In memoriam

Mark Rapley, friend and colleague


Mark Rapley, a British psychologist who was known to many people in the EM / CA community for his work applying ethnomethodological principles to the study of intellectual disability, died on the 12th of August 2012, aged 50, from cancer.

Mark contributed very significantly to the introduction of ethonomethodological thinking to the UK and the Australian clinical psychological community. His personal energy and drive, his high standards, and his enthusiasm for 'deep' ethnomethodology made him an inspiring figure to many of his students. His publications - especially his polemic books, critical of the complacency of the psychological services - were outstanding examples of scholarly work that took an unmistakable, and passionate, position on social affairs.

I first met Mark in 1986 when he marched into my office at Lancaster University (Mark was not one for sidling in discreetly) and asked me if I knew anything about 'this discourse business'. I replied tentatively that I had heard of it (it was the beginning of the wave that was to sweep many of my generation towards CA). He reported that he was doing a PhD part time, while working as a clinical psychologist; and that his data were 'quality of life' interviews that he was conducting with adults with intellectual impairments. 'The thing is', he went to say 'it's all b***s'.

His scepticism about the relation between the supposedly standardised question-and-answer exchange he was having with his clients, and the final numerical score that emerged from the questionnaire, was the trigger for what became a lifetime's devotion to the ethnomethodological sentiment. A quote from Garfinkel or Sacks was never too far away, even in the most banal conversation (which both men would have appreciated, no doubt), and his enviable record of publications shows that he brought the EM spirit into some hitherto unenlightened places - race, class, but especially the treatment of people with intellectual disabilities. The title The Social Construction of Intellectual Disability gives a flavour of the kind of approach he took.

Since that meeting in 1986 I was privileged to work with Mark on a number of occasions, and was the beneficiary of his generosity and friendship when I spent three months in Brisbane in the late 80s. When he came back to the UK in 2005 it was in something of a triumph, becoming Director of the Clinical Psychology Programme at The University of East London - a significant managerial position that he thought someone as iconoclastic as he would never be allowed to hold. He was tireless in promoting the EM /CA spirit to his students (in spite of the frustrations of a not always sympathetic psychology establishment) and in publications with a variety of colleagues in the applied and professional world. His scholarly standards never wavered, and his energy was undimmed, even in the last months of his ravaging illness.

One of his last research meeting was with us in Loughborough, at one of our Discourse and Rhetoric Group data sessions. He and one of his students brought a piece of data - on a sensitive and socially-charged issue, as would be Mark's wont - and he was back in his element of ethnomethodological speculation and happy disputation. I'm glad that we saw him in such good, and characteristic, spirits before the cancer ultimately claimed him. He was a staunch friend, a generous collaborator, and a passionate intellectual; we are all poorer for his loss.

Charles Antaki, August 2012

Thank you to Helen Winter for the photograph, taken in my office on Mark's last visit to Loughborough

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