Tribute to Dr Duncan Scott

by Professor Paul Wilding

Photograph of Duncan Scott

Duncan Scott died on 17th May 2020 after a stroke. He was a Lecturer and Senior Lecturer in the Department of Social Policy and Social Work at the University of Manchester for many years. He was Head of Department for three of those years. Duncan made a significant contribution to Social Policy studies in a number of areas.

His PhD in the early 1970s was a study of race and local politics. Back then, race was little studied by students of social policy but Duncan insisted that it was a central element in social policy analysis and in social work training long before that became conventional wisdom.

Study of the voluntary sector was another major concern of his, long before it was a popular interest among social policy researchers. Duncan did research at the local and the national level and led important Rowntree funded studies in the 1990s on the funding of voluntary organisations, the impact of contracting on volunteering and broader issues facing the sector.

He built on this work to develop a leading role in the growth of voluntary sector studies as a field of academic and practice research. He was a key player in the establishment of the Voluntary Sector Studies Network, which now includes members from across academia and practitioners in the sector, with regular national seminars and an annual conference held in collaboration with the National Council of Voluntary Organisations. Duncan was also committed to encouraging and supporting others wanting to work in the field. He acted as mentor to a number of new researchers and was an adviser (formal and informal) on a wide range of projects, including the Third Sector Research Centre at Birmingham University where he was held in high regard by all who worked there. To say that voluntary sector studies would not have been the same without Duncan is not an overstatement.

The role of fieldwork in social policy degree programmes was central before about 1970. It began to disappear as Social Policy sought to burnish its academic credentials. Duncan always argued for field work as a valuable learning experience for students.. For many years he taught a third year undergraduate course which aimed to help students make sense of a long vacation placement in an organisation of their choosing and to link that experience with key questions about organisations, research and research methodology. It was a course which always attracted high praise from external examiners and teaching quality inspectors.

That course grew out of two of Duncan’s other central concerns – a strong commitment to exploring different methods of learning and teaching and his own commitment to research and to reflection on the research process. He was a strong advocate of the value and virtues of case study and qualitative research as an approach in its own right and as complementary to quantitative studies. The last thing Duncan wrote (which I suspect was not fully revised at the time of his death) was a substantial monograph reflecting on his PhD research of 50 years ago – how it looked after all those years, how research methods and ideas about research had changed and developed and what could be learned about the research process from reflecting on the study. He was also committed to the principle of sharing the results of research with individuals and organisations which had been investigated.

Duncan used to describe himself as an inveterate scribbler. That was true but scarcely did justice to what he produced. He loved to investigate issues and unusual social phenomena and to write about what he found. I have a collection of monographs he wrote going back almost 40 years – some of them on the obscurest of subjects which caught his interest. There is a substantial monograph celebrating the centenary of Salford Harriers his running club, two beautifully illustrated publications of 100 pages and 60 pages telling the fascinating story of cow houses and milk production in central Liverpool, something which carried on till quite recently. There is also his 200-page work Slightly Above the Weavers telling the story of a working class girl from a Lancashire mill town who got a place at Oxford in the 1930s, gained a first class degree, became a researcher in what was to become the Manchester Department of Social Administration, did highly praised work for Ernest Bevin during the War and then became a vagrant wandering the south of England for 10 years. All of it interesting and worthwhile work exploring real life issues and situations – but not quite the stuff which wins its way into the peer reviewed pages of Top Journals!

In many ways Duncan was not a conventional academic. He had no time for jumping through hoops to achieve management-defined research goals and grades. He researched and wrote and taught what he thought was interesting and important and leaves a record of real achievement.

Paul Wilding
(with a paragraph from Pete Alcock on Duncan’s role in the Voluntary Sector Studies Network).


  1. Very sad to learn of Duncan’s death last year. I remember him well from my time at The University of Manchester. I was very fortunate to be in the final year of students to Study Social Policy at Manchester and to take Duncan’s course on the Third Sector. I remember his witty comments and the support he showed me when struggling with deadlines. Thank you Duncan rest in peace.

  2. I too am very sad to learn of Duncan’s death. I only got to know him relatively recently when we collaborated over his two books on the Liverpool cowkeepers: ‘Urban Cowboys, lost worlds of doorstep milk’ 2010 and ‘Fields of Discovery, on the trail of Liverpool’s cowhouses’ 2016. This was a subject he became acqainted with quite by chance when, living in Lymm, he was asked by his former milk lady for some help in writing her memoirs – she turned out to be a daughter of one of the last cowkeepers in the city: he was so intrigued by her story of a way living so different from what we experience now, that he undertook to look further into the subject. We met at a time when the first book was well in hand. In this slim volume he looks at the subject from the social angle: who were these cowkeepers and where did they come from? The second volume enlarges the view and searches in the modern city for signs of the considerable industry of milk production that existed in Liverpool over a period of at least 200 years. Thank you, Duncan, for being a good fiend and shining a light on this interesting aspect of Liverpool’s social history. Rest in peace.

  3. Very sad to learn of Duncan’s passing. I was a student studying Social Policy at The University of Manchester; graduating back in 1996! I still have fond memories of Duncan as my lecturer. Rest in peace.

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