Professor Steve Rayner Memorial

Professor Steve Rayner

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Steve Rayner was a Fellow of Keble College for seventeen years until his death in January 2020. He joined Keble in 2003 when he became the University’s James Martin Professor of Science and Civilisation, an appointment which followed a distinguished career as a social scientist, principally in the United States.

He was born in Bristol in 1953, though much of his early life was spent in Singapore. He was a pupil at Dorking Grammar School and from there went on to study at the University of Kent. His doctoral thesis was undertaken at University College London under the supervision of eminent anthropologist Mary Douglas, who remained a powerful intellectual influence on Steve throughout his life. One of his lasting achievements was the elaboration of her Cultural Theory into a powerful tool to explore the cultural basis of the perception of risk and social solidarity. In the early 1980s he moved to the United States. His main appointments were at the Center for Global Environmental Studies at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, then the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, and finally at Columbia University, as Professor of Environment and Public Affairs. Returning to the United Kingdom in 2001 he directed the ESRC’s Science and Society Programme before moving to his Oxford role.

Much of Steve’s career was spent close to or in government circles. He certainly knew how to speak truth unto power, a mode he enjoyed as a member of Keble’s Governing Body. On the wider stage he was a rigorous and unconventional thinker. The four-volume series Human Choice and Climate Change (1997) which he edited with Elizabeth Malone, remains a landmark in the analysis of the social dimensions of climate change. Whether in his personal or professional life he was always a man of great integrity, tenacity and humour and his loss is keenly felt by his immediate family, Heather and Yossi, and by many friends and colleagues in Oxford and beyond.