Our extraordinarily talented friend, Margaret Coulson, (born March 1938 in Leicester) died on 25 May, aged 79, in Sydney Australia after taking her own life following a decline due to dementia. She had lived in Australia for nearly 27 years with her partner Pearlie McNeill, who survives her. Prior to building a new life in Australia, Margaret’s mid-adult life was influenced by, and contributed to, the new directions that emerged in the Marxist, radical, Gay and Feminist politics of the late 1960s, 70s and 80s in Britain. Her personal life was shaped by the politics of socialist feminism, as well as by lesbian and gay movements.
Margaret wrote Approaching Sociology (1970) with Carol Riddell, a cutting edge introduction to sociology that was greatly valued by students worldwide, and which deeply affected the 1970s British interest in sociology. As part of her intellectual contributions, Margaret wrote about housework and its relationship to surplus value. She also wrote about ways that feminists could re-think pornography so that the differences between erotica and pornography were more distinct, and she wrote much on ‘race’ and racism in socialist feminist thinking. Her deep passion for socialist feminism meant that she was able to critique it, and related ideas, while not undermining the significance of socialist feminism. Without ever hurting anyone, or implying a personal criticism, Margaret could cut through flabby arguments with a sharpness that was inevitably instructive to encounter.
During the 1960s and 1970s Margaret was instrumental in setting up the West Road Gay Collective in her feminist household in Lancaster, and was actively involved in Women’s Aid, other women’s campaigns and anti-racist movements. For her, the political only made sense if the personal was deeply integrated into it.
Before she moved to Australia, Margaret taught sociology at Preston Polytechnic, now the University of Central Lancashire. She was great fun to work with, and always determined to defend important political and intellectual thinking. In her teaching and with her colleagues, Margaret drew not only on academic insights, but also on years of debate inside the International Marxist Group (IMG), which she left in the 1970s. In the IMG years, Margaret had taken particular interest in Eastern Europe (Yugoslavia especially), and learned Serbo-Croat – rare to find in British academia, let alone in Preston.
The strands of personal, public and academic work in Margaret’s life and writings gave her a strong, even steely, moral edge. One day, upon encountering a soft porn poster on the wall of a Dean (a former MP), she deliberately turned her chair away from the offending object, wordlessly showing contempt and bringing embarrassment where intended. This moral rectitude also made her a great friend and reliable ally.
Margaret was a truly remarkable and loving person. She had formidable intelligence, clear blue eyes, long hair and great beauty (she would not like us saying this howevetrue!). She was warm, and deeply loyal, with an air of gentleness and integrity.
With Margaret as a friend, one could tackle anything. She will be deeply missed by all who knew her.
Kum-Kum Bhavnani, Margo Gorman, Di Gowland, Tim Lang, Pip Scott