Professor Andrew (Andy) Stables died in January at the untimely age of 65. He joined the university in 1994 as a Lecturer in Education working on the Department's PGCE and Masters programmes. He was promoted to Reader in 2001 and awarded a personal Chair in Education and Philosophy in 2004. Andy was head of the Department of Education from 2001 to 2004. He left Bath for Roehampton University in 2013 in order to pursue his research interests in the Philosophy of Education and Semiotics.
A colleague who described him as "a lovely and fiercely intelligent human being" captured his essence. He was kind and generous, with time for everyone. His deep intelligence was obvious in every encounter whether in a seminar, a committee, or in the study-rambles we used to have on Salisbury Plain which always ended in a pub. And of course it was especially obvious in his writing. The fierceness came when he encountered nonsense masquerading as theory or logic. He saw it as a duty to call this out for what it was, particularly when it was self-serving. This commitment endeared him to his friends, but not to everyone. But it had to be done, and done politely.
Andy was a talented musician but took a degree in English. Following this, he trained as a teacher and worked in two Wiltshire schools. During this time he was awarded a PhD at Bath (1987) before going to Swansea University to work on its PGCE programme. Five years later, he left Swansea to lecture at Bath.
In his work here, his research took two turns. The first was to bring his extensive understanding of literacy and English literature, especially the Romantic Poets, to the Department's research on environmental education, and he became a very influential and productive member of the university's Centre for Research in Education and the Environment (CREE) writing numerous insightful papers. The second, which grew out of the first, was the development of pioneering work in the philosophy of education that was to prove seminal to developing thought and interest in this area. It was this that led to breakthrough publications in the Journal of Philosophy of Education and Educational Philosophy & Theory.
Andy was for many years a leading figure in the Philosophy of Education, recognised as such by, for example, the Philosophy of Education Society of Great Britain, the Philosophy of Education strand of the European Conference on Educational Research and, not least, the European Semiotics and Education Group of which he was a founding figure.
His interests in philosophy, and in the philosophy of education, were simultaneously wide in range and deep in specifics. So, for example, he was an outstanding figure in the study of the semiotics of education (how particular words, concepts, signs and symbols come to be favoured in human educational interactions, and the effects these choices have), with a depth of understanding few could rival, let alone express. His work in this field was underpinned by the principles of philosophical pragmatism, and his understanding of this most difficult of fields was comprehensive. But at the same time he was never content to operate in a philosophical silo, but, rather, wanted to explore the implications that his work had, for example, for legal or economic philosophical works. If these seem remote and arcane interests, then it should be said that in Andy’s hands they were not. On the contrary, he was fascinated by the concrete consequences – especially the educational and environmental consequences – of how, and in what terms, people think about real world problems and opportunities, and how changing the way we think might lead us to live better lives. An example of this was an AHRC-funded project entitled ‘Design Matters?’ in which Andy brought his understanding of semiotics to bear on questions concerning the extent to which school design influenced the behaviour, thinking and feelings of students and staff.
In consequence of his explanatory gifts he was a brilliant PhD supervisor fully absorbed and fascinated by his students’ work and keen to facilitate their purposes rather than to promote his own ideas or interests. As one of his former students said in an oration at his funeral, "In the way in which he guided me and helped me find my own path, he has given me something priceless, much more important than merely a career, and which will stay with me forever. I do not know how to name it but, using Andy’s words, I know how to live by it."
Andy is a huge loss. His memory is cherished by his many friends but not as much as by Siân, Dan, Lizzie, Mat and young Wilf.
William Scott and Stephen Gough