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Kevin Barnhurst

Professor Kevin Barnhurst

Colleagues will be sorry to learn of the death, on 2 June 2016, of Professor Kevin Barnhurst, who recently retired as Chair of Communication in the Digital Era in the School of Media and Communication.  The following obituary has been prepared by friend and colleague, Professor Stephen Coleman.

The death of Kevin Barnhurst is an enormous loss to both his many colleagues and friends in Leeds and the entire field of media and communication research, in which he was a leading global scholar.

Before coming to Leeds, Kevin had spent six years as Chair of the Department of Communication at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He was an energetic international networker, having studied for his PhD in Amsterdam, held visiting posts in Spain, Italy, Finland, Denmark and Germany and chaired the Political Communication section of the International Communication Association from 2008-10.

His academic work was noted for being innovative and critical. For example, he established a collaborative international research network to explore citizens’ life history narratives. This work raised important questions about how political science defines informed citizenship. Instead of rational, functional dependence on traditional sources of information about public life, Kevin argued that young citizens tell life stories about a different kind of citizenship, which is more emotionally engaged and resistant to the idea of politics as self-interested ‘choice’. His work on visual communication was pioneering and continues to be widely cited. His published books include the Media Queered anthology (New York: Peter Lang, 2007); The Form of News, with John Nerone (New York: Guilford Press, 2002); and Seeing the Newspaper (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1994). In press at the moment is his latest, and probably most ambitious, book, Mister Pulitzer and the Spider, which considers the evolution of news over the past century.

Beyond his professional life, Kevin was a wonderfully vibrant human being: a great conversationalist, a cosmopolitan humanist and an energetic campaigner for gay rights. He served as Postgraduate Research Tutor at Leeds, dedicating huge attention to the lives of our PhD students. Parties in his flat at Leeds were memorable events, made all the more delightful by the presence and cooking skills of his partner Richard, who also taught in the School of Media & Communication. Kevin’s views about the world were never simplistic or predictable; he delighted in the transgressive and seemed incapable of taking intellectual offence. His death deprives us of a fascinating friend and colleague. We express our condolences to his sons and grandchildren and to his marital partner, Richard.

An obituary on the website of his former University (Illinois) can be found at