so many aspects of Richard’s life and work that I cannot speak to, and I wouldn’t claim the ability to do so. There are no doubt countless others who knew him far more deeply than I ever would have. I only knew Richard for a few short years, but his presence made an impact on my life.

As a junior scholar and a postdoc on the job market in 2016, I was incredibly nervous about anything I published or put out on the Internet. One of the first items I published in a purely public sociology outlet included a few posts on our section’s defunct blog Policy Trajectories.

In the wake of Trump’s election, I published a piece on the role that neoliberal policies might play in the new administration’s policy program. To my surprise, Richard Lachmann responded. He disagreed with some of my thoughts, but we had a courteous exchange. It wasn’t a small thing to me. It made me feel validated. I didn’t feel like anyone at all. But here was a prominent scholar taking me seriously and engaging me as an equal.

Since that time, Richard and I began exchanging emails about scholarly work, joking and talking about films and TV over Facebook, and meeting up at conferences. Over the course of our friendship, Richard and I continuously discussed the nature and future of U.S. Empire. That was the primary thread that bound our work and thoughts together. We agreed on many things but disagreed on others. At all times, I truly felt comfortable expressing all my thoughts on these issues with him, without the threat that he might act unkind or pompous or otherwise.

It wasn’t just the scholarly conversations that I will remember him for.

The last time I saw Richard was at an ASA pre- conference in Brooklyn in August 2019 just before the pandemic. We talked a little bit about our classes and teaching political sociology, but we mostly just spoke about my young son, parenting, and raising a family.

Richard was surely an intellectual titan, but he was also a genuinely human person. His willingness to engage with me, read my work, and write letters of recommendation for me has meant very much. But his friendship and seeming desire to know me as a person has meant so much, too.

Many of us have countless stories of folks looking at our badges at conferences – maybe as a grad student, postdoc, or faculty, and clearly having little interest in talking with us. Richard was the exact opposite of this disposition. I honestly had nothing beyond conversation to offer him. I couldn’t provide him with any opportunities or grant-funding or anything of the sort. But it didn’t matter.

As I engage with my own students and other graduate students and faculty now as a professor, I will always remember Richard for the kindness he showed unto me at an early stage in my career. We only shared a small amount of time together in the few years we knew each other, but it was a critical moment in my life – becoming a new parent and working through the job market. Richard was there for me, and I’ll never forget him.

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