Obituary Andrew Stables (1956-2022)

Andrew Stables (1956-2022)

Andrew Stables was known by friends and colleagues as “Andy”, an informal mode of address that suggests his friendly and approachable personality. He is one of the most prominent scholars in philosophy of education and a pioneer of the semiotic approach to education, having published several books and more than one hundred academic articles. These labels, though, do not do justice to how eclectic his scholarship is and to the importance of his contributions to various areas of research in the humanities and social sciences.

Andy was born on the 25 February 1956, in Rustington, near Chichester in West Sussex (United Kingdom). He attended Portsmouth Grammar School and Westfield College, University of London, where he gained a BA in English Literature and the University of Exeter, where he gained a Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE). He began a teaching career in the John Bentley School, Calne, Wiltshire. Working as a teacher motivated him to carry out educational research. He studied for a PhD in Education at the University of Bath (1986) and took up his first post in the Education Department of Swansea University. After five years there, he moved to the University of Bath’s Education Department, where he was granted a chair in 2004. Here, he developed his growing interest in the philosophy of education and semiotics. In 2013 Andy moved to Roehampton University (London), as Head of Research of the School of Education. He spent the last years of his academic career there, having been made Professor Emeritus by this university when he retired. After retiring from full-time academic employment, he continued to publish and research, while also holding a Visiting Professor position at the University of Bath and a Senior Researcher position at the International Semiotics Institute of Kaunas University of Technology (Lithuania). Andy passed away on the morning of 18 January 2022.

Andy stood out as a leading scholar in philosophy of education around the time when he was made Professor at the University of Bath. During this period, he brought a timely and particularly important contribution to research on environmental literacy, among other topics. In 2005, he published the landmark book Living and learning as semiotic engagement: a new theory of education (Edwin Mellen Press), which not only paved the way for a renewed mutual interest between semiotics and educational research in general, but also revealed the challenges faced by the influential school of analytical philosophy of education, which dominated British educational research for a long time. Andy pursued the intellectual path set here with other remarkable books, such as Childhood and the philosophy of education: an anti-Aristotelian perspective (2011, Continuum) and Be(com)ing human: semiosis and the myth of learning (2012, Sense Publishers). Other edited and co-authored publications in the 2010s illustrate Andy’s seminal work in establishing a school of thought on semiotics of education. Among many important publications, we note Pedagogy and edusemiotics: theoretical challenges/practical opportunities (edited with Inna Semetsky, 2014, Sense Publishers), Edusemiotics: semiotic philosophy as educational foundation (with Inna Semetsky, 2015, Routledge), Semiotic theory of learning: new perspectives in the philosophy of education (with Winfried Nöth, Alin Olteanu, Sébastien Pesce, Eetu Pikkarainen, 2018, Routledge), and the special issue Learning and adaptation: semiotic perspectives of the journal Sign System Studies (with Alin Olteanu, 2018, volume 46, number 4).

During this period, Andy also participated in a major project on school design in the United Kingdom, together with other leading education researchers, showcasing the semiotic input to various aspects of educational research. The project resulted in pioneering publications, such as the edited volume Designing buildings for the future of education: contemporary visions for education (2018) and the co-authored book School design matters: how school design relates to the practice of experience and of schooling (2019), both realized together with Harry Daniels, Hau Ming Tse and Sarah Cox. Andy’s thought on topics tangential to education, of particularly contemporary salience, such as globalism/localism and sustainability are presented in his book New localism: Living in the here and now (Springer, 2019).

After his retirement, Andy had time to pursue more closely his lifelong passion for music, which related to his interest in semiotics. He played guitar in the classic rock band Half Way House and, also, composed and recorded several pieces together with Nick Magnus which are available on Soundcloud, Spotify and YouTube. One of Andy’s earliest compositions is the song Swan.

Andy left an important legacy not only as a scholar, but also as a friend and family person. Everyone who worked with Andy knows his gentle and welcoming personality. Andy was an excellent research manager, having helped many colleagues and students to progress in their professional careers. He genuinely cared for the people he worked with and was always willing to help. He was an excellent PhD supervisor, his students often looking up to him as a mentor and friend. He touched the lives of many. He will be deeply missed.

Alin Olteanu

Siân Stables

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