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Dr Sue Porter, 1954-2017

Dr Sue Porter

24 January 2017

Dr Sue Porter, Senior Research Fellow in the School for Policy Studies, passed away on 11 January. Her colleague Beth Tarleton offers a tribute.

Sue is irreplaceable. She was clever, kind, creative and inclusive, and brought a quiet confidence and clarity of thought to any interaction she had. Sue worked with us at the Norah Fry Centre for Disability Studies for seven years and made a huge impact on our work as she challenged thinking about methodologies and disability, using her lived experience – she had had MS for 20 years – as well as her experience in social work, management and community facilitation. 

Sue had a great interest in writing and collaborative writing as a form of inquiry, and contributed to numerous edited volumes, papers and special issues in this field. She introduced us to a wide range of creative and walking methodologies and could always relate what was being discussed to an appropriate theorist. I always learnt something when talking to Sue and was constantly amazed by the things she had been involved with, such as the new, ethical, community-enhancing Gloucester services. 

While working with us, Sue engaged wholeheartedly with a wide range of projects, a recent example being the ‘Values of Assessment’ project about how disabled people are assessed for services. She was involved in the ‘Getting Things Changed’ project which is currently investigating the barriers disabled people face. She also developed exciting and innovative work which valued disabled peoples’ experience and clearly showed that we can learn so much from how disabled people adapt to the barriers they face in our communities. For example, listen to the play that was a key output from her ‘Walking Interconnections’ project and which is introduced by her.

The quote on the bottom of Sue’s email summed up her approach:

‘Disability is not a 'brave struggle' or 'courage in the face of adversity'... disability is an art. It's an ingenious way to live.’ Neil Marcus.

Thirty-six hours before she died, Sue was submitting funding bids, and there will be new work with the University’s Brigstow Institute developing a ‘Complaints Choir’ as a result. She recently won a large AHRC grant for a project with Exeter University, the University of the West of England, University College London and Manchester Metropolitan University, entitled ‘D4D – Disability and Community: Dis/engagement, dis/enfranchisement, dis/parity and dissent’. The title says it all. It is a hugely important research topic about which she cared passionately. This project will continue and we hope it will have a big impact.

Sue was also dedicated to sharing her knowledge and skills through teaching. She had taught on courses in universities all over the world. Sue loved supervising students and was particularly involved with social work and the educational psychology students in the School for Policy Studies. She helped her students to become more rounded people with a broader perspective, as well as to get their dissertations written. She was as committed to them as they were to her, and her impact will endure through their work.

Working with us at Norah Fry was only one part of a hugely productive career that touched many lives. Sue completed her PhD at Bath University and had a whole other life within the University of Bristol as part of the Graduate School of Education, as a student, a lecturer and an events organiser. She facilitated a monthly narrative research ‘open inquiry space’, where students and staff presented research problems and concerns. Sue was also part of the team representing this network at international conferences – in particular the International Qualitative Inquiry conference in the USA, where her presentations gained quite a following. This coming year she had been going to send her iPad / robot / avatar to that gathering to represent herself. 

Sue co-ordinated the BlueStockings feminist reading group, an informal network of feminist researchers from across the Faculty of Social Sciences and Law, and was part of the Action Research and Critical Inquiry in Organisations (ARCIO) centre which brings together research and teaching in the Department of Management and beyond, as well as the University's Gender Research Group. Sue was also a very active member of Ani-net, an interdisciplinary research network that had its origins in the Graduate School of Education. She would be very pleased if reading this inspired you to check out any of these groups.

Sue was also involved in a wide range of disability networks including chairing the Vassall Centre Trust. She was a founder of the Disabled Staff Forum within the University, helping to ensure equality in the working environment for disabled staff.

Sue made a huge impact by just being herself and engaging with the world so positively as well as through her activism, academic and creative work. As her husband of 35 years said, in an understated way that reminded me of Sue herself, all of this was ‘pretty good for a working-class girl’. Her huge commitment to people, to adversity, to women, to disability, is an example to us all.



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