Circling The Square: Stories of an Unsettled Self

Dr Robert Grafton Small, who had been an Honorary Visiting Fellow in the School of Management for well over a decade, died in Glasgow on February 28th 2017.


RIP Bob Grafton-Small 1950-2017. My title is the title of one of his chapters, a typically allusive play on words by someone who combined keen intelligence and personal vulnerability in equal measure. His wit, moustache and care about every small detail will be hugely missed by all who knew him.


Bob was a regular visitor to the School, particularly to events organized by our Centre for Philosophy and Political Economy. He was also a longstanding member of the Standing Conference on Organizational Symbolism, an international academic organization which has been well represented at Leicester since 2003.


He was born on January 21st 1950 in the suburbs of Birmingham. His brother Duncan Alistair Small was born in 1953 and is the only remaining immediate family member. In 1955 the family moved to Ludlow in Shropshire, living in Raven Lane. In 1963 the family moved again to Flat B in a subdivided mansion within the walls of Ludlow Castle.  The bedroom that he and his brother shared there now sells ice cream Duncan told me that his father, Peter Farquharson Small was a tax officer, and his mother Margaret Small (née Crosbee) an amazing knitter.


Bob attended Ludlow Grammar School (now Ludlow College) from 1961 until 1969. From there he left for Stockport College for a HND, John Dalton College of Technology in Manchester, Liverpool University for an MBA (where he lived in his parents’ house in Sefton after his father was transferred to Bootle in 1972) and then Sheffield City Polytechnic for his doctorate. His brother moved to the USA in 1979.


As a youngster he was very fashion conscious and followed John Lennon into a macrobiotic diet.  He used to smoke (especially Gauloise) and loved Newcastle Brown – but gave up alcohol early in life.  He was very close to his maternal grandfather James Leonard Crosbee – a vet and graphic artist. Bob also loved to draw caricatures, and many will have seen his moustachioed trademark signature on a drawing. Like René Magritte, Bob in his prime looked like a miniature caricature of an eccentric stockbroker, a square. When I first met him, at a conference in Edinburgh in 1998, I had already read his work and we had corresponded. I expected a monster of a man, told him so, and he reminded me (twinkling eyed) that the best subversion comes from the perfect bourgeois.



His friend and colleague Steve Linstead tells me that at Sheffield Bob had a disagreement with his supervisor about data gathering and he lost his funding. The DHSS forced him to take a job with the Commission for Racial Equality and he found himself interviewing people after the 1981 riots. A position as a research assistant at Hull College of Higher Education was followed by a job back at Sheffield teaching marketing, where he won the best performance of any teacher nationally in the Institute of Marketing Case exam.


A job at Strathclyde let to him settling in Glasgow, where he lived until his death. Most of his later life was overshadowed by Addison’s disease, and he was effectively kept alive by steroids as his immune system barely functioned and his body could not produce adrenalin. He enthusiastically embraced a later diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome, perhaps as a license for a life lived with a quiet and slightly shy strangeness. Steve Linstead remembers many odd facts – he was a member of MENSA, rode a Ducati off road motorbike, was a county standard marksman, came 5th in the world in a bridge contest, and ranked 3rd in the Sheffield City Poly Students Union hi-score list on Galaxians but refused to use the hyperspace function as he considered it to be cheating.


Bob took medical retirement from a post at St Andrews in the 1990s, but kept publishing and firm connections to an academic life, including the edited book Understanding Management. He had a fellowship in the Department of Management at Keele University from the late 1990s, finally taking up his position at the then Management Centre at Leicester in 2004.


His research included ethnographies of the everyday, an interest in culture and symbolic consumption, and a lasting fascination with the transient. As Steve Linstead puts it – ‘He loved to play with brands and liked making incongruous juxtapositions work –  Italian beast-bike, Jaeger Le Coultre watch, made to measure hand stitched kicker style boots from a backstreet garage firm in Crookes, and his mum’s rainbow 3 metre scarf.’ His attention to words, to their arrangement, power and meaning, was relentless. The placing of a comma, the use of this word or that, were matters that led, towards the end of his life, to short dense pieces of academic writing. Almost like haikus with references, dotted with allusions and snatches of heard conversation from Glasgow streets.  He was an extraordinary writer and thinker, articulate and anxious, a crossword puzzle fanatic, and someone who many of us at Leicester and elsewhere have learned from, both as an academic and how to be an academic.


Have a look at if you want to see a list of his publications. He will be missed.

Originally published at

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