We are saddened to announce the passing of Professor Pnina Werbner
The University is sad to report the passing of Pnina Werbner, who taught Sociology and Anthropology at Keele for 17 years from 1993 to 2010. Following retirement Pnina remained an active member of the Keele community as Emerita Professor for a further 12 years. Pnina passed away on 17th December, aged 78.
Pnina was a researcher and teacher of social anthropology of world renown. She was best known for her work with Muslim South Asians in Britain and Pakistan and more recently her studies of the women’s movement and manual workers union in Botswana. This later work led to her important monograph, The Making of an African Working Class, and a major edited collection with Martin Webb and Kathryn Spellman-Poots on global protest movements, The Political Aesthetics of Global Protest.
During her time at Keele Pnina held major research grants on the changing nature of legal process in village Botswana, new African migrants, and the religious imagination in the Filipino diaspora. She was also a global leader in the study of the rise of radical Islam and produced a highly significant body of work exploring the Rushdie Affair; cultural hybridity, migration and culture; religious identity; women, citizenship and difference; cosmopolitanism, and the problem of Islamophobia in the wake of 9 / 11 and the war on terror. She was editor of an important book series, Postcolonial Encounters, on Zed Books with her husband, the Anthropologist Richard Werbner, which published key texts in the field on multiculturalism, the politics of race and racism, and cultural hybridity.
Throughout her career Pnina collaborated with world leading figures in her field, including Muhammad Anwar, Tariq Modood, Nira Yuval-Davis, and a host of other important writers working in the area of social anthropology. Perhaps most significantly, her key books The Migration Process, Imagined Diaspora among Manchester Muslims, and Pilgrims of Love explore the process of Pakistani migration, social relations and community formation, and diaspora over a fifty-year period from the mid-20th century onwards. Collectively these three books represent an enormous achievement and the most comprehensive body of ethnographic work about any migrant community in Britain. Her last book, African Customary Justice (2022), co-authored with Richard Werbner, presents an important ethnographic and theoretical advance in legal anthropological scholarship by interrogating customary law, customary courts, and legal pluralism in sub-Saharan Africa.
Beyond her world leading research, Pnina was an enormously popular lecturer and teacher of sociology and anthropology at Keele. She taught specialist modules on race and ethnicity, religion, and migration, led and contributed to courses on anthropology, social inequalities, and social theory, and supervised a generation of undergraduates, masters, and PhD students who benefitted from her love for her subject.
Pnina was kind, generous, supportive, and patient with her students and was an inspiration to those who were fortunate enough to enrol on her modules. She was also a privilege to work alongside. As a prolific scholar and world leading figure in her field, she offered support to colleagues and provided mentorship to young academics who joined the Anthropology and then Sociology Departments at the University. Given her own standing and academic achievements, it is testament to Pnina’s generosity of spirit and humility that she always had time for junior colleagues. She had a razor-sharp sense of humour and critical sensibility and was never afraid to speak truth to those in powerful positions. In this respect, she was an inspiration to young academics seeking to navigate the complex politics of the university. Her good humoured, but heated debates with other senior members of the Sociology Department were legendary and a great source of entertainment to everybody involved. She was a true intellectual in the classical sense of the term and will be greatly missed by all who were taught by and worked with her.
Pnina leaves behind her husband, renowned anthropologist Richard Werbner, her sister the artist Hava Gillon, her two children Donna Ferguson and Ben Werbner, and her 11-year-old granddaughter Flora Ferguson. She will be sorely missed by all her family.
Her family request donations to UNHCR (the UN Refugee Agency) in her memory.
All at Keele send our condolences to Pnina's family.
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