For those not familiar with his work, Dobson was, and I suppose still is, the world's leading green political theorist. His main contributions were around the notion of ecological citizenship, that large numbers of people were entering into politics with ecological and environmental concerns in mind, and this conditioned their activity, their modes of organisation and issues of interest, and the construction of their identity. Ecological citizenship had also become diffuse. As the state took on the language and practice of bureaucratically mandated equality, it too encourages moments of ecological citizenship. Engaging in recycling, saving energy, pedalling about or using public transport are green virtues that have integrated themselves into mainstream notions of good citizenship. Dobson wasn't content with allowing the state to become the repository of environmental virtue; the crisis of climate change could not be averted just by leaving out the recycling bin. It required active agency by citizens to change their behaviour and push for green policies. He was therefore an advocate of critical citizenship education in schools. This went beyond conventional understandings restricting citizenship to the sanctioned political process (i.e. the responsibility of voting and perhaps joining a political party). As the environmental crisis pays no attention to constitutional niceties, he argued that citizenship classes must teach students how to organise non-conventionally. In other words, alongside learning about politics and parties, they must cover the nuts and bolts of running a campaign, how to mobilise participants for demonstrations, lobby politicians, organise civil disobedience and so on. Latterly, Dobson was also exploring the the place of listening in political theory. With the decline of dialogue and the reduction of political debate to name calling, outright lying and affected ignorance, a major study in this area could have been as timely as potentially useful.
When I was doing my PhD, I saw and spoke to Dobson almost everyday. He was a popular member of staff and was very well liked by the students. Considering his superstar status, there was none of that arrogant nonsense surrounding his person. And as far as I knew, he had a teaching load no different to his less celebrated colleagues. Dobson is partly responsible for my doctorate, he was the internal examiner of my thesis. And everyone knew "Andy" to be an extremely busy man. When he wasn't discharging academic duties, Dobson gave the local Green Party a lot of time and personally oversaw many of its campaigns in North Staffordshire. He went so far as to write the party's 2010 General Election Manifesto. Always busy, always up to his neck in one project or another. I can remember more than one occasion where postgrad students and lecturers wondered where he got the time from to do all this stuff.
And then, suddenly, it all stopped. I was talking to someone a couple of summers ago, and they told me about Dobson's disappearance. One day he was there, the next he was gone. There was no explanation. His website was wiped of all material, he answered no text messages or emails. The University basically scrubbed him, though no one apart from senior management knew whether he was remained employed or not. The assumption I and many others made was the volume of work had got the better of him and he'd undergone a crisis or mental collapse of some sort. The disappearance and extreme withdrawal from his career and friends a means of trying to find balance. And this was very much the view of one of his friends I saw just before Christmas. Now we know it was because he'd been arrested on sex abuse imagery and internet grooming charges.
I have absolutely no sympathy for Dobson. I feel for his young family, for his friends and colleagues he disgracefully let down. And most of all, the young girls he groomed online. I hope Dobson's predatory behaviour will not leave them with psychological scars and lasting harms. Unfortunately, his sentence - 10 months suspended and 10 years on the Sex Offenders Register - does not reflect the seriousness of the offences he admitted to. His reputation is in tatters, most of his friends and acquaintances will now forever shun him, but he should be thanking his lucky stars. If he hadn't got a brilliant career and wasn't a pillar of the local establishment, if he was a postman from Cross Heath or supermarket worker from Shelton, how likely is it the judge would have proven so forgiving and lenient?
What this means for the future trajectory of his work is unclear. Academia tends not to be like the world of pop, whereby the works of sex offender rockstars are placed on the list of proscribed tracks. When Louis Althusser murdered Hélène Rytmann, his wife, apparently in his sleep, he was remanded to psychiatric custody. There was a tidal wave of shock, but all throughout the early part of the 1980s Althusser's ideas were taken seriously, discussed, critiqued and eventually abandoned as intellectual fashions moved on. What will be the reception to Dobson? Will his ideas and the emerging research programme survive his disgrace? One thing is sure, he himself is done. There is some assistance available to people who have unacceptable desires, as explored a couple of years ago by Channel Four, but Dobson chose not to avail himself of this. Instead he secretly, craftily made the decision to abuse young girls online, and compound that suffered by others by acquiring abusive imagery. We'll never know why he risked everything for a cheap criminal thrill, but he is entirely responsible for his choice.