Professor Grant Jordan

Grant died on Friday. He was my friend and mentor for a long time, and I’m glad that I knew him for so long.

Let me share four short stories with you, to give you a sense of Grant.

The first is of an internationally respected scholar. When Grant and I visited Hokkaido University in 2004, his talk was preceded by a warm and glowing reference by our hosts. One host held aloft Governing Under Pressure and described it as one of the most influential books of his time. It was certainly one of the biggest influences on me and many of my colleagues (as I describe below), and his work was valued by as many colleagues in the US as the UK.

governing under pressure

The second is of his continuous help to students and colleagues. I associate Grant’s working life with one image: his open office door. He kept an office directly across from the departmental office, ensuring that if any student came to us with a problem, he’d be the first to try to solve it. It might not sound like much to say that he knew Aberdeen University’s regulations inside-out, but it symbolised his continuous efforts to make sure that students benefited from them. He offered the same continuous help to many of our colleagues.

The third is of a quietly influential mentor. Some of Grant’s advice was cryptic, but all of it was useful. At key points of my career and intellectual development, he was there to offer pointers and challenge incomplete thought. For example, often his favourite approach was to quote Mandy Rice-Davies (‘he would say that’) to challenge any claims I made from elite interviews, and you can see the effect of such caution on much of my published work.

The fourth is of a funny person. There are odd-sounding times that I’ll remember, such as when Darren Halpin and I met up with Grant and his partner Andrea in Toronto (during an APSA conference), and they were already quite merry when we arrived. Or, when at the football together (Grant was a big Aberdeen FC fan), he would often offer me and my children some suspiciously warm toffees from his pocket. Maybe one of his funniest lines is now one of the most poignant: when I tried to do a decent speech on his career at his retirement dinner, he described it as a speech well suited to his funeral (I guess you had to be there to appreciate the humour!).

Jordan and Richardson’s intellectual legacy

Grant will leave an intellectual legacy. His work with Jeremy Richardson is still at the heart of my understanding of politics and policy. In my first undergraduate year at Strathclyde, Jeremy lectured on British politics and public policy. He presented an image of politics that drew me in (partly via Yes Minster) and an argument – made in partnership with Grant – that I still use most frequently to this day:

  • The size and scope of the state is so large that it is in danger of becoming unmanageable. The same can be said of the crowded environment in which huge numbers of actors seek policy influence. Consequently, the state’s component parts are broken down into policy sectors and sub-sectors, with power spread across government.
  • Elected policymakers can only pay attention to a tiny proportion of issues for which they are responsible. So, they pay attention to a small number and ignore the rest. In effect, they delegate policymaking responsibility to other actors such as bureaucrats, often at low levels of government.
  • At this level of government and specialisation, bureaucrats rely on specialist organisations for information and advice.
  • Those organisations trade that information/advice and other resources for access to, and influence within, the government (other resources may relate to who groups represent – such as a large, paying membership, an important profession, or a high status donor or corporation).
  • Therefore, most public policy is conducted primarily through small and specialist policy communities that process issues at a level of government not particularly visible to the public, and with minimal senior policymaker involvement.

They initially made this argument in the late 1970s and early 1980s, before the rise of ‘Thatcherism’ in the UK. Then, they used it to challenge the idea that Thatcherism marked a radical departure in policymaking. Of course, this new phase of policymaking was important and distinctive, but the same basic argument outlined above still applies, and Jordan went on to do further empirical studies, with colleagues such as William Maloney, to highlight a surprising amount of policymaking stability and continuity. In other words, Jordan and Richardson have shown, and continue to show that the UK generally does not live up to its ‘majoritarian’ image. It’s an argument that I use to this day.

Overall, I was very lucky to have Grant in my life for so long, and I hope he knew how many people shared this combination of admiration for his work and fondness of him.




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8 responses to “Professor Grant Jordan

  1. So sad to hear. I remember his his lectures on US politics at Aberdeen University as if it was yesterday. He was a ‘giant’ intellectually, but I also remember him being very kind and courteous to me. I’ve kept a graduation letter he sent to me. Don’t think he would have known how much it meant to me at the time. A true gentleman.

  2. Professor Robert Pyper

    Very sad news indeed. A quiet giant of public policy and administration thought and ideas. Grant was an extremely supportive colleague, and I always appreciated his willingness to help as a member of the ‘Public Policy and Administration’ Editorial Board when I edited the journal. His work influenced more than one generation of scholars. Please pass on condolences to Grant’s family – Bobby Pyper.

  3. Grant and I had many things in common professionally, and I recall meeting him for the first time perhaps in the 1990s in Chicago at the Midwest Political Science Association meetings. I had read pretty much all of his work and I think the situation was mutual. We were both interested in what Paul Cairney recently described as his intellectual legacy, essentially how governments deal with the overwhelming complexity of the world around them, and the simple fact that they do so by ignoring the vast bulk of it. (Thanks, Paul, for your nice tribute to Grant.)

    Beginning in around 2000, and for about 10 years, Grant regularly invited me to Aberdeen. I would give a talk (perhaps), and he would make sure I met up with various younger colleagues, who included William Maloney, Paul Cairney, Darren Halpin, Patrick Bernhagen, and others (he had a broad definition of colleague, as Darren was at Robert Gordon). And he made certain that I come to know various parts of Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire, and some of the main metropoles of the area such as Inverbervie, Forfar, Brechin, anything up the Dee from Banchory to Braemar, or similarly up the Don for about 50 miles. Never, however, would we dare venture south of the Forth; Grant had his standards! Only an away AFC match could take us outside the North East (where he took me to both Edinbrugh and to Ibrox, as well as many times to Pittodrie). Naturally the visits focused on oddities, peculiarities, boot sales, and places where there might be a bargain. Both my home and work offices are therefore full of portraits of Kings College (I believe I have at least 10), the Bridge of Don, and various bootsale treasures. (I just hung two maps of the “ports and harbours of the north east coast of Scotland” in my office today, recent gifts from Grant just a week before his death.) He introduced me to Haggis, deep fried haggis, deep fried pineapple slices, the deep fried Mars bar (by sight only!), and of course, The Whale. He took my student Trey Thomas under his wing for years. Grant and I collaborated on just one publication, but we worked together it seemed much more than that. I cited his work in my first book, published in 1989, well before we had met. He has been such an important mentor and friend to me and I am so glad that I was able to get to know him. He gave so much to so many people; it was a joy to watch him invest in every single younger person he was around. I was able to show him a few places around the US during his visits here, and it was a pleasure to be able to return a bit of the many favors he had done for me. What a man.

    • Jeremy Richardson

      One cannot add much to the comments above. They capture Grant nicely. The photo of him in his office sums him up too… that cheeky grin which I have seen so many times over four decades of friendship and collaboration.
      Each day still, I look for one of his cryptic emails in my Inbox. They were SO bloody funny, even towards the end. The last few made me cry with laughter (as always) but also cry with great sadness that they were soon to end.
      He and I shared a lot. Indeed, I see that in the photo he is wearing a short-sleeved shirt. One of my best ideas he said! Seeing the reference to a bag of toffees in Paul’s tribute above, reminded me of something long-forgotten, that Grant and I were both fans of an old Scottish comedian, Chic Murray. Google Chic Murray and have a look at the clip of Chic Murray at a gig in Aberdeen, 1984, in which a bag of toffees gets a mention. Chic Murray’s cryptic and dry sense of humour really appealed to
      Grant. Many a time I would say to him, you sound like bloody Chic Murray. Folk who heard these exchanges thought we were both daft (indeed we were!) as hardly any academic had heard of Chic Murray.

      Grant managed to write a tribute to me on the JEPP blog, on the occasion of my 75t birthday last month. He concluded with a comment about us being mates. Wherever you are Grant, your old mate misses you heaps. Do send me an email…a short one would be just fine!

  4. I was a post graduate student in Aberdeen when Grant was Department Head and he was also my landlord! He never showed anything but kindness and genuine interest in students and was a great influence and reassuring presence in the Department as well as a brilliant academic. RIP Professor Jordan.

  5. Neil Carter

    I didn’t know Grant very well, but I knew him for over 30 years. We met infrequently at conferences. We exchanged emails. We had a few phone conversations. But I always enjoyed those occasions. At various points in my career he offered me sage advice that I valued. And, like others, I have always been a great fan of his work. I will miss him, and his sense of humour.

  6. David Potter

    Grant Jordan RIP
    I had heard a rumour that Grant had died, but did not know for certain until recently.
    I knew Grant at school at Forfar Academy from 1960 – 1966. He was always interested in politics, although amazingly for a boy whose father worked in a jute factory, he veered to the right, and I frequently asked him what the son of a jute factory worker had in common with Sir Alec Douglas-Home! I think that seeing Edward Heath in action in the 1970s changed his mind however!
    He was a good guy though, and he and I suffered from the same spinster English teacher whose problem was the basic and obvious one! Surprised to read that he supported Aberdeen. At school he was a Hibs supporter. He married a girl called Susan Allardyce, as I recall. I never saw much of him in adult life, but I always heard well of him. RIP Grant.

  7. Pingback: Making sense of policy theory | Paul Cairney: Politics & Public Policy

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