Welcome To My Website

This website is meant primarily to advertise and sell my fiction – both my plays (which you can download for free) and the Bob Henderson crime novels (which are for sale). But, for those who don’t know much about it, it also introduces the academic research and writing for which I am better known. I hope in fact that the website will serve the dual function of introducing those who know me as an academic to my fiction, and leading those who get interested in me as a ‘Mackem’ and a crime writer to take an interest in my academic work.

Karl Marx and the philosophy of praxis

“In this major new study, Gavin Kitching builds on recent scholarship on Marx and Wittgenstein to provide an incisive, readable account and critique of the whole of Marx’s work.

wmp2bigHe presents the philosophical , economic, and political Marx as one thinker, and argues that the key to understanding Marx is his commitment to a ‘philosophy of praxis’. This sees thought as just a part of that purposive activity (or praxis) which distinguishes human beings from other creatures.

Karl Marx and the Philosophy of Praxis is the first book to analyse all of Marx’s thought from a Wittgensteinian perspective; in doing so, it clarifies and deepens our understanding of Marx to the benefit of the beginning student and the more advanced scholar alike. Written by a social scientist with extensive experience of applying Marx’s ideas to both industrialized and underdeveloped societies, it is designed especially with the concerns of social science students in view, although it will also be of interest to historians and philosophers.”

“Equally valuable as an introduction to the thought of Marx as it is to the practice of Wittgensteinian linguistic reductionism…The book is close to the classroom; it was developed in large part through teaching and will be useful for both teachers and students.” R. L. Perkins, Choice

Africa and Development

I became interested in Africa while studying Politics and Economics in Sheffield, and in 1968 I went to St Antony’s College, Oxford to study for a doctorate on African Politics. I spent fourteen months in a peasant village in Tanzania doing fieldwork for my doctorate, and then returned to East Africa in 1973 to follow-up the Tanzanian fieldwork with research on Kenyan peasant farmers. In many respects this was the most formative period of my life. It was my first in-depth contact with a culture other than my own, it gave me an insight into the lives and struggles of some of the world’s poorest people, and it was my first experience of learning and mastering a foreign language (Swahili) and living in that language. The major academic result of it all was a very large, prize-winning book on the economic history of Kenya in the colonial period – a book that took me ten years to research and write.

Class and Economic Change in Kenya (1980) established my academic reputation, and most people associate me with it and my subsequent work in the field of development. My short follow-up book, Development and Underdevelopment in Historical Perspective (1983), is probably my most well-known, and certainly my best-selling, piece of academic work – and it had a sequel, eighteen years later, in Seeking Social Justice through Globalization (2001) which has also generated considerable interest.

But while I continued to write and research on Third World development issues, I gradually became deeply disillusioned and distressed by what was going on in Africa itself. To put it simply, I thought that the people among whom I had lived in the 1970s, and whose intelligence and perseverance in adversity I had come to admire greatly, were being grossly betrayed and abused by their supposed political leaders and governors. I therefore gave up researching and writing on the continent from the early 1980s. There was however one last, and unexpected, development on this “African’ side of my intellectual biography. Having been persuaded, rather against my will, to attend a conference of the Australasian African Studies Association in Adelaide, Australia in 2000, I felt the only honest paper I could contribute was one entitled: ‘Why I gave up African Studies’. (Available at, http://motspluriels.arts.uwa.edu.au/MP1600gk.html). It caused a minor uproar at the Conference and, having been circulated world-wide on web notice boards and other sites, has generated quite a polemic since (see http://www.africa.ufl.edu/asq/v7/v7i2a17.htm for some of that polemic and my reply to critics.)

AN IMPOSSIBLE HONESTY – Scenes from the life of Ludwig Wittgenstein

This play is loosely based on a recent biography of the man who was probably the greatest modern western philosopher and who led a lot more interesting and varied life than the average academic. For example, he won medals for valour in the first world war while writing his first great work of philosophy, and invented useful bits of medical technology in the second world war while writing his second.

The central theme of the play is Wittgenstein’s guilty conviction that he was fundamentally dishonest – about his class position, about his homosexuality, about his jewishness – and his life-long struggle to overcome that dishonesty and live a moral life. I suggest that Wittgenstein tried to do this by inventing a mask – a false persona – for himself. And in gradually becoming the mask, in actually adopting the identity he had assumed, he did indeed find ways to become more honest. However his struggle, though successful in a sense, also had costs.

Because the standards of honesty he sets himself in his new persona are at once impossible to attain and make him quite impossible to live with, even for those who loved and admired him.
This was my first attempt at playwriting, but it was short-listed in the Australian Playwrights Association annual competition in 1993. Sadly, however, it has never been performed on stage. Nor has anyone offered to turn it into a film despite it being a ready-made ‘Merchant and Ivory- style’ period piece. For Wittgenstein was not only a fascinating thinker and character, he was, in the course of an extraordinarily rich life, in touch (directly or indirectly) with Freud, Keynes, Klimt, the Bloomsbury set, Hitler – and all the fascinating beauties and frailties of inter-war Vienna and Cambridge.


DeathOfAPolitician_LargeA leading north-east New Labour politician has been murdered. Tim Dawson, a rising star of New Labour politics in Newcastle, and Chair of the Tyne and Wear Council, has been shot twice through the head and heart in what looks like a professional killing. His local rival for power in the Labour Party, the tough, old-style union activist, Ralph Lambis is the main suspect in many peoples’ eyes, but the police are having a hard time proving anything.

Bob Henderson, a former Professor of Philosophy, has retired to his native north-east to commence the descent into old age in the scenic Pennine village of Stanhope. He is drawn into the murder through a chance meeting with Tim and his beautiful wife Stella, and through his new friendship with Detective Superintendant Peter Halgrave, a former school mate remet by accident, and one of the principal officers on the case.

In coming to discover the murderer, Bob learns a fresh respect for his new policeman friend, is exposed to some of the nastier sides of life in the present day north-east, and finds that he is still capable of feelings and desires he thought long left behind. He also discovers that the intellectual and political passions that have shaped his life – passions about which he has lately come to feel jaded, even cynical – can still help him understand the world and the often strange motives that drive the people in it.

Places of Bob

For those who do not come from there, it is important to know something about the north-east of England if you are really to understand the Bob Henderson novels, so here is a short introduction.

stan250From the early nineteenth century to the 1980s, the northen English counties of Durham and Northumberland shared a common ‘heavy industrial’ history of coal mining, iron and steel production, shipbuilding and heavy engineering.

As a result, for 150 or more years the region they constituted was dominated by a strongly male working class culture in which trade unions, football, beer and Labour politics all played important roles and helped to create a very powerful regional identity. It was, and to a degree still is, a regional identity which is so strong because it is simultaneously a class identity.

This strong regional identity is also expressed in a unique and well known ‘Geordie’ dialect of English, a dialect which is in fact not a single entity, but a kind of dialect range shading into Yorkshire speech in the south and into lowland Scots in the north. Its most outstanding feature, and the feature which makes it instantly recognisable as ‘Geordie’ even to outsiders, is the predominance of Scandinavian-like (in fact Danish/Viking) vowel sounds.

However, since the 1960s the heavy industry of the region has declined, and with it the dominance of the working class culture to which it gave rise. One after another, coal mining, ship building, iron and steel and heavy engineering have all shrunk or disappeared, and the region has lost population. Parts of it are still disfigured by the ‘rust belt’ urban and social decay which is a feature of many similar regions around the western world.

For all these reasons the north-east to which Bob Henderson returns in the novels is a region very different from the one he had left in the 1960s. He is reminded of this powerfully when he visits the depressed shell of the Durham mining village in which he was brought up, or goes to the shrunken fishing port of North Shields to take a trip on an old trawler.

But ‘under’ the industrial north-east created in Victorian times, there was a still older region, agricultural, hierarchical, almost feudal in some ways. Bob lives in a place – Stanhope in the upper Wear valley – which represents that still older north-east.

map_smalllIt is emerging from beneath its industrial history as a lead mining centre to reveal its astonishing natural beauty, and in this it typifies much of the region today.

This older north-east is also perfectly symbolised by Durham Cathedral – the traditional seat of power not only of a great English archbishop, but also of a great feudal lord and landowner. In one of the novels Bob actually meets the current Archbishop and his wife, and in doing so draws some more connections between the contemporary region and its deep and extraordinary history.