In Memoriam

Peter Taylor

31 October 2019

by João Arriscado Nunes

We regret to inform that Peter J. Taylor, professor at the University of Massachusetts - Boston, CES friend and collaborator, passed away on October 29, in the wake of prolonged illness.

Peter J. Taylor was an ecologist and obtained his Phd in Evolutionary Biology from Harvard University in 1988, under supervision of Richard Lewontin and Richard Levins, whose theoretical and practical legacy of a critical and politically engaged science, marked his entire life as a researcher and educator. He was Professor of Science, Technology, and Society Studies at Cornell University. Later on, while professor at the University of Massachusetts - Boston, he would devote himself to research and teaching in Science and Social Change, studies of clinical processes at the intersection of the biological, the ecological and the social and also to teaching postgraduate studies in Critical and Creative Thinking. He was a collaborator of the Science for People movement and president of the International Society for the History, Philosophy and Social Studies of Biology.

As a teacher and researcher, his work focused on understanding the complexity of the intersections of social relations and political dynamics with science production, particularly in the field of environmental and health research. He developed working methods to deal with the complexity and heterogeneity of research, from a collaborative and participatory perspective.

His extensive work includes books such as: Unruly Complexity: Ecology, Interpretation, and Engagement (University of Chicago Press 2005), Taking Yourself Seriously (2012) and Nature-Nurture? No: Moving the Sciences of Variation and Heredity Beyond the Gaps (2014). Among his collaborations with CES is the participation in the collective work organised by Professor Boaventura de Sousa Santos Conhecimento Prudente para Uma Vida Decente: Um Discurso sobre as Ciências Revisitado, (Porto: Afrontamento 2003) “A reconstrução da complexidade ecológica sem regras: ciência, interpretação e prática reflexiva crítica". 

Peter Taylor collaborated with CES in various research projects, co-supervised doctoral projects, organised seminars and workshops and supported the preparation of applications by CES researchers to the European Research Council. In 2012, the year he was Fulbright Fellow at CES, he delivered the inaugural lecture of our PhD programmes (see here)

Despite his ill health, he spent the last two years of his life teaching and promoting the legacy of his mentor Richard Levins and of his late wife, historian Ann Blum.

Those who knew and worked with him, and whom he took in, for almost two decades, at annually held workshops in Woods Hole, New England, recall his generosity and the inspiring way in which he kept the dialogue alive between different generations of researchers and activists committed to the pursuit of an emancipatory science and the mutual recognition and interlocution of experiences and knowledges.

We thus associate ourselves with Peter Taylor's family, friends and colleagues in this time of sorrow for his departure.