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Obituary: Peter Fitzpatrick

Peter Fitzpatrick
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We are deeply saddened by the passing of Professor Peter Fitzpatrick who was Anniversary Professor of Law at Birkbeck from 2000 - 2017. Our staff and students send condolences to Peter’s family, and to the close-knit community of scholars that Peter fostered around the world. 

Peter joined Birkbeck Law School in 2000 having already established himself as one of the world’s leading legal philosophers at Kent Law School, and at Queen Mary. His arrival at Birkbeck helped to consolidate the School as one of the leading centres of critical legal studies, postcolonial legal studies, and law and the humanities.

An early proponent of the significance of poststructuralist theory, Peter helped to introduce the work of Jacques Derrida and Jean-Luc Nancy to generations of students and legal scholars.

Engaging closely with the laws and legal systems of numerous postcolonial settings - including Australia, Canada, Papua New Guinea, and South Africa - he wrote powerful accounts of how racial othering constituted modern law.

Through countless articles, books, and edited collections, he inspired research that de-centred the torpid repetition of analytic jurisprudence. Peter leaves an immense scholarly legacy that will inform legal research for decades to come.

Personal memories

Professor Stewart Motha, Dean of the Law School, said: “Peter was an inspiring scholar who embodied the best traditions of the academy. Students came from around the world to study for a PhD under Peter’s supervision. I was one of them. What we found was a careful and rigorous reader of texts – including, sometimes dauntingly, our own. Peter cultivated an ethos of engaging students’ work which showed fidelity to what we brought with us whilst pushing at our limits.  It was a mode of engagement that also constituted a method for confronting law and the demands for justice. In his own work Peter practiced a craft of writing that gave form to ethical and political problems in the world. It was my great good fortune that I had the privilege of being taught by him”.

Professor Fiona Macmillan, reflected: “Peter and I started working at Birkbeck Law School at the same time in 2000.  From this time our relationship was marked by his extraordinary generosity, friendship and collegiality.  The list of his qualities is extensive, ranging from brilliance and rigour to great warmth and a wonderful sense of humour. He is a giant amongst scholars, one of the greatest of our generation.  His work will be read, and will stimulate and provoke, long into the future. It is his gift, not only to those of us fortunate enough to have been his colleagues and students, but also to the generations of scholars to come. In this moment when I mourn Peter's loss, I also count myself inestimably lucky to have worked with him - but even luckier to have been his friend”.